Forward thinking: Thomas Reynolds’ premonition led him to make his casket ahead of time

Thomas C. Reynolds’ grave in Westville Cemetery, New Durham Township. (Courtesy of findagrave website)

By Fern Eddy Schultz, La Porte County Historian

We continually hear it recommended that we plan for our futures. Well, Thomas C. Reynolds, a resident of Westville in early La Porte County history, did just that.  

Reynolds was born in Wayne County, IN, 16 June 1827. He came with his parents to La Porte County in 1833 and settled in Westville, which had not even been platted and was not until 1851. It is difficult to picture the area at the time of his arrival. However, history tells us that the Indians (Native Americans) held “almost undisputed possession” at that point in time. It is recorded that at that time, there were 500 Indians camped at Petro’s Grove, which was located near the present Westville site.

La Porte County Historian Fern Eddy Schultz

Reynolds’ parents were of the Quaker belief and that was the creed instilled in the young Reynolds. Information recorded about Reynolds reports that “his strongest characteristics were integrity, modesty, truthfulness and industry.”

Reynolds was reportedly a natural mechanic and was always involved in the invention of some item. Had he been able to protect some of his inventions by patents, he probably would have become very wealthy and widely known. One of his inventions was a running gear for a traction engine and an electric motor. This invention was also called a self-propeller attachment to a steam engine. This was an 1840s invention. His actual occupation was that of watchmaker and repairer and he was a master of his trade. By 1880, he had manufactured 56 watches. He had a workshop which was “filled with contrivances which his hands made and his genius suggested.”

Reynolds was very involved in the community and as a Westville school board member for 22 years. He served as treasurer of that board and, according to reports, saved that institution much financially due to his ability for skilled labor as well as being a good financier.

Reynolds’ father was a native of North Carolina and his mother of Tennessee. He was reared on a farm and educated in a “subscription school” located in a log shanty with slab benches for seats. Subscription schools were funded by a monthly tuition fee paid by the parents to the teachers. In 1860, he married Lucinda Williams and they were the parents of three children.

Reynolds was characterized as “death’s architect.” He had a premonition about a year before his death that his life was very short.  He then began work making his own casket. After finishing it, he added a covering and it was ready to receive his remains when the time came. The casket was made of black walnut, which he had seasoned for 20 years.

Thomas C. Reynolds passed away 22 August 1901 at the age of 73 years.  His wife, Lucinda, had preceded him on 27 March 1888, at the age of 55 years. They are both buried in the Westville Cemetery in New Durham Township. It was noted in his obituary that “he had his casket prepared many years ago and kept it ready for the time when he should require it for his last journey.” At his funeral, B.W. Hollenbeck, a member of the school board, spoke words of praise of the work of “Uncle Tommy,” saying “a generation would not produce a man to wholly take his place.”  

FERN EDDY SCHULTZ is La Porte County’s official historian.

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