Millrace Reflections

Millrace Reflections
On July 12, 2018, the Community Resilience Guild convened a panel of individuals with extensive knowledge and experience of the Millrace and invited them to share stories and information about its history. 

To dig in deeper, explore all of the related content mapped out ahead of the event in the Millrace collection, or follow the links to specific Goshen Guide entries.

Watch the Full Video:

The panel was moderated by Aaron Sawatsky Kingsley of the Goshen Parks and Recreation Department, with special guests Ron Hoke of the Goshen Historical Society and Roger Taylor of the Goshen Parks and Recreation Department

Special thanks to Red Tail Farm for sponsoring the event!

(site of the former Hoke Farm)


Goshen Historical Society – Millrace Walking Tour Video

The event began with a screening of a new walking tour video produced by the CRG for the Goshen Historical Society, highlighting specific landmarks along the ‘hydraulic canal’ as part of the 150th anniversary of the Millrace’s construction.

The panel then dove deeper into some of these places, along with stories and anecdotes related to the ongoing evolution of the Millrace as an engine for Goshen’s development.

historical photos courtesy of Goshen Historical Society archives

Canal trail

“It was a lot of hard work, believe me … we used to trim it by hand with weed eaters, from the dam all the way to the tailgates building, and it would take us about two weeks to do that. There was a guy named Leroy Baker … it was kind of his little department there, and he took care of all the weeds that’s growing up in the millrace now, and it looked really good.” – Roger

Northern rail laterals

“There were as many as two to three hundred cars a month of rail cars serviced on those two laterals by the Michigan Southern. They had a special engine located in Goshen to handle that traffic and they had a rail yard, so they were pretty important to shipping stuff (up until WWII).” – Ron

Millrace milling

“That big mill … the whole thing was moved from Waterford to Goshen when this canal was finished … By the end of two or three years after 1868, every manufacturing company that had been located in Waterford—close to the water ford where they could get across the river—had moved to Goshen up by the canal.” – Ron

Filling in the race

“If you get up towards Lincoln Avenue … that land where the parking lot for the County office building is—how high that is—well, when the canal was built, that was about three or four feet above the river.  There was a good 78-foot drop from Lincoln Avenue down, going north, and the same going south. That whole area around there is all landfill, and of course the canal all got filled in.” – Ron

Hoovens Bridge

“I grew up at 1625 South Main which is just a little bit north of College Avenue, and we had a barn right near the race … it was built before the canal was there. But at that time, 70 years ago, when I was swimming in the race, the race was seven feet deep.  I would jump in the race and float down to Hoovens Bridge, which at that time had a Goshen Parks Department swimming hole there with a diving board and a lifeguard.” – John Hertzler

Tailgates and powerhouse

“When I was a kid, the race bank was maintained by NIPSCO and they ran the water a good two feet higher than it is now—they had all three gates open at times on the head gates, so you had a very fast current—you did not want to fall in the water at the head gates because of the whirlpools and eddies that were in there. They had a sufficiently high water supply to run their turbines.  We can’t do that now because the bank won’t stand it.” – Ron

The Murray Barn

“That’s a place that I often stop with kids that I take on field trips back into the woods … ‘what in the world is this stack of stones here?’ and they tell me it’s a cave or they tell me it’s a place where bears live, or something like that … we finally get around to ‘well, it’s a foundation and once upon a time there was a farm here.’” – Aaron

Video Highlights

Hawks Legacy

“Cephas Hawks Jr. was the foreman or the head of the construction outfit, so he made sure it was done right. The Hawks Family was big in Goshen for all sorts of things: mills, lumber—if you went through Goshen in the late 1800’s you saw Hawks on a lot of different factories and buildings, and they were associated with the businesses. But he was probably the most influential as far as having done something to Goshen that really lasted. We’re looking at a 150-year canal here and we’re still reaping the rewards of what that canal provided then and what it provides now.” – Ron

Waterford transitions

“When you start looking at the 1830’s when Goshen and was established as the county seat, Waterford was established before Goshen was; it was actually a more thriving community.  Waterford had the mill; it did have a small canal with the dam and they did run water down there. But unfortunately for Waterford, the railroad came through Goshen.” – Ron

Flooding and breaching

“The millrace was filling up fast, so we didn’t really know what to do.  We got the Street Department down there and they brought a backhoe and we had to breach the bank right down there behind the powerhouse itself.” – Roger

An end to swimming

“When (my dad) was a kid, there wasn’t any sewage in the water; you didn’t have any of the fertilizer runoff from upstream in the Elkhart River, so it was a lot cleaner water then. I wouldn’t let anybody eat the fish out of the canal right now, let alone swim in it.” – Ron

Lumber industry

“When the settlers moved in here in the 1830 to follow the Potawatomi, everything around here was woods except the prairie out by the Goshen Airport, so we had tons of lumber yards. … Anything that was made with wood, we had somebody in Goshen that wanted to make something out of it.” – Roger

Other questions and topics explored at the event:

  • How much industry was present when the hydraulic canal was constructed, and why did industry begin to move away?
  • Why was the canal built in Goshen and not Waterford?
  • What was it like growing up along the millrace?
  • What happened to the fish ladder at the dam?
  • How has the millrace been maintained over the years?
  • How much have sediment accumulation and dumping debris changed the millrace?
  • Has there ever been an alligator in the race?
  • What future possibilities might be ahead for the millrace?

About The Author

Phil Metzler

As the director of the Community Resilience Guild, Phil helps design and facilitate community initiatives that build relationships and navigate complexity. A passion for building community resilience and a reverence for life guide his work.

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