Michigan City Public Library
Sand dune
100 E. 4th Street, Michigan City, IN 46360, phone 219 - 873 - 3044 fax 219 - 873 - 3067

               
      Portable LaPorte County - Introduction




 

Laurie Radke
Elizabeth Smith
Kenneth Vanderkamp
Bernice Tolchinsky
John Brennan
Jerrold Gustafson
Paul St Arnaud
Cecilia Jankowski


published c1978

Under the sponsorship of the Michigan City Public Library and the LaPorte County CETA Title VI Special Projects program, the LaPorte County History project has accomplished a great deal towards the preservation of our past. Two one-hour films and eighteen slide-cassette programs on the history of LaPorte County have been researched, written and produced by the project staff. Over 6000 historic photographs have been copied onto 35mm slides; 70 of them have been included in this booklet. Over 100 older residents of the county have been interviewed on topics ranging from maple sugar harvesting to reminiscences of an era of horse troughs and one-room schools. These tapes have been indexed and transcribed. Some of the interviews have been published in monograph form by the project staff. Members of the LaPorte County History Project have conducted, at no charge, numerous slide shows on historic topics for county, church, civic, and school groups. With the cooperation of the Michigan City school system, we have video-taped our slide-cassette programs for the future use of the students. All the materials collected or produced by the History Project are available through the Michigan City Public Library.

"The Portable LaPorte County" introduces the reader to the history of the county. It is organized in three sections and includes a map designed to make local historical research both educational and enjoyable. "The Portable LaPorte County" is not a complete or comprehensive history. We ignored much of our county's recent past in order to cover that which already has or is now rapidly disappearing from our lives and we urge county residents to further investigate their history. It is only with an understanding of the past that we can create a strong future.

An Introduction to La Porte County

BaileyJanzEckert

Three Wanatah residents posed proudly in their polished leather buggy in the early 1900's.  Young men, or blades, cruised the dirt streets in their high-wheeled buggies, competing for the attention of family and friends.  The high wheels were a necessity in an era of roads rutted with gullies and dotted with tree stumps.

The area of land we today know as LaPorte County was originally a place of great natural diversity and abundance. On the north bordering Lake Michigan stretched a belt of high, billowing sand dunes; on the south along the Kankakee River was a vast domain of watery marsh where wildlife of all kinds lived in incredible numbers. Between these two regions were areas of dense hardwood forests, broken here and there by open expanses of rolling tallgrass prairie. Sparkling, gem-like lakes dotted the hills and thousands of springs fed clear, rushing creeks.

The landscape of most of LaPorte County was created approximately 20,000 years ago when the last great period of continental glaciation was on the wane. During the past million years four huge masses of ice formed in northern Canada and swept south to bury the northern region of the United States under thousands of feet of glacial ice. LaPorte County was totally covered by ice at least three times. The last glacier - known as the "Wisconsin" - crept south over our county 30 to 40 thousand years ago. As it advanced southward, it bulldozed the Lake Michigan basin deeper and swept away earlier glacial deposits. After reaching southern Indiana the glacier then started to melt back again as the climate warmed. Most of LaPorte County was uncovered 16,000 years ago, at which time the retreating ice mass dropped a tremendous load of rock debris and sand in a broad belt of high ridges we now call the Valparaiso Moraine. The melt water from the glacier flowing off the moraine created a gently sloping plain which extends to the Kankakee River. The glacier eventually retreated to Canada, where it completely wasted away about 5,000 years ago. The melt water from the glacier filled the vast depressions of the Great Lakes basins, including that of Lake Michigan. In LaPorte County, Lake Michigan has rested at several different levels, the highest being 60 feet above the present level. Sand dunes formed along the different shorelines. The large dunes of today developed only about 4,000 years ago when Lake Michigan began to stabilize at its present height of 580 feet above sea level.

Forests soon followed the retreat of the glacier northward. At first came spruce and fir trees; later came pine trees and hardwoods. Hardwood forests covered much of the northern half of the county in Pioneer times and provided early sawmills a great wealth of timber. White pine grew on much of the sandy and marshy land along Lake Michigan. Further south occurred small openings in the dense forests where grasses and wildflowers provided the tallest cover. The French explorers and fur traders called these openings "prairies," their word for meadow. Around LaPorte was the Door Prairie, or Burr Oak At Door Village, which led like a door to the western Prairies; from this LaPorte, or in English, the door, got its name. The tall grasses that flourished on the prairie created lush grazing grounds for small herds of bison and elk. They were hunted not only by Indians, but also by numerous wolves and cougars, or mountain lions. Quail and prairie chickens likewise made the prairies their homes. Among the oak trees scattered here and there, as well as in the dense forest, huge flocks of passenger pigeons fed on acorns and roosted by the millions at night amid the trees. The small patches of northern prairies broadened out a few miles further south into wide, flat vistas. These sometimes were wet and marshy, and here snipe, woodcock, mink, and otter thrived.

Along the southern border of the county, the Kankakee River lazily snaked its way through a vast area of open, broad marshland. This area was home to countless numbers of fish, frogs, cranes, muskrats, and otters. Each fall tremendous numbers of geese, swans, and ducks rested and fed here, creating one of the greatest wildlife spectacles in North America.

Hopewell_small

Hopewells

About 2,000 years ago, LaPorte County was colonized by the Hopewell people. Farmers and warriors, the Hopewells built a vast empire stretching from Missouri to western Pennsylvania and from the Great Lakes to Tennessee. Their major settlement in LaPorte County was on the border of Mill Creek. Here, in what is now the town of Union Mills, were found a series of burial mounds. When excavated in the 1870's, these mounds yielded some of the finest examples of Hopewell pottery ever found. This burial practice, begun by the earlier Adena peoples, had reached a zenith under the Hopewells. Important leaders were buried with articles of flint, copper, mica, shale, cannel coal and slate; platform and effigy pipes sculpted into human forms were placed near the body. The mound sites were probably not villages in themselves, but rather ceremonial centers for a cluster of smaller communities. The1000 year dynasty of the mound builders ended by 500 A.D. with the destruction of the Hopewells by either conquest or disease and crop failure. Only mute fragments of the lives of these ancient people remain today.

The Pottawattomie Indians knew and loved this land. They fished, trapped, and hunted and picked the wild cranberries and blueberries that sprinkled the marsh. Using their dugout canoes, they plied the waters of the Kankakee, camping on small wooded islands which dotted the marsh. The Pottawattomies had several temporary village sites throughout the county which they used on a seasonal basis. In summer they shunned the mosquito-plagued marshes and moved to higher ground or to the dune country along Lake Michigan. A complicated web of interconnecting trails tied their domain together. One of these was the Great Sauk Trail, a transcontinental route that linked the western plains with eastern Canada. The trail passed through LaPorte County connecting later with what became Hudson Lake, LaPorte, Door Village, and Westville. The Sac Indians of Illinois traveled over this route to Fort Maiden near Detroit. Here they collected annuities from the British for helping them in the War of 1812 against the Americans. Pottawattomies still inhabited the county several years after white men began to live here. They were very peaceful and curious about the strange ways of the whites, but their presence was irritating to land hungry white settlers. The last of the Indians were force-marched out to Kansas in 1838 by the U.S. government, a journey remembered as the Trail of Death.

Marquette_small

Father Marquette

White men passed through LaPorte County in the late 1600's. French missionaries such as Father Marquette entered the wilderness of northern Indiana and Illinois converting the native Indians to Catholicism. He is believed to have been the first white ever to set foot in LaPorte County when he preached to a group of Pottawattomie Indians along Trail Creek in 1674. Shortly after this, in 1679, LaSalle led an exploratory expedition from Montreal through this area with the purpose of securing a new inland empire for France with a series of fortifications and trading posts in the upper Midwest. Part of his journey which led him down the Kankakee River from South Bend along southern boundary of LaPorte County. For the next 150 years, other French-Canadians passed through the area, intent mainly on trapping beaver, mink, and otter and trading with the Indians. Whenever possible they traveled by canoe along the shores of Lake Michigan and then followed inland water routes throughout the whole Midwest down to the Gulf of Mexico. As far as is known, these Frenchmen never developed a permanent settlement in LaPorte County.

By the early 1800's, the people of the United States were slowly moving westward from the crowded Atlantic seaboard states into the new lands of the Northwest Territory. The Ohio River and its tributaries became the main highway for many of these settlers. Traveling by wagon along primitive roads to the headwaters of the Ohio, settlers loaded their possessions and families onto flatboats and floated downriver to Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. Once there, they slowly moved northward along the banks of small rivers and streams through the dense forests and steep hills of these new lands. Many of these pioneers came from the South and the Border States. By 1816, enough people were living in Indiana to make admission as a state possible. But no easy means of reaching the fertile lands north of Indianapolis existed until the 1825 completion of the Erie Canal; travel from the East to the shores of the Great Lakes was now possible. Settlers virtually exploded along the canal, eager to trade the thin New England soils for the rich Midwestern prairies.

Sidebarn_small

Frame houses and barns, many built with care and individuality, soon distinguished LaPorte county from a log cabin frontier.  In 1888, Marian Ridgeway built a unique eight-sided horse barn.  Located off present Hwy. 35, the structure was typical of the octagonal style of construction popular after the Civil War.

In the meantime, Hoosier politicians, concerned about the dominance of Southerners and Southern feeling in Indiana, began to seek means of tying the state politically and economically with the North. The Erie Canal and Great Lakes shipping made it possible for goods to reach the Eastern markets by a shorter northern route, rather than by the river systems to New Orleans. Obviously a port would have to be constructed on Lake Michigan; Hoosiers believed that if this were done not only would the northern lands be settled but Indiana, with all the rich agricultural products of the Midwest flowing through her lakeport, would become one of the foremost states in the Union. Accordingly, in 1828, surveying and construction of the Michigan Road was begun. Running northward from Madison, on the Ohio River, the Michigan Road would pass through the state capital and the broad fields of Indiana to the mouth of Trail Creek where a lakeport was envisioned.

The first white settlers began arriving in LaPorte County in late 1828 or early 1829, attracted by the prospect of cheap government land. Because of difficulties in communication due to the distance and terrain, settlers frequently had little idea of how many others there were living in the general area. The two best candidates for first settler are Miriam Benedict, who settled near Westville in March, 1829, and Asa Harper, who built his cabin near the Hudson Lake Baptist Mission in 1828 or 1829. Slowly, other pioneers began arriving, many of them traveling in their ox-drawn wagons along the unimproved Michigan Road, until there were 2 or 3 tiny communities in 1831.

ElstonIsaac_small

Major Isaac C. Elston

Major Isaac C. Elston, a wealthy and influential resident of Crawfordsville, had a great deal of interest in the prospect of a town and harbor at the northern terminus of the Michigan Road. His friends in the Indiana legislature and his conversations with the commissioners who had surveyed the mouth of Trail Creek in 1828, all convinced him that the port would be located there. In 1830, when the Trail Creek site was chosen for Indiana's lakeport, Major Elston bought the creek mouth and the adjoining land, sight unseen for $1.25 an acre. A year later, he finally traveled north to survey his lands and lay out the future town of Michigan City.

HenryCathcart_small

In the early 1830's LaPorte county was an unsettled part of America's wild west frontier.  When Henry Cathcart arrived in LaPorte in 1833 the only housing immediately available was a two room log cabin.  Cathcart and his brother shared it with 19 other boarders

In the same year, James and Abram Andrew were platting the town of LaPorte. The Andrew brothers had built the first 15 mile segment of the Michigan Road north from Madison. When their job was completed, they found that the Michigan Road Authority was unable to pay them in cash. They accepted script paper which could be exchanged for land in the northern part of the state, for their labors. They also set out in the fall of 1831 to inspect the area. It is very possible that they and Major Elston traveled together over the Michigan Road to LaPorte County.

FamilyByCabinpg

By 1840, 8000 settlers had begun to parcel the county into farm and town sites.  Frame houses provided a more comfortable lifestyle than log cabins but diseases and epidemics decimated entire communities.  Many of the harsh living conditions were still present when this family was photographed in the late 1800's at Wilder, a small town once south of LaCrosse.

The following year was a momentous one. LaPorte, with its small resident population and central geographical position, became the county seat; there were two cabins, at the most, in Michigan City at that time. In later years an intense rivalry developed between the two cities for prominence in county affairs. In May of 1832, the Black Hawk War scare banded most of the scattered settlers of LaPorte County together for defense while others fled to the East and safety. For a time settlement slowed, but when it became well known that the Pottawattomie had remained peaceful and that there had been no real Indian threat, the pulse of settlement quickened. By 1835, most of the government land had been sold. New settlers were arriving every day along the Michigan Road; ships were beginning to take on and unload freight at Michigan City even though there was no harbor. The first settlers in the county survived in a frontier environment complete with Indians, stagecoaches, wild bears, and wolves. They lived in log cabins and farmed small patches of ground painfully wrested from the forest and prairie. But LaPorte County changed as swiftly as the rest of the country during these early years. In rapid succession such improvements as better roads, banks, industries, frame houses, theatres, hotels, etc., came to the area, all the result of a fortunate combination of geography and easy transportation. The removal of the Indians in 1838-39 secured title to their lands for settlers and resulted in increased settlement. Both the Money Panic of 1837 and the California Gold Rush of 1849 may have helped the county by winnowing out those who were not satisfied with the slow, steady, relentless growth and development of this area.

Trail Creek

Michigan City in the late 1880's was a vigorous bustling industrial town with much of its energy centered at the harbor. Lumber stacks lining Trail Creek, ships and trains arriving and departing daily with freight and passengers, and the hum of activity at the large complex of engine repair shops (center) all pointed to a healthy economy

When the railroads reached LaPorte County in 1852, they ushered in a confusing period of phenomenal growth, expansion, depression and upheaval. In many ways the railroads meant the demise of Michigan City as a major commercial port. Once smaller centers like Hanna and Wanatah had direct rail connections with Chicago and the Eastern markets, nearby farmers shipped their farm produce from these points rather than haul them to the lake harbor.

railroad repair shops

Built in 1852 as a service center for its engines, the Michigan Central Railroad Repair Shops employed hundreds of skilled area men.  In 1917, the shops and many of the railroad workers were moved to Niles, Michigan, intensifying an economic slump already present in Michigan City.

At the same time, the railroads created new industries in LaPorte and Michigan City by making raw materials and markets more accessible. The Haskell-Barker Car Co. and the M. Rumely Co., both mainstays of the county economy, were started in the 1850's to supply the railroads with needed products. The location of the engine repair shops in the two towns also created many new jobs. Unfamiliar ethnic groups began to join the original settlers in LaPorte County; the Irish and the Germans came with the railroad and stayed to work in the new factories or to form farming communities. The Northern Indiana State Prison was located in Michigan City during this period partly to provide a cheap labor pool by contracting convicts for work in the numerous factories. High energy, high hopes and a restlessness characterized this period in the development of LaPorte County. The railroads, by making travel faster and easier, began the slow process of binding the individual areas of the United States together into a single entity.

Lincoln's funeral train

Lincoln's Funeral Train

The great conflict of the Civil War dominated the decade of the 1860's. Feeling for the Union ran high in LaPorte County. Many of the residents had originally come from New England states and there were several Underground Railroad stations scattered across the county. Hundreds of county men volunteered and trained for combat in the three army camps in Michigan City and LaPorte. Factory and farm production boomed under the impetus of the war. Wheat and hogs, mainstays of the agricultural economy, were shipped by rail to the East for eventual use by the army. LaPorte County was a major troop shipping point and these same railroads carried thousands of men from the Midwest to the southern battlefields. The manpower drain created by the Civil War brought about the first use of machinery on county farms; manufacturers of threshing machinery would stage demonstrations of their products for county farmers. The overwhelming tragedy of civil war was brought forcibly home to the people of LaPorte County when in May, 1865, the funeral train of Abraham Lincoln passed through on its way to Springfield, Illinois.

After the war, growth in LaPorte and especially Michigan City slowed due to a slump in the economy. Farmers were hit by a drop in prices after 1865 because of decreased demand for foodstuffs. In Michigan City prison labor kept some factories open while in LaPorte the Fox Woolen Mills attracted new workers. But in 1870, economic disaster struck LaPorte with the removal of the Michigan Southern machine shops to Elkhart, Indiana. Over the next ten years, population dropped slightly as the railroad-related industries left the town. In contrast, the 1880's was a boom period for Michigan City. The population virtually doubled as old industries, such as Haskell-Barker under the management of John H. Barker, expanded, while new industries were attracted by the abundance of labor. The harbor, dredged in 1869, was enjoying a renaissance; hundreds of ships brought lumber from the vast forests of Michigan and Wisconsin to the many Michigan City wood and finishing factories.

The technology which had been devoted to war uses was now concentrated upon the development of agricultural aids. Inventions such as the Rumely Company's portable steam engine and improved reapers and threshers opened up more prairie lands. Farmers were beginning to expand the size of their acreage and to specialize in farm productions. Ice-refrigerated railroad cars were introduced and Chicago stockyards were now able to ship cattle and hogs, slaughtered for market. Chicago firms began harvesting the ice on LaPorte's numerous lakes, shipping it packed in county-harvested marsh hay by freight car direct to the stockyards. As the demands for Midwest cornfed beef and pork grew, county farmers increased livestock production.

Farm field

To feed the growing urban populations of the early 20th century, farmers relied on horse- or steam-driven equipment.  Neighbors joined with each other in threshing rings to rent the expensive steam threshers and harvest the crops on each farm.  Farmwives labored for days over wood-burning stoves to provide the threshermen with memorable meals.

train depot

Crowds of travelers, wide-eyed children and local loungers gathered at the Michigan City depots to board or watch the steam-belching engines during the years of railroad travel.  The building in the foreground, photographed in the 1870/s, was the Michigan Central Depot.  The Monon Depot was opposite the Louisville, New Albany and Chicago (Monon) Repair Shops.

These years also saw the beginning of an unusual industry in LaPorte and Michigan City. The natural beauty of the LaPorte lakes induced many people to spend their summers there, living in hotels, cottages and canvas tents. A variety of cultural, religious, and purely entertainment activities were offered for these visitors and residents. In Michigan City, excursionists came by boat and train to enjoy the lakefront, tour the prison and take in the view from high atop Hoosier Slide. Great women and men of the day, such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Horace Greeley, came and spoke to clubs and associations throughout the county.

Life in the cities became more sophisticated during the 1880's and 1890's. Police and fire protection were instituted on a semi-professional basis. Sewers, gas and electric streetlights were installed; streetcars became a common sight and some people even had telephones. Increasingly, life in LaPorte and Michigan City was becoming more like life in Chicago or New York. Through magazines and newspapers, cultural experiences could be shared by large segments of the American population, even the remote farm families.

Although 95% of the county was in use as farmlands in the early 1900's, an increasingly larger percentage of the population was moving to the cities, searching for work at Haskell and Barker or Rumely companies or one of the other expanding factories. Many of those migrating to the towns were displaced farm families. The farmer's dependence on the labor-saving steam threshers and tractors drove many to mortgage their lands in order to buy the equipment. After incomes dropped in the post-war period, the mortgages were unpaid and the farms lost. Farmers who survived this depression began to increase farm size to profitably use their machinery, buying out other farmers' holdings. The Kankakee River was straightened and its surrounding marshlands, once a wildlife area rich in deer, beaver and waterfowl, was extensively dredged and ditched as man claimed lands from the wet prairie soils.

Milwaukee Steamer automobile

A 1901 Milwaukee Steamer was the first automobile ever to travel the dirt streets of LaPorte.  Owned by Emmett Scott, the Steamer earned its name from the fuel - steam.  Driver and passenger sat above the boiler which generated up to 300 pounds of pressure.

Horse and wagon remained as the farmer's main method of short-haul transportation, but streetcars and interurbans were constructed to provide urban populations of Michigan City and LaPorte with greater mobility. As horse-drawn and electric streetcars had earlier connected city dwellers to job and stores, interurbans connected city to city. By the early 1900's, Michigan City and LaPorte residents were able to quickly and conveniently travel to South Bend, Elkhart and Chicago. A super-interurban, the Airline, which was to have linked Chicago non-stop to New York, was abandoned after only 19 1/2 miles were constructed near LaPorte.

interurban car

A 1913 photographer filmed Interurban Car #212 as it rolled past the LaPorte Courthouse on its run to Michigan City.  Other city improvements at this time included paved streets, police and fire protection, hospitals and sewer lines.

The defined work week of the factory laborer allowed the development of a leisure industry. Organized entertainment in the form of Chautauquas, circuses, dog and pony shows and vaudeville acts now arrived by railroad to offer their amusements. Band concerts were frequent and well-attended; neighborhood taverns and factories sponsored baseball games. The lakefront activities also intensified as Sunday afternoons were spent cruising LaPorte's lakes or bathing and picnicking at Michigan City's beaches.

Factory jobs were plentiful although hours were long and the pay low. Both city and farm dwellers needed goods and services that once were supplied from within the family but now were provided in exchange for cash. Dairies, grocery markets, butcher shops, clothing stores, restaurants, hospitals and drug stores increased in number and importance throughout the county.

The growing urban demand for farm goods was met by increased farm dependence on the Rumely Oil Pull tractor, gas combines, and the advice of the newly-appointed county agricultural extension agent, L. B. Clore, the first in Indiana. Urban migration from the farms continued as farmers were unable to buy the new machinery and compete against other producers; still, the factories demanded more labor. Industrialists such as the Barkers and Rumelys found it in the steerage ships and railroad cars which transported millions of Germans, Poles, Irish, Syrians, Jews, Italians, Turks, and Blacks across the oceans or the countryside to American cities.

Residents of Swedish origin

The languages and customs of Europe were valued and perpetuated in many county neighborhoods: Waterford, Otis, Swedish Hills, Wanatah.  Here the sounds and the smells of the old country made the new land of America seem less frightening.  Michigan City's west side welcomed many of the area's immigrants, including this Swedish family photographed in the early 1900's.

Fleeing famine, revolutions, or a crumbling peasant system, these immigrants powered the American industrial revolution of the late 1800's and early 1900's. Although arriving with dreams of owning land, many became trapped by the unfamiliarity of customs, beliefs, and languages in the often hated cities. To survive in the new land and retain pride in their old ways, the immigrants established neighborhoods or communities separated by language and tradition from the surrounding areas: Germantown, Canada, Swedeville, Polish Town. Churches were built where the beliefs of the old country could be followed and passed on to the youth. The hope of the future, the children were expected to continue their father's ways while becoming American. If they could, parents sent their young to church schools where the home language of German or Polish was used. Those unable or unwilling to blend into American society because of language, religion or physical characteristics were still tolerated, as all immigrants had been since America's colonization, because there was a need for their labor and skills.

Immigrant labor proved to be essential in the running of factories and farms during WW 1. The newly-arrived Syrian or Pole, like the long-time citizens, sent their young to fight and die. Everyone worked for the war effort on the home front, saving toothpaste tubes and peach pits for recycling into chemicals, buying Liberty bonds and knitting dough boy caps and scarves. German schools closed and German was dropped from regular use in the church and home as these and other immigrants struggled to become American.

Americans were afraid after the war. Returning from the fighting to an economy suffering post-war adjustments, the soldiers had to fight again, but this time for peacetime work. Willing to do the dirtiest job at the lowest wage just to survive, the immigrants were often hired instead of the vet. These people with their unknown languages and strange customs began to be looked on with fear and distrust; organizations promising to save America for the Americans were wholeheartedly accepted by sections of the population. The Ku Klux Klan found favor in northern states by harassing the peoples immigrating to the cities to find work: the Jews, Blacks and Catholics. With torchlight parades, angry speeches and fiery crosses, the Klan persecuted those who did not agree with their views. Both the state and much of the local governments were controlled in the 1920's by Klan sympathizers. The KKK did not decrease in size or power until the Klan-controlled government failed to stem off the Depression of the 30's.

Sky Blue Arena

Sky Blue Arena

Oasis Ballroom

Oasis Ballroom

Prohibition, the restriction of the type and availability of liquor, did not stop area residents from enjoying bootlegged liquor and bathtub gin. The sounds of the big bands enticed hundreds to the lakefront ballroom, the Oasis, or the Hudson Lake Casino. Thousands crammed Floyd Fitzsimmon's Sky Blue Arena in Michigan City to see national prizefights before the state government closed the arena for illegal activities.

The radio was invented in the 1920's, further increasing the linkage of county residents to the rest of the country. Influential and pervasive, radio newscasts, soap operas and jingles created a common set of values, goals and dreams in which any listener could share.

Further loss of isolation was assured by the popularity of the automobile. Offering convenient transportation, the auto and truck allowed LaPorte County farmers and industrialists access to any desired market. Improved road construction, begun with the popularity of bicycles twenty years earlier, was completed; towns were soon linked by a concrete network of roads and highways. Just as the railroad had decided the future of many small towns, the auto and improved roads caused the decline of many once-thriving farm marketing centers into quiet residential areas. The auto allowed people in the outlying areas to work and shop in the higher paying factories and better stocked stores of LaPorte and Michigan City. The car and interurbans also allowed workers to move away from their offices and factories' central city locations; towns grew rapidly out of their city limits as people chose to commute from their country cottages. Suburbia became an established part of the American dream as bedroom communities such as Long Beach and Trail Creek were established.

As Americans increasingly enjoyed their Sunday drives and summer vacations, the economy was faltering. With crop prices low after WW I and lands mortgaged to buy machinery, farmers were unable to buy manufactured goods. Without the farmers as consumers, industries began to cut production. Workers were laid off and savings depleted. Banks closed as customers tried to withdraw money already spent. National investments crashed and the country was in the midst of the Great Depression of the 1930's.

As more county residents lost jobs, the lines for food stamps at the township trustees grew longer; the sight of tramps and hoboes became a common one and handouts a frequent request. Thousands of farms across the country were sold to creditors or foreclosed because of unpaid mortgages. The Advance Rumely Company went into receivership because of unpaid bills and was acquired by the Allis-Chalmers Corporation; Haskell-Barker Company was acquired by Pullman Standard as orders for railroad cars and the subsequent profits dropped.

To create needed jobs, Congress authorized a Works Progress Administration. Hundreds of laborers were hired by federal, state and local governments to conduct research or complete construction jobs. LaPorte and Michigan City both qualified for WPA funding and much of the construction work on Fox Park and the lakefront pier, zoo and Washington Park was done by WPA workers.

Taylors

In the early 1900's, the Taylor women of Michigan city posed in solemn finery for a studio photographer.  Few individuals owned cameras before WWII.

The nation and county's economies did not recover until WW II created a demand for food and supplies. Factories and farms increased or shifted productions: Reliance produced uniforms instead of men's shirts and children's underwear and Allis-Chalmers switched from tractors to anti-aircraft guns. Many women received their first introduction to shop work as local companies were forced to hire women to replace drafted and enlisted employees.  

LaPorte County was chosen as the site of one of 70 ordnance plants across the country. On over 20 square miles of converted cornfields near Kingsbury, workers recruited from throughout the nation built and tested thousands of bombs, fuses, and shells daily. The influx of laborers, many of them southern Blacks and Whites, to the Kingsbury Ordnance Plant was the largest immigration experienced by county residents since the 1920's.

Industry and agriculture suffered initially in peacetime. Some factories had been unionized during the war and strikes protesting drops in post-war incomes were common. The federal government created price supports, surplus plans and Soil Bank programs to help farmers adjust to the drops in food demand and prices after the European nations resumed food production. More county farmers joined Farm Bureau Co-ops, which had been established in the '30's to help the farmer by offering cooperative buying and marketing.

plank road work

Workers renew the plank pavement of Michigan City's Boston (10th) St. with cedar blocks, one answer to the 1890's problem of dirt streets.  Unfortunately, the cedar blocks and wooden sidewalks tended to float away during heavy rainstorms.

The use of the auto increased as gas rationing was lifted; as Americans grow more reluctant to leave their cars, drive-in movies, banks, and restaurants were developed. The federal government assumed the cost of construction of transcontinental super highways and mile-a-minute travel became a reality.

This mobility of Americans caused a decay of the inner city residential area and central business district. The exodus of the well-off from the city heightened the tensions between racial or ethnic groups. Fear became a common concern in cities of all sizes.

Grocery

Baskets of farm-fresh produce front Peterson and Swanson's Grocery on LaPorte's Main Street.  Shoppers and flies alike were attracted by the sun-warmed fruits and vegetables.  Local butchers and farmers supplied the housewives daily with meats and milk products.

In the late 1950's, the smaller LaPorte County towns lost their center of social activities with the consolidation of the local high schools. Students from the small towns were bused to LaPorte or South Central High Schools. This, coupled with the increased mobility of the residents, transformed the once-bustling small towns into quiet commuter residential areas. Often only a church and a few stores remain to mark the town's business center.

The county's farmers today utilize a great deal of scientific research, machinery and capital in the production of corn, soybeans and wheat. With the dependency of the farm on technology, a huge agribusiness industry has developed to supply the farmer with equipment, chemicals and research information. The boundaries between farm and industry became harder to discern. Industry itself has become increasingly dependent on technological advances and computer-aided management.

wedding photograph

Few brides could afford to be married in white.  Maroon or lavender were chosen as more practical colors for a dress that would often be worn until frayed.

In 1970, LaPorte County's population was 66% urban and 34% rural. Although many ethnic groups remain to diversify county life, the difference between cultures has rapidly been eroded away by the pervasive and homogenizing influence of television. The concerns of an entire nation have become those of the county: preservation of natural resources; pollution; evaluation of morals and beliefs; political upheavals; and social unrest. Identification with the local area has often been lost; an understanding of the forces which shaped the past and continue to influence the present is missing.

The study of local history provides this identification. An examination of documents, images and memories concerning the immediate area graphically details the development of the area. Instances of national importance are also more easily understood and appreciated if viewed in terms of the immigration patterns, economic trends, customs and traditions, etc., of a city; often their beginnings can be traced to small-town happenings.

We are rooted in our past. We inherit the rules, practices, and beliefs of our fathers as well as their tools and structures; what we do with them creates our own history. If we better understand the events and personalities which molded our values and beliefs, we can more successfully discard, change, or utilize them. We can grow as individuals and as members of society. The study of local history, of the past of the surrounding area, allows us to plan our future with more care.

Historic Sites of La Porte County

stationhouse

A stationhouse was built on the east side of the harbor in 1882 for the Life Saving Crew.  From a vantage point atop the surfboathouse, a lookout kept constant watch.  The sound of an alarm would galvanize the eight-man crew into their boats to begin a rescue attempt.  The Life Saving Crew also recorded weather and harbor use data.

The enclosed maps of LaPorte County, Michigan City and LaPorte are simplified road maps which include all the necessary roads and streets to get you to the sites listed below. More complete maps, helpful but not necessary, are widely available. Most of the county road names are a combination of a number and a direction, which greatly simplifies knowing where you are. Roads running east and west across the county north of LaPorte are designated 100N, 200N, 300N, etc., increasing by a hundred for every mile north of Division Road. East-west roads south of Division Road are designated 100S, 200S, etc. The same system is used for roads running north-south across the county. North-south roads west of LaPorte are named 100W, 200W, etc., while those east of LaPorte are called 100E, 200E, etc. Because most county roads follow this system, it is hard to get really lost anywhere in the county.

Although there are hundreds of historic places throughout the county, we have tried to select only those where an actual physical structure or historical marker still exists. There are countless places where absolutely nothing remains of former activity, including whole towns that were once teeming settlements but were later abandoned and disappeared. Many significant historical places no longer in existence are often mentioned within the description of related sites. Exceptions to this include places such as Bootjack and Plum Grove, which were judged too important not to be given separate site numbers. The county site descriptions that follow are numbered to correspond to the numbers in red on the county map; separate blowup maps of Michigan City and LaPorte have capital letters in red which correspond to the subsite descriptions of these two cities. All structures, monuments, and markers mentioned were present in July, 1978, but with time some of these can be expected to disappear. All residences mentioned are PRIVATE, unless stated otherwise. Please do not trespass on private property or disturb the people living in these residences.

Since the county is so large that it would be impossible to cover all the sites in a day or two, we have broken the county down into five sections: Northwest, Northeast, West Central, Southwest, and Southeast, in addition to separate sections for Michigan City and LaPorte. Each section can probably be covered in one day. Following the numbers or letters consecutively in each section will give a reasonably logical tour of that section, although sites can be visited in any order desired.

If you would rather listen to the site descriptions as you drive along instead of reading them, a cassette recording of the site descriptions and a cassette player can be checked out at the Michigan City Public Library.