Today, in our continuing visits to sites within driving distance of Indianapolis, we stop by Roanoke, about 17 miles southwest of Fort Wayne, seeing how one family can change the course of a once-dying Indiana town.
Roanoke was founded in 1848 along the Wabash and Erie Canal in what had been hunting grounds of the Miami people. By the 1960s, Roanoke, like many Hoosier towns, had begun losing population and businesses. By 1980, Roanoke’s population was less than 900, sidewalks were crumbling and storefronts along Main Street were boarded up. Enter Pete Eschelman, a former New York Yankees pitcher, who had moved to Fort Wayne with his family in 1986, when he accepted a position with Lincoln National. Three years later, he bought a farm east of Roanoke.
In 1990 Eshelman bought and restored a deserted hardware store building in Roanoke as the headquarters of American Specialty Insurance, which he had just started with his brother and a friend. As the company grew, it continued buying and restoring abandoned Roanoke buildings, turning one into the Roanoke Area Heritage Center and Historical Museum. In the 1990s, Eshelman bought and restored a historic bank building, in which he entertained high-profile clients. In 2000, that became Joseph Decuis, a restaurant serving vegetables and now Wagyu beef from Joseph Decuis Farm, which has been described as “a farm dressed in a tuxedo.” Joseph Decuis is consistently rated as one of Indiana’s top restaurants, attracting diners from across the state.
In the most recent census, Roanoke’s population was 1,762, almost double what it was in 1980. Along its Main Street, in addition to Joseph Decuis, are a number of fashionable shops. The Joseph Decuis Farm is open to the public by appointment and hosts a number of events on its grounds and event center.