Although there are many stories about the origin of the word "Hoosier," early Wheeler residents might be responsible for its common use.

In the mid-1800s, one of the first frame buildings in the area became a well-known inn called the "Hoosier's Nest." The fame of Hoosier's Nest was captured in an 1866 poem by John Finley, which first called attention to the word "hoosier," to mean a resident of the state of Indiana.

"I'm told, in riding somewhere West, A stranger found a Hoosier's Nest - In other words, a buckeye cabin, Just big enough to hold Queen Mab in."

Like many Midwestern towns, Wheeler, laid out in 1858, was a byproduct of the building of railroads across the United States and was named in honor of a railroad engineer. In 1860, it boasted 800 townsfolk. Thomas Campbell, who played a part in founding Valparaiso, owned the land on which the town was built.

In it's heyday, Wheeler was host to many businesses, including general stores, a boarding house for railroad workers - called "gandy dancers -- feed mills, sawmills, an ice cream parlor, barber shops, a stockyard, a candy store, several taverns and a doctor's office. The ice cream parlor used ice from Flint Lake, in Valparaiso, to make its creamy concoctions.

Robert and Barbara Hardesty have been residents of the area for 60 years. The Hardestys used to have only five neighbors; now, there are 68 homes on their country road. Barbara remembers when there were seven gas stations, a grocery store, and a grain elevator.

"There's none of that now," said Hardesty. "It's such a small town now . . . everyone goes somewhere else to trade."

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What the residents sacrifice in convenience is more than compensated for in friendliness and small-town charm.

"People are very neighborly," said Hardesty. "We have lots of new ones, but I think on the whole if you needed help, they would be there."

Today, "downtown" Wheeler consists of a restaurant/tavern, a couple of machine shops, an auto chrome polishing shop, a small feed and supply store, a paving company and the post office.

"The rest are farms," said Carol Linzy, township assessor. "We have our own Little League and 4-H."

Wheeler remains unincorporated and has no mayor or police. The township is governed by a trustee and three advisory board members.

Residents of Wheeler and Union Township are very proud of their school system, which includes Union Center and John Simatovich elementary schools, Union Township Middle School and Wheeler High School. The high school is an Indiana Four Star School, as it placed in the top 25 percent of all Indiana public schools in several categories.

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