North Manchester is a lovely little college town that might not be all that well-known outside of Wabash County.
Talking to the town manager there isn’t like talking to the mayor of Fort Wayne. The town manager of North Manchester doesn’t juggle several large and flashy municipal projects at the same time.
What Adam Penrod thinks about is housing development.
Penrod, who grew up in North Manchester, said he is in it for the long haul, and this gives him the long view on North Manchester’s needs.
“I am going to be here for a while,” he said. “I don’t think in terms of, ‘Well, I’ll be here for a few years and then I will be retiring.’ The way I look at it is, ‘In the next 25 years, what do I see the town becoming?'”
In North Manchester, what you see is a town and a community that continuously reinvests in itself, said Christine Flohr, executive director of tourism for Visit Wabash County.
“Several years ago, the town made the decision to improve its streetscapes,” she said. “It installed all new sidewalks and stunning lampposts. Its intersections are beautiful [with] lamppost banners and massive flowerpots along the sidewalks.”
Flohr describes these civic improvement projects as “creative place-making” and she said that North Manchester is always looking for new ways to make things in town just a little bit nicer.
“They’re always working on the next aesthetic improvement project,” she said. North Manchester is currently investing in its downtown, thanks to a façade grant from the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs (OCRA), Flohr said. And last fall, it opened a canoe/kayak boat launch and park thanks to funding from OCRA.
This utilizes one of its natural resources: the Eel River, which runs parallel to Main Street. The Eel River is “really what started the town to begin with,” said Penrod.
“We still use that as an asset,” he said. “A lot of people like to canoe starting north of here and go through town and finish in communities south of here. So we put an ADA Compliant canoe launch on the river.”
Penrod has been told that there is only one other like it in the state. The launch site will ultimately have public restrooms, a pavilion and a children’s play area.
The fact that North Manchester has improved access to a natural resource at the same time that it is sprucing up downtown is “just a great reflection of how North Manchester continues…to look toward future growth and attractability,” said Flohr.
Improving walkability is another goal of Penrod and the town.
Before Penrod was made town manager, the town council came up with a new comprehensive plan that includes improvements in walking paths and routes.
“With that came a pretty good layout of what we’d like to see going forward,” he said. “Making the town more walkable, connecting (Manchester University) to the housing developments to the downtown.”
The key to any town or city’s continued survival is convincing young people to stick around, and North Manchester knows it has to work toward that goal. “Just like other communities,” said Penrod, “we need to bring in attractions and amenities that the younger generations are looking for.”
On the other hand, North Manchester doesn’t want to do anything to jeopardize its reputation for being “a good place to raise a family,” he said.
A popular ice cream parlor called Grand’s Ice Cream Shoppe opened this past summer. And a beloved, 55-year-old eatery called Mr. Dave’s that closed last May due to a family illness is scheduled to reopen under new management.
Penrod said the town has a good relationship with the Manchester University (MU).
“We try to incorporate the university as much as we can into the community,” he said. Students at the university are strongly encouraged to volunteer their time to good causes, Penrod said, so they’re always looking for opportunities to help the community.
Manchester University’s President Dave McFadden said the MU community donates more than 60,000 hours a year toward service projects, many of them in North Manchester. This service includes working on Relay for Life, cleaning the Eel River, volunteering with Habitat for Humanity and the Indiana Reading Corps, running blood drives and helping to feed the hungry.
Manchester University’s roots run deep in North Manchester, McFadden said. McFadden is a third-generation graduate, and his children graduated from Manchester. “We work here, and many of us live here,” said McFadden said, “and we strive to be good neighbors.”
Penrod said it is not at all uncommon for former residents and students to retire to North Manchester. “We have a lot of kids who graduate from the university,” he said. “They go on to have their careers but they love the community so much that they’re coming back and retiring here.”
“We hear it time and time again,” said Penrod. “People telling us they always kept North Manchester in the back of their minds.”