NORTH MANCHESTER, IND. (WPTA21)-Most small towns have a benefactor in their past, a wealthy citizen whose generosity helped steer the town toward success. In North Manchester, Indiana that wealthy angel was Thomas Peabody, millionaire, philanthropist and serial home movie maker.
“I know that he was very adventuresome,” says local historian Jim Adams. “He was all over the world he traveled a great deal.”
Jim Adams is sorting through and organizing hours of Peabody’s home movies. Peabody owned North Manchester’s Peabody School Furniture factory, made school desks sold around the nation and used the fortune he made to endow his hometown.
“He was probably the richest person around here,” says Adams, “and that’s why we have the Peabody Retirement Home and also we have a very fine library in town, much finer than you’d expect a town this size to have..and a swimming pool.”
Thomas Peabody traveled the world in the 1920’s and ’30’s and wherever he went he took his 16 millimeter film camera with him…to Indonesia, the Pacific islands, even the 1939 World’s Fair in New York City. But most interesting to Jim Adams concerns this, Thomas Peabody’s mansion on Seventh Street, a magnificent English Tudor style palace built at the height of the Great Depression and every minute of its epic construction filmed by Mr. Peabody. It’s virtually a history course on construction techniques and life in early 20th century America.
“They knew what they were doing they were competent they were professionals,” says Adams. “The way they used the horse drawn machinery that they had and the steam roller that they used and the men happily carrying piles of stone and brick on their backs.”
And true to Thomas Peabody’s generous nature he celebrates the workers who built his home, architect C. R. Weatherhog, electrician Charles Rupple, even the Hower Brothers who built the sidewalks. It’s all here, the men, the machines and the mark they made on North Manchester.
“Well it gives me more admiration for the people who lived back then and managed so well with what they had,” says Adams. “They learned how to deal with their environment and they had learned how to make things and refine things.”
The films of Thomas Peabody are a snapshot of a time long past and the everyday folks who made it a success. They are a treasure, one among many, bequeathed by a generous man to the town and its citizens who owe him much.