Hagerstown Indiana was platted in 1834. In 1847 it became the northern terminus of the Whitewater Canal. Unfortunately the canal had a rather short life. Severe flooding at the southern end of the canal in 1847 put it out of action for a while and competition from railroads forced it into bankruptcy in 1865.
Despite this early setback, Hagerstown has gone on to be a prosperous, if not particularly large town. In 2010 its population was just under 1,800 people. Through the years it became known for three businesses:
- Perfect Circle Piston Rings
- Guy Wellivers Smorgasbord
- Abbott's Candy Shop
In 1894 bicycle mechanic Charles Teetor was asked to come up with a bicycle that track inspectors could ride on railroad tracks. The Railway Cycle Manufacturing Company was founded in Hagerstown the following year. Soon they were building and shipping out one a day. By 1900 Charles Teetor had developed a one cylinder gasoline engine to provide power, and the company changed its name to Light Inspection Car Company.
Soon the company started making larger engines, which attracted interest from automobile manufacturers. It again changed its name, this time becoming the Teetor-Hartley Motor Company. In the early part of the twentieth century, the automotive industry was going through major changes. Led by Henry Ford, automation began replacing hand built products.
Realizing the need to specialize, they sold their engine making business in 1918 and focused on piston rings, which are critical to engine performance. Naturally, this required a new name, and they became the Indiana Piston Ring Company. They started selling piston rings to many automotive repair shops under the name "Perfect Circle" in 1921. The Perfect Circle became so well known that in 1926 it became the company name.
Perfect Circle was fortunate to have a brilliant engineer on its staff. Ralph Teetor was blinded in an accident at age five, but it didn't seem to hold him back. He received a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Pennsylvania in 1912 and soon put his education to good use. Ralph received several patents, but his best known is cruise control, which he called speedostat. He resolved to develop such a device after a car ride with his lawyer. The lawyer would slow down whenever he talked, and it drove Ralph crazy. It took him ten years to develop the speedostat, which he patented in 1945. It wasn't made available to the public until Chrysler introduced it in 1958. Ralph Teetor became president of the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) in 1936. Today the Ralph R. Teetor Educational Award is awarded annually by the SAE. In 1988 Teetor was elected to the Automotive Hall of Fame.
Perfect Circle sold out to the Dana Corporation in 1963, and operations in Hagerstown eventually ceased. The Ralph Teetor House operated as a bed & breakfast in Hagerstown for a while. Since there was no hotel due to Hagerstown's small size, Ralph Teetor had designed it to accommodate his out of town business guests.
Guy Wellivers Smorgasbord
Guy Wellivers Smorgasbord was opened in 1946 and became well known in eastern Indiana. If any of the locals found that you were from out of town, they just naturally assumed that you came to eat at "Willies," which is what they called the establishment. For a number of years the Nettle Creek Players, a local theater group, performed plays at a large tent set up on Main Street. They sold tickets outside of Wellivers. Guy Welliver retired in 1999, just before he turned 90 years old. Unfortunately, the restaurant fell on hard times and closed in 2010.
The restaurant reopened in late 2010 under the name "Willie's & Red's." The new owners have remodeled and updated the facility, but they have tried to keep much of the décor from its earlier days, including the working water wheel in the mill room. They have also kept many of the favorite menu items, such as fried chicken, cheese balls, orange & cinnamon bread and chicken livers.
Abbott's Candy Shop
The story of Abbott's Candy Shop begins with William Clay Abbott, better known as W.C. He worked as a salesman for the Dilling Candy Company before returning to Hagerstown and opening a restaurant. While running the restaurant W.C. developed a butterscotch candy which was a hit with customers. Eventually, he realized he had to choose whether he was going to run a restaurant or candy company. Obviously, he chose to run a candy company.
World War II was a difficult time for the company. W.C. passed away and his son Bruce took over. Sugar was in such short supply during the war that the company had to shut down. After the war, business was good, but Bruce died of a heart attack in 1949. W.C.'s widow Florence and Bruce's widow Rhea decided they would keep the business going. In 1985 they moved operations to a former Presbyterian church that was built in 1851.