|Portable LaPorte County - Sources for Historical Research|
It is impossible to recapture the past. Too much of the environment and the individual has changed to allow an easy understanding of the dreams and values which guided those who lived before us. Often only a few structures, laws, tools and stories remain to provide occasional vivid glimpses into the lives of the county's earlier citizens.
The following section provides suggestions for historical research. This study of our past need not be limited to libraries or museums, although both provide vast amounts of information about our history. Our past continues to influence and shame the present daily through the codes, perceptions and prejudices inherited from our forefathers. The study of these forces can be as meaningful as life today.
1874 LaPorte County Historical Atlas
Compiled by a Chicago firm in 1873, this atlas contains a brief history of the county and its townships, a list of the first settlers, a history of the churches in LaPorte Co., and a breakdown of the county population by race and whether foreign or native born. Probably the most valuable item for research are the plats of each township, and town showing land ownership in 1874. The most interesting item in this atlas are the lithographs of the houses and farms of county residents as well as the biographies of some county residents. People paid for the privilege of having their home pictured or their biography printed in these atlases, so those found in this volume are of people with enough money and self-importance to have it done. Biographies were written by the people themselves and it is interesting to note what they considered important in their lives.
History of LaPorte County, IN
Jasper Packard, 1876. This historical volume was probably written to commemorate the National Centennial. Because it was written only 42 years after the founding of the county it is necessarily sparse in some respects. Packard has organized his history of the county by townships. For the most part these histories consist of the names and dates of arrival of the county's first settlers. All towns which existed prior to 1876 are listed along with the principal businesses and inhabitants. The section on politics contains a detailed history of the early political parties in LaPorte Co. The names, titles and dates of county officials are also given. Packard, himself, was from LaPorte. The town of LaPorte is dealt with by a discussion of its political history. Michigan City is covered by a brief history of its founding and early growth. This is a very good source for names and dates of the county's earliest settlers. Often histories like these were also used as a kind of advertisement for settlement for the county which they covered. Thus this history is very complimentary of the people and natural advantages of LaPorte County and should be read with some caution. 467 pages. Index.
History of LaPorte County, IN
Author is unknown. Published by Chas. Chapman and Co., Chicago 1880. This book contains a very general history of the county from 1829 to 1840, year by year. Basically this volume is a compilation of statistics on LaPorte Co., such as marriages and divorces, election returns from 1833 to 1878, etc. It also contains a history of the Old Settler's Association with a list of members, their place and date of birth and their year of settlement. Unfortunately this list is not alphabetized. There is also a history of the various townships with biographies of their prominent residents. For the most part, this history is a rehash of Packard without any organization or interpretation of facts. Perhaps it is only useful for the biographies of certain persons. No index or bibliography. 914 pages.
Twentieth Century History and Biographical Record of LaPorte County, IN
Rev. E. D. Daniels, Lewis Publishing Co., Chicago and New York, 1904. This is a massive, rather unwieldy volume. The early history of the county is practically a reiteration of Packard and Chapman. This is the most recent county history and is useful for information after 1880. This book does contain the only section in any of the county histories on the Kankakee River region and the dredging done there. This volume contains biographies of many county residents, written by them or their friends, as well as some portraits. An index of names is provided and the table of contents does give chapter contents, but there is no other index or bibliography. 813 pages.
History of Michigan City, IN
Rollo B. Oglesbee and Albert Hale, 1908. John H. Barker supplied money for this history to be written and it has a large chapter on the history of the Haskell-Barker Co. Consequently the objectivity of the authors is somewhat suspect. There is a good account of Major Elston's first trip to Trail Creek written by Wm. Keating, the geologist and historiographer of Major Elston's party. This is on pages 62-64. A nice description of Michigan City on October, 1842, is given on page 216. This is a fairly good history of Michigan City although it is rather sketchy and chauvinistic. It is organized by topics such as Industry, Schools, etc. Index. 220 pages.
LaPorte Centennial History in Four Volumes 1932
This four volume set on the history of LaPorte was written by members of the LaPorte County Historical Society and other residents of LaPorte in honor of the centennial of the town. It is an exhaustive, factual compilation of the history of almost all aspects of that town's past. Unfortunately, it assumes that the reader already knows some history of LaPorte and LaPorte County and is familiar with the physical layout of the city. The volumes are divided into sections such as LaPorte Doctors, Agriculture, Culture, Churches, etc. It is useful for those wishing to do secondary research. Sadly, only a very few copies are available and these are to be found only in the LaPorte Public Library. Indexed by subject and page number. No bibliography.
Michigan City's First 100 Years
Elizabeth Munger, Xerox copies. This is a very fine, cogent history of Michigan City from its beginnings until the late 1940's. Mrs. Munger first started this work in 1947 and revised it in 1961 for use by junior high students. Using her own research and descriptions of Michigan City by ordinary people, Mrs. Munger successfully conveys to the reader the feel of life in Michigan City. Events and the reasons behind the events are presented to the reader. This book contains all or most of Harriet Martineau's account of her trip from LaPorte through Michigan City to Chicago in 1836. There are three appendices on Michigan City history by G.C. Calvert at the end of the book. Bibliography. No index. 97 pages.
Reminiscences of a Small Town Curmudgeon or My Home Town
Carter Hugh Manny, Xerox copy, written before 1969. Mr. Manny relates his memories of life in Michigan City from the turn of the century until about World War I. Often these stories are embellished with details from Mr. Manny's imagination. A great deal of the wit and liveliness of this book is obscured by the general unintelligentibility of the writing style. Still, writing mainly about the "Inner Circle" of Michigan City residents, Mr. Manny breathes some life into what can often be a stuffy, dry subject. There is quite an extensive section on John H. Barker, his family and friends. No index. 75 pages.
Let's Talk About LaPorte
Bob and Ruth Coffeen, 1972. This title is available in bound and cassette form. There are 50 of these short vignettes on the history of LaPorte and LaPorte County written by LaPorte historians, Bob and Ruth Coffeen. They were originally meant for use in the LaPorte Community Schools and are written for children. The Coffeens used the previous county histories and their own memories for this book. It is a good introduction to the history of LaPorte County but not really suitable for research use. Table of contents only.
History of the Trail Creek Region
Elizabeth Munger, 1972, Xerox copies. A fine readable account of the history of the Trail Creek/northern Indiana area from the time of the Mound Builder culture to about 1838. The book also covers the French and British occupations of this region. No index or bibliography. 24 pages.
History of Pioneer LaPorte County
Compiled by Gene McDonald, Xerox copies. This is a history of the very earliest years of LaPorte County: some of the important historical events, the earliest settlers and businessmen. The book is organized by townships. The author is very meticulous and factual and consequently very dry. Still, this is an excellent source for early history of the county. No index. 43 pages.
Old Mills of LaPorte County, Grain and Sawmills
Gene McDonald, 1968, Xerox. This work is also arranged according to township. An exhaustive survey of mills, owners, type (grist, saw, etc.), dates of construction and operation, etc., this book also contains an explanation of how mills were run and mill construction. It is a little less dry than "Pioneer LaPorte County", although still very factual. It is another excellent research source. No index. 35 pages.
Inventory of the County Archives, No. 46, LaPorte, IN
Historical Bureau, 1939. This book has a brief, but accurate and concise historical section on LaPorte County, its government and organization. The book is basically an inventory of the county records according to county departments: Sheriff, County Assessor, Tax Collector, etc. It also gives the location, in 1939, of these records. It is an excellent guide for anyone wishing to do research using primary sources. Index and bibliography. 189 pages.
Our Heritage, Michigan City, IN (Click for full text)
Printed by the News-Dispatch, 1976. This 5 section history of Michigan City was put together in 1976 by Michigan City's newspaper for the Bicentennial. It was taken almost exclusively from previous county and city histories. It is frequently superficial in discussing Michigan City's past and is rather chauvinistic. It is adequate for anyone wishing to gain some understanding of this town's history. No index.
Are also available for the following towns and townships in LaPorte County: Lincoln Township - 1966; LaCrosse - 1963; Stillwell - 1970; Wanatah -1965; Hanna - 1958; Westville - 1951. These centennial volumes are rather sketchy about the histories of their subjects. They were written by local committees. Frequently the general history was taken from Packard or Daniels, but these volumes contain stories and pictures not found anywhere else.
This magazine is useful for articles on Indiana history in general and occasionally has articles specifically dealing with events in LaPorte County, such as the Trail of Death, or persons, such as the Andrew brothers of LaPorte.
The archives of the LaPorte County Historical Society and the Michigan City Historical Society. Although these archives are organized in a rather haphazard manner, they are invaluable for anyone wishing to do original research. Both societies also have collections of historic photographs. The Michigan City Public Library has both of these photographic collections as well as some private collections on 35 mm slides.
The Michigan City Public Library has an archive of oral histories, recorded interviews with county residents on topics ranging from children's games to ice harvesting to general reminiscences of county life. These cassette tapes have been indexed and sometimes transcribed; the tapes, recorders, and transcriptions may all be checked out from the library. There are also published monographs of interviews with county residents available for circulation.
Oral history is a valuable addition to historical research. Too often history has been concerned with dates and "significant" events. But our past is one of people: their dreams, failures and beliefs. Talk with your grandparents and older friends; learn of our past from those who lived and created it. All that is needed to preserve a bit of our history is a recording machine, tapes, a willing subject and an hour or two of time. It can be a rewarding procedure for all involved.
The 56 cemeteries in LaPorte County are more than burial sites. They are fascinating places to learn of the development of the area. The dates on the tombstones reveal the change in life spans, the settlement of a community and the occurrence of epidemics. Names indicate ethnic backgrounds as well as the intermarriages between a few families common in small isolated communities. Information about birthplaces and military duty may also be included in the inscriptions. (Note: GAR is the Grand Army of the Republic, the army of the North during the Civil War.) A cemetery may also be all that remains of a town which was abandoned because of changes in commerce or transportation. It is also interesting to wander through the county's cemeteries, many of them located on the hilly sites favored for burial use because of the view and farming difficulties, just to note the changing style of tombstone inscriptions and designs.
Some of the county's cemeteries were included as sites in the tour. All are worth visiting. For a complete listing of county cemeteries, please contact either the Michigan City Public Library or the Pioneer Cemetery Association. The Association, formed in 1969, has been responsible for the restoration and upkeep of many of the county cemeteries. PCA members may be contacted through the curator of the LaPorte County Historical Museum.