Long-time Andrews resident smitten with town’s history

Janice Harshbarger displays a copy of her recently published book, “Only in Andrews,” which recounts the early history of the Huntington County community.
Janice Harshbarger displays a copy of her recently published book, “Only in Andrews,” which recounts the early history of the Huntington County community. Photo by Cindy Klepper.

Originally published June 23,  2016.

Janice Harshbarger knew nothing about the town of Andrews when she moved there as a young teen.

“We knew it was a small town in Indiana that had a parsonage,” she says.

Now, she could write a book about what she knows.

Wait — she did.

“Only in Andrews” details the goings-on in the small Huntington County community from the 1880s through 1916, starting with a Miami village and tracing the town’s growth as first Antioch, and then Andrews.

Harshbarger has become so smitten with the town’s history that she’s seriously considering a sequel.

“I’ve got some 90-year-olds on my list I want to go talk to,” she says.

Harshbarger landed in Andrews in 1964 when her father moved the family from the Pacific Northwest so he could attend seminary in Indianapolis while pastoring the now-closed First Christian Church in Andrews. She made it her permanent hometown after marrying an Andrews boy, John Harshbarger.

She’s always had an interest in genealogy — writing a blog, and even establishing a family connection between her husband and the current president of the United States — but she spent her career working as an insurance underwriter.

It wasn’t until she retired in late 2013 that she wandered into the realm of local history.

That’s when she started volunteering in the Indiana Room of the Huntington City-Township Public Library, where Indiana Room director Joan Keefer put her to work filing obituaries from old newspapers — first from Warren, and then from Andrews. Harshbarger couldn’t confine her reading to just the obituaries; she perused the other articles, too.

“I found so many interesting things in there,” Harshbarger says. “And Joan said, ‘Janice, you need to write them down.’”

Turns out, Keefer had in mind a small pamphlet; Harshbarger ended up with a full-length book, based mainly on stories from two newspapers — the Andrews Express, published from 1882 to 1885, and the Andrews Signal, published from 1893 to 1912. She believes a newspaper was published in Andrews as late as 1923, but hasn’t been able to locate any copies of the later publication.

The names of the newspapers are reflective of the outsized role played by the railroad in the community’s early days.

As many as 80 trains a day passed through Andrews at one time; up to 700 cars might be parked on the sidings at one time. The railroad eventually left town, and Andrews eventually recovered.

It was a financial disaster that led to the revelation that Harshbarger says she found most surprising — the fact that one family had so much involvement in the town.

“And all because that rascal James Key came in with the intent and purpose of fleecing the town,” she says. “And he did a pretty good job of it.”

Those were the days when banking was unregulated, and Key decided to open a bank in Andrews. Disaster followed, sending Key to jail for two years; bank customers got back only a quarter on the dollar.

The bank’s failure left many business owners desperate to unload their properties. The Wasmuth family took over the failed bank and bought the grain elevator, lumberyard, car dealership and the business that would become Kitchen Maid Cabinets.

Before becoming fascinated by a family that played a large part in Andrews’ history, Harshbarger documented the histories of both her family and her husband’s family. That’s when she discovered that her husband, John, and President Barack Obama shared an ancestor.

“You never know what you’re going to find in genealogy,” she says.

The two are “fourth cousins twice removed,” she says.

“We waited, but there was no invitation from the White House to go to the inauguration,” she says with a laugh.

The relationship, though, doesn’t make her husband unique.

“There’s a couple hundred people, probably, in Huntington County related to him,” she says. With Obama’s roots in Ireland, Switzerland and Kenya, “lots of people can claim this man.”

And as the process to choose a successor to fourth-cousin-twice-removed Obama continues to unfold, Harshbarger says
the current fight has nothing on the political battles of a century ago in Andrews.

“The year 1913 is a whole story unto itself,” she says. “I mean, you want to talk about dirty politics. …”

Riots, major (and possibly arson) fires, gambling dens and scandals are also part of Andrews’ past; as are the people who, time and again, rebuilt their lives around schools, churches and lodges.

“Only in Andrews” can be purchased from Harshbarger or on Amazon.