Kosciusko County History & Culture
A heritage that touches mind, body and soul
From the creativity of artisan communities to the innovation of our orthopaedics industry to the spiritual legacy that continues to resonate today, our heritage is abundant with inspiration.
Kosciusko County was created in 1836, a few years after Indian tribes ceded their land to the U.S. government. Today, our native roots are preserved in such names as Tippecanoe, Wawasee, Papakeechie and Wabee lakes.
What’s in a name?
Kosciusko (cos-key-osco). Not the easiest word to say, but fun to try. Many people wonder why our county has a Polish name. The answer is simple: John B. Chapman, a local settler of this area, named the county in honor of Thaddeus Kosciuszko, a Polish nobleman and aide-de-camp to General George Washington who played a critical role in the American Revolution. And since Warsaw was the capital of Poland, that was the name given to the county seat.
Shaped by our lakes
Kosciusko County has over 100 lakes in our 558 square mile radius. In the county’s early days, ice was harvested from nearly every lake and used to refrigerate food and drinks. During Prohibition, gangsters stayed at lakeside hotels and cottages. Baby Face Nelson, Al Capone and John Dillinger all visited our county to lay low when the FBI was hot on their trail. Kosciusko County has also been a playground for Hollywood idols such as Clark Gable and Carol Lombard. Most lakes also had dance halls, and the big bands of the 1930s and 1940s played there.
Agriculture was Kosciusko County’s first industry and it’s still our number one business. Drive down any country road and you’ll see the evidence. The county is well known for its chickens and eggs—Mentone has a statue of a large egg on its main street that pays homage to that industry. Black walnut, oak and other beautiful hardwoods grew in abundance here. Over 12,000 tons of Tom Farms’ Kosciusko tomatoes become Red Gold Tomato products. Our soybeans are processed at the world’s largest biodiesel fuel plant in Claypool. And we produce millions of ducklings—80% of the ducks in the U.S.—each year at Maple Leaf Farms.
Warsaw is considered the Orthopaedic Capital of the World and it all began in 1895, when DePuy created a simple wire mesh splint and became the world’s first orthopaedic manufacturer. Orthopaedic implant giants such as Zimmer, Biomet, MedTronic and Symmetry Medical now join DePuy in Kosciusko County, creating state-of-the-art hip and knee replacements as well as a host of other implants. Kosciusko County custom manufactured implants have been used to repair the well-worn joints of Mary Lou Retton and even the Pope.
Keeping the faith
The first Bible conference was held in the summer of 1895 in the area now named Winona Lake. It became part of the Chautauqua movement known as Winona Assembly and Summer School Association. Winona was also the home of famed evangelist Billy Sunday, a former professional baseball player. The team he played for would later become known as the Chicago Cubs. Located on a beautiful 165-acre campus in the heart of Winona Lake is Grace College, a Christian Liberal Arts College and Seminary. And the Warsaw Biblical Gardens is the 3rd largest in the world! Our connection to spirituality continues with local churches offering unique boat-in or lakeside service during the summer months.