GOSHEN — The Goshen Historical Society is doing some research on two wall paintings that were recently discovered at the old Hawks Furniture building, one depicting soldiers holding a flag and a message left by a former employee written more than 100 years ago.
The south part of the historic building at 215 W. Madison St. is under construction and is being renovated by LaCasa Inc. and DJ Construction into 35 apartments for local artists and entrepreneurs. The project’s groundbreaking ceremony was Thursday, April 17, which allowed the public to tour areas of the three-story building.
JC Schrock, vice president of DJ Construction, said he was leaving the third floor when a woman pointed out a wall painting near a doorway.
“It blew me away,” Schrock said. “I’ve been in and out of this building a lot over the last nine years. There was shelving there, so it’s possible that it was hidden behind something for a long time.”
The faded painting shows three, possibly four, men wearing military uniforms, hats and smoking pipes. In the middle is a black flag with a skull and crossbones.
Earlene Nofziger with the Goshen Historical Society said the hats look like uniforms from the Civil War, but what baffles her is the flag.
“We’re going to check Civil War history to see if there were any Confederate groups that had a flag like that,” she said. “Each unit had its own flag.”
On a wall opposite of the soldiers, another painting reads “Gust Dalka quit July 15, 1907,” in all capital letters. Nofziger said she is in contact with Dalka’s family who still live in Goshen, and she plans to learn more about the mysterious machinist who left his job that summer.
Landis Powerwashing had cleaned the walls on the third floor of the building prior to the groundbreaking ceremony. The crew hadn’t noticed the paintings because cold air mixed with the hot water used to remove paint had created a sauna effect in the room.
“When we first walked in here to give an estimate for this old building, I thought this seems like an awful big project,” owner Steve Landis said. “I asked myself if it would be worth it, or if it should just be torn down. Then we started working on the third floor, uncovering woodwork on the ceiling and interior brick walls. I changed my tune. I started thinking that this is definitely worthwhile, uncovering history like this.”
The factory was founded in 1873 by D.M. Fravel with Cephas, Ellazer and Joel P. Hawks with a small building that stood at the foot of Jefferson Street on the canal, according to the historical society. The business was incorporated as the Hawks Furniture Company in 1884. The frame building burned down a year later and was replaced with a brick building on both sides of the canal connected by a tramway.
In 1873, there were eight men employed by the company, and by 1889, there were 135 people working there. The company was sold in 1918 to Aulsbrook-Jones Company based in Sturgis, Mich.
Nofziger said it used to be a common practice for people to leave hidden messages, drawings and house blessings.
“A lot of old buildings like these, you do find things,” she said. “Sometimes you’ll find things underneath a cabinet when you remove it, or behind bookshelves or under wallpaper.”
Brad Hunsberger, LaCasa’s vice president of real estate development, said he would like to preserve the wall paintings but thinks their location may be a disadvantage.
“The one of the soldiers, it’s in the worst possible spot, but I think in the end, it will be documented and preserved,” he said. “I don’t think it will be visible in the end unfortunately, but we’ll do what we can give it recognition in some way.”
Follow Elkhart Truth reporter Angelle Barbazon on Twitter at @tweetangelle.