The Michigan City News-Dispatch published Our Heritage in installments between June 29, 1976 and July 3, 1976. It is reproduced here with their permission.
The Making of a Community
…a History of Michigan City, Indiana
Christopher Columbus’ dream of a feasible westward passage from Europe to the Orient did not die with him. Instead, it continued to intrigue other European adventurers as late as the 1600s and, with this insatiable curiosity, it might be said, lay the seeds that eventually brought Michigan City into being.
When Vasco da Gama, in 1499, showed the impracticability of rounding Africa’s Cape of Good Hope, for instance, and Ferdinand Magellan, in 1520, demonstrated the hardships of the route around the tip of South America, there remained but one real possibility — a northwest passage through the vast new continent that came to be known in time as North America.
Two of the European powers of that day accepted the challenge of finding this route –France and England. The French centered their efforts on the lower St. Lawrence River while the English aimed at the Mississippi Valley, and it was this happenstance that left the familiar French names rather than the lesser known English names in the historical legacy of Michigan City.
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History credits Etienne Brule, a protégé of Champlain, with discovering Lakes Huron and Superior in 1623, and Jean Nicolet with first setting eyes on Lake Michigan in 1634. The Jesuit fathers Jogues and Raymbault named Sault Saint Marie and established a temporary mission there in 1641. Father Medard, the first of the Jesuits to penetrate the region to the west of the Sault, came in 1660 and Father Allouez followed him in 1665, establishing a mission near the western extremity, of Lake Superior, which he called La Point du Saint Esprit, or La Pointe for short.
But while these Frenchmen busied themselves with the upper Great Lakes area, it remained for others – Louis Joliet, Father Jacques Marquette and Sieur de La Salle – to explore the long finger of water reaching southward to Hoosier Slide and to open up this country to the white man. Joliet and Marquette, thrown together somewhat by circumstances, combined in the 1670s to make the first meaningful thrust into present day Illinois and Indiana, a journey which some historians have chosen to call one of the most famous in the annals of American history. The roots of this memorable journey had their beginnings about 1670 when friendly Indians of the Illinois nation spread through the frontier reports of a great river to the west which they called “The Great Running Water.”
As might be expected, the reports did not fall on deaf ears. Jean Talon, the Intendant of Canada, hearing them, wondered whether this river might offer the long sought passage by water to the South Seas. And Father Marquette stationed first at LaPointe and later at Saint Ignace on the upper peninsula of Michigan when he and his followers were forced from La Pointe by hostile Sioux, also wrote of them:
“It is hard to believe that this great river discharges its waters in Virginia and we rather think that it has its mouth in California. If the savages who promise to make us a canoe do not break their word to me, we shall explore the river as far as we can … We shall visit the natives dwelling there, in order to open the passage to such of our Fathers as have been waiting this good fortune for so long a time.”
Father Marquette did not have long to wait for his hopes to be realized. When Talon was given leave of his post in 1672 to return to France, he conferred with his successor, Count Frontenac, and the decision was made.
Joliet, a brave and resourceful young native of Quebec, was named head of an expedition which would take off for the West without delay.
At the same time, Father Dablon, superior general of the Jesuits in the New World, chose Father Marquette to accompany Joliet on the journey.
Under normal circumstances, matching these men could be called a stroke of genius. They worked together extremely well. But civil authorities now were challenging the edge the Jesuits had in exploration, and they wanted no part of the clergy in their plans. Father Dablon, on the other hand, recognizing the growing rivalry, used the simple expedient of keeping his decision to himself until Joliet and Father Marquette met face to face.
The strategy worked for a while, but eventually it led to Joliet’s downfall.
Joliet arrived at St. Ignace on Dec. 8, 1672, and wintered there. Finally, on May 17, 1673, preparations were completed and the two explorers started out in bark canoes, with five men and provisions of Indian corn and smoked meat.
Their trip took them along the shore of Lake Michigan to Green Bay, and thence by water and portage across Wisconsin to the Mississippi River. A month after they had left, they were at the mouth of the Arkansas River. Here they turned back, deciding at that point that the Mississippi discharged its waters into the Gulf of Mexico.
Instead of retracing their steps, however, they returned via the Illinois and Des Plaines Rivers to the present site of Chicago and, fighting lake storms, made their way to the mission of Saint Francois at De Pere, Wis., late in September.
History is vague on the ensuing months, but it is thought that Joliet spent several weeks in October and November of that year exploring the southeastern shore of Lake Michigan. It is not beyond probability, therefore, that he set foot on the future soil of Indiana at that time.
After spending the winter with Father Marquette on Green Bay, he set out for Quebec and came close to losing his life when his canoe capsized in the rapids near Montreal. Trouble multiplied when Count Frontenac learned Father Marquette had been his companion on the exploratory trip and Joliet spent the last years of his life on the small island of Anticosti in the mouth of the St. Lawrence.
He died in 1700.
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When Joliet left for Canada in the spring of 1674, Father Marquette, now in a weakened condition, remained at the mission of St. Francis Xavier. A promise he had made a year earlier to return to the Illinois Indians kept gnawing at his mind, however, and in October of that year, he set out to keep it.
In the company of two Frenchmen, he made his way to the Chicago River, wintered there, and then followed the river to the next spring to a point seven miles below Ottawa, Ill. There he preached the gospel to the Indians and then, stricken anew with illness, headed back toward St. Ignace.
The route he and his companions took back to Lake Michigan is not known for sure, but it is known that he followed the southern shore of Lake Michigan to the eastern shore and then north.
It was on this leg of the journey that he stopped in Memorial Park and preached briefly on the eastern edge of Michigan City.
The priest’s two companions tried in vain to reach their goal, but Father Marquette died half-way there, at the present site of Ludington, Mich., and was buried there.
The following year, Indians from LaPointe, whom he had instructed, happened along and reverently carried his bones to St. Ignace where they were interred in the mission church.
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One other important attempt to extend the influence of France into this area during the 17th century was made by Robert Cavalier de La Salle, a native of Rouen.
Educated for a career as a Jesuit, he found the order not to his liking and came to Canada in 1666 at the age of 23. He acquired considerable holdings through a land grant, then gave them up to finance an expedition which took him from Montreal to Louisville, Ky., according to some historians.
Dissident historians, however, on the basis of descriptions found in a record of several talks which LaSalle made in Paris in 1678, contend that the French explorer did not discover the Ohio River but was on the Wabash River and at the present site of Logansport instead.
These accounts would have made him the first white man to set foot on what now is the State of Indiana.
Whatever his exploits on this journey were, the four year’s from 1678 through 1682 we judged to be the most important of La Salle’s life. It was during this period that he and 30 other men made the first pilgrimage of definite record across Northern Indiana along the St. Joseph River to the present site of South Bend in search of a portage route to the Kankakee River.
The portage was discovered, finally, with the help of a Mohegan hunter and the trip took the party eventually to a point south of the present site of Peoria, Ill.
There La Salle wintered and then set out on the long trip back to Fort Frontenac. History for the next few years also is somewhat vague, but it is known that La Salle returned to the Illinois Indians in 1681 and made a trip down the Mississippi the following year during which he took possession of the vast interior of what now is the United States. He called this new heartland Louisiana.
After falling into disfavor with Governor La Barre, who succeeded Count Frontenac, and experiencing financial difficulties, LaSalle traveled to France and recouped his losses somewhat. He later made a trip south to the Gulf of Mexico, landing in Texas instead of Louisiana and, when dissension broke out in his party, started back for Canada with 16 loyal followers.
This was La Salle’s last journey He was assassinated in March,1687, by one of the party while still on Texas soil.
Thus ended the story of the three famous French explorers who had left such a mark on what has come to be known as Michiana.
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The first half of the 18th century in the Old Northwest was marked by French-English wars as the two powers jockeyed for position, and by resistance from Indian tribes. But the English persisted and in 1759 captured the French jewel of Quebec. Finally, French power in America was broken.
The Treaty of Paris, ratified in 1763, gave to England all of the territory between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi except New Orleans.
More resistance under the leadership of Pontiac, the Ottawa chieftain, and by pockets of French in the Ohio Valley followed, but the English pushed on and in 1765 arrived in Vincennes.
The next dozen years were devoted to consolidating gains, but by then the seeds of the American Revolution had sprouted and a new era was dawning for the country.
History tells of one Revolutionary War engagement in this area, known as the Battle of the Dunes or the Battle of Trail Creek.
It occurred following a foray against the British-held Fort St. Joseph near Niles, Mich., by Illinois patriots.
Thomas Brady of Cahokia was leading his group of Americans and Creoles back home on Dec. 5, 1780, after the attack when a party of Pottawattomie Indians under the command of an English officer ambushed them on the lakefront here.
The battle raged from Trail Creek westward to the present site of Tremont, where Brady was defeated.
A sand dune in the Indiana Dunes State Park has been named Mount Tom in his memory.
Two other forays were made against the fort. One, in 1778, was by a larger band of French, Indians and half-breeds led by a French trader, Paulette Maillot of Peoria. The other, in 1781, was spearheaded by Spanish forces from St. Louis, seeking to profit from the war and represented the only time a Spanish army marched through Illinois, Indiana or Michigan territory.
In each instance, Fort St. Joseph was plundered and burned. Twice the British reoccupied it. The third time, Spanish forces rested there a few days and then marched back to St. Louis, leaving only their flag flying above the site.
Spain continued to assert its rights to this territory, albeit somewhat feebly, until the treaty of Oct. 27, 1795, negotiated by Thomas Pinckney effectively, ended its case.
Meanwhile, the future site of Michigan City became American soil legally on Sept. 3, 1783, when the treaty of Paris terminated the Revolutionary War.
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An ordinance creating the Northwest Territory gave this north central region its first formal government in 1787. When Ohio was cut out as a state in 1802, the remainder became known as the Territory of Indiana This was reduced in size three years later when the Territory of Michigan came into being. Because Michigan’s southern boundary was set at the southernmost extremity of Lake Michigan, the future site of Michigan City was incorporated in that territory.
The Trail Creek Valley remained entirely within the Territory of Michigan until 1816 when Indiana, seeking statehood and taking advantage of a boundary war between Ohio and Michigan, claimed a 10-mile strip of land to the north. Congress approved the move, and the Trail Creek area once more was back in Indiana for all intents and purposes.
But not until years after Michigan City had been granted its municipal charter, and not until the boundary dispute had involved all of the states bordering on Lake Michigan was the question finally settled.
To compensate for land lost to Ohio and to Indiana, Michigan was given the northern peninsula.
During this period of time, Indiana residents often referred to the blossoming town on the shore of Lake Michigan as “that Michigan city,” but whether this was the deciding factor in giving it the name it bears today is not known for sure.
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Northern Indiana might have been settled by the white man sooner than it was had it not been for the Shawnee Indian chief, Tecumseh, and his brother, who called himself the Prophet. Together, with the help of British arms, they organized the lake tribes, including the Pottawattomies, in one great final effort to repel the white invasion.
The confrontation, known as the Battle of Tippecanoe, took place Nov. 7, 1811, near Lafayette. Territorial Gov. Henry William Harrison and his men routed the Indians and sent them in disorder to their homes. Tecumseh, who had been absent in the south when the battle occurred, died the following year in the Battle of the Thames. The Prophet, meanwhile, sank into obscurity, dying in 1834.
The Battle of Tippecanoe broke the back of Indian resistance in this area except for the massacre at Fort Dearborn in 1812 and some isolated instances. The Battle of the Thames, some 80 miles from Detroit, on Oct. 5, 1813, ended the War of 1812 in the Northwest.
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While the federal government claimed and exercised sovereignty over the territory of the northwest, it admitted that the Indians possessed the right to the soil and legal title to the land, their only restriction being that the government claimed the sole right to purchase it from them.
This purchase procedure was accomplished through treaties made with the tribes.
Government title to Michigan City’s site was acquired through a treaty made Oct. 16, 1826, near Peru, Ind., with almost all of the Pottawattomie chiefs of this region. Following this and subsequent treaties, the Indians were induced to leave their homes near the lake for new residences in the far west. Most were gone by 1837.
The next step in opening up Northern Indiana to people and commerce was construction of a road, and the Michigan Road, designed as a north-south artery running the length of the state, was the result. Work started in Madison Ind., in 1830. In this area, the road followed Michigan Boulevard and U.S. 20 to Rolling Prairie, thence east to South Bend and south to Logansport, skirting the Kankakee marshes.
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One of the interested observers of that day was Major Isaac C. Elston of Crawfordsville, Ind., who had made some money in real estate and in developing town sites. Quick to see that the Michigan Road would need a town at its northern terminus, he learned from friends in the legislature where that terminus would be and bought a quarter of a mile of land at the mouth of Trail Creek, sight unseen, for $1.25 an acre when the land was offered for sale in October, 1830. The next year, he added most of what remained of the square mile.
Early interest in his project was not great, primarily because the Indian chief, Black Hawk, was attempting to organize an uprising among the lake tribes. One of his meetings took place with Pottawattomie chieftains in Memorial Park in 1832, but they and other Indian tribes refused to help his effort. Black Hawk later was defeated in Illinois.
Armed with a map of his new town which he had drawn in Crawfordsville, Major Elston arrived in 1831 with a neighbor, Gen. Joseph Orr, to inspect his purchase.
As they approached the mouth of Trail Creek, Elston became quite disturbed. He had assumed in drawing his map that the lake shore would run due east and west and that the creek would parallel it. He therefore had platted his streets and lots on this basis.
But now he discovered the shore angled in a northeasterly direction and that if he changed the direction of his streets to meet the lake shore at a right angle, the new Michigan Road would cut through them at a bad angle, thereby giving an odd shape to the lots.
While they pondered the problem, General Orr came up with a solution. Bring the new road to Spring Street, then turn it so that it would cut across the planned streets at a right angle, he suggested. Elston adopted the idea and this is the reason for the configuration of Michigan Boulevard as it stands today.
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Elston’s original map covered the area from Wabash to Spring Street, and from Trail Creek to Fifth Street. When he actually laid out the town in 1832, he added streets as far south as Ninth Street. Plans called for a right-of-way 100 feet wide on the Michigan Road and he matched that width on Wabash Street, perhaps because he visualized a railroad on it some day. He named Wabash Street for the river and Michigan Street for the road. First Street was called Front Street and Fifth Street at first was known as Market Street, but other east-west streets were numbered.
Major Elston never lived in the town he created, but he was one of its staunchest supporters through the years. He fought alone against overwhelming odds when it came time to name the county seat of LaPorte County and almost turned the tide. LaPorte finally won, largely on the basis of its central location.
Elston’s name has lived after him in several ways. The city ‘s first school at the corner of Fourth and Pine streets was named for him. There also are the Elston Senior and Elston Junior High Schools. And Elston Street, on the city’s near West Side, likewise bears his name.
Elston died suddenly one morning in 1867 in Crawfordsville, where he had continued to make his home.
Early accounts of how the future site of Michigan City looked tell of undulating sand hills, ranging from 20 to upwards of 100 feet and crowned with a scrubby growth of white pine and furze. At the mouth of Trail Creek stood the imposing Hoosier Slide, about 175 feet high.
Back of the sand hills was a mixture of swamp and level ground supporting a scattered growth of white pine, oak and beech.
All this wasn’t much to draw settlers, but the new community did. Historians say there were 50 permanent residents in 1833, 715 in 1834 and more than 1,500 in 1836, the year Michigan City was incorporated.
At that time, anyone who bought a lot, went into business or got a job was considered a permanent inhabitant.
What this growth meant to Major Elston in terms of return on his investment may be seen in the cost of the lots. He originally put out about $200 for the land. His price for the first lots sold ranged from $20 to $100 and, during the first year, 53 were purchased by 43 different people for $5,974. Two years later 206 lots brought $21,689.
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History credits Samuel Miller of Chicago with being Michigan City’s first permanent resident. A former trader, hotel keeper and member of the first board of commissioners when Cook County, Ill., was formed, he came here shortly after the war against Black Hawk and became Major Elston’s agent. He also is known as the first merchant, first postmaster and first warehouseman in Michigan City.
Miller first occupied a cabin where the Northern Indiana Public Service Co.’s generating station guard house now stands. He then built a handsome house in 1834 on Jernegan Hill, overlooking Eighth Street between Michigan Boulevard and Walker Street, for his bride, Emily Kimberly of this city. She was his second wife, his first having died in Chicago before he came here.
Jacob Furman and Joseph Bryant built Michigan City’s first log cabin in 1832 – either at Fifth and Franklin streets or at Second and Pine streets. There is some question about the location.
The third permanent resident was Thompson W. Francis, a carpenter and father of the founder of The Evening Dispatch in later years.
Other early names included Elijah Casteel, a grocer; George Seffens, a plasterer; Gallatin Ashton, a teacher, Willis Hughes, James Laughlin, George and Sam Olinger, Joseph C. Orr (not General Orr), James Knaggs, William Conant, J. Bartholomew, Amos Dyer, Squire Clark, Eliakim Ashton, Samuel Masterson, Peter Ritter, Silas Gregory, B. Sims, James Waddell, Gilbert Baldwin, Caleb Nichols and James Scott.
The Michigan Road, although not completed, was in use by December 1832, and several workmen at its northern end settled here, thus becoming some of Michigan City’s earliest citizens.
Edward A. Hannegan, a member of the legislature, bought a lot in 1832. He became the first Congressman for whom Michigan City people voted when he was elected to Congress the next year. He later lived here, the only member of Congress ever to have done so.
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Historians Rollo B. Oglesbee and Albert Hale call 1834 Michigan City’s “busy year.”
“The town grew rapidly, farm products came in beyond all expectations, lake traffic was heavy and the harbor and lighthouse questions were being pressed at Indianapolis and Washington…” they wrote.
Although a sand bar at its mouth prevented full use of Trail Creek by larger vessels, both lumber and grist mills were built on its banks. Samuel Miller erected a warehouse and imported salt and other supplies while exporting grain and farm produce. Joseph C. Orr established a tannery, Charles Tryon opened a blacksmith shop, Ralph Couden became a tinner and a man named Kellogg had a brick kiln near the second bend of Trail Creek. Orr later moved his tannery to about where St. Stanislaus Church is today thereby giving the name Tannery Hill to that section of the community.
Stagecoaches from Chicago and Detroit stopped with mail and Miller established a mail route to LaPorte by horseback.
Before the year was over the business section could point to four groceries, three taverns and five shops for other merchandise as well as two hotels and bank.
The Episcopalians also built the town’s first church that year on the east side of Pine Street between Fourth and Fifth streets.
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The year 1835 saw additional growth. The Ames and Holliday store, said to have been the first brick building west of Detroit and one of the first and largest drug firms in Northern Indiana, opened on the northwest corner of Franklin and Michigan streets.
James Castle started the first newspaper, the Gazette; Dr. Leo T. Maxson arrived to be the community’s first physician and Jabez Wells became the first lawyer.
Two more warehouses also were built by William Teall and James Forester.
The flow of families from the little town of Boxford Mass., whose members and descendants eventually contributed greatly to Michigan City’s growth, also began in earnest during this period. Among these families were the Lowes, Barkers, Hitchcocks, Blairs, Higginbothams and the Mannys.
Other early comers were the Pecks, who gave Michigan City its first mayor; the Higginses, the Burrs and the Bigelows.
Abijah Bigelow Sr. is the only soldier of the American Revolution to be buried here.
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Major Elston had not ignored the needs of the community when he laid it out. He set aside ground for a cemetery at Detroit and Spring streets, where Elston Junior High School now stands; for a school at Fourth and Pine streets, for boat landings along Trail Creek and for a park.
Newly incorporated in 1836, Michigan City began to take steps to improve itself. A frame school was built and Gallatin Ashton was hired to teach it. Stumps were removed from the streets and a volunteer fire department was created in 1837. Measures also were taken to drain water from the streets and marshes south of the city. Health and safety laws were passed, as were livestock restraining measures.
Two other pieces of good news were received, that year, both on July 4. The President signed a bill appropriating $20,000 for harbor development and the first vessel, the schooner Sea Serpent from New Buffalo, Mich., was pulled over the sand bar at the mouth of Trail Creek into the creek.
Added to the enthusiasm of the day was talk of the construction of canals and railroads.
Four canals had charters to come here. One of these, designed principally to connect Lake Erie with the Ohio River, was to have a branch which would run to Lake Michigan at Michigan City.
No fewer than 10 railroads also had charters which named Michigan City in their plans. Most were north-and-south roads, but one, the Buffalo and Mississippi, was planned from Maumee Bay, off Lake Erie, to the rapids of the Illinois River.
Word also had been received from the East that two railroads – the Baltimore and Ohio and the New York Central – were pushing their way westward.
But then hard times, spearheaded by a change in government monetary policy and a drought that blighted crops, hit the country and either killed or delayed plans for many of the canals and railroads.
This Panic of 1837 – as it was called – took its toll economically, but still another body blow was in the making. Government officials gave the nod to Chicago as the major port on southern Lake Michigan, instead of Michigan City, and before long the growing Illinois city was recognized generally as the future center for commerce on the lakes and in the Mississippi Valley. Michigan City’s bid to become “the metropolis of the West” thus had ended.
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Not until 1840 did Michigan City begin to throw off the effects of economic depression. By then, the population had dropped from 3,000 to 1000 and several merchants had failed. The Gazette, likewise, a casualty, suspended publication in 1839.
Until now, Michigan City had been an “outfitting” community – that is, depending to a great extent in its economy on outfitting settlers and travelers. But starting in 1840, the pattern became one of production and, through this change, as one historian notes, “the genuine Michigan City arose.”
The principal industries leading this recovery manufactured barrels for the Chicago market and shoes and heavy boots for the trade.
Meanwhile, lake shipping exports of grain and meat reached half a million dollars annually. Incoming lumber and other supplies from the north at the same time, helped to swell the tonnage.
Other factors helping in the recovery as the years passed were the coming of the railroads– although these proved to be something of a two- edged sword — and the arrival of immigrants from Europe.
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As the economy of the 1840s grew stronger, so did the interest in the railroads. But where Michigan City once had been the toast of national planners, it now was reduced to hoping for a lesser prize, with LaPorte nipping at its heels.
This prize was the prestige which would go with being the principal Indiana station for the east and westbound commerce.
The Michigan Central inaugurated this chapter of the county rivalry when it started construction west from Detroit and, in May, 1849, reached New Buffalo, from whence its passengers were conveyed across Lake Michigan to Chicago.
About the same time, a competitive road, the Michigan Southern, headed west from Toledo toward South Bend and LaPorte.
This road reached LaPorte on Jan. 8, 1852.
To understand what happened then, it is necessary to trace the history of the Buffalo and Mississippi charter, which had been granted originally in 1835. At that time, it had provided for a railroad “from the head of Maumee Bay (off Lake Erie) to the rapids of the Illinois River in a straight line but with authority to deflect for proper reasons.”
It was renamed the Northern Indiana Railroad in 1837, but the big change came in 1846 when the charter was amended to take a route from LaPorte through Michigan City to Chicago because nearly half of the stock was owned by Michigan City investors.
But, at the same time, to aid in the reorganization of the company, these local investors had donated their stock and had leased the line to the Michigan Southern.
By all natural rights and logic, this should have meant that the Michigan Southern would respect the route to Michigan City. However, aided and abetted by envious LaPorte interests, the railroad ignored that provision and struck off through the Otis area, reaching Chicago on Feb. 20, 1852.
Piqued but not defeated, the people of Michigan City then cleared the way for the Michigan Central to lay tracks through the city. Thus the first train entered the community early in 1852 and on May 21 of the same year, the railroad reached Chicago.
If Major Elston, in truth, had created a wide Wabash Street for railroad purposes some day, his plans reached partial fruition in this era. It is known that the tracks of the Michigan Southern (and Northern Indiana) ran along Wabash Street for a while, but after that road headed west from LaPorte instead of coming to Michigan City, they were abandoned.
The Michigan Southern later became the Lake Shore, then the New York Central and finally the Penn Central before the recent major reorganization to ConRail.
The Michigan Central became the New York Central and then the Penn Central.
Other railroads followed – the Louisville, New Chicago (the Monon, now the Louisville and Nashville) in 1853; the Cincinnati, Louisville and Chicago (now the Norfolk and Western) in 1871, and the Pere Marquette (now the Chessie System) in 1903.
One electrically powered interurban line, the Northern Indiana, ran from here to LaPorte and South Bend starting in 1903 and lasting until the early 1930s.
The South Shore, another electrically powered interurban line, began operations in 1908 and still is functioning.
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The coming of the railroads led directly to the establishment of Michigan City’s first major and longtime – industry, known familiarly as the “car factory” or the “car shops.”
The importance of this industry to the community during most of the more than 100 years it operated here cannot be overestimated. So dominant did it become eventually that for decades the city’s economic well being literally rose and fell with its production schedule.
The company was the brainchild of three young men from Ogdensburg N.Y., who wondered why it should be necessary to bring freight cars all the way from the East when the natural resources to build them were plentiful here. The three were Dr. Mason C. Sherman, Frederick Haskell and Hiram Aldridge, Haskell’s brother- in-law. Together, they formed the first car shop corporation in 1852 in the area bounded by Sixth Street on the north, Seventh Street on the south, Elston Street on the east and the Monon right-of-way on the west.
Dr. Sherman remained with the firm until 1855, when he retired to the practice of medicine. The sale of his interest opened the way for a name in the company which also has become indelible in Michigan City’s history. John Barker took a business partner in the general merchandise store he was operating, C. E. DeWolfe, and joined the company, which then became known is Haskell, Barker and Aldridge.
Barker’s drive gave new impetus to the company and before long it had expanded to passenger cars, threshing machines of the Woodbury hand corn shellers and reapers of the J. J. Mann patent.
Michigan City at that time had a population of about 1,500, having survived the Panic of 1837 and the exodus to California in 1849.
The Panic of 1857 then prostrated the country and almost put an end to the infant industry, but Barker wouldn’t give up. With a force of 60 men, he struggled through the hard times and by 1869 was back to a schedule of two cars a day.
Meanwhile, Aldridge had retired in 1858 and the company took the name of Haskell & Barker. Now, in 1869, Barker also retired and his son, John H. Barker, became general manager.
The elder Barker then moved to Chicago, where he made his home until he died on March 21, 1878.
A marked growth in the company can be dated from the year the younger Barker joined it. In 1871, the firm was incorporated as the Haskell & Barker Co., a name it kept until 1916, when it was sold to a group of eastern financiers and became Haskell & Barker, Inc.
At the time of its incorporation Haskell was made president, Barker treasurer and Nathaniel P. Rogers secretary. Rogers had joined the firm in 1864 as an accountant.
By 1879, the company had a payroll of 500 men and an output of 1,000 cars a year. Only freight cars now were produced.
Haskell then retired in 1883, selling his interests, and Barker became president with Rogers as secretary and treasurer. They worked together as a brilliant management team until Rogers died on Dec. 1, 1906.
In 1903, Haskell & Barker had a payroll of 2,200 workers and a yearly capacity of 10,667 cars and was given credit for establishing the assembly line production method in America. By 1907, the plant was the most complete factory for the construction of freight cars in the United States and employed more men than any other manufacturing establishment in Indiana. At that time, it sprawled over 100 acres and had 3,500 employees who turned out 15,000 cars a year.
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It was during this era, in 1905, that Barker expanded his home into the 38-room mansion standing at Seventh and Washington Streets. Copied after an English manor house, it had a number of remarkable features for its day, including a central vacuum cleaning system and a third-floor ballroom.
After Barker’s death on Dec. 3, 1910, his only surviving daughter, Catherine, used the mansion off and on for a period of years. Then, in 1948, after it had been unused for several decades, Mrs. Hickox (Catherine) turned it over to Purdue University for its North Central Campus. When Purdue moved to its present campus, she presented the mansion to the City of Michigan City through the Barker Welfare Foundation. An average of 1,200 people a month now visit it.
John H. Barker, during his lifetime, was a generous benefactor to Michigan City. Bearing the imprint of his contributions were the public library, Marquette Hall, the former YMCA building, the Ames Band, the former peristyle in Washington Park, Trinity Episcopal Church and the first Barker Hall, which was built as a memorial to his deceased first wife and children.
Mrs. Barker, meanwhile, gave much of the $80,000 it cost to build the original St. Anthony Hospital structure in 1904.
Later, in the 1920s, their daughter contributed to the rebuilding of Barker Hall.
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When Barker died in 1910, management of the plant passed to a board of trustees, which ran it until its sale in 1916 to the group of eastern financiers headed by E. F. Carry. This group then merged with the Pullman Company in January, 1922, and the local plant took the name of Pullman-Standard, a name it kept until it was closed for good in December, 1970.
Carry, in 1922, went on to head the Pullman Company as its president.
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While the local plant never again could point to a payroll of 3,500 men or an annual output of 15,000 freight cars, there are a number of notable achievements during its last half century. One of these was the PS-1 in 1947, the first standardized freight car in the nation. This car was particularly important because it permitted the plant to move from one order to the next without an appreciable loss of time.
The company also turned out its first welded lightweight metal hopper cars in 1931, its first lightweight metal freight and refrigerator cars in 1935, and its first high tensile, low alloy steel boxcars in 1937. All of these were landmark developments in railroading, because they permitted locomotives to haul more cars than before.
Another important contribution to freight car building occurred in the 1940s, when the Michigan City plant introduced new welding techniques.
During World War II, the plant also contributed to the war effort by making troop-carrying cars, the first time since the 1850s that passenger carriers had been made here.
Rumors that Pullman-Standard planned to close the plant circulated on several occasions during the 1960s. But in 1970, the final word came. Production ended in December, 1970, and by the spring of 1971, Pullman-Standard had gone.
Reasons given for closing the plant were that it was an old facility and too costly to refurbish. There was a split operation between the Wabash Street and South Yards installations, and the Wabash Street plant was hemmed in on three sides by residences, the company explained. On the other hand, the company’s Butler, Pa., and Bessemer, Ala., plants were modern facilities.
One hundred and eighteen years of car building in Michigan City ended in the rubble of demolished buildings, their demise hastened by a spectacular fire on the night of July 18, 1973.
* * *
Michigan City, from the start, had had a basic population of easterners. But as the effects of the Panic of 1837 wore off, an influx of European immigrants began, and these cultures have left their mark on the community.
The Irish and the Germans were first to come in the 1840s and 1850s. Then came the Poles in the 1870s, 1880s and 1890s, and the Lebanese in the early 1900s.
Swedes, Norwegians, English and a smattering of other nationalities added to this melting pot, but the Irish, Germans, Poles and Lebanese represented the largest groups.
History suggests that those Irish who got beyond the eastern seaboard were attracted by the railroads pushing west. Families settling here did so in an area which came to be known as Kilgovern – from the Michigan Central tracks to Willard Avenue, and from Fourth to 10th Streets.
The Germans, it is said, migrated for two basic reasons – to escape religious intolerance and conscription practices. Early immigrants first settled in the Waterford area, then made their way with other arriving countrymen to Michigan City. Most Germans who came here were from the Brandenburg and Mecklenburg areas in the north of Germany.
Many of the Poles who settled here came by way of the Otis area, where they first tried farming. Peasant farmers in the Bydgoszcz region, they migrated with the aim of bettering themselves, of getting a piece of land of their own. But once here, the prospect of work in Michigan City’s industries or on its docks proved attractive and they moved into the community, settling for the most part on the south and southwest sides.
The Germans and the Poles had not come here with the express purpose of working in the “car shops,” although many of them did end up doing that. Many of the Lebanese came with this uppermost in their thinking. They had heard there were jobs to be had and they wanted them. These men were invariably placed in the foundry, on the premise that people from a warm climate would be better suited there.
These families came mostly from three towns in Lebanon – Bint-Jabel, Tibinan and Makhorouh.
Many of these Lebanese families moved on in later years to Dearborn, Michigan, but it is estimated that a thousand or more of this heritage still live here.
The estimate of people with the Polish heritage currently is about one-fourth of Michigan City’s population, while the estimate of residents with German roots is higher than that, perhaps as high as 35 per cent.
* * *
Another segment of Michigan City’s population of significant size today-about 16 per cent of the total – is that of the blacks.
There were very few blacks here until the end of World War 1, when a number came from Georgia and Alabama to work in the City’s foundries and, a few years later, at the Sullivan Machinery Co., now Joy Manufacturing Co. This influx pushed the black population from about 100 to about 600 in 1935.
The 1940s saw another migration–mostly from Mississippi, Arkansas and Tennessee–when defense plants beckoned, and at the end of World War II the black population stood at about 4,000. This figure has risen since to about 6,400.
* * *
The construction of Michigan City’s harbor during the late 1860s and 1870s also helped to add to the city’s population.
Until then, Trail Creek had symbolized a series of great expectations and greater disappointments, of countless pleas to Congress for developmental money and of imbecilic responses in return.
First there had been the fond hopes of Major Elston and others for a port which would be a gateway to the west; then had come the bitter news that Chicago had been selected for the role. The original $20,000 appropriation from Congress in 1836, also had conjured up visions of federal interest and aid, but the subsequent dribbles and drabbles of money, costly delays, waste of material and inattention to the public’s interests did little but create anger, frustration and despondency.
By 1866, after a 14-year period which had brought a paltry $470 in federal aid, the elemental channel averaged 12 feet in depth and was little more than a useless wreck. Federal appropriations to that date amounted to $156,203.
Meanwhile, a number of flounderings occurred and getting into the harbor became such a dangerous operation that most vessels preferred to take their chances with the lake.
It was at this point that a group of local citizens became aroused. They met on July 4, 1864, and formed the Michigan City Harbor Co. During the next two years they secured permission from Congress to complete the work once started on the harbor and then spent $200,000 of their own and solicited money to extend the piers into the lake and to keep the harbor open so that vessels would not avoid it entirely.
A renewed plea to the government was successful when the extent of their work as recognized and aid money began to flow again.
Work on the outer as well as the inner harbor was begun then in 1870 and continued for 15 years. Out of this effort came the basin, the outer breakwater, dredging and an extension of the inner channel.
The Lighthouse had been built in 1858 and it was during this period that Harriet Colfax, a cousin of Vice-President Schuyler Colfax, tended the light. The first kerosene Light was used in 1880.
The present Coast Guard station was built in 1888.
* * *
Interest in the harbor by the federal government has varied at times since then, but it may be said that continuing interest started in the late 1860s, when that group of citizens showed the determination of people power.
Once improvements were begun, lake commerce came back and the harbor enjoyed a real heyday at the turn of the century. Tonnage for 1901 records show, reached 111,949 tons; for 1902 it was 130,115. Also, in 1902, records show that 826 steam vessels and 51 sailing craft entered the harbor, exclusive of traffic between Michigan City and Chicago.
This tonnage declined as the railroads and, later, trucks bit into the transportation pie, and as the traditional natural resources dwindled.
By the 1920s tonnage varied from 147 tons to 24,970 tons annually and only once, in 1931, did tonnage top the 100,000 figure. That year it was 102,552.
The 1920s and early 1930s proved to be a popular era for passenger vessels and records show that as high as 100,653 passengers came into the local harbor in 1925.
Today the emphasis is on recreational fishing and pleasure craft.
* * *
Christianity was introduced to this area, of course, by the French priests, such as Father Marquette, who preached to the Indians as early as the second half of the 1600s.
It must be assumed, also, that itinerant pastors and circuit riders preached at the foot of Hoosier Slide during the years 1833, 1834 and 1835.
Major Elston, who was a Methodist, donated a lot for a Methodist church at the very beginning of Michigan City, but no church of that denomination was built until 1836. Instead, a society was formed which met at members homes and ministers in the area were invited to stop and preach.
The first actual church, as has been written, was constructed in 1834 by the Episcopalians on the east side of Pine Street just north of the alley between Fourth and Fifth Streets. This first edifice stayed until 1957, when it was demolished to make way for an automobile dealer’s parking lot. The Episcopalians, however, used the building only until 1858, when a wooden structure was erected on the site of the present Trinity church.
Methodists built the second church structure in 1838 on their donated lot on Pine Street north of Second Street.
Congregationalists from New England formed a society and had a permanent minister in 1835, but did not construct their church – the city’s third – until 1943 in the 100 block on the south side of Michigan Boulevard. The present church at Sixth and Washington Streets was built in 1881.
The Baptists, meanwhile, organized in 1836, but the congregation soon ceased to exist. A second effort in 1853 met the same fate. It was 1889 before a permanent congregation was effected.
The first Catholic mission was established in 1839 on the southeast corner of Second and Washington Streets and later, in 1859, a German Catholic church was built on the southwest corner of Fourth and Washington Streets to meet the needs of arriving immigrants. It was from this mission and this church that the present St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception Church evolved.
The newly arrived German Lutheran immigrants also built churches. St. John’s United Evangelical Lutheran Church was constructed first in 1856 on the southeast corner of Spring and Ninth Streets and 11 years later on the southwest corner of Ninth and Franklin Streets.
St. Paul Lutheran Church rose in 1876 – just 100 years ago – on the northeast corner of ninth and Franklin Streets.
St. John’s now is known as St. John’s United Church of Christ, and is located on the south side.
Originally organized as a German Methodist Church, Wesley Methodist’s first structure was built at 319 W. Eighth Street in 1856.
The first Protestant religious services in LaPorte County were conducted by the Presbyterians in 1832, but this denomination did not gain a foothold in Michigan City until 1871, when the present congregation was organized.
St. Stanislaus Catholic Church was established in 1891 for the arriving Poles.
Other churches with organization or construction dates before 1900 include the Zion Lutheran Church, in 1887; Immanuel Congregational Church, in 1890, and Bethel AME Church, about 1895.
The Lebanese, who came in the early 1900s, were a mixture of three different religions – Greek Orthodox, Catholic and Moslem – and they ended up in as many religious groups – St. George Orthodox Church, Sacred Heart Catholic Church and Asser El Jadeed Temple.
Today, Michigan City’s churches cover virtually all religious denominations. Some congregations worship in new structures, some in the original buildings.
St. Mary’s present church structure, begun in 1867; St. Paul, constructed in 1876, and the First Congregational Church, erected in 1881, are three of the oldest buildings still in use.
* * *
As Oglesbee and Hale wrote in their history of Michigan City “No other migration in history, unless it be the Jewish exodus under Moses, showed such devotion to the intellectual – the educational – side of life, as did that which spread across the Alleghenies.”
Major Elston reflected this devotion when he donated a lot for a public school at Fourth and Pine Streets. The first building went up on it in 1836 and, as has been written, Galatin Ashton was the first teacher.
Hubert Williams, assisted by his daughter, Amelia, followed as a teacher in 1839 and they taught until 1841. A young ladies’ school then was conducted in the building and the school moved later to the old Washington House nearby.
The first private school of importance, the Michigan City Institute, opened in 1838 on the southwest corner of Franklin and 10th streets and lasted three years, when money to operate it ran out.
The first Catholic school was organized in 1851 with 90 students who studied their lessons in a two-room house.
There also was a select school for many years on E. Michigan Boulevard and Miss Mary Brown also operated a school for young ladies from 1848 to 1850.
History records that a uniform educational system became operative in 1853, and the first reorganization of city schools took place in 1867, when broader plans were adopted.
A high school was established as a separate department in 1869 and the first class of three students graduated from the original Elston School building at Fourth and Pine Streets in 1871, having completed the full course in two years. When Central School was erected on Eighth street in 1876, the high school was moved there.
The Canada (Harrison replaced it later) Park schools followed in 1885, Garfield in 1889, Eastport in 1890 and Marsh in 1894.
Central School, meanwhile, was destroyed by fire in l896, and was replaced by the predecessor to the present building.
Competitive high school athletics began in 1891.
The present Elston Junior High School building was constructed in 1912 and the high school was transferred to it from Central upon its completion.
Then, in 1925, when the high school building became too crowded, the present Elston Senior High School was built and it became the high school. The former high school building then became a junior high school.
An athletic field named for long-time Coach Andy Gill, an auditorium-type gymnasium which replaced the old frame barn in the mid-30s, and an occupations building constructed in 1968 round out the Elston Senior-Junior High School complex.
A second junior high school, Barker Junior High School, named for John H. Barker, opened in 1961 and a third, the Krueger Junior High School, named for Martin T. Krueger, opened in 1964.
A second public high school – Rogers High School, named for Dr. J.B. Rogers, who had practiced medicine here for many years- was opened in 1971.
Michigan City’s public schools counted 2,000 pupils in 1880 and 3,000 in 1907. Today’s enrollment is just under 12,000.
The first parochial school on record was that of St. Mary’s Catholic Church, in 1867. St. Paul opened its school in 1876, St. John’s in 1882 and St. Stanislaus in 1891. St. John’s school was closed in 1919.
Today, Michigan City has two public high schools–Elston and Rogers; three junior high schools – Elston, Barker and Krueger, and 11 elementary schools – Central, Eastport, Edgewood, Jefferson, Joy, Knapp, Marsh, Mullen, Niemann, Park and Riley.
There also is one parochial high school, Marquette and five parochial schools with lower grades – St. Mary’s, St. Stanislaus; Queen of All Saints- Notre Dame and St. Paul. All are Catholic schools except St. Paul, which is Lutheran.
The second reorganization of city public schools took place on Jan. 1, 1965, following school district consolidation legislation passed by the General Assembly in 1959.
Long Beach, Coolspring Twp., Pine Twp., Beverly Shores and Springfield Twp. joined with the local public schools to form the Michigan City Area Schools Corp. at that time.
Until then, local school board members were appointed. When the consolidation became effective the school board members representing the district were elected on a non-partisan basis.
* * *
The Michigan City Public Library had its origin in the last will and testament of George Ames, a public benefactor for whom the Ames Band and Ames Field were named.
In his will, Ames provided a legacy of $5,000 to used for the purchase of books provided a library was built within a stated amount of time.
A literary club, known as the Fortnightly Club, took up the challenge and a committee composed of 15 people organized the library in 1896.
Once the library organization was formed, John H. Barker offered to underwrite one-third of the cost of the building if citizens would pledge the remainder.
The new library, made of Bedford limestone and finished with marble and quarter-sawed oak, was opened in 1897. There were 10,000 volumes and circulation of 37,936.
A branch library was opened in Marquette Mall in April, 1971 and in 1975 the library board voted to construct a new main building just east of the Superior Courthouse at a cost of $2,300,000. Work started on this structure early in 1976.
Today, the library and its branch a t Marquette Mall have 88,491 books. There is an annual circulation of about 204,000. Besides Michigan City, the library serves the remainder of Michigan Twp. and a portion of Coolspring Twp.
* * *
After the Gazette foundered in 1841, there were a number of short-lived journalistic ventures but it wasn’t until 1846 that a newspaper appeared with any lasting qualities. This was the Michigan City News, established by Thomas Jernegan. He published it until 1853, when the office was burned. Because he then was postmaster, he decided not to resume publication of the News.
Richard W. Colfax filled the void with the Michigan City Transcript in the summer of 1854.
Two men named Wright and Heacock bought the newspaper from Colfax in 1855 and, when Heacock left for California, Wright changed the name to The Enterprise and continued as its editor until 1859.
Jernegan then re-entered the publishing field, taking The Enterprise from Wright.
Except for a period of 2 ½ years during the Civil War, The Enterprise continued in business until 1884, when financial difficulties brought about a suspension in publication.
A later attempt to revive it was none too successful, but in 1888 Charles J. Robb and Ira S. Carpenter purchased it and changed its name to the Michigan City News.
H.R. Misener bought Carpenter’s interest in 1902.
Meanwhile, Harry C. Francis started The Evening Dispatch in 1881 and operated it until 1891, when he died. The newspaper then went to his widow and John B. Faulknor.
Don M. Nixon Sr. purchased The Evening Dispatch in 1932 from Pleas Greenlee and Wray Fleming, who had acquired it to give the Democratic political party a voice in Northern Indiana in the election of 1932.
When Nixon was killed in an auto accident in October, 1934, his widow took over the newspaper’s operation along with Nixon’s two sons, Joseph H. Nixon and Don M. Nixon, Jr.
A consolidation in June, 1938, between The Michigan City News and The Evening Dispatch resulted in The News-Dispatch, which has been a Nixon Newspapers publication since. The corporation now is headed by John R. Nixon, son of Don M. Nixon, Sr. and Mrs. Nixon, who later became Mrs. Mark Honeywell.
One other daily and three other weeklies have made their mark in Michigan City journalism circles. The Michigan City Press began operation as a weekly in 1938, then changed to a daily later the same year. It lasted until Oct. 18, 1939. The Michigan City Review, the LaPorte County Independent and the Michigan City Clarion also published as weeklies in the 1940s but none lasted more than two years.
* * *
In the early days of Michigan City, banking had been done at a branch of the State Bank of Indiana.
The community has known six banks since then and three are in operation today.
In 1873, Walter Vail of LaPorte opened the First National Bank here. The Citizens Bank followed in 1888.
The Michigan City Trust and Savings Bank came into being in 1903 and the Merchants National Bank in 1909. The Peoples State Bank opened in 1925 and the Lake Shore Bank & Trust Co. in 1974.
Two of the banks failed to survive the bleak Depression days of the 1930s. The Peoples State Bank closed in 1935 because of dwindling deposits and the Michigan City Trust and Savings Bank was consolidated with the First National Bank in 1937.
The First National Bank then merged with the Merchants National Bank in 1962 and the name First-Merchants National Bank was adopted.
Three savings and loan associations also are in business today in Michigan City. They are the Michigan City Savings and Loan Association, which opened as the Michigan City Loan and Building Association in 1885; the First Federal Savings and Loan Association of LaPorte County, which dates back to 1926, and the First Federal Savings of East Chicago which opened a branch here in 1975.
* * *
Most governmental services also had their roots in the 1800s.
When Michigan City was incorporated as a town in 1836, its charter provided for its first years of municipal government.
From 1836 until 1842, the new town was to be considered as one ward. In 1842, the common council would set up no fewer than three wards and no more than five.
Officers were to be mayor, recorder, five aldermen, treasurer, three assessors and one or more collectors.
The council was to have the power to appoint the treasurer, city attorney, street commissioner, high constable, one or two police constables, clerk of the market, collectors, pound masters, porters, carriers, cartmen, packers, bell-men, sexton, common criers, scavengers, measurers, inspectors of grain and wood, scaler of weights and measures, gaugers, health physician, harbor master, chief engineer and a night watch.
A number of these offices have disappeared though the years, but many still are in existence.
One office that remained on the scene for quite a while – in fact, until Michigan City was the only city in Indiana to have it – was that of city treasurer.
The office went out of existence here in 1959 and the county treasurer took over its functions.
To be eligible to vote under the original charter, a person must have lived in the town for at least six months.
One of the tasks left to the town’s officers was that of designating a time and place for bathing in the creek.
Willis Peck was the first mayor of Michigan City, having been elected on April 12, 1836. Samuel Miller was the second mayor.
Mayors served one-year terms until 1859, when two-year terms were instituted. Four-year terms came into being in 1894.
John Francis was elected mayor 10 times and served 9 ½ years between the years 1844 and 1852. Charles Palmer served four one-year terms in the 1850s and H. H. Walker was elected to four consecutive two-year terms from 1865 to 1873.
Martin T. Krueger was a six-term mayor, although not for consecutive terms. He served 17 years and seven months in all.
John H. Barker served a two-year term as mayor in 1897 and 1880.
The mayor-council form of government continued uninterrupted until 1921, when the electorate adopted the commission-manager form of government in the belief that it would help to prevent undue political influence and to reduce graft.
Michigan City fared well under this form of government but in 1927 the Indiana Supreme Court ruled it was unconstitutional and required a return to the mayor-council arrangement.
The mayor-council form of government remains today.
Justice courts came into being in 1859. When legal matters of a more important nature arose, they had to be taken to Circuit Court in LaPorte until 1895, when a Superior Court was established jointly between LaPorte, Porter and Lake Counties.
Lake County then was given its own Superior Court in 1907 and a joint court between LaPorte and Porter Counties continued until 1931, when the local bar association succeeded in having the LaPorte County branch made a separate court.
Early Superior Court sessions were conducted on the second floor of a building at Franklin and Michigan Streets.
The present Superior Courthouse was completed in 1909 after the city donated land for it at Washington and Michigan Streets.
A second Superior Court was opened here on July 1, 1965, because of the growing case load.
Prior to construction of the Superior Courthouse, the mayor’s and other administrative offices were located in a building on Fourth Street across the alley from the Central fire station. The offices, city court and the police station then were moved into the courthouse. The police department and city court went into a new police-court facility on Second Street in 1964. Because the county needed the space, the mayor’s and other administrative offices were moved from Superior Courthouse to the Warren Building in 1974.
City court lasted until Dec. 31, 1975, when a new county court was created by the legislature.
Meanwhile, activity in other areas of municipal government was moving forward. A sewer was laid under Franklin Street in 1873 and similar lines were laid under Washington, Pine and Spring Streets in the 1880s.
History records that Jonathon and Horace Burr built the first waterworks, utilizing a windmill, but the effort failed when the water leaked through porous cement pipes.
Wells and cisterns provided water for homes until 1875, when a contract with the Michigan Central permitted water to be pumped from a deep well on railroad property and to be stored in wooden tanks.
Citizens voted 843 to 85 in 1887 to build a municipal waterworks.
In 1889 the Lake Michigan Water Co. assumed control of this plant, which now drew water from Lake Michigan, and operated it until 1923, when the municipal government took it over again.
A legislative act in 1931 created a separate water city which permitted a self-sustaining operation.
The present filtration plant was constructed in 1935.
Michigan City had had a health laboratory since 1904 on a part-time basis, but a typhoid epidemic in 1912 led to the creation of the board of health when it was discovered that the city’s water supply was polluted. Three doctors, at that time, helped to work out a program of milk, water and food inspections, and of quarantines for contagious diseases.
A sewage disposal plant first was proposed in 1932 but the proposal was defeated by 600 votes in an election. The State of Indiana then ordered Michigan City to stop dumping sewage into the lake and the municipal sanitation board came into being. The present sewage disposal plant followed, opening in 1936.
* * *
Prior to 1879, town marshals upheld the law in Michigan City. In that year, however, an ordinance was passed creating a police department and it consisted, at first, of a chief of police and one patrolman.
Later the same year, eight more men were added.
There was no jail and it was not uncommon to see drunks lined up in a vacant lot so that they could “sleep it off.”‘
Today the department has 90 police officers and nine persons in secretarial or custodial jobs.
Over the years, three Michigan City officers have died in the line of duty. On April 3, 1921, an intoxicated man shot to death Capt. Joseph 0. Simmerman and Patrolman George Spencer on Franklin Street while they were taking two women to the police station for questioning. Not long afterward the slayer shot himself fatally after fleeing the scene.
On Dec. 14, 1930, Patrolman Charles L. Glafeke was shot to death by a vagrant on the south side while waiting for a patrol wagon to arrive. His murderer, a Chicagoan, was captured after a three-hour chase through the snow.
* * *
A volunteer fire department was provided for by an ordinance passed in 1837 and it was strictly that until 1881, when the department was reorganized on a semi-professional basis.
At that time, the chief was appointed by the city council, and he, in turn, appointed two assistants.
The first steam engine was purchased in 18M, and 15 fire alarm boxes were installed in 1887.
There were five hose units and one ladder company in 1893. Each had 17 volunteer members. Then on May 1, 1905, a paid, organized fire department came into being with 10 men.
The first fire protection ordinance was passed in 1908 and the first motorized piece of equipment – a combined chemical and hose truck – made its debut in 1916.
Horses pulled the last fire equipment on July 15, 1922.
At that time, the principal fire station was at 10th and Franklin Streets.
Following the switch to motorized equipment, the department moved in 1922 to the site of the present Central fire station and the 10th Street location was sold.
Stations on the east and west sides -were opened in 1925 and the South Side station which opened in 1955 – was used as headquarters while a new Central station was built. This new headquarters station went into use on Jan. 8, 1957.
Meanwhile, a new North Side station became operative in 1956 and the Lakeland station was taken over when Lakeland and Michigan City merged in 1960.
The community’s firemen have fought a number of major fires.
The biggest occurred on July 12, 1913, in Haskell & Barker’s south yards. Starting at 4 p.m. in a boxcar, it soon was beyond control. Dynamite and dynamite experts were summoned from Aetna, DuPont’s powder plant located just east of Gary, and huge piles of lumber were blown up in an effort to contain the blaze.
Before it could be extinguished 12 hours later, the fire drew firemen and equipment from Gary, LaPorte, South Bend, Hammond and Chicago.
Damage estimates varied from $700,000 to $1,000,000.
Other major fires were those at the First Congregational Church in 1907; at the First Presbyterian Church July 21, 1908; at the prison’s Ford and Johnson factory Jan. 13, 1911; at the Michigan Central depot Dec. 16, 1916; at the Garden Theater Feb. 4, 1921; at the Northern Indiana carbarns Aug. 6, 1921; at Washington Park July 6, 1922; at the prison’s binder twine factory Jan. 2, 1924; at the Henry Lumber Co. June 5, 1934; at the Moose Hall Dec, 19, 1938; at the Hirsch Department Store April 25, 1939; at the Liberty Theater Jan. 22, 1959; at the Franklin Hotel (formerly the Milner and the Vreeland) Nov. 20, 1964; at the Citizens Bank March 8, 1972, and at the former Pullman-Standard north yards complex July 18, 1973.
Four Michigan City firemen have died in the line of duty through the years. They were Charles Neulieb (1949), Alfred Zoch (1952), George Dabagia (1958) and Lee Brady (1959).
* * *
Formal postal service in Michigan City can be traced to August 1833, when the first post office opened with Samuel Miller as postmaster.
Before that, mail had been carried in this area by Indians and soldiers on foot and on horseback.
Miller secured a horseback service to LaPorte and a direct stage line to South Bend was started early in his term.
In 1837, a regular weekly service between Michigan City and Indianapolis was originated by way of LaPorte, Plymouth and Logansport. This became a daily service eventually, but the trip took three days in summer and four days in winter.
The coming of the railroads in 1852 speeded service and the invention of the airplane meant still faster service on long distances.
A post office at the corner of Fifth and Pine Streets served the community for 64 years, giving way to a new building which opened on the corner of Washington Street and Michigan Boulevard in 1973.
Today the Michigan City postal district is a part of the Gary sectional center, where mail is sent for sorting by mechanical means and for forwarding to other destinations.
* * *
Several other chapters of Michigan City’s history during the last half of the 19th Century are worthy of mention.
* * *
One prison already existed at Jeffersonville, on the Ohio River, when a movement arose in 1858 to build a new prison north of the National Road (U.S. 40). Michigan City was selected on March 1, 1860, for the reasons that it had railroads which ran in three directions as well as lake traffic; because stone, lumber and clay for bricks could be found here, and because prison labor could be profitably employed.
The state purchased 100 acres of land from Chauncy B. Blair at $45 an acre, and prisoners were put to work building the institution. Contractors paid the state 70 cents a day for their labor and the convict labor done in 1860 on the prison amounted to $22,602.29.
Stone for the walls, which rose to a height of 25 feet then, came from Joliet, Ill.
Inmate population reached 253 the first year the prison was used, in 1861.
During the early years of the prison, Michigan City factories contracted with the state for inmate labor. This practice lasted until 1904, when a state law was passed forbidding it.
The first execution, a hanging, took place on May 7, 1897, when a confessed murderer of four men paid with his life. The first electrocutions were carried out on Feb. 20, 1914. Both men executed then had killed their wives.
In all, 72 men have been put to death at the prison, 13 by hanging and 59 by electrocution.
The last execution took place on June 15, 1961, when a Fort Wayne man paid the supreme penalty for killing his wife.
John Dillinger, who served a term for assault during an attempted robbery in 1924, probably was the most famous prisoner housed in the prison. Transferred here on July 15, 1929, from the Pendleton Reformatory, he stayed until May 22, 1933, when he was paroled. Later the same year, on Sept. 26, 1933, Harry Pierpont and nine other inmates escaped from the prison and joined Dillinger in the infamous crime wave of 1933 and 1934.
The inmate population of the prison on March 29, 1938, was 2,707, the highest it ever has been. Today’s population is about 1,550.
* * *
Of the 208,367 men from Indiana who served in the Union Army during the Civil War, Michigan City furnished 191 officers and 2,560 enlisted men.
The first company to leave here was the Michigan City Rifles, Co. B, with Capt. William H. Blake in command. They joined Indiana’s Ninth Regiment at Camp Morton and participated in the first campaign of West Virginia.
An army training facility, Camp Anderson, was located in Michigan City in the area north of Michigan Boulevard and east of School Street during the war, and a part of the city there is known as the Camp Anderson Addition.
Soldiers who died in the Civil War were honored with a special plot in Greenwood Cemetery, which was established in 1864.
Another sad chapter in the post-war years occurred when President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in Washington in 1865. His funeral train passed through Michigan City on its way to Springfield, Ill., and paused here so that the train crew and passengers could be served lunch. A huge canopy was erected over the tracks where they crossed Franklin Street.
* * *
Washington Park came about through the vision of Martin T. Krueger, and a dream he had cherished for years.
During the first of his four terms as mayor, he argued in 1890 until he got the original Franklin Street Bridge built, talked friends in the legislature into passing an enabling act in 1891, and cajoled city council members into buying the land for a park later the same year.
The 107 different lots and parcels within the park’s boundaries cost the city less than $10,000.
* * *
Street cars, electric lights, telephones, improved streets, new stores….
These made the big news of the 1880s and 1890s.
Rails were laid along Franklin Street and in both directions from it on Ninth Street – westward to the state prison and eastward to Carroll Avenue. Horses and mules pulled the street cars at first, beginning on April 18, 1881.
Electric lights were adopted in 1886, after a committee had visited Terre Haute and returned with a report that electricity was better and cheaper than gas, which had been in use since 1881.
A steam engine, two dynamos, eight miles of wire and materials for 45 lights represented the initial municipal purchase. The lights were used on nights when the moon was not bright enough to light the streets and they stayed on until 1 a.m.
A cable was run under Trail Creek to supply light for the Canada area, that portion of the city just northeast of Trail Creek. Later, when a vessel cut the cable in half, another line was installed across the Sixth Street bridge. But because the bridge was opened six to 20 times each night, a switch had to be thrown which left Canada in darkness while the bridge was up.
How the Canada section of Michigan City received its name is an interesting story in itself.
While the Michigan Central Railroad was being built, most of its construction workers were from Detroit and Windsor, Ontario, in Canada. These men had a tendency to be clannish. So, when the line reached Michigan City, the Canadian workers located their camp at the foot of Yankee Slide, in the Center Street area, and the American workers located their camp closer to Franklin Street.
With Trail Creek creating the same condition that existed between Detroit and Windsor – two cities separated by a river – it didn’t take long for the area northeast of the harbor to be known as Canada.
The first telephone was installed in Michigan City in 1879, just three years following its invention by Alexander Graham Bell. Some businessmen had the “new fangled” instruments in their stores, but it was not until 1894 that the Merchants Mutual Telephone Co. came into existence. At that time, the 58 subscribers paid $1 for service to homes and $2 for service to businesses.
Franklin Street had been graded and planked in 1850, and in 1887 cedar blocks were laid on that surface. A system of numbering the houses followed in 1892.
Many retail establishments which were operating into the mid-20th century had their beginnings in this era.
Aicher’s Furniture Store was founded in 1867 and Beck’s Jewelry Store in 1876. Carstens’ Dry Goods Store opened in 1879 and Bartholomew Hardware Co. in 1880.
Feallock’s Shoe Store was founded in 1885 and the Henry Lumber Co. in 1894.
Grieger’s Clothing Store, according to a newspaper centennial edition, was in business in 1890.
The Spanish-American War and a visit by President William McKinley closed out the 19th century with a flourish.
Historians report that Michigan City men were among the first to volunteer in the war against Spain.
In 1899, at the close of the war, President McKinley passed through Michigan City on his special train. He made a three-minute speech from the station platform to the assembled crowd, and a 21-gun salute was fired in his honor from the crest of Hoosier Slide.
* * *
Michigan City started the 20th century with a population of 14,850.
Historians call these first years of the new century an era of transition, with many changes in store for the community on the shores of Lake Michigan.
Large industries on the local scene in 1900 included the Haskell and Barker Car Co., Ford and Johnson Chair Factory, Lakeside Knitting Mills, Reliance Manufacturing Co., Tecumseh Facing Mills, Western Cane Seating Co., Western Launch and Engine Works, and Winterbotham & Sons, coopers.
Root, Henry and Greer-Wilkinson operated planing mills. Veal Brothers, Hitchcock, Schroeder and Pike Cooperative were chair factories.
In slightly different categories, there also were the Fethke & Son Cigar Factory, Zorn’s Brewery, Booth Packing Co., the Roeske brick plant and flour Mill, and the Hoosier Slide Sands Co.
This last named company was engaged in selling and hauling sand from Hoosier Slide. Much of the sand had gone to Chicago in the 1890s to fill in land for Jackson Park and for the Illinois Central right-of-way.
One interesting attraction was a lumber market which operated on the present site of Superior Courthouse. Lumbermen from Corymbo, a town five miles east of Michigan City at that time, would bring wagon loads of lumber, from which purchasers could select material for houses, furniture or fireplaces.
New modes of transportation and the implementation of inventions helped to speed the transition from old to new.
Roman Eichstaedt had built the first automobile in Michigan City in 1898 – a one-cylinder model that could reach 20 miles per hour in speed. Now a man named Kerskey, O.W. Leeds and Norton Barker drove factory-built vehicles.
An electric interurban line connected Michigan City with LaPorte in 1903, electric street cars appeared in 1907, and the first South Shore train arrived in 1908.
In the early years of the 20th century there was a golf course located west of Greenwood Cemetery between Tilden, Greenwood and York Streets and the Rommel Ditch. The first airplane built in Michigan City – by Donald Gregory in a carpentry shop at 803 Spring St. – took off from it and reached a height of several feet before hitting a cow and crashing. Gregory was uninjured then, but lost his life in another attempted flight.
When this golf course property was platted into lots, land for Pottawattoimie Country Club was acquired by a number of citizens and Walter W. Vail Sr. became the first president of that club in 1909.
The first airplane from the outside landed here about 1910, using a farmer’s field when the original landing site was overrun with sightseers.
About 750 customers were on the books of the Michigan City Power and Light Co. at the turn of the century, receiving electricity from a 500-kilowatt generator powered by a steam turbine.
St. Anthony Hospital was built in 1904, the YMCA in 1909-12, and Superior Courthouse in 1909.
The town’s two telephone companies merged in 1908, offering better service to their 900 subscribers.
A merger of the gas and electric companies in 1910 also meant better and cheaper service for users.
Construction of a lift bridge in 1906 to replace the Franklin Street swing bridge aided in the development of Sheridan Beach. First beach lots there sold for $250 to $300.
The first theater in Michigan City came into being in 1906 when the Grand Opera House opened on the site of the former Tivoli Theater. The theater had 1,500 seats and shows or musical comedies scheduled for Chicago appearances often presented dress rehearsals in it. Prior to construction of the Tivoli, the Grand became the Orpheum Vaudeville Theater and the Garden, in turn. A fire destroyed the Garden in 1921. The Tivoli then was built on the site later that year.
As outlined on other pages, a number of improvements in governmental services also came about during this period.
The First Church of Christ, Scientist, Church of God, Immanuel Evangelical Lutheran Church, First Christian Church and the Adath Israel Synagogue likewise had their beginnings in the first decade of the century.
* * *
The second decade of the 1900s was principally one of war and industrial decline for the community.
Organized on July 20, 1915, Michigan City’s National Guard Co. “G” was just a few months old when Pancho Villa, the Mexican revolutionist, provoked an international crisis by killing 17 persons in a raid on Columbus, N.M., on March 9, 1916.
In the furor that followed, President Woodrow Wilson sent federal troops after Villa and ordered National Guard units into the southwest to back them up.
Co. “G” was among these back-up units and its members spent eight months in Texas. They arrived home on March 14, 1917.
Meanwhile, World War I had begun in Europe and within 3 ½ weeks, on April 6, 1917, the United States declared war on Germany.
Co. “G,” by reason of its service on the Mexican border, was one of the early National Guard units called. Its men were mobilized again on Aug. 5, 1917, and left for France on Sept. 17 of that year.
More than 2,000 Michigan City men registered for World War I service before the fighting ended. Twenty-six young men of Polish descent, meanwhile, joined the Polish Army with the Allies in France.
People back home subscribed more than $3 million in five Liberty Loan Drives and war stamp drives in addition to donating $48,000 for united war work for servicemen and their families.
When the war ended, Martin T. Krueger donated a tract of woods on the east side to be known as Memorial Park in honor of the 19 Michigan City men who gave their lives during the conflict.
Churches and religious groups which had their beginnings here during the period 1911-1920 included St. Luke’s, St. George Orthodox, Sinai Temple, Sacred Heart and Mt. Zion Baptist.
Asser El Jadeed was chartered officially in 1924, but was the outgrowth of a social group formed in 1914 to serve the Arabs of Islamic faith.
The decline in industry that hit the community so hard in that decade wasn’t an overnight occurrence.
Actually it had started prior to 1910, when factories making wood products began to go out of business.
Only one of these factories continued under new management. Midland Chair and Seating Co. succeeded Ford and Johnson, and S.S. Karpen Bros. then replaced Midland in 1916.
The other part of the problem lay in a scarcity of new industry. Besides Midland and Karpen, only three other plants had come here since the century began – Burnham Glove in 1901, Michigan City Paper Box Co. in 1905, and Portis Hats in 1914.
An Industrial Association was midway through the decade to get new industry. But of the four plants secured, three failed. Excelsior, which came in 1916, was the only one to succeed.
Then, in 1917, with 300 homes vacant and 50 store buildings without tenants, officials of the Michigan Central Railroad added the final touch: They moved the railroad shops to Niles, Mich.
By the end of 1918, 600 families had left Michigan City and 700 homes were vacant.
Faced with this grim picture, seven citizens headed by Joseph Hays, whose own firm, the Hays Corporation, had located here in 1918, formed a Chamber of Commerce.
What happened during the next six years often has been called Michigan City’s finest hour.
* * *
By 1922, Michigan City’s payroll had jumped from $4 million to $10 million, bank resources had doubled and assessed valuation of property had climbed from $7 million to $19 million.
By 1924, 22 new factories had been secured, 500 new homes had been built and 30 new store buildings erected. A million dollar sewer was constructed to replace the Rommel Ditch, and another $300,000 was raised through public subscription to build the Spaulding Hotel.
Among the larger industries locating here during this period of time were Josam (plumbing drains), Blocksom (curled hair and Paratex products), Bromwell (kitchen goods and wire products), Michiana Products (oil filters, tanks and farm goods), Peters and Marske (machine parts), Smith Brothers (cough drops), Perfection Cooler (water coolers), Weil-McLain (boilers and heating equipment), Angsten-Cox (metal stampings), Stefco Steel (pre-fab buildings and sheet metal products), Hoosier (trousers), Michigan City Pattern Works (industrial tool patterns), Sullivan Machinery Co. (compressors), and C.A. Dunham (heating and ventilating equipment).
The Orme Co., Royal Metal, Society Lingerie and Arno followed in the years 1925 to 1929.
Of these, Josam, Blocksom, Peters and Marske, Weil-McLain, Hoosier (now Jaymar-Ruby), Sullivan (now Joy Manufacturing Co.), Royal Metal (now InterRoyal), Society Lingerie and Arno still are in business here.
The “Golden Twenties” were productive in other ways, too.
With civic leaders and Chamber of Commerce Executive Secretary Walter K. Greenebaum in the forefront, the harbor was dredged, the Warren Building, the Spaulding Hotel and the Sheridan Beach Hotel were constructed, the Dunes Highway to Gary was built, U.S. 12 east was rerouted, excursion boat service to Chicago was re-established, a “Welcome” arch was constructed over Franklin Street near Seventh Street, the Washington Park amusement area was expanded, the Oasis ballroom was built, and dozens of conventions were secured.
The Michigan City-LaPorte rivalry surfaced again during construction of the Spaulding Hotel. Work on the structure already had started when someone happened to think that if the new hotel had only six floors, as the plans called for, it wouldn’t be as tall as the Rumely Hotel in LaPorte.
So two more floors were added to make the Spaulding the county’s tallest building at that time.
Michigan City also began to develop as a resort center during this period, and Long Beach began to blossom as an area for summer and permanent residences.
Trail Creek came into being as a town on Feb. 26, 1924, by vote of its residents.
The 1920s also saw the Sky Blue Arena constructed on E. Second Street. Because the State of Indiana would not permit prize fighting, it never reached its full potential, but before it was torn down, such boxers as Jack Dempsey, Tommy Gibbons, Georges Carpentier, Benny Leonard and Rocky Kansas made exhibition appearances here.
Then came Black Friday, Oct. 29, 1929, the day of the stock market crash, and the glorious decade was ended.
* * *
As they were elsewhere, the 1930s for Michigan City were years of deep depression economically, of slow recovery and, finally, of watching the holocaust of World War II develop.
The NRA (National Recovery Act), the CWA (Civil Works Administration), the FERA (Federal Emergency Relief Administration) and the WPA (Works Progress Administration) became household names. Long welfare lines became a way of life.
When Pullman-Standard finally was able to announce an order for 100 freight cars, it became banner line news in the local press and cause for widespread rejoicing.
WPA projects gave the city the High School Auditorium, a refurbished Ames Field and Washington Park and zoo improvements.
The 1930s were noteworthy for several other reasons.
The United Welfare and Relief Organization, predecessor to today’s United Way, came into being in 1931. A new Franklin Street Bridge was constructed in 1931-32, street cars ceased to run locally in 1932, and Franklin Street was paved in 1933-34.
Interurban service to LaPorte was discontinued in 1934.
The Chicago World’s Fair of 1933-34 and the city’s centennial pageant, conducted in Washington Park and on the lakefront July 1, 2 and 3, 1933, helped to ease the pain of the hard times.
Then, on Sept. 1, 1939, after more than three years of aggressive moves, Adolf Hitler’s armies invaded Poland. Britain and France retaliated with declarations of war, and the stage was set for World War II in the 1940s.
* * *
Drafts calls late in 1940 sent men to service training camps as the United States prepared for possible involvement, and when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7,1941, many already were trained for combat.
World War II was different from previous wars in that women were permitted to enlist as WACS, WAVES and SPARS in addition to the nurses’ ranks.
During the war the local naval armory was used as a training facility.
The civilian populace, meanwhile, became familiar with ration books covering many items, including meat, sugar, canned goods, gasoline, tires and most home appliances.
Michigan City also contributed about $18 million in war bond drives.
When Germany and Japan surrendered in 1945, the war had taken the lives of 99 Michigan City men.
Also in the 1940s, two persons were killed and 19 injured when an American Airlines DC-3 crashed in Friendship Gardens Dec. 28, 1946.
The formation of the Boosters Club by civic minded citizens in 1948 led to creation of the Municipal Airport and Boy Scout camp.
* * *
The 1950s were a decade of rising population, annexation of vast chunks of land, new schools, transplanted industry, flexing steel mills – and war.
Michigan City’s population had jumped from 19,457 in 1920 to 26,735 in 1930, but the next 20 years saw it rise only to 28,305. Now, in the 1950s, it took a sizeable jump to 36,653.
Some of this increase came through the annexation of Edgewood in 1952. Approximately 3,000 of it came through a merger with Lakeland voted in 1958 and made effective early in 1960.
Some of the growth also came about through the start of construction of a $100 million mill by Midwest Steel at Burns Harbor in 1959.
Ten Michigan City and area men died in the three-year-long Korean War, which began in 1950 and ended with a truce on July 26, 1953.
Arno Adhesive Tapes moved to a new building on U.S. 20 in 1955 and Brown Trailer Division of Clark Equipment opened its new plant in 1958. This industrial news was tempered somewhat by the closing of Smith Brothers Cough Drop Factory in 1959.
Two new elementary schools opened – Central in 1950 and Eastport in 1954 – and St. Mary’s unveiled its new high school and remodeled Marquette Hall in 1956.
Sunday bus service ended in 1952 and the Sheridan Beach Hotel burned in 1956.
The Liberty Theater fire in 1959, which took the life of Fire Capt. Lee Brady, was voted the top story that year.
The Lyons baby kidnapping, still unsolved, was a major story in 1951 and the Big Snow of Feb. 15, 1958, put the city in national news headlines.
Forty-eight inches of snow fell within a 24-hour period starting on that date, with the result that much of the city and immediate area was snowbound for the better part of a week.
* * *
The first state high school basketball title in history… community growth and honors … urban renewal… Marquette Mall … Franklin Square… a giant Bethlehem Steel Mill … and more war…
These were the major local developments of the 1960s for Michigan City.
Doors burst open, automobile engines roared, horns blared and people poured into the streets when the clock ran out on March 19, 1966, in Hinkle Field house in Indianapolis and the scoreboard read:
Michigan City 63
Indianapolis Tech 52
It was the climax of a basketball season that had seen Elston High School’s Red Devils win 26 of 29 games, the last 20 in a row.
It also was the first Indiana State High School championship for a local team and more than 12,000 fans crowded Ames Field the next day to welcome the Red Devils and Coach Doug Adams home.
The merger of Michigan City and Lakeland, effective Jan. 4, 1960, increased the area of Michigan City from 11 ½ to 19 square miles. This and later annexations nearly doubled the city’s size.
The census of 1960, meanwhile, put the population at 36,653, which made Michigan City a second class city.
In 1966, Look magazine and the National Municipal League selected Michigan City as one of 13 All-American Cities, lauding the community for its “excellent example of citizen effort and interest in municipal affairs.”
Urban renewal was proposed for two areas of the city in 1960 – the West and North Sides. Work on the West Side, or Park School, project began in 1962. After lengthy court action by a citizen, work on the North Side, or Beachway, project, got underway in 1968.
Marquette Mall plans were announced on May 19, 1965, and they spelled trouble for downtown Michigan City.
Sears, Roebuck and Co. and J.C. Penney Co. led a parade of business district merchants to the South Side shopping center. In an attempt to stop – or, at least, slow – the deterioration of the central business district, plans for Franklin Square were unveiled in 1968. There were great hopes for the four-block-long development when it opened in 1969, but as of today the verdict still is not definite.
After several years of parrying answers, Bethlehem Steel Corp. admitted that it would build the biggest steel mill in the world on the lakefront adjacent to the Midwest Steel facility in Porter County. Grading of land was started in 1963 and structures began to rise shortly thereafter.
For the third time in as many decades, U.S. troops – and Michigan City young men – became involved, in foreign fighting when the conflict in Vietnam escalated.
Starting with the commitment of 23,000 military advisers to combat in June, 1965,the U.S. at one time in 1968 had 536,100 men and women in the Far East war theater.
Other developments of the 1960s worth noting:
A fire at the Edgewood Motor Co. on Nov. 1 1960, consumed the building and 21 automobiles inside at a loss of $300,000.
Chicagoan Ted Erickson, 33, swam across Lake Michigan to Michigan City on Aug. 23,1961, in 36 1/2 hours, the first person to do so.
The new Barker Junior High School and two new elementary schools – Joy, and Knapp were opened in 1961.
The Oasis Ballroom in Washington Park was demolished in 1962, ending more than 40 years of music and dancing in the structure.
The first bank robbery in Michigan City’s history took place when a gunman got $43,295 in a holdup of the First-Merchants National Bank branch at Eastgate Plaza.
Michigan Boulevard was paved in 1963 at a cost of $2 ½ million.
The Franklin Hotel was destroyed by fire on Nov. 20, 1964.
Ground was broken on June 28, 1965, for the new Purdue North Central campus eight miles south of Michigan City.
The Chesapeake and Ohio Railway won control of the South Shore Railroad through purchase of stock in 1965.
Hospitals United Fulfillment Fund, a citizen-sponsored fund campaign, raised $1.4 million in 1965 to support building programs at St. Anthony and Memorial Hospitals.
The Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore won approval from Congress in 1966.
The Naval Armory was closed as a military installation, the Smith Brothers factory was razed and the Spaulding Hotel quit business after more than 40 years of operation, all in 1966.
A major snowstorm struck on Jan. 26, 1967, dropping 26 inches of snow in a 40-hour period.
City councilmen and the administration in late 1967 enacted the city’s air pollution control ordinance. The ordinance was instrumental in abating many of the community’s air quality problems and preventing others from arising as new business and industry developments subsequently took shape.
Sen. Robert F. Kennedy stopped here to campaign for the presidency on April 15, 1968, six weeks before he was slain by an assassin’s bullet in Los Angeles.
Michigan City was moved into the Second Congressional District in 1968.
Cohomania became a new word for fishermen in 1968 as coho salmon became plentiful and big enough to catch in Lake Michigan.
* * *
Michigan City started the 1970s with a population of 39,369 – not quite a 3,000 gain for the previous decade.
But whatever else might be said, it was a gain “on its own” – and in the face of a fluctuating industrial payroll that presented more of a civic challenge than a help.
The 1970s, for instance, saw such employers as Pullman-Standard, Brown Trailer Division, Visual Educom, Poloron (formerly Gardex) and Elco Electronics follow Dunham-Bush in leaving the city.
W.R. Grace and the Westway-Northway manufacturing operation also came in and went out rather quickly.
On the credit side, however, were Gateway industries, Boone Box, Infonics, Filter Specialists, Performance Packaging, Celadyne, Michigan City Fabricators, Party Cookies and Yeater, Laughlin and Mueller Metal Products.
In addition, seven industries launched major expansion efforts – Jaymar-Ruby, Sullair, Milton Roy (previously Hays), Joy Manufacturing Co., Cyanamid, USS Chemicals and Sprague Devices.
The decade started almost ominously with a weekend of civil disturbances that began shortly after completion of the annual Summer Festival parade on July 11, 1970.
An early evening curfew was lifted on July 15, but in the meantime, the National Guard had been called and the North End, at times, looked, like an armed camp.
The Indiana State Prison also had its share of violence with a series of kidnappings and killings.
Three guard officers were held hostage for 34 hours over the Labor Day holiday in 1973 before an uprising was ended.
Two inmates also held eight hostages for five hours before surrendering in September, 1975, and six weeks later the warden, his wife and his daughter, plus two guards, were abducted in an attempt by six inmates to escape.
A 56-year-old woman and her 19-year-old daughter were slain in their rural home on Dec. 27, 1974, by an inmate fleeing from a prison farm nearby.
The Vietnam War added one last gruesome touch to the 1970s. Thirty-one Michigan City GIs had given their lives in combat when the 13-year-old conflict ended officially for the United States on Jan. 27, 1973.
One of the dead was Marine Pfc. Daniel D. Bruce, who posthumously was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. He was the second LaPorte County man in history to be so honored.
As the decade reached its mid-point, the South Shore Railroad – the only electric interurban line left in the nation – was reeling financially. While still operating on a reduced schedule, its executives sounded dire warnings that the commuter service soon would end unless public or governmental subsidies were forthcoming.
The Beachway Urban Renewal project also was faltering to some extent, with more than half of the available land unoccupied and municipal officials arguing over whether to locate a new city hall in the area.
Meanwhile, a new home for The News-Dispatch at 121 W. Michigan Blvd. joined the new post office on Beachway land in 1974, and the new public library was rising across the street from the newspaper to the south.
Other occurrences during the 1970s worth noting:
A 22-year-old Pottawattomie Park man was sentenced to a 25-year term in prison in 1970 after hijacking an Eastern Airlines plane to Cuba on Jan. 9, 1969.
The $25 million Port of Indiana at Burns Harbor was dedicated on July 17, 1970.
Catherine Barker Hickox, only surviving daughter of John H. Barker, died in Old Westbury, N.Y., on Nov. 18,1970.
Michigan City was returned to the Third Congressional District on April 16, 1971.
Elston Red Devils’ basketball coach Doug Adams was named the national high school coach of the year on May 27, 1971, by the National High School Athletic Association.
Rogers High School was opened on Sept. 13, 1971.
An afternoon fire caused major damage at the Citizens Bank March 8, 1972.
Construction of a shopping center across U.S. 20 from Marquette Mall was announced on March 31, 1972.
Interior Secretary Rogers C. B. Morton and Julie Nixon Eisenhower took part in dedication ceremonies of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore on Sept. 8, 1972.
The “missing link” of Interstate 94 was opened westward from Michigan City on Nov. 2, 1972.
The Tivoli Theater closed on Nov. 30, 1972, following purchase of the structure by the Citizens Bank for a building program.
Workmen in a vacated building of the former Pullman-Standard complex on W. Eighth Street accidentally started a fire which destroyed all but three of the structures in a four-square-block area on July 18, 1973.
Chicago drug company executive Melvyn Zahn escaped here on June 29, 1973, from two men who had kidnapped him two days earlier in Illinois. The Citizens Bank occupied a new building at Fifth Street and Franklin Square in 1974.
The First-Merchants National Bank announced plans for a new building, also at Fifth Street and Franklin Square, and work got underway in 1975.
Unpaid premiums on hospitalization insurance for municipal employees in 1975 led to an investigation which resulted in grand jury indictments in 1976 of insurance man Michael Daher and former Mayor Randall C. Miller on charges of bribery. Both pleaded not guilty to the charges.
A monument in Washington Park to honor the Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, – Pfc. Daniel D. Bruce and other soldiers who lost their lives in the Vietnam War and a proposed amphitheater highlighted Michigan City’s observance of the Bicentennial year in 1976.
The Making of a Community was written by Elwin G. Greening, editor of The News-Dispatch. Information for the manuscript came basically from four historical volumes – The History of Michigan City, by Rollo B. Oglesbee and Albert Hale; The History of LaPorte County, Indiana, by Jasper Packard; Michigan City’s First Hundred Years, by Elizabeth M. Munger, and Indiana, Vol. I, by Charles Roll and from the files of The News-Dispatch. Appreciation also is expressed to Clement Spychalski, E. Preston Calvert, G.C. Calvert, Mrs. William H. Harris, Emmett Wise, Milton Dabagia, Thomas L. Juckett, James H. Fleming, Mrs. Harold R. Knott, the Michigan City Fire Department and the Michigan City Historical Society for their assistance in furnishing material and pictures.
Inspiration For a Town
Isaac C. Elston might be considered the founder of Michigan City, but three men named McDonald, Elliot and Neely were its finders.
Those four gentlemen, the Indiana General Assembly, and most of the town’s early settlers and investors were inspired by the same expectation: That in this place would develop a great commercial waterway.
John McDonald, Chester Elliot and John Neely came, respectively, from Daviess, Warwick and Gibson counties. They were sent by the state legislature in 1828 to the sand and wilderness of northernmost Indiana to survey the entire Lake Michigan shoreline and determine the best location for a harbor and a city.
Their search ended at the mouth of Trail Creek. Here, they concluded, was the ideal location for the new community which was to be the northern terminus of the Michigan Road.
In an 1826 treaty with the United States, Pottawattomie Indians had ceded land on which the north-south road would be constructed. It would connect Lake Michigan with Madison on the Ohio River, opening great new potentials for Indiana commerce, settlement and growth.
The ambitious undertaking stirred interest throughout the state – and gave the town a name before it had even one inhabitant. Hoosiers referring to the city to be built on the lakeshore quite naturally called it “the city on Lake Michigan.” That soon was shortened to “the Michigan City” and, finally, “Michigan City.” The community had a name before it came into official existence – a name that most appropriately derived from its lakefront location.
In October of 1830, Major Elston of Crawfordsville purchased a quarter mile of land that included the mouth of Trail Creek in Michigan City. Later, he bought more. He made his purchases sight unseen – a testimonial to the potential envisioned for the future port city. (And he sold half his purchase to New Yorkers for $250,000 cash, another indicator of the promise foreseen for Michigan City.)
Gov. James Ray (the only “non-partisan” governor in the state’s history) stated in his 1829 message that the Michigan Road’s northern terminus was at the mouth of a river “where a harbour for vessels may be easily made.”
It seemed so. It was not to prove so.
* * *
The 1908 Oglesbee-Hale history of Michigan City reports: “Beginning with the opening of the road there came to Michigan City a large forwarding business and for years thereafter grain and farm produce was hauled to the warehouses on the lake from as far as Indianapolis.”
Indeed, there was a burst of enthusiasm after the Federal government appropriated $20,000 for the Michigan City harbor in 1837. The good news prompted Gov. Noah Noble to suggest – and the legislature to agree – that improvements be made to the road. Julius Adams, the engineer appointed to make the study, came up with a grandiose proposal to make the entire Michigan Road a boulevard of hexagonal plank. The Oglesbee-Hale history notes: “The country was in a frenzy of internal improvement at that time but the magnificence of this new proposal was startling to the wise men of Indiana when it burst upon them in January, 1838. It soon transpired, however, that the scheme had powerful support in the lobbies and gradually it was learned that a prodigious graft was being attempted; only with great difficulty was it defeated…” (LaPorte County legislators Charles W. Cathcart and Charles McClure actively opposed the scheme.)
An interesting fact in Adams’ report to the legislature was his report that it required an average of 14 days for a six-horse wagon and load to travel the Michigan Road from Indianapolis to Michigan City.
One effect of the economic panic of 1837 was the shelving of a proposal for the building of a railroad to the lake beside the Michigan Road. Considering the competitive situation involving two lake cities in those early years – Chicago and Michigan City – some may wonder if construction of such a railroad at the time might have made a difference in the outcome. As the historians wrote: “The two places were not far apart in size. Chicago’s estuary was not as favorable for harbor purposes as that of Trail Creek, and there was every reason to anticipate for Michigan City a position of supremacy in the commerce on the lake. It was by force of circumstances beyond the control of man that the wonderful western metropolis grew up elsewhere than at the foot of Hoosier Slide…”
People in the town and in the state, legislators and governors, and visitors to Michigan City readily recognized the natural potential of the channel as a great harbor of commerce and refuge.
Now if only the congressmen in Washington could be made to share the same enthusiasm for the development of the southern Lake Michigan port at Michigan City…
That was to be a big and frustrating “If.”
The First 75 Years
Pushing the Port Potential
“The Fourth of July in 1836 was a day of double rejoicing in Indiana’s newly incorporated lakefront community.
On that date, President Andrew Jackson signed a bill appropriating $20,000 for development of a harbor at Michigan City. The amount was modest, but was interpreted by happy local citizens as evidence that the United States government had, after a five year effort by city and Indiana advocates, finally recognized the potential for a major port here. This first federal investment was viewed as earnest money.
And, by appropriate happenstance, the first commercial vessel ever to enter Trail Creek was brought in on that same Independence Day.
The ship was a little schooner, the Sea Serpent. It was dragged and towed by a crowd of enthusiastic citizens to a point on the creek almost as Franklin Street. Getting the vessel over the sand bar, which had long provided a natural obstacle at the mouth of the creek, was no easy task. Her keel plowed across the bar with great difficulty.
The celebration which took place that day on Michigan City’s waterfront is described by Jasper Packard: “A barrel of whiskey was rolled out and set upon end, then the head was knocked in, a nail was driven partly in the side, and a tin cup was hung on it, when every man helped himself; and it may be presumed that no one failed to partake in his full share of the liquid. It was a general spree in which every last man lent a hand.”
Before the successful docking of the Sea Serpent–and for most ships for some years after–there was no entering the “harbor”. Instead, as the Oglesbee-Hale history describes it: “…It had been necessary for vessels at this port to anchor outside in the roadstead, prepared to slip cables and make for the open sea for safety at short notice in case of sudden storm…and freight was taken or discharged by means of lighters, small enough to be poled over the bar.”
* * *
Two years before the Michigan Road was completed, and five years before Michigan City was incorporated, the state of Indiana had begun imploring the United States Congress to assist in development of a harbor at Michigan City.
There were some skeptics who doubted that a harbor of refuge was even possible to construct on the southern shore of Lake Michigan. One of them (writing in 1821) is quoted in a history book: “It is yet somewhat problematical whether a safe and permanent harbor can be constructed by any effort of human ingenuity, upon the bleak and naked shores of these lakes, exposed, as they are, to the most furious tempests.”
The skepticism was not widely shared. Certainly it was not prevalent among members of the 1831 Indiana General Assembly, who adopted a joint resolution asking that the federal government make a survey of the mouth of the river at Michigan City “with instructions to examine and report as to the practicability, best manner and expense of improving the same.”
There followed a response from Washington that was to become all too familiar in future years: silence.
In 1832, the legislature tried once more. It specifically asked Congress for an appropriation. Part of the resolution read: “It is represented to this General Assembly that the construction of a safe harbour and the erection of a light house … are objects of great utility to the Union, important to the commercial adventurer as well as the local agriculturalist, and of peculiar interest to our growing population in that quarter and … the means at our disposal are utterly inadequate to accomplish the construction and erection of said works.”
Edward A. Hannegan of Michigan City voted for the resolution in the state legislature. He was elected to Congress in the next election (the only Michigan City resident to achieve that honor) and his first act in Washington was to submit the document to his fellow congressmen – along with a resolution requesting the Committee on Roads and Canals to consider an appropriation for the necessary survey and construction of a harbor at the mouth of Trail Creek.
That was Dec. 18, 1833.
On Jan. 2, 1834, the Indiana Legislature produced still another resolution for forwarding to Washington, stating that: “The mouth of Trail Creek … has been adjudged to afford the best harbor for vessels within the limits of the state… and from the peculiar nature of the mouths of rivers and creeks on Lake Michigan, it is obstructed in a considerable degree by the barriers of sand which surround the entrance of streams in said lake, and which can only be removed and prevented by the “excavation of basins and the erection of piers … From surveys already made at the mouth of the creek … there is found to be as great a depth of water over the bar as at any point on the southern shore of the lake within this state, and that a small sum of money properly applied, would make the same a safe and convenient harbour; which harbour is imperiously demanded by the extraordinary improvements of the country in the northern parts of Indiana, and the necessity of protecting and regulating the extensive commerce, which is already extending itself from and to this point.” Pausing for breath, the author continued: “Indiana, with only 40 miles of coast, has little opportunity to ask for such favors, and the salt and other supplies to be demanded by the dense population soon to inhabit her fertile soil gives the matter a national importance.”
Rep. Hannegan transmitted the message immediately to Congress. It was referred to the Committee on Roads and Canals. Hannegan testified before the committee. He addressed his colleagues from the House floor. He succeeded in obtaining the desired authority, which then went through channels of the War Department to Col. J.J. Abert, chief of the topographical bureau. On Oct. 10, 1834, he ordered Lt. John M. Berrien to conduct a survey of the mouth of Trail Creek to ascertain its potential as a harbor.
Lt. Berrien made his report Jan. 19, 1835, it was transmitted to the Senate Feb. 9. The report included a map and gives an accurate description of the creek and adjacent section of the lake at that date.
It shows that at its widest part, the stream measured 120 feet and at the mouth about 30. At the mouth there was a depth of one foot, increasing to six feet upstream. The stream did not appear subject to flooding, the current was slight, there was a smooth clay bottom, and the creek “did not bring down any inconvenient quantity of sediment.” The bar at the mouth was formed by drifting sand from adjacent hills, the report stated. There was good anchorage for vessels outside. Needed improvements were said to be the widening of the stream and deepening to nine feet – “sufficient for the largest vessels and the construction of piers.” There was ample timber for the project on the banks, the lieutenant reported, but stone would have to be brought from Chicago.
On Dec. 22, 1835, the Senate again asked for a report; the same one was transmitted.
In private letter to Cong. Hannegan, dated Feb. 20, 1835, Col. Abert said that construction of a breakwater at a cost of $84,240 would afford sufficient protection from winds and waves to permit the stream to clean itself and provide a safe outer harbor.
No action yet having come out of Washington, on Feb. 8, 1836, both houses of Congress heard (and each referred to its Committee on Commerce) a petition signed by the masters of 16 vessels who sailed the south part of the lake. The petitioners said: “That during the last two years there has been in immense increase of transportation and especially to different places on Lake Michigan. That this lake does not abound with harbors, hence navigation is extremely dangerous, and in the opinion of the petitioners, it is practicable, at a reasonable expense, to construct a pier or breakwater at Michigan City, Indiana, so as to answer both the purposes of a harbor for that flourishing town, and also serve the important object of a general place of safety and protection for the whole fleet in time of danger.”
The petition had been circulated the prior summer. At the same time, a committee of Michigan City citizens wrote to Col. Abert asking for a copy of Lt. Berrien’s plan and estimate. The colonel bucked the letter to the lieutenant for answer. Lt. Berrien replied at length Nov. 14. His letter discussed the relative advantages of the pier and breakwater plans. He favored the latter. He said the subject was of great importance because of the growing need for a harbor in the south part of the lake. He expressed his opinion that Trail Creek afforded the best opportunity listing the nearest other location as Grand River 120 miles away.
“(Trail Creek’s) position being nearer the head of the lake than any point offering any facilities for the construction of a harbor or any advantages in point of trade, the mouth of the creek presents itself as of the greater importance from the fact that beyond it no advantages offer for similar improvements,” Lt. Berrien wrote.
His enthusiastic endorsement of the Michigan City site – one which clearly ranked it superior to Chicago – was given wide circulation and attracted considerable investment capital to Michigan City. Historians of the period credit the lieutenant’s comments with clearly aiding the town’s growth.
Thus encouraged, Major Elston once more rallied his allies in the legislature. On Jan. 23, 1836, another resolution was adopted and forwarded to Washington.
It reiterated past points. It referred to recent fatal wrecks on the Indiana coastline. It stressed the importance of the harbor to eastern states whose merchants were interested in the Michigan City port as a place of trade. Of the town just about to be incorporated, it stated:
“On that shore, so lately wild and uninhabited, a city is now springing up, an enterprising people are fixing their homes. Already the constant hum of business is heard there, and the sails of commerce begin to whiten the hitherto undisturbed waters of the great lake … The amount of money paid for the freight of produce and merchandise at Michigan City during the past year has exceeded $20,000. The value of the merchandise landed at the same place in the same period, and forwarded from thence into the interior of our state, we are certainly informed, has been upwards of $400,000. Indeed the whole northern part of our state for near one hundred miles south from Lake Michigan has received its supply mainly through that channel, and must continue to do so, until other works of internal improvement shall be completed. It is now the only road to the city of New York. An appropriation has been made by Congress to erect a lighthouse at this point, and nothing now is wanted but a commodious harbor, to make the navigation of that part of the lake safe and the anchorage good.”
On April 2, 1836, the House Committee on Commerce reported a bill which included an appropriation for a harbor at Michigan City. Following several sessions of the committee of the whole, a vote took place June 8, 1836. The bill passed, 99-85. Ironically, Rep. Hannegan was absent. There were motions to table, to strike out the enacting clause, to re-refer, to cut the amount in two but all failed and the bill went to the Senate. After a stormy career it passed with amendments July 2. The House concurred in the amendments, and the bill went to the desk of President Jackson, who signed it July 4.
After all of the resolutions, all of the lobbying and petitioning, the studies and reports, the speeches and debates, the Federal government had consented to invest $20,000 in the harbor at Michigan City.
Local citizens celebrated, they pulled the Sea Serpent over the sand bar, and they awaited the benefits of the action in Washington.
* * *
During the time the Michigan City harbor proposal had been a hot potato in the halls of Congress, some local merchants had done what they could to foster commerce at the lakefront. The Oglesbee-Hale history notes:
“The Blairs and perhaps some of the other local forwarding merchants at one time built a pier extending to deep water from the creek mouth and laid a track of wooden stringers on which small cars were pushed from the warehouses to the end of the pier, where vessels could tie up in pleasant weather. Many such piers and tracks were constructed along the shore north of Michigan City in after years to accommodate the shippers of wood and lumber.”
The $20,000 having been appropriated in 1836, orders descended through the chain of command until they got to Capt. Ward B. Burnet of the Army Corps of Engineers – the man initially assigned to supervise the construction of a harbor.
Sporadic additional appropriations between 1836 and 1870 brought the total funded for the harbor by that date to $287,388.92. The creek was widened and deepened, and piers and revetments built to protect it. The channel in 1870 had an average depth of 12 feet.
The Oglesbee-Hale book states: “In 1870, Congress, aroused by the demands of the citizens and impelled by the report of the engineers who saw that a simple inner harbor would not accommodate the rapidly growing commerce at the foot of the lake, made a specific appropriation of $25,000 for the outer harbor.
“The plan prepared was to comprise an outer basin, of some 40 acres located to the east of the entrance to the inner harbor, and an exterior detached breakwater to the westward designed to give increased safety to vessels entering during heavy weather; the combination (of inner and outer harbors) was intended to provide a safe harbor of refuge against northerly gales, for general commerce.”
Work on the outer harbor facilities began in1870. That construction and its repair, and further work on the upstream channel, constituted the Federal government investment of funds, manpower and expertise up to the end of the century.
Lt. Col. G. J. Lydecker was engineer in charge for the Army Corps from 1894 until 1899, and again quoting the Oglesbee-Hale history — “it was owing to his energy that the government began to realize the necessity of fostering the commerce of Michigan City … In his report for the year 1895 he states that no great advantage to local commerce can be secured unless all the projects should be immediately completed.”
Once more, those actually on the scene – familiar with the situation here – saw the need for action. But Washington moved slowly, snail-pace slowly, to respond. The historians continue:
“In 1897…dissatisfaction not only with the progress of the work, but also at the character of the plan itself, became so general that it could no longer be ignored. The draft of vessels using this area of Lake Michigan had long exceeded the modest allowance of 12 feet; steamers for the carriage of freight had come into more general use, superseding the original sailing schooners which had in earlier times brought merchandise and lumber to Michigan City; a considerable passenger traffic had likewise been developed between this harbor and Chicago. One great purpose for which the outer harbor had been planned was the protection to be offered to craft of all kinds exposed to the sudden and severe storms apt to occur at any moment near Michigan City, but in place of the protection promised, the piers and cribs forming the outer harbor had become in reality a source of danger, so that sailing masters and pilots actually avoided rather than sought this harbor. Naturally the residents of Michigan City were dissatisfied with the result and distressed at the loss of cargoes, or not infrequently of life, which occurred.”
Some were suspicious of the preferred treatment being given to the Chicago harbor. Congress had spent millions there up to 1897 – but only $1.2 million on the Michigan City harbor, even though neutral observers had often deemed it advantageous to Chicago’s before the funding flowed.
“The injustice was evident,” the historians wrote, “and the War Department (Feb. 16, 1897) convened a board of engineer officers to advise on some change in the location of the outer breakwaters.”
The board recommended radical alterations in the engineers’ plans – implementation of which would cost an estimated $282,150. Congress reacted in its traditional pattern: The following year, it appropriated $7,500 for the Michigan City harbor–and it specified it was only for use on the inner harbor!
Finally, on June 6, 1900, the Congress appropriated $195,000 for outer harbor work. In 1902, another $63,000 was provided.
Summing up the situation as it looked at the beginning of this century, the historians commented “… the harbor is not completed, yet the government is wiser than it was, and there is every prospect that Michigan City will before long be equipped to care for and foster the extensive commerce that is hers by right.”
They made plain their conclusion that the fault for delays and misjudgments and inadequate funding rested with Congress: “There was bad politics at the bottom of it all, in which outside interests prevailed, although the representatives from this district did everything possible to gain a proper recognition for the only state harbor in Indiana.”
They added: “But the story of the Michigan City Harbor would be incompletely and poorly told, if only the reports of Congress were examined. To catch the vital element in this growth of nearly 80 years, the unwritten history of the town itself must be studied, and public documents, transactions of the local business organizations, as well as the public spirited and often self-sacrificing conduct of the men of affairs, must be investigated.”
A prime example of what they meant occurred locally in reaction to a period of time in which the Federal government was particularly inattentive to the Michigan City harbor needs.
After 1838, there was an interval of six years before another cent was allowed. In 1844, $25,000 was appropriated, but not until 1852 was even $20,000 forthcoming. And from then until 1866 there is a period of 14 years during which nothing whatever was attempted or accomplished for Michigan City by those having power in Washington.
“Much of this neglect must be explained by the crisis of the Civil War,” the history book acknowledges, “in which all the money obtainable from any source was devoted to the cost of that awful struggle, but the need was there and the citizens themselves bravely attempted to meet it.”
July Fourths seem to be significant dates where Michigan City’s harbor is concerned. It was on July 4, 1864, that a meeting was conducted in City Hall at which a Michigan City Harbor Company was organized.
“They then memorialized Congress in dignified terms; they omitted to mention that the expenditure of the money from past appropriations was barren of results, they did not complain that the harbor afforded no shelter to the ships plying at this end of the lake, they drew no particular attention to the patent facts that the piers were fallen into decay, that material purchased by the government had been allowed to rot or to slip unused and unobserved into the water, they restrained their impatience at seeing the work of one summer nullified by the pitiless storms of the succeeding winter, but they did ask that the government permit them to take over what remained of the original plans and construction already accomplished, and to carry out as best they might, a plan of their own whereby they hoped to do something to further the interests of the nation, of the state of Indiana, and of their own city.”
In 1865 authority was granted to the local company to use government piers in the harbor for the purpose of protecting the harbor. Under this authority, and power given by the state legislature the same year, Michigan City Harbor Company began collecting money from the stockholders – “and continued to do so until many of the stockholders were nearly, if not entirely, bankrupt and impoverished.” The funds were used to rebuild foundations on the old government piers, and to make extensions into the lake to protect the mouth of Trail Creek before dredging could be done.
In two years, the company expended $100,526.53. The city did its share, too– building docks and dredging. City funds spent totaled $20,767.85. And private parties had added to the improvements in the amount of $63,000.
When Congress began to show interest in aiding harbor projects again, the company petitioned the Federal government to take over where the Michigan City Harbor Company had left off. It asked that a sum equivalent to what stockholders had expended from their own pockets be appropriated–not to repay the stockholders, but to fund further work on the harbor project. That was when Congress provided $100,000 for work in the years 1868 and 1869.
Oglesbee and Hale included a table in their 1908 book, listing Federal appropriations for Michigan City’s harbor from 1836 through 1905 totaling $1,588,268.92. Then they observe, “It is between the lines of this table that one must look for the sickening tale of congressional imbecility, of inadequate appropriations, costly delays, waste of material and inattention to public interests. Wreck followed wreck. Ships, cargoes, and human lives were sacrificed. The legislature memorialized, and Hannegan, Cathcart, and others in Congress pleaded in vain for relief. Year after year passed by and construction material rotted on the shore for lack of money to put it in place.”
* * *
In spite of the wretched record of Congress, there was significant development on the waterfront in Michigan City in those first 75 years after the place was chosen as Indiana’s lake port.
Most of it was the result of action by citizens as illustrated by the formation of the Michigan City Harbor Co. Hardy, optimistic and determined citizens had worked to develop the harbor from the time in 1830 when its potential first was proclaimed.
Warehouses were constructed and do-it-yourself piers built so that commerce might commence. As one history puts it, “The great attraction which so rapidly turned the silent sandy shores of Lake Michigan into a hustling market was trade.” One of Michigan City’s prominent early figures, Samuel Miller, who came here in 1832, built the first warehouse. “He was a forwarder, taking grain, provisions and produce from all the neighbors who had to sell, and obtaining his supply of goods (such as salt) from vessels plying the lakes.” Many more warehouses soon were constructed.
In 1833, James Forrester brought a cargo of salt and other commodities from Buffalo to Michigan City on the schooner Post Boy– the first shipment of its kind. The businessmen built piers from their warehouses to facilitate loading and unloading of cargo. Ships made regular stops here. Michigan City became the leading grain market for all of Indiana north of the Wabash – and there were even shipments from Indianapolis. Great caravans of wagons, often drawn by three-or four-ox teams, passed constantly through Michigan City’s streets.
“A man would have to reach the town of Michigan City early in the day to get his grain unloaded before night,” an account of the time states. As many as 300 teams could often be counted in line moving up toward the warehouses. Grain was brought from as far west as Joliet, and Rockford, Ill., to be ground into flour by the mills on Trail Creek and to be shipped to other ports. In 1842, it was reported, more wheat, pork, and lard was shipped from here than from Chicago.
The mural by noted artist Robert Grafton on the study hall at Elston Senior High School depicts lakefront activity at about this time.
Chicago interests were behind a scheme, reported in 1840, to minimize the use of Michigan City’s port (and also those of New Buffalo and St. Joseph in Michigan) and to list Chicago as the loading point even when cargo was taken aboard vessels at Michigan City and other ports. Chicago was listed as the loading point for lumber and flour, for instance, even though it had none to ship.
In the 1840s, the Oglesbee-Hale history of the town notes, “There was now much barrel making in the city to supply not only the demand in Chicago, but also that for home use, as beef and pork packing was an increasing industry, while the annual catch of fish in the local waters was a noticeable factor in commerce. It is reported that Lyman Blair’s output of fish for one year was as high as $40,000, probably one of the best records on the lakes.”
Some of the lake fish catch was sold locally, but most was shipped to Chicago and other centers. Whitefish and sturgeon were plentiful during that period.
The railroad was beginning to supplant the lake vessels as a carrier of commerce, and the warehouses on Michigan City’s lakefront began to disappear to be replaced by huge piles of lumber. One commodity that remained important in lake traffic was salt. An 1894 publication referring to the Michigan Salt Co. warehouse here noted it had a capacity of 25,000 barrels, and salt shipped to Michigan City by boat was distributed from here to points in Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky and Western Ohio – “something more than 150,000 barrels being handled annually here.”
But it was lumber that became increasingly the principal item of Michigan City lakefront business in the latter years of the 19th century.
Some vessels for the carrying of lumber even were launched in Michigan City – the schooners C.P. Williams, Frank Miller and Margaret Dall among them. They were able to travel smaller streams, taking cargo where larger boats could not go.
In 1868, the era of sailing vessels reached its peak with 2,000 schooners officially registered. Lumber, shingles and stone were brought to Michigan City, and ships left with cargoes of hay, potatoes and huckleberries. Influenced by the advent of the train, Michigan City’s harbor had changed from a grain to a lumber port.
Lumber yards came into existence at the lakefront and along Trail Creek, as far as points beyond Sixth Street. The lumber shipping season lasted from April until late October. Some yards hired as many as 120 men for a season.
Michigan City became the foremost lumber market of the day. Its commercial tonnage reports were dominated by vessels bringing lumber from the forests of Michigan and Wisconsin. By the 1890s, harbor docks were lined on both sides with lumber. Mayor Martin T. Krueger, describing the scene in later years, said the lumber “was piled as high as it could be done by the hands of man. Through it were many lanes or alleys, along which lumber was hauled to and from the docks to the piles and again from these piles to cars, to be shipped all over the Midwest.” The fleet of lumber vessels plying the lakes was widely known – the A.R. Colborn (named for one of the local businessmen, who was known as “the lumber king of Indiana”); the O.E. Parks, the Morris Gage, the Early Bird, the H.A. Root, the Horace A. Tuttle.
The passenger excursion business had developed after the harbor was opened. At the close of the century, a commemorative publication–Michigan City Illustrated–observed: “Michigan City is especially fortunate in having a cheap and popular means of transportation to Chicago, and this is by the double daily excursions run by the Chicago and Michigan City line, on the new steel steamer America.”
And so, the 20th Century began. Michigan City was 64 years old and its lakefront legacy already was a colorful, eventful, dramatic–and in many ways disappointing–story.
That hard-to-quell optimism remained in evidence, as shown in this quote from the 1900 Michigan City Illustrated publication:
“Nowhere on the Great Lakes is there a better harbor for safety and convenience. Situated at the extreme southerly point of the great waterway, our harbor offers facilities for receiving and dispatching that have been recognized by the most expert government engineers, and it must soon be of greatest importance to shippers.”
The Second 75 Years
The Turn Toward Recreation
In the second 75 years of Michigan City’s harbor history, the tide turned dramatically in favor of recreational boating.
Today, the navigable length of the channel and the Washington Park Marina are berthing points throughout the summer season for cruisers, sailboats and other pleasure craft. Save for the remaining commercial fisheries, it is to the boaters that the waterfront-related shoreline businesses cater. And it is to the further development of the harbor’s recreational usage that planning in 1976 points.
In mid-century, an article in The News-Dispatch noted, “The decline of the harbor in relation to the industrial scene since 1900 must be viewed as a major development in local history.” Great strides had been made in the community’s industrial diversification in those 50 years and the harbor had not been a direct factor in most of them, only indirectly as something that made Michigan City unique and a pleasant place to live and play.
“By 1925,” the 1950 article pointed out, “the lumber yards gone and no one at hand to fill in, harbor traffic had dwindled to a mere shadow of its former self, and today the only commercial tonnage is that of locally-owned fish tugs which find the lake’s catches less each year.
“During the period from 1925 until the present, it has been an occasion of note when vessels of any size visit the port.
As the tonnage dwindled, so did government expenditures and interest … Last big dredging of the harbor was done nearly 15 years ago. At a meeting of the Congressional committee hearing on this improvement, several local men were present. Harry Frey represented the Yacht Club, George Trask the Chamber of Commerce, William C. Haviland the park board, and T.C. Mullen the zoo board. As a result of the hearing the harbor was dredged and later the west part of the old breakwater was repaired.”
After that major 1935 dredging project and some lesser dredging in 1948 and 1949, there were continuing efforts by citizens, government and the Chamber of Commerce to attract tonnage to the channel and to interest the Federal government in improving it.
But a letter from an Army Corps of Engineers official in 1953, in response to a local request for dredging of the harbor, tersely summarized the Federal position, “A review of the past record at Michigan City reveals that dredging has been performed by the Federal Government on a number of occasions based on local assurances of future water-borne shipments of grain, coal, sand and gravel, package freight, passengers, etc., which only partially materialized.”
Dredging of the channel could not be justified, he concluded.
Repairs to the piers in 1954, at a total cost of about $60,000, represented the only government investment in that period. Again in 1955, the Army Corps of Engineers denied a request for dredging. The Corps had been told that there were local plans for shipping of construction aggregates for use in construction of the Indiana Toll Road – and for other use of the harbor by city businesses and industries, if it were dredged. The Corps again seemed skeptical. Maintenance dredging might be justified, it said, “following such development.”
In 1956, after Cargill Inc. decided to build three huge grain elevators here and promised shipment of about 125,000 tons of grain annually, the Corps agreed to dredge the harbor as far as the Franklin Street bridge. The work continued in 1957. That year, the Jupiter, first large commercial vessel to enter Michigan City’s harbor in years, picked up a cargo of 90,000 bushels of soybeans from the Cargill elevator. The Jupiter, other ships and barges began a schedule of regular trips.
There was some optimistic talk at the time about new commercial life for the harbor. But realists recognized that after 125 years as Indiana’s potential port, Michigan City now had been officially eliminated from consideration. The St. Lawrence Seaway was open and plans were proceeding for construction of a major Indiana deepwater port at Burns Harbor west of Michigan City.
The Corps did do additional dredging in 1958 to permit unloading of salt for use on highways and the toll road. The first of several ships to bring salt, the Sumatra, unloaded 6,000 tons on Oct. 28, 1958.
Vessels collecting grain and leaving salt were the last large commercial ships to enter the Michigan City harbor.
Pleasure boating had humble beginnings in Michigan City. But by the 1930s, more and more cruisers and sailboats began to be seen on the local lakefront. The yacht basin became a popular port of refuge for boaters. Events such as the annual Columbia Yacht Race helped to popularize Michigan City as a Great Lakes port of call.
Extension of the East Pier in 1884 had created 40-acre yacht basin. In a development that seems unbelievable today, the city began to fill in the basin in the 1920s–virtually using it as a dump. Somebody had decided the basin area could better be utilized at a future date, once all that water was gotten rid of, as a baseball field or parking lot.
Dad Heisman and E.G. (Babe) Browne, two of the city’s earliest pleasure boating enthusiasts, circulated petitions and called the development to the attention of the Corps of Engineers. Finally, a desist order was issued–but the marina today is only one-third the size of the original basin.
The Michigan City Yacht Club was organized in 1931. In following years, members helped bring about a dredging project and participated in a community effort to clear the harbor and the basin area of debris.
Interest in boating increased steadily in the years after World War II, and a real boom was in progress by the late 1950s. It was particularly untimely, then, that Lake Michigan should choose that point to drop to its lowest level since 1933–creating what a News-Dispatch series in February of 1959 called “a crisis of unprecedented proportions for local tug and pleasure craft owners.
“In fact,” the article continued, “the harbor channel southeastward from the New York Central Railroad bridge looks more like a dirt lane after a rainstorm than the healthy, flowing waterway it ought to be. The turning basin adjacent to the Blocksom Co., where lumber schooners once maneuvered, is a vast mud flat. Other sandbars divide small puddles of water. Birds strut in mid-harbor without getting a single feather wet.”
The low water posed problems for 150 boat owners, whose usual slips would not be available when spring came; for owners of harborside boat businesses, and for fishing tug owners such as Fred (Butch) Ritter and Louis Igielski, who faced daily dilemmas and frequent repair expenses.
At this transitional point in the harbor usage, and low point in its upstream depth, the Michigan City Port Authority came into existence.
State Rep. H.J. Kintzele Jr., working with local boaters, introduced – and the House passed – an enabling bill on Feb. 24, 1959, which would permit cities to develop and operate port facilities. Directors would have power to plan, finance, promote, construct, and. manage all necessary port facilities, including such things as docks, warehouses and service buildings. They would be empowered to ask their city council for a cumulative channel maintenance fund, money for which could come by taxation, to provide for municipal dredging operations and other maintenance and improvement of local waterways.
The bill was approved by the State Senate, and Gov. Harold Handley signed it on March 14. A month later, the city council had enacted an ordinance creating the port authority. Among its first members was Hartley Job, whose service on the board continues up to today. His enthusiastic interest in Michigan City’s harbor and lakefront is on a level with the records of those citizens throughout Michigan City’s history. who have worked tirelessly for positive developments. Many have been named in this history of the harbor. Another, also appointed to the port authority at its inception, and who served as its first chairman, was the late Mark Moorman, who had come to be known here as “Mr. Harbor.”
In its early life, the port authority was the subject of some controversy. It engaged in a legal dispute with the parks and recreation department to determine jurisdiction over the yacht basin and adjacent land. Some owners of small boats feared the port authority was more concerned with commercial aspects of the waterways.
A 1960 article by News-Dispatch editor Elwin Greening succinctly summarizes the story of the harbor during the first 60 years of this century–up to the time the port authority was created:
“By the mid-’20s, only a few hundred. tons of fish were all that could be counted annually in harbor tonnage. Naturally, government interest in maintenance dwindled proportionately.
“The harbor, in time, could well have become a cat-tail swamp had it not been for the efforts of a few diehard visionaries. They cajoled, worked on congressional sympathy, nursed what water activity they could–and managed to keep government dredges coming in periodically.
“Twice in the late ’20s, they coaxed oceangoing ships to stop off with bulk cargoes.
“In the early ’30s, they successfully fought efforts to fill in the yacht basin to create parking space for visitors to Washington Park.
“They organized the Michigan City Yacht Club a year later and fought a proposal by the Federal governments to close the Coast Guard station here.
“Midway in the same decade, they wangled a dredge to deepen the basin.
“The fight for recognition went on through the wartime ’40s.
“Then in 1948, lacking official voice, the small group formed the unofficial Michigan City Harbor Improvement Assn. And, using what stature it gave them, renewed their pounding at the door of the Army Engineers.
“How about re-examining the harbor and modernizing it to accommodate small cargo vessels from 90 to 200 feet in length? the group asked.
“With hope for state aid all but dead in the ’50s, harbor enthusiasts switched their strategy and sought to interest private capital in locating here as a means of reawakening government interest in maintenance.
“Cargill’s construction of a grain elevator was the first result of this approach.
“With concrete evidence of awakened harbor interest in hand, Mayor (Francis) Fedder and the city council deemed it wise to organize the efforts and advice of the harbor enthusiasts within a city board, unofficial or not.
“Consequently, in early 1958, the council created through resolution the unofficial Michigan City Harbor Commission.
“Legislation of the port authority type often had been discussed through the years, but not until the Burns Ditch development materialized (in 1959) did it crystallize.
“Then, realizing that they were fighting for their lives, the harbor commission members–along with Chamber of Commerce leaders–approached State Rep. Henry J. Kintzele with a request to introduce legislation in the General Assembly.
“He did–and the enabling act was passed.”
In August of 1960, a court judgement gave the port authority jurisdiction over the yacht basin and adjoining land. Two months later, the port authority announced its plans for the basin–the first project to be installation of piers with slips for about 200 boats. What was to be a major recreational boating program in Michigan City had its birth.
In 1961, at a hearing in Indianapolis to determine the best site for Indiana’s commercial harbor on Lake Michigan-a designation given to Michigan City more than 130 years earlier-the Burns Harbor location was picked. It had the endorsement of Michigan City’s municipal government and civic leaders.
While some limited commercial traffic in the local channel still was hoped for-enough, at least to justify Corps of Engineers dredging–the momentum locally was toward recreational usage.
That was demonstrated when a proposal by the Monon Railroad for a $2 million coal dock facility on Michigan City’s lakefront was made known. In an earlier day, the project might have been heralded as a step toward commercial development on the local waterfront. But in the 1960s, it was viewed as a threat to the park and beach and to lakefront recreation. Community opposition was strong–and probably a major factor in the decision by the Interstate Commerce Commission to deny the Monon proposal.
The port authority conducted a hearing on its master plan for pleasure boating June 4, 1962, and G.E. McGrath, president of the Chamber of Commerce, hailed the plan as a “first step to the North End’s rehabilitation.”
The plan provided for pleasure boating facilities in the Washington Park Marina, at an upstream marina between “E” and Scott streets, and at points between on Trail Creek.
At the same time, the port authority initiated planning for dredging of the navigable length of the creek.
A 2-cent cumulative channel maintenance tax levy was approved for 1964–the first time, port authority member Job observed, that local tax money had been invested in harbor upkeep since early in the century. Money from the tax was used to provide the local government share of upstream dredging projects. The port authority act later was amended to permit use of such funds for other waterway improvements. The tax rate has varied from 2 cents to 6 cents in succeeding years. Mayor Randall C. Miller was a strong advocate of the channel maintenance fund and helped win close city council approval in the early stages.
In December of 1964, $425,000 in revenue bonds for the first stage of the marina development project were purchased by a Chicago brokerage group.
In February of 1976, a $1.2 million marina bond issue was sold, to finance additional stages of the Washington Park marina project and boating facilities at the upstream Sprague Marina and elsewhere on the Michigan City waterway.
In 1966, the Army Corps of Engineers undertook a two-year program to rehabilitate protective facilities at Michigan City’s harbor.
(An Army Corps of Engineers report issued Oct. 20, 1971, incidentally, stated that total expenditures by the United States government up to June 30, 1970, in the Michigan City harbor were $4,995,000. The Corps said these included $1,543,000 for new work, $2,407,000 for maintenance, and $1,044,000 for rehabilitation.)
In the years since the port authority began implementation of its program for Trail Creek, investment by private enterprise in pleasure boating also has grown dramatically–including a $250,000 project just east of the Franklin Street bridge.
The objective of the ’60s and ’70s – and for the years to come – was defined by Louis Cotts, port authority chairman in 1964: “The port authority is dedicated to limited commercial development. Our main course of action is to develop the harbor as a pleasure boating facility – to make it one of the best.”
In 1965, Mayor Miller added impetus to the new emphasis when he announced, after studying reports and recommendations requested from several governmental agencies: “It is my present opinion that ultimately our harbor will and should become entirely recreational in use.” He referred, in his comments, to an apparent major development – a federal willingness to provide dredging based on recreational, as well as commercial, usage of waterways. The U.S. government and Michigan City shared the costs of the 1967 upstream dredging project. The mayor said existing commercial shipping businesses should continue as long as economically feasible, “but a policy of restricting new uses to recreation should be followed for the future.”
That is the course which has been followed in Michigan City the past decade–one of heavy emphasis on the development of the harbor, Trail Creek, and–of course–the yacht basin for recreational boating.
Boats fill the berths in the basin and Trail Creek. The summertime traffic is continuous. The Michigan City waterway is alive with activity. It’s an impressive sight – one that those departed citizens who labored tirelessly on behalf of the community’s harbor during the past century and a half would, no doubt, find pleasing.
Drama on the Lake
A Toll of Ships, Lives and Cargo
Temperamental Lake Michigan has taken a heavy toll of ships, lives and cargo.
Incidents in Hoosier waters have not been of Titantic proportions. But there have been tragic, costly, dramatic, embarrassing, and even humorous nautical mishaps.
Most of them occurred during sudden surging storms – the type at which Lake Michigan excels.
Indian braves, venturing against enemies in fleets of canoes, were at the mercy of such sudden tempests when they paddled too far from land. There’s a legend that the Wisconsin Winnebago, at war with the Foxes on the Michigan side of the lake, sent an army of 500 braves to do battle. A storm struck, and all 500 perished.
One lake tragedy in which Pottawattomie Indians played an indirect part is documented.
It concerned the schooner Hercules, which sailed from Chicago, bound for Detroit, on the evening of Oct. 2, 1818.
The next morning, one of the worst gales in Lake Michigan history struck. It raged for two days. No word of the Hercules was received until Oct. 9 when a party of Indians arrived in Chicago, carrying with them objects they had picked up along the shore at the south end of the lake. Some of the objects were recognized as being from the Hercules.
A rescue party dispatched from Fort Dearborn in Chicago found the lake shore near what is now Michigan City strewn with fragments of the ship.
Only one body was found. The hull of the vessel had vanished, although portions of the mast had blown ashore. Indians had carried off every article of value which had washed ashore.
The 1908 Oglesbee-Hale history of Michigan City describes the earliest recorded shipwreck off the town of Michigan City: “The memorable little schooner Post Boy, which for several years plied between Michigan City and Detroit, was caught one evening in November, 1833, and failed to gather headway in time to prevent disaster in a rising storm, for she was driven on the beach toward midnight, near the mouth of the creek, and in spite of the efforts of a crowd of excited citizens her cargo of salt and furniture, brought from Detroit, was damaged or lost.”
Accounts of the early history of Michigan City make frequent references to shipwrecks and lost lives. The Oglesbee-Hale history observes: “As the years grew, the losses and fatalities increased in greater proportion than the government offered means to prevent them.”
U.S. Sen. John Pettit of Indiana, speaking before Congress in 1854 in behalf of a bill to appropriate funds for a Michigan City harbor, said: “Last fall, I visited Michigan City for the purpose of looking at it; and there, standing upon the pier, as far as the eye can reach you can see wrecks on either beach, on the right and on the left hand; because, in stress of storm, vessels have been driven into what is called the bight of the southern end of the lake, where they have no refuge.”
Another of Lake Michigan’s severe storms occurred on Oct. 8, 1884. Sleet and a slashing wind swept down the lake and hurled waves 10 to 20 feet high onto the beach and against the newly-constructed breakwater.
Early that morning, the A R. Colborn (named for a prominent Michigan City lumber dealer) limped into the local harbor – its crew half frozen, their clothes covered with ice. They reported having spotted the Early Bird, a Michigan City-bound lumber schooner, tossing adrift eight miles out in the lake. Its rudder was disabled, the cargo washing overboard and the masts broken off.
One of the first persons to hear the news was Capt. Alexander D. Campbell, whom local historians recall as “one of Michigan City’s most versatile and colorful characters.”
The good captain quickly summoned his crew of seven and they rushed to the lakefront and their vessel, the Pearl B. Campbell.
A tremendous wave swept over the tug before it had even reached the harbor mouth. Two crew members on deck were carried to the stern by the giant wave’s force, and would have gone overboard had they not grabbed the rail.
Onward – into the teeth of the storm – the tiny tug crept. Somehow, the Early Bird was located. A tug crewman, John H. Lutz, described the ensuing drama:
“We couldn’t get too close for fear of crashing into the schooner on account of the waves, but we pulled to lee’ard about 25 feet away and Barney O’Brien and Bob Siminaugh (the two who had nearly been washed overboard) tossed lines to the crew. They caught them and were hauled through the water to the tug.”
By this time, nearly half of Michigan City’s 9,000 citizens had gathered on the shore, awaiting what they hoped would be the tug’s return. The clean, yellow sand of famed Hoosier Slide was literally blackened with thousands of people. Rain-drenched local residents, many weeping and praying, lined the harbor banks. Hundreds clambered atop buildings and climbed smokestacks, anxiously hoping for the first view of the Pearl B. Campbell.
After several suspenseful hours, an excited call of “Here she comes!” was emitted by those with the long-distance views. The tiny tug had been sighted cresting a wave. A unified salute was shouted to cheer on the heroic crew members, all of whom later were awarded gold medals for their bravery.
Other crew members were George Schultz, John Carrow, William Cavinaugh and J. Campbell (no relation to the captain).
The Early Bird drifted ashore near the present site of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, where she broke into pieces.
Three years and three weeks after the heroism of Capt. Campbell and his crew, one of the “corniest” shipwrecks in all nautical history occurred in Indiana waters.
Involved was the Horace A. Tuttle, a steel-hulled ship of 15,585 tons, 250 feet long, with a 38-foot beam.
The Tuttle, towing the schooner Aberdeen, bore a cargo of 77,000 bushels of corn. It left Chicago at 1 p.m. Monday, Oct. 26, 1888, bound for Buffalo, N.Y. From there, the corn was to be shipped to Europe.
At 11 that night, a sudden gale blew from the northwest. The sea-weary Tuttle sprang a leak, but couldn’t head back for Chicago because the crew feared that in turning her they might be swamped by the schooner.
At midnight, though, the ship turned itself around and it became necessary to cut loose the Aberdeen. The Tuttle then set course for Milwaukee. At 5 p.m. Wednesday, a terrific wave struck the embattled ship, carrying away the hatches, deckhouse and a yawl boat. The crew worked feverishly to keep additional water out of the hold by covering hatchways with bedding, mattresses, quilts, sails, boards – everything but the galley sink.
Their efforts were futile. With six feet of water in the hold and his ship in danger of sinking, the captain abandoned hope of reaching Milwaukee and made for Michigan City’s harbor. At 3:15 p.m. Wednesday, just as it reached the harbor entrance, the vessel grounded, lost its rudder, the rudder pipe broke off, the steam pipes burst, and the stern began pounding against the breakwater.
When the steamer settled, she lay in a precarious position–bow in harbor and stern against the end of the pier. She broke in half and started to go to pieces.
All on board, the ship’s papers and some baggage were saved.
But the cargo of shelled corn – all 77,000 bushels – was washed by the still-raging storm onto the beach and yacht basin shore to a depth of several feet.
Michigan City residents and area farmers made a mad rush to gather the storm-sown harvest. It required many years for the remainder of the corn to be washed ashore. As late as 1905, an unpleasant odor from the sour corn could be detected on the lakefront after severe storms.
One of the saddest Lake Michigan shipwrecks occurred Jan. 21, 1895, and involved the Chicora, once the proudest excursion ship on the Great Lakes and a frequent visitor to Michigan City.
The Chicora could carry 1,200 passengers, but only 23 crewmen and one passenger – a prominent St. Joseph druggist – were on board when she sailed from Milwaukee for St. Joseph early on the morning of Jan. 21, 1895. The ship carried 800 tons of flour, which was to be reshipped from St. Joseph by rail for eastern points.
A weather forecaster at St. Joseph told officials of the line which owned the Chicora that the barometer indicated a storm brewing. They immediately sent a wire to the Chicora‘s captain at Milwaukee, telling him to remain in port there. But the ship was just out of the dock when the messenger got there with the wire.
Persons along the Michigan shoreline reported seeing lights bobbing on the stormy lake. Some said they heard the lonesome wail of a steam whistle. The lights dimmed slowly, finally disappearing in clouds of swirling snow and sleet. The ship apparently went down somewhere between Holland and South Haven. The exact reason for her sinking remains a mystery to this day. All that ever was seen again of the Chicora were bits of wreckage that washed ashore. Fate of those aboard was told in a note found in a bottle that waves deposited on the beach: “All is lost…could see land if not snowed and blowed … engine give out … drifting to shore in ice … we have a hard time of it … 10:15 o’clock … Good Bye.”
Somewhere three or four miles off South Haven, in probably 30 fathoms of water, lies the wreckage of the Chicora – a silent tomb for her 24 dead.
Not so dramatic or tragic was the demise of the sandsucker Muskegon. Originally built for the Chicago & Duluth Transport Co., and operated between Michigan City, Chicago, and Lake Superior ports, it was christened the Fearless. It was the line’s flagship and finest passenger ship, but it ultimately was converted into a sandsucker and renamed the Muskegon. No longer “Fearless,” she caught fire while docked at Michigan City and bubbled out of sight one autumn day in 1910.
That same year a ship figured in the unique experience of being part of a harbor wreck that was not a shipwreck.
Mayor Martin T. Krueger, after years of trying, had finally prodded the citizenry into building a bridge across the harbor at Franklin Street. Such a bridge was an obvious first step, so to speak, to Krueger’s plan for a park on the lakefront.
Ferries had transported passengers across the harbor, but the $10,000 span fostered by Mayor Krueger was the first regular bridge. It was a swing-type, single-leaf bridge that could be cranked open to let big vessels puff upstream.
In 1906, progress-conscious Krueger got the county to replace the swing bridge with the first local lift-type span – a combination steel and timber affair.
The county’s heart wasn’t entirely in the project, however, and the bridge they built showed it. There were numerous instances of difficulties in opening and closing it.
Things worked out fairly democratically, though. Boats had to wait nearly as often for the structure to open as landlubbers did for it to close.
On June 24,1910, the excursion steamer United States apparently got fed up with the whole business and decided to take matters in its own hands — or, more correctly, stern.
The United States was being shoved by a tug toward its berth beneath the bridge. The span, having one of its erratic moments, was not yet fully opened when the ship impatiently backed into it, collapsing the whole works.
Twisting steel and splintering lumber fell into the channel and across the little tug, submerging it up to its smokestack.
The steamer was not badly damaged, however, and by that afternoon set sail for Chicago.
Irritated city officials, caught with their bridge down and goaded on by chagrined county commissioners who had taken a dim view of the bridge project in the first place, promptly filed a $30,000 suit against the boat company. At the same time, they had the channel cleared of the hesitant bridge’s rusty remains. For the next few days, a gravel scow was converted into a ferry until a temporary pontoon bridge was installed. In little more than a year, another lift bridge of steel and wood crossed the harbor.
On June 16, 1911, an obsolete little freighter, the City West, went down in an unexplained manner during a spring gale that swept over Lake Michigan from the southwest.
The freighter had left Chicago for Michigan City on June 15. The 75-year-old vessel was 88 feet long, 14 feet wide and had a draft of five or six feet. It actually was fashioned like a canal boat.
After the freighter and the nine aboard it had gone down, the coroner of Porter County commented: “It’s hard to visualize how small and insignificant an 88-foot vessel can appear out in the middle of Lake Michigan beyond the sight of land.”
The greatest tragedy in the history of the Great Lakes, in terms of number of lives lost, was the overturning of the Eastland at her Clark Street dock in the Chicago River on July 24, 1915.
In 1914, the Eastland – known as the fastest steamer on the Great Lakes – had been one of a number of excursion ships chartered by the local Indiana Transportation Co. to assist its ships (the Theodore Roosevelt and the United States) in transporting several thousand employees of Western Electric Co. and their friends from Chicago to Michigan City for a gala picnic in Washington Park.
The event was a great success. The following year, on July 24, the same ships again were booked to carry the Western Electric group to Michigan City – where decorations had been placed, and where park rides and concessions were in readiness for the festive event.
Eight hundred and twelve persons drowned in the disaster, which apparently was caused by failure to fill the water-ballast tanks before the capacity crowd of excursionists was taken aboard. When most of those on deck ran to one side of the ship to look at an unusual ship approaching in the Chicago River, the Eastland rolled over.
Carter Manny of Michigan City, in his written recollection of the incident, recalled that men later came over from Western Electric and burned most of the decorations and favors which had been sent ahead of time to be used at the picnic.
“It was a cold, dreary rainy afternoon. The smoke left a pall over town.”
Manny wrote that the disaster “marked the end of a summer lake excursion business into our town, and the following demise of our very popular amusement park of that period.”
Michigan City’s worst nautical event took place in 1933. The day after the community had been gifted with a white Christmas, the holiday atmosphere turned to mourning as the result of a harbor accident that claimed the lives of four commercial fishermen.
About 6:30 a.m., when the four-year-old, 45-foot tug Martha set out for the lake, there was a dead calm – not even enough wind to blow the snow off the pier. After the boat was out in the lake a terrific blow – estimated at 60 miles an hour – developed.
Barometers had not indicated the approaching storm and it later was described as “a freak blow.”
Capt. Walter Biddle operated the tug on shares and ran the business independently of the Ludwig Fish Co., owner of the 45-foot gas launch.
Other crew members were Anthony Gaytka, William Kelmmeek and Walkter Markowski.
Capt. David Furst, then in charge of the Michigan City Coast Guard station, reported:
“We first sighted the boat about 11 o’clock when she was coming out of the northeast. She was about 300 to 400 feet off the entrance of the harbor when she passed behind the lighthouse and was out of sight for a minute.
“I don’t suppose the real cause of the accident will ever be known, but it’s probable that a breaker struck the starboard side and broached her sideways into the sea. The next we saw of her she came around west of the lighthouse and swung right around and started back again. The waves might have broken the rudder cable because it is likely that the breaker ripped through the cabin and flooded the boat.”
More fortunate than the crew of the Martha was that of the Dad Ludwig, another fish tug caught in the sudden storm. Capt. Henry Newberry, at the helm of the Ludwig, reported that his vessel and the Martha were struck by a high wind which soon became a gale. Hampered by blinding snow, crews of both boats turned about and started for home.
The Martha apparently took the lead and reached the harbor entrance first, because when the Dad Ludwig came into port at noon, the crew had no knowledge of the disaster that had preceded them.
Ludwig and Capt. Furst watched the plight of the doomed tug through binoculars. She was proceeding in normal fashion and all appeared well aboard her as she entered the harbor and the two men scanned her decks.
“Then she went behind the lighthouse and was lost to our view. A moment later the prow of the boat appeared on the west side of the lighthouse and was immediately struck by a breaker. She ‘broached’ then in the heavy cross-current from the west and passed out of our view behind the lighthouse again and that was all we could see until the waves started throwing up the wreckage.”
The Coast Guard immediately went to the scene with a boat and life preservers, but it was too late.
Reports from the lighthouse attendant, Capt. Walter Donovan, and his assistant, Thomas Martin, were that they had caught a glimpse of three men clinging to pieces of wreckage for a brief instant. A fourth had been seen to grab for a projecting piece of rock on the pier and hanging on for a moment – only to slip back.
The wreckage broke up rapidly under the impact of the heavy rollers. The Martha‘s pilot house was thrown into the shadows west of the breakwater, while the main superstructure was cast to the east of the harbor entrance and broken up by the pounding waves.
The Coast Guard rescue returned with only a steering wheel of the doomed craft to show for their efforts. It had been snapped off and washed shoreward.
An editorial in the Evening Dispatch of Dec. 27 commented: “A harbor made shallow by sewage, refuse and a thick layer of silt, and a heavy sea … No one person is to blame; it is the fault of all who have allowed the harbor to fill up and make its entrance dangerous … Let’s do something about it! Clean out the harbor channel for one thing!”
140 Years of Boater Protection
Harbor lights have shone for Lake Michigan skippers almost from the time the town of Michigan City was chartered in 1836.
At first, there a simply a lantern atop a post at the water’s edge.
In the 140 years since, protection for boaters has come a long way. Today, it includes a foghorn which, under ideal conditions, can be heard at least 18 miles out in the lake; a light which can be seen more than 15 miles away, and a highly capable Coast Guard unit.
The need for a lighthouse was fundamental in the planning for the community on Trail Creek. On June 14,1835, Isaac and Maria Elston deeded to the U.S. government a strip of land from the lake to the bend of Trail Creek as the site for a light.
A 40-foot high tower housing a lantern was the next step in progression toward the first full-fledged lighthouse– built in 1858 and preserved today by the Michigan City Historical Society as a museum.
The first keeper of the light appointed here was Edmund E. Harrison at the end of 1837. He was succeeded by two sisters Mrs. Harriet C. Towner and Abigail Coit.
The first keeper of the light when the 1858 lighthouse was put into use was John M. Clarkson. In 1861, he was replaced by Harriet E. Colfax who was to become a local legend in her own time during a 43-year service.
Miss Colfax was the first cousin of Schuyler Colfax, vice president of the United States under Ulysses S. Grant. Disappointed in love, so the story is told, she left her New York home and came to Michigan City in 1853. Her brother, Richard, was editor of the Michigan City Transcript. She learned to set type and helped her brother get out the paper. After his death, she gave music lessons. She formed a close friendship with Ann Hartwell, a school teacher who also was from New York.
In 1861, Miss Colfax was put in charge of the lighthouse. Miss Hartwell was her assistant. There was no bridge across the harbor at the time, so whenever the women wanted to go into town they had to cross by boat.
Lard oil was used as fuel for the light and Miss Colfax kept it glowing. In heavy fogs, she had to man a hand-cranked whistle to warn approaching vessels. On Nov. 20,1871, the government installed the first beacon light at the end of the east pier, on the present lighthouse site. Miss Colfax had to light the lamp each night – no easy task in stormy weather and in wintertime. In 1880, the old lard oil lanterns were replaced with more modern lamps using mineral oil for fuel.
Miss Colfax maintained meticulous records–each day carefully listing every boat that docked here, lake mishaps, and other items. She established a reputation for efficiency, appreciated by Lake Michigan mariners, and reluctantly accepted retirement in 1904, at age 80.
The original lighthouse building was being remodeled at that time, and an improved fog signal installed. The lantern was moved from the lighthouse dwelling to the tower above the fog signal on the pier, where it is located today.
T.J. Armstrong became the lighthouse keeper, succeeded by Phillip Sheridan in 1918 and Walter Donovan in 1930. In 1939, the U.S. Coast Guard took over.
Electricity came into use at the harbor light in 1933. That’s also the year automation came to the foghorn.
Today’s lighthouse contains the foghorn equipment as well as the light beacon. The sound of the foghorn perhaps would head a list of sounds uniquely familiar to local residents. The horn, once activated by the Coast Guard, blows for a two-second interval and is silent exactly 18 seconds. The 300-candlepower light (with a 5,000 watt bulb ) is regulated to be on one second, off one second. In case of accident, there is a lantern standin. Lights on the west pier and breakwater receive their power from batteries and operate on a “sun-dial” principle. That is, they are constructed so that they are shining anytime the sun isn’t. The lighthouse beacon is about two feet high and vaguely resembles a large Chinese lantern in appearance. The side away from the lake is shielded by a copper “door ” to prevent rays from shining inland. On the lake side of the copper is a reflector. In fact, the entire light is a series of intricately and strategically placed reflectors and varying types of glass–all designed to produce the desired sharp, long-distance beam.
The historic old Lighthouse building was declared government surplus and was sold to the city with the understanding that it be used for historical purposes for 20 years. In 1965, the Michigan City Historical Society entered into a lease agreement to restore the lighthouse and establish a museum. Michigan City Historian Edna Kitchell was a leader in the effort to preserve the landmark structure. Pennies from school children and more sizeable gifts and grants from individuals and foundations made possible the restoration project.
Preceding the establishment of a U.S. Coast Guard station here, there was a “life-saving station,” a seasonal operation with a captain and eight-man crew. Besides being prepared to man the lifeboat, the crewmen walked the beach nightly on a patrol two miles both directions from the station. The patrol period was 6 p.m. to 8 a.m.
G.C. Calvert, local Historical Society member who has extensively researched community history, commented: “When called upon, the crews of these early stations rowed through pounding surf and roaring gale repeatedly in fantastic rescues, and many people owe their lives to the intrepidity of these early lifesavers.”
Until 1875, when the Life-Saving Service built a station here, mariners had been very much on their own in times of trouble. Capt. Henry Finch was the first to command the local station.
Today, the U.S. Coast Guard is on the job in Michigan City – maintaining the powerful beacon and foghorn and the other harbor lights, and providing service and protection for sailors in this area. The proud tradition of the Coast Guard affords comforting confidence to those who today sail in or near the Michigan City water-ways.
A Shoreline Preserved
A History of Washington Park
“Nothing contributes so much to the pleasure of people who dwell in cities as large and carefully kept parks. In Washington Park, Michigan City has reason to be proud. Situated upon the lakeshore, under spreading trees, upon the white sand, thousands of men, women and children drink in renewed health and inspiration during the summer months.” (Michigan City Illustrated, 1910).
The Washington Park shoreline, Michigan City’s most precious acreage and priceless legacy, was acquired 85 years ago for $7,500.
The idea of establishing a community park on the lakefront began in 1883 in the mind of Martin T. Krueger, who then was city clerk, during a visit by him to Chicago’s Lincoln Park. Eight years later – and after considerable lobbying, promoting, persuading and arm-twisting on his part, Krueger, by that time mayor, saw the dream become reality. (A more complete accounting of Krueger’s role in preserving the lakefront will be found in a chapter about him in another publication in this series – People From Our Past.)
Thirty-one years later, Krueger was to recall, “A curious freak of human nature is the circumstances that people seldom want or provide for a public park when they can get one, in the best location and for the least money. They usually wait until the most desirable lands for that purpose have been denuded of their natural beauty or converted to other uses before they realize what they have lost. And this situation the people of Michigan City escaped by a very narrow margin, when they secured about one hundred acres of land for a song, which in a very few years would have been absolutely beyond their reach.”
Speaking to fellow Rotarians in 1922, Krueger commented: “I wish all of you might have seen the piece of land on which the present park on the lake shore is now situated, about 30 or 40 years ago. First it was only a sand desert; one great drift of white shifting sand.”
Then, when the harbor was extended to where the railroad bridge now crosses, great lumber yards covered the sand. But as the harbor was extended eastward, the lumber businesses also moved. Remnants and debris were left behind, and dissolute squatters moved into the area, built a kind of shantytown of makeshift shacks, and created what Krueger called a “no-man’s land.”
A wooden bridge that had crossed the creek at the approximate location of the present Franklin Street span in the 1880s had been removed because it interfered with harbor shipping. So the area now Washington Park was isolated from the town. People in Michigan City knew, or cared, little about the slum conditions there. Few of them shared Krueger’s vision of what could be there.
As he tried to sell his proposal for a new bridge, he found many citizens opposed. He quoted what one prominent lady told him: “I have lived in this city over 30 years and have never yet been on the shore of Lake Michigan and I have not missed anything.”
But the bridge was built, the necessary legislative action secured, and the shoreline land purchased.
Krueger appointed the city’s first park board: John G. Mott, Charles Porter and William Shoeneman. Land was graded from the harbor east to about where the road adjacent to the tennis courts is today.
Citizens brought tree saplings and plants.
Two industrialists made notable contributions.
John Winterbotham donated the monument at the entrance to the park – dedicated to those who fought in the Civil War to preserve the Union.
John Barker once had offered to pay off the city’s debts if attorney Krueger would acquire the shoreline land as an industrial site – perhaps for a steel mill. But when Krueger rejected the idea, Barker supported the park plan. He paid for construction of a bandstand and a picnic peristyle. The peristyle, long a park landmark, was used for exhibiting pictures and paintings as well as for picnics and for refuge from rain by persons attending band concerts. It was copied after a Columbian Exposition building. A Michigan City cigar manufacturer, John Felten, named one of his leading sellers “The Peristyle.” The building was rebuilt in 1924 and again rehabilitated in 1931 by Barker’s daughter, Mrs. Catherine Barker Hickox. It was demolished in 1972.
A 1950 News-Dispatch article stated: “Washington Park today is a far cry from what it was in Krueger’s day and probably surpasses his early dreams … The shoreline, both in and out of the yacht basin, was littered with debris. The sandy beaches were almost entirely covered with trash washed ashore. What sand was uncovered blew helter-skelter, unchecked by walls or sand fences. But the park proper was grassy, shaded and pleasant and the site of many picnics and band concerts.”
The first amusement area in the park was constructed during the second half of the 1900 decade. It included a theater, bathhouse, merry-go-round, roller coaster, and other rides and concessions. Soon after, a dance pavilion was built about where the Naval Armory is today. In 1922, the Oasis Ballroom was constructed – one of the finest in the nation, one in which most of the name bands would play.
Excursion ships made regular runs to Michigan City from Chicago, bringing crowds to Washington Park. The park, the state prison, and Hoosier Slide were the prime attractions for the visitors.
The steamships, along with special railroad excursions, brought steady streams of summertime visitors to Michigan City. A local Historical Society publication records that in the season of 1909, ships and trains alone brought 435,650 persons here.
That era ended during World War I. Fires wiped out major amusement area facilities. And the tragedy involving the steamship Eastland–which tipped over in the Chicago River as it was about to sail for Michigan City in 1915, drowning 812 persons–had an understandably negative impact on the popularity of the excursion ship business. In future years, some ships – the Theodore Roosevelt, the United States, the North America, and (as recently as the early 1950s) the City of Grand Rapids – made Michigan City a port of call and the excursion business enjoyed a revival in popularity particularly in the late 1920s and 1930s.
Michigan City’s first zoo was established in 1927, across Lake Shore Drive from today’s zoo site, to which it moved a year later. The impetus for today’s park and zoo came with the creation of the Washington Park Zoo Board in 1928, and restoration of the park board as a nonpolitical unit in 1931.
The 1950 newspaper story comments: “An energetic community spirit was developed as men volunteered their services and literally begged, borrowed or stole needed materials and supplies to improve the park. That spirit carried on for 15 years until the war dampened it and in those years the park more than tripled in size and its value soared past the $2 million mark. In those years, local citizens and firms donated more than $350,000 in materials.”
Krueger’s original park board had been a nonpolitical group. In the late 1890s this was replaced with a political system, with members paid $25 a month. That arrangement lasted until the early ’20s when the board of works assumed control of parks. In 1931 – spurred by the example of the zoo board and other civic-minded citizens – local government leaders revived the non-political park board system.
The idea for the zoo was born in the minds of three men – Albert R. Couden, Max Gloye and Wesley R. Kibby – in 1927.
The zoo at first was under the park department. But Couden, who was city manager, in 1928 appointed the first zoo board – a non-political group of men who volunteered time, money and effort to work for the zoo (and also developed a tradition of friendly horseplay at their irregular meetings and annual cruises aboard a fish tug).
The hillside dune setting into which the zoo moved in 1928 was described by the director of Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo as “a million dollar location.”
The first deer barns in 1929 were frame shacks with the area enclosed by chicken wire. The animal and pheasant houses were the first substantial buildings and were financed by citizen subscription, with labor and materials donated.
In 1931, bear dens were constructed, cement walks put in, and rock gardens built on the burr-covered sand dunes.
From the start, citizens and business firms readily took on the responsibility of providing food for zoo animals and birds.
The News-Dispatch 1950 story goes on: “While the nation was steeped in the economic chaos of the depression, the park and zoo boards capitalized on federal relief agencies – the Civil Works Administration, then the Federal Emergency Relief Administration, and finally the Works Progress Administration. Washington Park and the zoo benefited to the tune of $600,000, most of it in payrolls which stayed in Michigan City and helped keep merchants in business.
By using first workers sent from the township trustee and later those supplied by federal agencies, the park was rapidly developed. As many as 2,000 otherwise unemployed men worked in the park at the depression’s height.
“But the spirited promoters of the park didn’t rely altogether on Franklin Roosevelt’s economic pump-priming. They scrounged materials at cost or free everywhere. They utilized what they had, found ways of getting what they didn’t.”
When the roller coaster was pulled down in 1935, its lumber went into picnic benches and shelters.
From 1929 to 1934, the park really began growing with addition of a rock garden area, administration building, tennis courts, shelter house, new lawns, parking space, the observation tower, the shore drive and other improvements. The picnic area behind the Oasis was planted with trees in 1934 and 1935.
On Arbor Day in 1934, more than 5,000 school children planted twice that many trees, donated by LaPorte and Michigan City leaders.
The year 1936 was one of the most eventful for the park. The city built the Yacht Club, leasing it to the members. WPA funds that year totaled more than $200,000., The popular observation tower, which was to become a Michigan City landmark and logo, was near completion. Its cost was estimated at nearly $30,000. Also in 1936, the city purchased from the Monon Railroad the land where the old dance pavilion had stood. This was promptly given to the state as a site for the armory, built shortly afterward.
There were many zoo improvements in 1936 also. It was the best year for donations. The estimated value of materials given was $42,000. Included were 6,000 trees, 5,000 truckloads of dirt, 1,760 of broken stone and granite, 4,000 of cinders, and 1,500 of broken concrete. The development of the formerly barren east end of the park to Sheridan Beach was near completion.
In 1937, new docks were constructed at the West end of the park and that area re-landscaped. The basin was cleaned and dredged and much of the sludge from its bottom used for fill of low areas near Sheridan Beach.
During 1939 and 1940, concrete molds were put to use in quantity. Some 20,000 square yards of roadway were resurfaced. More than 1,000 concrete posts to rim the outer drive, Lake Shore Drive and to mark parking lanes in the big lots were poured. Some 400 concrete picnic tables and 700 benches were placed in the park in 1940 and 1941.
Like the park, the zoo owed much to the federal relief agencies of the ’30s. Through WPA and its two predecessors, materials and labor for many buildings were furnished at no local-tax cost.
In 1932, grading of a dune was begun to permit construction of what was to be one of the zoo’s perennially most popular attractions Monkey Island.
After 37 years, the zoo board went out of existence in 1965. A Zoological Society was established as the official arm of the park board for the continued promotion of the zoo. Officers of the society, park board members, and the zoo director noted that facilities constructed by the WPA were showing their age–that the zoo had many problems which required attention if it was to be preserved.
An admission charge was instituted at the zoo to provide some revenue. A 1968 fund drive was conducted – construction of an elephant house its first objective. Mayor Conrad S. Kominiarek noted the zoo had been started and developed through community participation and said it could be revitalized with the same spirit.
In 1975, the city applied for federal grant, part of the money to be used for zoo improvements. Approval of the grant was announced early in 1976. The project is to include construction of a new feline house, remodeling and expansion of the primate house, restoration work at the observation tower, and other improvements.
In 1956, the parks and recreation board was put under the 1955 Parks and Recreation Act – providing it with a degree of autonomy, although its budgets are subject to city council review. Make- up of the board is bipartisan, and the board has authority to select qualified administrators for the city’s parks and recreation department.
Another amusement park era came to an end in 1962. A court ruling, resulting from a suit filed by former city councilman Roger Mckee, stated the park board could not lease public grounds for private enterprise. Even before the ruling, officials of Lake View Amusement Co. announced they would remove rides and facilities from the park. Such longtime landmarks as the Oasis Ballroom and the bathhouse were razed.
There was a limited midway in operation that year. And, following 1963 state legislation, a new operation – Washington Park Amusement Co.- was given a 20-year lease in 1965.
But the company and the park board became involved in disagreements that led to litigation.
The amusement park did not open in 1972, and it appeared quite probable that there might never be another midway of rides, games and concessions in the Michigan City lakefront park.
Plans for the park’s development, some of them several years in the making, awaited decisions in 1976. A new band shell, revised road routings, and other projects were among the proposals.
Whatever the determinations, the shoreline park with its beach, zoo and other facilities remains Michigan City’s showcase–the proud front yard which sets it apart from thousands of communities comparably-sized or larger.
The Revival in the Lake
How Sport Fishing Came Back
Profanity was not unknown as Lake Michigan shoreline residents and visitors reacted in 1967 to the nauseating stench from millions of dead alewives. But a four letter word few of them used – or even knew – was about to liven the lake lexicon and brighten its future: Coho!
The alewife was the second of two Atlantic Ocean infiltrators which caused problems in the Great Lakes. The first was the parasitic sea lamprey, which had been the prime villain in the elimination of once-abundant Lake Michigan trout, and near elimination of whitefish.
The trout and whitefish were natural predators which kept the populations of smaller fish in check. With the predators gone, smaller fish flourished. Alewives, ignored by lampreys because of their size, enjoyed a population explosion after the lampreys wiped out their natural enemies in the 1950s.
Alewives comprised 17 percent of the Lake Michigan fish population in 1962. By 1967, the figure was 90 per cent – an estimated 175 billion alewives then in the lake.
That’s when the big die-off and subsequent stench occurred.
The exact reason for the die-off is not known. It was blamed on everything from lightning to old age to overactive thyroid glands. Other explanations included sudden change in water temperature, lake pollution, lack of oxygen, starvation and overpopulation.
Whatever the reason, the shoreline suddenly was a stinking mess, covered with millions of alewives. The obnoxious odor was too much even for those scavengers of the lake shores, the seagulls, who temporarily sought more pleasant 1ocales.
Officials reacted to the outcries of residents and visitors. Congressmen called for studies, at Michigan City a crew of 108 Job Corpsmen established headquarters for a four-day shore cleanup, and the mayor even suggested the use of a flamethrower to cope with the alewife beach assault.
But the alewife, easily public enemy number one to inhabitants of Lake Michigan communities, was to be a prime participant in a dramatic project to revive the lake as a sport fishery. That’s where the coho came in.
Researchers had found a lamprey-killing chemical in time to save the trout in Lake Superior. Before embarking on a trout-restocking program in Lake Michigan, fisheries officials logically decided to bring the lampreys under control. The only problem ensuing from that decision was that it gave alewives more predator-free time to feed, breed and multiply.
Even before the alewife die-off occurred, visionary Michigan fisheries people had flown a million coho salmon eggs from Oregon to Michigan hatcheries to try what no one had yet done: establish a large-scale salmon fishery entirely in fresh water. A calculated gamble, it was the product of a studied search for the sport species most likely to achieve Lake Michigan’s maximum potential for recreational fishing. Coho are short-lived but fast-growing, sporty and tasty. And they feed voraciously on alewives.
The million Oregon eggs produced about 900,000 fry, which became-850,000 ready-to-migrate one-ounce smolts after 10 months of tender, loving hatchery care. In 1966 Michigan released 658,760 of these smolts in Lake Michigan’s Platte and Manistee river systems. By then, hatcheries already held a second crop of 1,700,000 coho and 600,000 chinook (or king) salmon, to be planted early in 1967. Planned for 1968 were even larger stockings if the imaginative venture succeeded.
Succeed it did – beyond wildest dreams. In Lake Michigan, the salmon found a safe, comfortable, food-rich environment. When the coho returned to spawn and die in autumn of 1967, the average size exceeded 10 pounds. Gorging on alewives, many had grown in the 16 months from one ounce to 15 or 20 pounds.
Stocking continued. By 1968, it was evident that salmon would thrive in Lake Michigan and would be self-sustaining. A climate of excitement and hope generated ideas and innovations and action all around the lake.
Indiana’s Department of Natural Resources assigned a salmon specialist to a new office here, purchased a research vessel for aquatic studies, and funded a million-dollar cold-water hatchery at Kingsbury to establish spawning runs in Hoosier waters.
The first Indiana-stocked coho salmon returned to Trail Creek to spawn in 1971. Additional stockings of coho, chinook, steelhead, lake trout and brown trout have been made.
Dale Burgess of Associated Press took a look in 1971 and concluded: “This salmon-trout explosion is the most exciting thing that has happened to northwestern Indiana sportsmen since the Pottawattomie Indians were dragged away from their hunting and fishing grounds in 1838.”
Michigan City, alert to the potential, began calling itself, “The Coho Capital of the Midwest”. Annual seminars for writers, broadcasters, sportsmen and lake-fishing experts have been conducted here since 1969. Charter boats and other facilities and services are available to the annual invasion of sport fishermen.
The exciting revival of sport fishing in the lake coincided happily with the emergence of pleasure boating and the decision that Michigan City’s future as a port and waterway should be recreation-oriented.
With further cleanup and beautification of Trail Creek, with additional facilities for boaters and fishermen, and with determination to abate lake pollution, the outlook for Michigan City as a Great Lake community appears brighter than ever.
Michigan City’s Lakefront Legacy obviously cannot be fully explored within the limitations of a single publication. It would require volumes. The legacy involves many more past and present citizens than those named in these pages. It extends beyond the area bounded by the harbor and the eastern end of Washington Park – the area primarily covered in the foregoing articles.
It is the story, too, of Michigan City land west of the harbor: the land where Hoosier Slide, once Indiana’s most famous landmark, was removed for sale in the 1920s … where the 52-acre West Beach with its Mt. Baldy dune, purchased by Michigan City in 1961 and now within the boundaries of the Dunes National Lakeshore, has been reduced by erosion to about 30 acres … the story of the long fight by conservationists to win establishment of the Lakeshore – and the dramatic, exciting implications that park has for Michigan City’s future … and of the development of the Bethlehem and Midwest steel mills and the Port of Indiana, with their current and potential impact on the local economy.
It is the story of the establishment in the second and third decades of this century of Sheridan Beach and the suburban lakeshore communities – Long Beach, Beverly Shores, Duneland Beach, Michiana Shores, and Michiana … the story of the fluctuating level of Lake Michigan over the years, and man’s efforts to find ways to combat shore erosion … of the storms which have taken their tolls of lakeside land and property … the story of the determined persons who tried to swim from Chicago to Michigan City, the many who failed, and the father and son who made it … the story of vessels not mentioned, or passingly referred to, in these pages – from tugs and speedboats and sailboats to the Navy escort vessel USS Havre and some of the salt ships which found the local channel tough going in the 1960s… the story of the bridges that have been built across Trail Creek; their ups and downs… the story of the nearby port town of New Buffalo… of Warren Dunes State Park and of Indiana Dunes State Park.
A full history of the Coast Guard service and the many rescues in which its personnel have participated would have been appropriate … so would detailed stories of the Michigan City Yacht Club … the Power Squadron … the Sea Scouts… the Columbia Yacht Race and other lake races in which Michigan City has been a port.
More could be written about Washington Park and zoo and beach – the bands that played the Oasis Ballroom … the animals that have inhabited the zoo, and the people, and organizations whose support made it possible … there would be nostalgic appeal for many in a descriptive account of a day in the park when the midway was in its heyday … or of the beach on a hot day before air conditioning.
And pages could have been devoted to the ecological problems of Lake Michigan – of what has been done, and what has not been done, to resolve them.
The story of the first 150 years of the Michigan City lakefront shows that nothing is certain. Early optimism about a great commercial port at Michigan City proved frustratingly misplaced. Through the years, the channel and the lakeshore have undergone dramatic changes– most for the better, some for the worse. So to hazard a prediction in 1976 about the future is a risky proposition. Conceding that, it seems probable that when someone writes the story of “the third 75 years” midway in the 21st Century, the story of the turn to recreational emphasis will be found to have only had its beginnings in the 1960s and 1970s. The growth in pleasure boating in these two decades (and Michigan City’s action to accommodate it), the preservation of bordering duneland and beach as a national park, and the revival of sport fishing in Lake Michigan quite likely will be seen as milestone occurrences which added measurably, in our time, to the positive perpetuation of Michigan City’s priceless Lakefront Legacy!
Lakefront Legacy was written by Bob Kaser in collaboration with Henry Lange. Principal sources of information included the files of The News-Dispatch, The History of Michigan City, by Rollo B. Oglesbee and Albert Hale; History of LaPorte County, Indiana, by Jasper Packard; Michigan City’s First Hundred Years, by Elizabeth M. Munger; The Cruise of the Zoo Board, 10th anniversary souvenir booklet of the Washington Park Zoo Board, and “Miracle of the Fishes” by Al Spiers, an article in the Fall 1972 edition of Saturday Evening Post.
Note: The criteria used for selection of People From Our Past were general interest, diversity, and the representation of different periods of time in our community’s history. Any attempt to select the most important, or influential, or even colorful, people from the past would, of course, be impossible. It is merely hoped that the reader will find these stories of some of the People from Our Past informative and interesting.
The Pottawattomie Indians
Eviction by Civilization
As George Washington took the oath as first President of the United States and the 18th Century approached its final decade, the present area of Michigan City still was a wilderness.
Buffalo roamed in great numbers.
The Pottawattomie Indians dwelled in and governed these lands.
But fate held cruel turns for both the bison and the Indian.
In 1790, a severe succession of winter storms first left snow four to five feet deep in what now is Northern Indiana, then covered the snow with freezing rain. Buffalo could not walk through the deep and ice-covered snow. And they were too heavy to walk on top of it, as did other animals. Thousands of them perished from hunger or were killed by Indian hunters and predatory animals. The few bison which survived the terrible winter migrated west of the Mississippi.
The Pottawattomie Indians were first formally recognized by the United States when leaders of the tribe joined with other Indian leaders in signing a treaty at Fort Harmar, Ohio, on Jan. 8, 1789, confirming earlier arrangements for cession of Indian lands. At the time, they were a proud and powerful people – dominant occupants of the land on the southern and eastern shores of Lake Michigan. In less than 50 years, Indiana Pottawattomies would be marched from the state by the white man in the name of “progress.”
* * *
The Pottawattomie were an Algonquin tribe, whose culture, language and particular traditions united them to prehistoric Obijwa and Ottawa of the eastern woodlands.
According to Indian legend, the Pottawattomie, Chippewa and Ottawa were all members of a single tribe which came down from the north and arrived at the upper region of Lake Huron at an early time and later divided into three separate tribes.
The Pottawattomie are believed to have lived at a very early date in the upper part of Michigan’s lower peninsula. But they were driven north and West by Indian adversaries, including the Iroquois, into the upper peninsula of Michigan and Wisconsin. There they were harassed by the Sioux. In 1641, they had relocated at Sault St. Marie. Claude Allouex, a Jesuit missionary, reported meeting about 300 Pottawattomie warriors in that area in 1667. In 1670 some of the Pottawattomie were reported to be living on the islands in the mouth of Green Bay – where they were visited by Sieur de LaSalle in 1679. He described them as very friendly. At that time, the Pottawattomie migration southward already had begun.
The beginning of the 18th Century found Pottawattomie villages on the Milwaukee and St. Joseph rivers. About 1765, the tribe took possession of part of the state of Illinois. They extended their territory eastward, through Indiana and over southern Michigan, and gradually south to the Wabash River.
By the arrival of the 19th Century, the Pottawattomie nation consisted of about 50 villages and they were in complete possession of the country surrounding lower Lake Michigan. As the Iroquois and Sioux had evicted the Pottawattomie from earlier lands, they now did the same to the Illinois and Miami tribes.
* * *
The name Pottawattomie, which is derived from the Chippewa language, in all probability means “People of the place of fire.” (Apparently the tribe had gained fame for skill in lighting fires for Indian councils.)
The Pottawattomie tribe had two divisions. Those who moved south from the forests and islands of northern Wisconsin into the prairie lands of southern Lake Michigan became known as the Prairie Pottawattomies – or Mascoutens. Those who remained in the forests of northern Michigan and Wisconsin were known as the Forest Pottawattomies or the Pottawattomie of the Woods.
The influence of the Pottawattomie on Michigan City is evident. Indian trails converged on Trail Creek. A north-south road, built the length of Indiana after a Pottawattomie treaty ceded land for the road to the government, was Michigan City’s reason for being. The first road between Michigan City and LaPorte when the two towns came into existence followed an Indian trail. Pioneers coming by wagon or horseback to their new homes in the wilderness that bordered Lake Michigan came by Indian trails. Early county and state roads followed the trails, as do many of today’s highways.
A village inside the city of Michigan City, a country club and golf course, and a road all are named for the Pottawattomie. It was because of the Pottawattomies, of course, that Father Marquette came into Trail Creek and to the spring near Memorial Park which bears his name as do a high school, street, and shopping mall.
It is unlikely that one of the 50 Pottawattomie villages stood on the present site of Michigan City, which was too swampy and sandy for such a use. The Indians required land suitable for farming as well as hunting.
But they obviously had councils and campsites here – as witness the Marquette visit. And warriors apparently came to the Michigan City swamps to secure poisonous plants which they used to make their arrowheads more lethal. Arrowheads have been found in most outlying parts of town – but pottery and other evidence of village life have not.
This also appears to have been the scene of Indian battles. War clubs, tomahawks, flint scalping knives and other artifacts have been found. Relics and skeletons unearthed on a hill near Eighth and Walker streets indicated an Indian battle took place there. A grooved stone ax was found at the site of Elston High School.
Besides finding Michigan City’s site a good place for a fight, it’s been theorized that the Indians also may have been the first “tourists” to discover Michigan City’s shoreline virtues as a summer place. As one writer put it: “These happy lands were loved by the Indians. They knew the peaceful sheltering hills around Trail Creek as attractive resorts where they could rest and escape their everyday worries … and seclude their families while on the warpath.”
Historians say there were villages and burial grounds near Tremont, and this entire area was a popular Indian hunting and fishing locale. The Indians’ influence also is evident today, of course, in such names as Wanatah, Camp Topenebee, Winamac and others.
The 19th Century found Indians and soldiers walking the lake shore trails between here and Chicago as part of a military mail route from Detroit to Chicago’s Fort Dearborn. For more than 20 years, Trail Creek was a resting place and Hoosier Slide a campsite.
Joseph Bailly, the French-Canadian fur trader who settled on a bluff above the Little Calumet River with his Indian wife, Marie LaFebre, was the first settler in the northern part of Indiana. He built a chapel in 1822 and encouraged Indians who traveled the trail to pause, pray and trade.
Even in the mid-1830s, when the Pottawattomie dominance in the area had passed, Indians came often to Michigan City. A history of the period states: “Indians were frequent visitors. In the spring they came down the lake shore from Michigan and Wisconsin bringing fruits and birch bark baskets – or cranberries, maple sugar, furs and Indian work to exchange for goods kept by the store keepers. They usually camped on the lake shore near Hungry Hollow.”
The reported visit of Father Marquette occurred in April of 1675. He had been severely ill for more than a year, and was being taken to St. Ignace, Mich., where he had chosen to be buried. He was accompanied by many faithful Pottawattomie followers, who had been frequent visitors to his cabin near Chicago. Indians had invited him to preach to them here, the story goes, and he accepted. His journey ended near Marquette, Mich., where he died – but his followers later made good his wish and took his remains to St. Ignace for burial.
Priests such as Father Marquette had followed French explorers into the Pottawattomie country. The explorers were searching for a route to China and extending French interests in the New World, an objective of King Louis XIV. The missionaries told the Indians about Christianity.
LaSalle, one of the young explorers commissioned by the king, is the first white man to leave an actual record that he visited this spot. In 1681, he passed Trail Creek in late December and wrote a description sufficient for the stream to be shown on a 1684 map. A federation which LaSalle built up among the Indians when he met them at the great council oak near South Bend in May of 1681 made it possible for the Western Indians to defeat the Iroquois in 1700. The victory made it safe for the Indian tribes to establish permanent villages in Indiana.
The Pottawattomie, who had signed a friendship treaty with the French while still residents of the Lake Superior country in 1671, remained allied with them until the peace of 1764. That year, the Pottawattomie and eight other tribes had taken part in massacres and scalpings involving English traders and their families at British forts. But the uprising, led by Ottawa Chief Pontiac, ultimately failed. Pontiac was murdered by an Indian, and that led to a fierce war that pitted the Pottawattomie, Miamis and Kickapoos against the Illinois tribe. The Illinois were virtually annihilated in 1765, the final fight taking place on Starved Rock in the Illinois River.
The British supplanted France as the dominant European force in the New World – just in time for the War of Independence.
The history of Michigan City by Rollo Oglesbee and Albert Hale notes, “The war came, and though the battle fields were in the east, the echoes of the struggle were heard even on the banks of Trail Creek.” General Washington was authorized to accept Indians in his armies and offer them rewards for prisoners. The British went further and offered higher rewards for scalps. “Many of the western tribes, including our Pottawattomie, espoused the cause of King George and traveled far to fight his battles.”
They didn’t have to travel far to fight one of them – a force of British and Indians joined to defeat 18 Americans in a battle Dec. 5, 1780, atop a wooded dune about 500 feet from Marquette Spring in what is now Memorial Park.
On Sept. 3, 1783, by the treaty that terminated the Revolution, this area became legally American soil. Says the Oglesbee-Hale history: “The frontier kept pushing doggedly west and the American flag was approaching the southeast shore of Lake Michigan. Twenty years after the close of the Revolution the stars and stripes were seen at the mouth of Trail Creek.” In the 1789 treaty signing at Fort Harmar, Ohio referred to previously, the Pottawattomie and the United States had established “a league of peace and amity.”
With establishment of the Northwest Territory in 1787, the Oglesbee-Hale book observes, “the day of the backwoodsmen was come in Indiana. The red men, inspired by their own reluctance to give up their hunting grounds and incited and armed by the British on the north and the Spanish on the south, held him back, but he marched on, over the dead and scalped bodies of his murdered neighbors and through the hot ashes of their frontier homes, and even the government could not restrain him from crossing the treaty boundary. He sneaked over the line in defiance of ,law and loudly demanded an army when the rightful proprietors of the soil sought to dispossess him.”
American soldiers sent to the territory were defeated in 1789 and 1790 battles by Indian warriors – including Pottawattomies – led by Chief Little Turtle of the Miamis. The worst single American military defeat until Pearl Harbor occurred in Indiana 11 miles east of present-day Portland on Nov. 4, 1791, when Chief Little Turtle’s warriors attacked a U.S. military expedition. The American dead numbered 632 and the wounded nearly 300.
In a bloody battle in 1794, the Indians were beaten by an army commanded by Gen. Anthony Wayne. That led to signing of a treaty at Fort Greenville, Ohio on Aug. 3, 1795, which exchanged 25,000 square miles of Indian country for $20,000 in goods plus an annual allowance valued at nearly $10,000.
Ironically, Little Turtle, who had inflicted such a toll on the Americans, was a friend of the United States the rest of his life and visited Presidents on four occasions, seeking a better life for his people.
Forty Pottawattomies went from Lake Michigan to Greenville for the five-week council that resulted in the treaty. Among the cessions was land in Pottawattomie territory six miles square at the mouth of the Chicago River.
But hostilities were not yet to cease. Tecumseh, the Shawnee chief who has been called “the greatest of American Indians” by some historians, was the strategist in a final effort to ally the tribes and repel the white invasion. Plotting with him was his brother, Elkswatawa who was a spellbinding orator known as “the Prophet.” Tecumseh visited all the lake tribes, and others as far as Canada, the Mississippi area and Florida. The still-hopeful British supplied arms and supplies.
But the battle came, Nov. 7, 1811, near Lafayette, at the time when Tecumseh was absent in the south. The Indians were routed by the forces of Gen. William Henry Harrison. Many feared pursuit and fled to the lake hills 100 miles north for refuge.
England and America were approaching another state of war – and the British again enlisted the aid of Tecumseh and other Indians.
Most of the battles of the War of 1812 were fought on the Great Lakes. After the British captured the fort at Mackinac, the American general surrendered both Detroit and the Michigan territory, which included the Trail Creek region, to the English. A group of soldiers, women and children left Fort Dearborn in Chicago to go to Fort Wayne, traveling first along the lakeshore. When they reached the sand hills, Pottawattomie rear-guard escorts for the party suddenly attacked. Twenty-six soldiers, two women and 12 children were killed. Some Pottawattomie also took part in the Massacre of the River Raisin, near Detroit. On Oct. 5, 1813, Gen. Harrison defeated the British and Indians at the great battle of the Thames, in which Tecumseh, wearing the uniform of a British general, was killed. “The Prophet” sank into obscurity as a common medicine man, drawing a British pension until his death in 1834.
United States sovereignty had been restored in Michigan and in the valley of Trail Creek.
* * *
The treaty with the Pottawattomie which resulted in the founding of Michigan City was signed Oct. 16, 1826, at the mouth of the Mississinewa River near Peru. The object was to obtain land needed for a north-south road from the Ohio River to Lake Michigan. All the Pottawattomie chiefs were in attendance at the treaty ceremony.
Most of the Indians couldn’t sign their names. The white men wrote the Indian names, spelling them the way they sounded, and each Indian placed an “X” after his name. It quite clearly was the white man’s wording on the treaty: “As an evidence of the attachment which the Pottawattomie tribe feels toward the American people, and particularly to the soil of Indiana, and with a view to demonstrate their liberality, and benefit themselves, by creating facilities for traveling and increasing the value of their remaining country, the said tribe does hereby cede to the United States a strip of land, commencing at Lake Michigan and running thence to the Wabash River, one hundred feet wide for a road…” The Indians also ceded to the government one square mile of good land touching the road for every mile of its length. The government planned to sell that land to settlers, using the money to finance the building of the road.
The Pottawattomie were to receive an annuity of $2,000 per year for 25 years, another $2,000 for education, and more than $30,000 in goods. The U.S. also agreed to build for them a mill on the Tippecanoe River and provide for them a miller.
Before the road was built and Michigan City came into being as a community, there was one final Indian attempt to block the white migration.
Black Hawk, a Sauk chief, came to Trail Creek in the autumn of 1831 seeking an alliance of the Pottawattomies with the Sacs and Foxes. But Pottawattomie chiefs Pokagon, Topenebee, Chadonnais and others convinced their warriors not to join Black Hawk’s army. The chief went back to Illinois and raised his force there. Settlers in this area hastily erected a little fort at Door Village. The following spring, Black Hawk was easily defeated in a series of skirmishes. One of the captains opposing him was a long, lanky Kentuckian named Abraham Lincoln.
The Pottawattomie made many treaties with the American government. More than 40 are recorded. The biggest of them all was signed at Chicago on Sept. 26,1833, ceding more than five million acres of land in Illinois and Wisconsin to the United States. The Indians were to receive a like amount of land west of the Mississippi, along the Missouri River, plus nearly one million dollars in money and goods.
Settlers in Indiana were anxious to claim the land which had been assigned as Indian reservations under prior treaties. In 1836, Pottawattomie chiefs from reservations which occupied much of Marshall County agreed to sell their land for $1 an acre. They were given two years to vacate the land.
Some friends of the Indians – such as Rev. Isaac McCoy of Carey Mission near Niles – also had concluded it would be best for the Pottawattomie to move west – not for the selfish interest of the white man, but on the contrary, “so they might be free from the vices of the white man.”
The authors of the Oglesbee-Hale history make the same point. They observe that while the Indians had welcomed French traders for more than a hundred years, they had a different outlook when they watched the wave of American settlers which moved west after the Revolutionary War – occupying the Indians’ lands, clearing their forests, eliminating their hunting grounds. This history book states that the Indians had been “inclined to be friendly with the whites until the aggressions and vices of the civilized invaders made friendship and respect impossible.
“The Indians became first suspicious and then hostile when they saw the whites, preaching a mystical and incomprehensible gospel of salvation, engaged in practices that violated every principle of the red man’s ethical code and at the same time defying the only real estate laws the savages knew anything about, erecting forts in their hunting grounds, claiming sovereignty over their lands and driving them slowly and irresistibly to new homes they did not want.
“Drunkenness, stealing, murder for the purposes of robbery, other unknown vices, new diseases – all these were among the introductions of civilization which the untutored savage could not understand but which he gradually adopted or acquired (Topenebee, leader of his people for a half-century, became addicted to drink, to a point that he would sell his last acre for whiskey. While drunk, he fell from his horse and was killed July 26, 1826).
“The Indians loved their lands with savage passion and those who dwelt in the Trail Creek region (away from the swamp and sand of the lakeshore) had special grounds for their attachment to the soil, for it was rich in all the natural resources upon which they depended for their sustenance. Bison were on the prairies, beaver were among the shaded streams, the woods had plenty of bear, deer were all about, and fish, fowl and small game abounded, besides which in season, wild fruits grew everywhere in profusion.”
Harriett Martineau, prominent Englishwoman who traveled through this area in 1836 and later wrote a book about her journey (see fuller account elsewhere in this publication), included this observation:
“(After leaving Niles) we crossed the St. Joseph by a rope ferry. As we drove up the steep bank, we found ourselves in the Indian territory. All was very wild; and the more so for the rain. There were many lodges in the glades, with the red light of fires hanging around them. The few log huts looked drenched. The poor, helpless, squalid Pottawattomies are sadly troubled by squatters. It seems hard enough that they should be restricted within a narrow territory, so surrounded by whites that the game is sure to disappear, and leave them stripped of their only resource. It is too hard that they should also be encroached upon by men who sit down, without leave or title, upon lands which are not intended for sale. I enjoyed hearing of an occasional alarm among the squatters, caused by some threatening demonstrations by the Indians … and leave them the benefit of his house and fences. Such an establishment in the woods is the destruction of the game – and of those who live upon it.”
Miss Martinieau’s sentiments to the contrary, the settlers – and squatters – were here to stay.
The time was come, as the Oglesbee-Hale history puts it, when the Pottawattomie would begin “their sorrowful march toward the setting sun.
* * *
On Sept. 4, 1838, the Pottawattomie – the last great body of Indians in Indiana – were herded together and marched away westward over what was to become known infamously as “The Trail of Death.
More than 800 Indians – men, women, children – were forced at bayonet point across 660 desolate, dusty miles to the Osage River Valley in Kansas – the reservation selected for their re-location by the government.
Many died (one in every five, according to the 1976 publication, Indiana Heritage), many became ill and a few escaped along the way. The day of the Indian was forever gone in Indiana.
Chief Alexis Menominee – who had been converted to Christianity just four years before and whose tribe had built a huge log chapel – shouted to the soldiers that he had signed no treaty, had sold no land. He and other Pottawattomies maintained Indian agents had cheated the tribe out of its land – liberally using liquor to get young chiefs to sign documents.
But Menominee (who died three years later, at age 50, at the Kansas reservation) and 859 Pottawattomie were marched away from their village by order of the governor of Indiana.
Simon Pokagon, who was to be the last chief of the Pottawattomie in this area, and who finally secured the 3 cents an acre for the sale of Chicago 60 years after the treaty had promised it, wrote this about the l838 “Trail of Death:
“…and all of this was done by a people who had declared to the world to enjoy life, liberty and the pursuits of happiness is the God-given right of every human being. I wondered in my boyhood days how a Christian people could do such acts of cruelty and yet teach that all men are brothers, and that God is the Father of all…”
Minuteman. . .Settler. . . Abolitionist
The 19th birthday of Abijah Bigelow of Massachusetts (and later Michigan City) very nearly coincided with the birth of the American military revolution. And when the revolution came, three days later – 200 years ago, young Abijah was there.
On the evening of Bigelow’s 19th birthday, April 16, 1775, engraver-silversmith Paul Revere, an official courier for the Massachusetts Assembly to the Continental Congress, rode the 17 miles from Boston to Concord. He warned the patriots that the British might march on Concord, to seize munitions stored there. He arranged a signal – one lantern in the North Church steeple if the redcoats moved by land, two if by water.
The signal would alert the Minutemen – a militia composed of villagers and farmers who had pledged to respond to the call of duty at a moment’s notice. They constituted the first American Revolutionary Army. Included in their ranks was Pvt. Bigelow, a member of Capt. Abraham Pierce’s Company in Col. Thomas Gardner’s Regiment.
Two nights after Abijah’s birthday and Revere’s visit to Concord, the word went out: “The redcoats are coming!”
It was a chilling April night in the little village of Lexington, a strategic point between Boston and Concord. About 2 in the morning, church bells began to ring. Senior citizens (what did they call them in 1775?), middle-aged men, and boys like Abijah came, sleepy-eyed, from their homes, bearing cumbersome flintlocks. They assembled on the Lexington Green, across from the Congregational Church. For an hour they waited, exchanging rumors and nervous small talk, blowing on their hands to warm them, mumbling under-the-breath comments about their leaders (the beginning of an American army tradition). Finally, persuaded the alarm had been false, the Minutemen dispersed some back to their homes, others to the village tavern.
But about 4:30, Revere rode into town, shouted a warning, then hastened on toward Concord, The church bells rang again. Once more the 60 militiamen assembled. Morning’s first light and the British came at about the same time. Fifes and drums heralded the approach of the redcoat regiments. It was, one historian has written, “the zero hour of autocracy.”
The British, 700 of them, halted in military formation and faced the Minutemen. A British officer dramatically drew his sword, pointed it at one of the patriot leaders, and shouted: “Lay down your arms, damn you! Disperse, you rebels! ”
Tense silence filled the crisp air for an historic moment. And then, from the ranks of the Minutemen, a shot was fired, “a shot heard around the world.”
No one knows, or ever will, who fired the shot. It could have been Abijah Bigelow.
Twenty minutes later, when shooting ceased, eight Americans were dead on the Commons grass. Ten more were wounded. The redcoats resumed their march to Concord, six miles away.
But that shot in the dawn light at Lexington and the skirmish that followed marked the beginning of the American fight for freedom. Lexington today properly calls itself “the birthplace of liberty.”
The British soldiers spent five hours wrecking what remained of the patriots’ arsenal at Concord. Mission completed, they formed ranks to march back to Boston. But at Concord’s North Bridge, they were challenged by another gathering of Minutemen – including some who had fought hours earlier at Lexington. His record shows that Abijah Bigelow was at Concord, too.
It was in the North Bridge encounter that the first British soldier died – another shot “heard” the world over.
The Minutemen had the upper hand this time. During a lull in the fighting, the redcoats crossed the bridge and ran for Lexington. More patriots joined the battle along the road. By the time the British reached Lexington, they were demoralized and nearly out of ammunition. Only the arrival of 1,000 reinforcements saved them from defeat.
Bigelow and the other rustic insurrectionists kept up the attack for 10 more miles, all the way’. to Charlestown, effectively employing guerrilla warfare against the redcoats’ gentlemanly formations.
By the time the British reached Charlestown that night, they had suffered 273 casualties. American casualties totaled 95.
Abijah Bigelow’s service record shows that he also saw duty in the Battle of Bunker Hill, a bloody confrontation for both sides, two months later. He became a corporal, then a sergeant, his service in the Revolutionary Army continuing until 1778 – mostly in the area of Cambridge, Mass., the place where General George Washington formally assumed command of the American army.
In 1780, the year before Cornwallis’ surrender to Washington, Abijah, then 24, married 19-year old Mercy Amelia Spring. The marriage was to produce 12 children and continue for 66 years until Mercy’s death in LaPorte County at age 85 in 1846. Abijah would live to the age of 92, dying in Michigan City in 1848.
Following their marriage, the young couple lived in a comfortable two-story white farmhouse at New Braintree, Mass., about 60 miles west of Boston. It was with daughter Lucy, born there April 11, 1797, that the Bigelows would one day make their home and their move to Indiana.
After 28 years at New Braintree, Abijah sold the farmhouse in 1808 and went into business with his oldest son, Marshall, at Barre, Mass., north of New Braintree. They operated a store on the Barre commons. The Bigelows lived in a yellow house on the village outskirts, with enough adjoining acreage for a garden, a few cows, and a horse.
In 1822, Abijah and Mercy Bigelow went to live with daughter Lucy and her husband, Herbert Williams in Brooklyn, Conn., 40 miles almost due south of Barre.
Abijah was 80, Mercy was 75, and Indiana had been a state only 20 years when the decision to move westward was made in 1836.
Ellen Williams Haddock, daughter of Lucy and Herbert Williams, and granddaughter of Abijah Bigelow, left a written account of the move to Indiana and the subsequent years in and near Michigan City. Ellen’s husband was Joseph
Clary Haddock, a druggist and son of a widely known Michigan City pioneer family. The Haddocks built a home on South Franklin Street in the area now known as Valentine Court.
Mrs. Haddock writes: “My uncles Jacob and Abijah were pioneers in the West. They brought back glowing reports of the fertility of the soil and the rapid development of the country. Michigan City, Indiana, was to be a large city, developed on the lake; a fine shipping port. My father was wearied with cultivating a farm where stony ground needed much fertilization, and the large barns and outhouses were needing repairs. He and mother felt it would be a relief to get away from religious controversy (then a common occurrence in New England) and decided to make the great venture of removal to the West.”
Many in the family opposed such a strenuous journey for the elderly Bigelows. But, that revolutionary spirit still aflame, Abijah concluded they should join in the adventure with the sons and daughter (Lucy, Marshall, Jacob, Abijah and Sumner) who were Indiana-bound.
The house in Brooklyn was sold. Furniture and goods were shipped to Michigan City. Farewell trips were made to homes of New England relatives – by boat to Boston, train to Worcester, stage to Leicester.
In May of 1836, the month-long journey from New England to Michigan City began. After a stop to visit relatives in Cooperstown, N.Y., the group traveled via the Erie Canal to Buffalo, then crossed Lake Erie by boat to Detroit. They were there for a day or two while Williams bought teams of horses and arranged for the journey to Michigan City over roads that were almost impassable. Travel time from Detroit to Michigan City, including a Sunday stopover in Ypsilanti: Nine days.
Abijah Bigelow, who had been present at the birth of a nation, set foot in Michigan City in the year of its incorporation. The first local residence of the Williamses and Bigelows was a cottage on East Michigan Street not far from Franklin Street.
Mrs. Haddock writes that her father “would have preferred Milwaukee as a location, but never wished to make a stand in Chicago, which was ‘such a low, muddy place’ he could not think it had a future of prosperity.”
When household goods arrived and arrangements were completed, the families left Michigan City and moved to a new home on a farm 20 miles south – between Haskells and Wanatah.
Williams and the younger Abijah Bigelow (a Whig who was to serve a term as a LaPorte County commissioner) built a grist mill on “Hog Creek.” The mill, and the town which for a time flourished around it, were called “Bigelow’s Mill.” Many families which had come from Canada lived in the settlement. Bigelow was postmaster.
The partners had purchased 40 head of cattle But, assured by natives that the winter would be mild and the animals could survive, they concentrated on building the mill.
Unfortunately, winter came early and proved long and severe. Many cattle died from exposure. Prairie wolves dined on their carcasses.
“‘So the families faced losses and discouragements, Mrs. Haddock recalled. “Father and my uncle dissolved their partnership and my parents devoted themselves to the development of the farm.” The mill enterprise was not a success; Bigelow sold it.
The Williamses and the elderly Bigelows remained on the Clinton Twp. farm, where Williams built a fine new 1 2 story home of hewn logs. Mrs. Williams, who had been a teacher in New England, also taught in LaPorte County schools.
The anti-slavery movement was gaining momentum. It was a cause in which Abijah Bigelow was much interested. “Grandfather was very strong in his opposition to slavery,” writes Mrs. Haddock. “He had a hatred for oppression of Negro people.”
And so the Williams Bigelow home became a station on the underground railway. Escaped slaves, fleeing to Canada, would be housed and fed there. Then, concealed under quilts and hay in a wagon, they would be transported to the next station, near LaPorte, by Ellen’s brother, Wolcott.
Mercy Amelia Bigelow died Aug. 20,1846.
In 1848, Williams sold the farm. The Williams family and Abijah moved to Michigan City, to a home on the southwest corner of 10th and Washington streets – torn down in later years to make room for an apartment building. Williams was to serve as assessor, tax collector, school trustee and church treasurer as a Michigan City citizen.
On Oct. 23, 1848, at age 92, Abijah Bigelow died.
He and Mercy are buried in Greenwood Cemetery, close to the circle where the World War I memorial stands. Daughter Lucy Williams also is buried there.
The grave of the Revolutionary War soldier – the only one in Michigan City – is marked by a modest slab. There also is a bronze marker, placed many years ago by the Indiana Sons of the American Revolution.
On April 14, 1926, just two days short of the 170th anniversary of Abijah Bigelow’s birth Michigan City chapter of Daughters of the American Revolution was formed and named for him.
Abijah Bigelow: Minuteman… Michigan City pioneer settler… abolitionist. His simple grave site is Michigan City’s most direct link to the birth of a nation, the great fight for freedom, 200 years ago.
Another son of Massachusetts, a hero of a late American war for freedom, John F. Kennedy, said in his 1961 inaugural address:
“We dare not forget today that we are the heir of that first revolution.” It’s an appropriate thought as observance of America’s Bicentennial takes place.
Such a City Was Never Before Seen
A British Traveler’s Account of Michigan City in 1836
A descriptively vivid account of Michigan City in the year of its incorporation exists in an 1837 book, Society in America, written by Harriet Martineau. An English social and historical writer and a prominent public figure of her day, Miss Martineau visited the United States from 1834 to 1836. Part of her travels here – possibly the most memorable part – consisted of a stagecoach trip from Detroit to Chicago. Her party left Detroit on June 15,1836, and arrived in Michigan City six days later. The roads were so rough that the travelers were forced to transport a dozen eggs by each one holding an egg in his hand for the entire length of the day’s journey. Miss Martineau was 34 years old at the time of her visit here. The following account is excerpted from her journal.
We reached LaPorte, on the edge of the Door Prairie, at three o’clock, and were told that the weather did not promise an easy access to Michigan City. We changed horses, however, and set forward again on a very bad road, along the shore of a little lake, which must be pretty in fine weather. Then we entered a wood, and jolted and rocked from side to side, till, at last, the carriage leaned three parts over, and stuck. We all jumped out into the rain, and the gentlemen literally put their shoulders to the wheel, and lifted it out of its hole. The same little incident was repeated in half an hour. At five or six miles from LaPorte, and seven from Michigan City, our driver stopped, and held a long parley with somebody by the road side. The news was that a bridge in the middle of a marsh had been carried away by a tremendous freshet; and with how much log-road on either side, could not be ascertained till the waters should subside. The mails, however, would have to be carried over, by some means, the next day; and we must wait where we were till we could profit by the post-office experiment. The next question was, where were we to be harboured? There was no house of entertainment near. We shrank from going back to LaPorte over the perilous road which was growing worse every minute. A family lived at hand, who hospitably offered to receive us; and we were only too ready to accept their kindness.
Our sleep, amidst the luxury and cleanliness and hospitality, was most refreshing. The next morning it was still raining, but less vehemently. After breakfast, we ladies employed ourselves in sweeping and dusting our room, and making the beds; as we had given our kind hostess to much trouble already. Then there was a Michigan City newspaper to be read; and I sat down to write letters. Before long, a wagon and four drove up to the door, the driver of which cried out that if there was any getting to Michigan City, he was our man. We equipped ourselves in our warmest and thickest clothing, put on our india rubber shoes, packed ourselves and our luggage in the wagon, put up our umbrellas, and wondered what was to be our fate.
We jolted on for two miles and a half through the woods, admiring the scarlet lilies, and the pink and white moccasin flower, which was brilliant. Then we arrived. at the place of the vanished bridge. Our first prospect was of being paddled over, one by one, in the smallest of boats. But, when the capabilities of the place were examined, it was decided that we should wait in a house on the hill, while the neighbours, the passengers of the mailstage, and the drivers, built a bridge.
We learned that a gentleman who followed us from Niles, the preceding day, found the water nine feet deep, and was near drowning his horses in a place which we had crossed without difficulty. This very morning, a bridge which we had proved and passed, gave way with the stage, and the horses had to be dug and rolled out of the mud, when they were on the point of suffocation.
At half-past two, the bridge was announced complete, and we re-entered our wagon, to lead the cavalcade across it. Slowly, anxiously, with a man at the head of each leader, we entered the water, and saw it rise to the nave of the wheels. Instead of jolting, as usual, we mounted and descended each log individually. The mail-wagon followed, with two or three horsemen. There was also a singularly benevolent personage, who jumped from the other wagon, and waded through all the doubtful places, to prove them. He leaped and splashed through the water, which was sometimes up to his waist, as if it was the most agreeable sport in the world. In one of these gullies, the fore part of our wagon sank and stuck, so as to throw us forward, and make it doubtful in what mode we should emerge from the water. Then the rim of one of the wheels was found to be loose; and the whole cavalcade stopped till it was mended.
The drive was so exciting and pleasant, the rain having ceased that I was taken by surprise by our arrival at Michigan City. The driver announced our approach by a series of flourishes on one note of his common horn, which made the most ludicrous music I ever listened to. How many minutes he went on, I dare not say; but we were so convulsed with laughter that we could not alight with becoming gravity, amidst the groups in the piazza of the hotel. The man must be first cousin to Paganini.
Such a city as this was surely never before seen. It is three years since it was begun; and it is said to have one thousand five hundred inhabitants. It is cut out of the forest, and curiously interspersed with little swamps, which we no doubt saw in their worst condition after the heavy rains. New, good houses, some only half finished, stood in the midst of the thick wood. A large area was half cleared. The finished stores were scattered about; and the streets were littered with stumps. The situation is beautiful. The undulations of the ground, within and about it, and its being closed in by lake or forest on every side, render it unique. An appropriation has been made by Government for a harbour; and two piers are to be built out beyond the sand, as far as the clay soil of the lake. Mr. L. and I were anxious to see the mighty fresh water sea. We made inquiry in the piazza; and a sandy hill, close by, covered with the pea vine, was pointed out to us. We ran up it, and there beheld what we had come so far to see. There it was, deep, green, and swelling on the horizon, and whitening into a broad and heavy surf as it rolled in towards the shore. Hence, too, we could make out the geography of the city. The whole scene stands insulated in my memory, as absolutely singular; and, at this distance of time, scarcely credible. I was so well aware on the spot that it would be so, that I made careful and copious notes of what I saw; but memoranda have nothing to do with such emotions as were caused by the sight of that enormous body of tumultuous waters, rolling in apparently upon the helpless forest, and everywhere else so majestic.
The day was damp and chilly, as we were told every day is here. There is scarcely ever a day of summer in which fire is not acceptable. The windows are dim; the metals rusted, and the new, wood about the house red with damp. We could not have a fire. The storm had thrown down a chimney; and the house was too full of workmen, providing accommodation for future guests, to allow of the comfort of those present being much attended to. We were permitted to sit around a flue in a chamber, where a remarkably pretty and graceful girl was sewing. She has a widowed mother to support, and she “gets considerable” by sewing here, where the women lead a bustling life, which leaves no time for the needle. We had to wait long for something to eat; that is, till supper time; for the people are too busy to serve up anything between meals. Two little girls brought a music book, and sang to us; and then we sang to them; and then Dr. F. brought me two harebells, one of the rarest flowers in the country. I found some at Trenton Falls; and in one or two other rocky and sandy places; but so seldom as to make a solitary one a great treasure.
Our supper of young pork, good bread, potatoes, preserves, and tea, was served at two tables, where the gentlemen were in proportion to the ladies as ten to one. In such places, there is a large proportion of young men who are to go back for wives when they have gathered a few other comforts about them. The appearance of health was as striking as at Detroit, and everywhere on this side of Lake Erie.
Immediately after supper we went for a walk, which, in peculiarity, comes next to that in the Mammoth Cave, if indeed, it be second to it. The scene was like what I had always fancied the Norway coast, but for the wild flowers, which grew among the pines on the slope, almost into the tide. I longed to spend an entire day on this flowery and shadowy margin of the inland sea. I plucked handfuls of pea-vine and other trailing flowers, which seemed to run over all the ground. We found on the sands an army, like Pharaoh’s drowned host, of disabled butterflies, beetles, and flies of the richest colours and lustre, driven over the lake by the storm. Charley found a small turtle alive. An elegant little schooner, “the Sea Serpent of Chicago,” was stranded, and formed a beautiful object as she lay dark between the sand and the surf. The sun was going down. We watched the sunset, not remembering that the refraction above the fresh waters would probably cause some remarkable appearance. We looked at one another in amazement at what we saw. First, there were three gay, inverted rainbows between the water and the sun, then hidden behind a little streak of. cloud. Then the sun emerged from behind this only cloud, urn-shaped; a glistering golden urn. Then it changed, rather suddenly, to an enormous golden acorn. Then to a precise resemblance, except being prodigiously magnified, of Saturn with his ring. This was the most beautiful apparition of all. Then it was quickly narrowed and elongated till it was like the shaft of a golden pillar; and thus it went down square. Long after its disappearance, a lustrous, deep crimson dome, seemingly solid, rested steadily on the heaving waters.
We walked briskly home, beside the skiey sea, with the half-grown moon above us, riding high. Then came the struggling for room to lie down, for sheets and fresh water. The principal range of chambers could have been of no manner of use to us, in their present state. There were, I think, thirty, in one range along a passage. A small bed stood in the middle of each, made up for use; but the walls were as yet only scantily lathed, without any plaster; so that everything was visible along the whole row.
When I arose at daybreak, I found myself stiff with cold. No wonder: the window, close to my head, had lost a pane. I think the business of a perambulating glazier might be a very profitable one, in most parts of the United States. When we seated ourselves in our wagon, we found that the leathern cushions were soaked with wet; like so many sponges. They were taken in to a hot fire, and soon brought out, each sending up a cloud of steam. Blankets were furnished to lay over them; and we set off. We were cruelly jolted through the bright dewy woods, for four miles, and then arrived on the borders of a swamp where the bridge had been carried away. A man waded in; declared the depth to be more than six feet; how much more he could not tell. There was nothing to be done, but to go back. Back again we jolted, and arrived at the piazza of the hotel just as the breakfast-bell was ringing. All the “force” that could be collected on a hasty summons; that is almost every able bodied man in the city and neighbourhood, was sent out with axes to build us a bridge. We breakfasted, gathered and dried flowers, and wandered about till ten o’clock, when we were summoned to try our fortune again in the wagon. We found a very pretty scene at the swamp. Part of the “force” was engaged on our side of the swamp, and part on the other. As we sat under the trees, making garlands and wreaths of flowers and oak leaves, we could see one lofty tree-top after another, in the opposite forest, tremble and fall; and the workmen cluster about it, like bees, lop off its branches, and, in a trice, roll it, an ugly log, into the water, and pin it down upon the sleepers. The moccasin flower grew here in great profusion and splendour. We sat thus upwards of two hours; and the work done in the time appeared almost incredible. But the Americans in the back country seem to like the repairing of accidents – a social employment – better than their regular labour; and even the drivers appeared to prefer adventurous travelling to easy journeys. A gentleman in a light gig made the first trial of the new bridge: our wagon followed, plunging and rocking, and we scrambled in safety up the opposite bank.
Godlike Daniel Webster
Fourth of July Oratory
He was born Jan. 18, 1782. He was a congressman, a United States senator, and the secretary of state. He was one of the first, and one of the greatest, Whigs. In his day he was as well known as Andrew Jackson, Henry Clay, and John C. Calhoun. To his contemporaries he was “Godlike Daniel.” To historians he has become: “The greatest man which this country ever produced,” and “the most consummate orator of all time.” A century of school children would memorize his famed speech ringing with “liberty and Union, now and forever, one and inseparable.” His name was Daniel Webster and he visited LaPorte County on at least two occasions.
“Godlike Daniel’s” first visit to the county was, apparently, purely political. The year was 1836, the first year the Whigs attempted to apply national leverage. Webster was too closely associated with the interests of the American Northeast to contest the candidacy of Democrat Martin Van Buren, Andrew Jackson’s vice president. The Whig strategy was to run regional candidates in hopes of denying Van Buren the majority electoral vote, thus throwing the selection of the President to the House of Representatives. Webster represented the North, William Henry Harrison the West, and Hugh L. White of Tennessee the South. The strategy failed. But Webster had been an active Whig candidate and, on July 4, his favorite day for oratory, he addressed a crowd in the emerging city of LaPorte.
It was a Sunday and a large crowd had gathered around his buggy in the public square. During the course of his speech a procession of Sunday School children came into his view. Immediately the great orator hesitated, seizing on the opportunity with the sense of timing and drama for which he was noted, extended his arm toward the young ones, and proclaimed in loud and steady voice, “there, fellow citizens, is the hope of our country.”
There seems to be no other reason than political stumping for Webster’s first visit to LaPorte County. But the great orator did have other interests. He was known to have been fired by the speculative fever involving land in the newly formed states of the frontier and to have been an avid purchaser of prairies, timberlands, and town sites in Ohio, Michigan, and Illinois. It was this interest of Daniel Webster’s that seems to have been related to his second visit to LaPorte County.
The second visit came one year later to the day, July 4, 1837. Webster, with his wife, had been taking a cruise on a steamer between Chicago and Buffalo. Chicago was, as yet, not much of a community, and there was intense rivalry between a number of lakefront communities to capture federal support for communications and trade outlets. Canals and rails were all intricately involved with the demand for harbor support. Chicago was at the mouth of the Chicago River, Michigan City was at the mouth of Trail Creek, and nearly a century before the name of Gary had been heard, George Earle had founded Liverpool (now part of East Gary) and other promoters were plumping a new town of Manchester at the mouth of Salt Creek. The competition was intense. No less than the future of the Midwest was at stake.
The competition that involved Daniel Webster seems to have had its roots in conflict between two different groups of entrepreneurs in the county. The first, dominated by LaPorte businessmen, involved incorporation of the Buffalo and Mississippi Railroad. Their scheme was to connect the head of Lake Erie from Maumee Bay to the public harbor at Michigan City, then extend the rails southward to connect with the navigable waters somewhere on the Kankakee or Illinois rivers, thus connecting with the Mississippi. Daniel Webster seems to have been intimately involved in this venture.
A group of Michigan City entrepreneurs, miffed at the granting of a charter to the LaPorteans, incorporated their own company, the Michigan City and Kankakee Railroad, went west and laid out the town of City West at the mouth of Fort Creek (which now enters Lake Michigan near the pavilion in the Dunes State Park). By 1837 City West had a hotel, a tavern, store, sawmill, blacksmith shop, and about 25 resident families. All they needed was federal funds to develop a harbor, and the great Daniel Webster, senator from Massachusetts, and a known connection to financial interests in the East, was on a steamboat near Chicago. The promoters of City West invited the Senator to their new town. He arrived on July 1, 1837, looked over the site, made a brief speech to the residents, but gave no promises.
Hearing of such doings the promoters of the Buffalo and Mississippi sent an urgent message to Webster to visit Michigan City as well. Thus, on Independence Day, 1837, the great statesman stood at the foot of Hoosier Slide on the banks of Trail Creek in Michigan City, predicted a sure success for the community, and symbolically threw a handful of sand into the air to mark the beginning of its new destiny. In gratitude, the promoters “gave” the senator a lot in the community (lot 5 in block 10, at the corner of Michigan and Spring), although the deed stated that Webster had paid $2,000. In view of the fact that James M. Scott (builder of the first mill in Michigan City) had secured the lot several years previously for only $40, there can be little doubt that the “gift” was a bit of promotional propaganda as well as an honorarium to Daniel Webster for supporting the interests of the Buffalo and Mississippi Railroad.
The City West people would later grumble that Michigan City received the senator’s support because the entertainment he had received was more lavish and more to his liking. Such a conclusion seems unwarranted, however, since the Congress had approved the funding of a public harbor at Michigan City a year before Webster’s visit to the dunes in 1837. For a short time, however, the county was witness to a business struggle which involved one of the greatest of American statesmen. The involvement was short-lived, however, since records indicate that Daniel Webster and his wife sold their interest in the lot, which he had been “given,” to two gentlemen from Philadelphia in 1841. A decade later the famed senator was gone.
An Indelible Imprint on the Community
Martin T. Krueger loved Michigan City. He showed it in words and in deeds. More than any public official in the first 140 years of the city’s history, he left an indelible imprint on the community.
A German immigrant who came here as a young boy in 1864, Krueger served his city with distinction in many capacities.
Six times he was elected mayor. Three times he was elected city clerk. He served as LaPorte County’s state representative, as a Michigan City school board member for 12 years, and as a city councilman. Virtually self-educated , he had one of the city’s largest and most successful law practices up to the time of his retirement at age 88 in 1941.
Krueger, above all, was a man of foresight with the ability to get what he wanted and what he felt the city needed. Politics was a major part of his life, but he did not hesitate to pursue an unpopular course if he felt it was right. That trait cost him at least one election – but fellow citizens gained a belated appreciation for his position and restored him to office four years later. The News-Dispatch story of his death, at age 92 on May 9, 1945, noted: “Michigan City owes much of its beauty and reputation to him … It is hard to point to a single public work or institution that he did not create or was not a factor in its creation.”
Existence of Washington Park is due to Krueger’s vision, craftiness and persistence. During the Krueger years, electricity replaced gas and kerosene lighting in Michigan City. The first extensive street-paving program was initiated (against much opposition from taxpayers). The Franklin Street bridge, the establishment of an excellent water department – these and more milestones in community progress were Krueger accomplishments.
The land on which the Memorial Park forest preserve is situated was given to the city by Krueger in memory of American soldiers who died in World War I.
Krueger also had a reputation for wit and public speaking ability.
His parents brought 10-year-old Martin Krueger and their other eight children to America from Macklenberg-Schwerein, Germany, in 1864. They settled in Michigan City, where Martin’s grandparents had emigrated eight years earlier.
Young Martin served an apprenticeship that ideally prepared him for the political plunge.
He began doing chores for pay almost immediately on his arrival in America. He recalled often in speeches years later that he and five buddies were on their way, walking, to plant potatoes for a Waterford farmer when they heard a cannon shot from the top of Hoosier Slide, signaling the arrival of the Lincoln Funeral Train in Michigan City the morning of May 1, 1865. (See account of young Krueger’s experience with the funeral train in another publication in this series “Moments to Remember.”)
His first regular job – one which ended his formal school career – came when David Marsh (who, with his brother, George, owned all the land south of 11th Street to Greenwood Cemetery and who pastured cows on it) offered Krueger’s mother a dollar a week for Martin to be a cowherd.
He worked at other jobs – as a factory employee at the Haskell and Barker car shops, in a planing mill, and as a cleaner of locomotive grates for the Michigan Central Railroad in Michigan City before he got some experience in the world of agriculture.
At age 13, he had worked on a farm during the summer months for $1.50 a week. After his ventures into industrial employment, he went to Mendota, Ill., and secured a farm job at double his former wages – $3 a week. He worked on Illinois farms for five years before his return to Michigan City in 1877. (It was in Bureau County, Ill., in 1876, that he cast his first ballot. His vote for President Tilden was described as the only Democratic vote cast in the precinct.)
Krueger began the study of law in 1877 in the office of Michigan City attorney Fred Johnson. When Johnson died the next year, Krueger opened a real estate and insurance office. He also was actively engaged in assistance to immigrants – helping to bring many families from Germany to Michigan City.
He continued his study of the law and, in spring of 1879, he and Harry Francis opened a law office at 205 1/2 Franklin St. Francis left in the autumn to become publisher of the Michigan City Dispatch. Krueger’s office later – and up to the time of his retirement – was in the First National Bank building. His clients included his two former employers – the Michigan Central Railroad and the Haskell & Barker Car Co. – as well as the Pere Marquette Railroad, the First National Bank, and others.
The year he began his law practice, Krueger also entered politics. He was elected city clerk. He was re-elected to that post in 1881 and 1883. In 1884, he was elected to the state legislature. He was chairman of the committee on cities and towns and a member of other important committees. During that and later service in the General Assembly, he was responsible for enactment of much major legislation. He also won the respect and friendship of many fellow legislators which was to prove extremely valuable for Michigan City in years to come. In 1886, he was on the state Democratic ticket as candidate for clerk of the Indiana Supreme Court, but it was a Republican year in the state.
When he returned to Michigan City, he declined a request that he run again for city clerk. But he agreed to be a candidate for 2nd Ward councilman. Though that was a traditional Republican stronghold, Krueger was elected – as the nominee of both parties.
In 1889, he was elected mayor of Michigan City. In 1891, he won re-election with no opposition. An unprecedented program of public improvements was initiated under his leadership. Streets were paved, sewers built, and other projects implemented.
His activist leadership was not without opposition in the community. That, plus a division in the Democratic ranks here, saw him lose his bid for a third term by a narrow margin in 1893. But in 1898, Krueger was once more elected mayor this time to a four-year term. And in 1902, he won another one.
In 1913, running on a “citizen’s ticket,” he was elected to a fifth term as mayor. And in 1927, he became mayor under the commission-manager form of government that was temporarily in effect in Michigan City.
Krueger also had been a candidate (in 1896) for Congress. He was the 10th District chairman at the Democratic Congressional Convention, and when no candidate could be agreed on after several ballots, he agreed to run. The district was overwhelmingly Republican and Krueger lost in November – but he managed to reduce the normal plurality considerably, and to carry two counties (including LaPorte) which had previously gone to the GOP.
Krueger, whose own public school education had been abbreviated, served for 12 years on the local school board as member and secretary. The News-Dispatch obituary in 1945 observed that he had “worked tirelessly for better school facilities.”
Many older citizens remember Krueger, his moustache, his distinctive and booming voice, his habit of tracing a circle with his downward pointed finger while talking.
One contemporary recalls that Krueger “never was given to social life. He liked his association with friends either gathered at his home or at his favorite bar near city hall downtown. At both places, he would spin yarns to the delight of all his listeners. He was the town’s best story teller – generally telling them on himself or ones which illustrated a particular point he was trying to make at the time. He was not a heavy drinker, but liked beer. He had a sarcastic tongue – perhaps caustic is a better word – that he used mercilessly to flail those whom he felt earned his displeasure. His gruffness, with a guttural German tone, combined with the fact that on his own admission he was the homeliest man in the state, made him a most impressive figure.
Some of his pointed stories were widely repeated, though not printable.
Above all, those who remember the way he got things done – the acquisition of Washington Park land the most frequently-cited illustration.
The lakefront acreage was the scene of a squalid skid row when Mayor Krueger first envisioned a park there.
“I do not remember now when the thought of a park on the shore of Lake Michigan first came,” Krueger said in a speech to Rotary Club in 1922. “I do remember about the year 1893 upon a visit to Lincoln Park in Chicago … the hope was born in me that someday Michigan City might possess and improve a portion of our lake shore as a park. I was only city clerk at that time and mentioned this thought to Mayor Harvey Harris, who answered me that such a thing might be a possibility at some future time, but that both of us would probably be dead when that time arrived. I was elected mayor in 1889 and my dream of a park by the lake again haunted me. The more I thought of it the more the conviction grew in me that the thing might be done.”
Michigan City’s shoreline was a disgrace at the time. Waste material from booming lumber days had been used to build shacks by “ex-convicts, dissolute men and women and every kind of human scum that ever hung on the outskirts of a civilized community.” (The quotes are Krueger’s.)
After a long and uphill battle, Krueger obtained approval for the erection of a $10,000 bridge that extended Franklin Street to the lakefront.
Community skepticism about the proposed bridge was reflected in a remark made to Krueger by his friend, former mayor H.W. Walker: “You are building a bridge from somewhere to nowhere.”
The site of future Washington Park was owned by Easterners who had bought the lots sight unseen when Maj. Isaac C. Elston pushed his real estate promotion of “Indiana’s only lakeport.”
The land purchasers, belatedly learning of the nature of their holdings, never came west to claim the land or settle on it.
The only way the city could obtain title to the land, Krueger knew, was through court action. Quiet title proceedings could be filed – but it would be necessary to put up several thousand dollars in escrow in case any owners should show up. The city had no such money.
Krueger had the answer: Sell part of the courthouse square! At the time the courthouse was at the location of the present Superior Court building, but was the only building on the square block bounded by Franklin, Fourth, Washington and Michigan streets.
It was illegal, Krueger knew, for a city to sell municipally owned real estate.
Again he had the answer: A trip to Indianapolis, where the legislature was in session. There he got a former colleague to introduce a bill providing that a fifth class city located on the shore of Lake Michigan (i.e., Michigan City) could sell part of its municipally owned real estate if it in turn acquired real estate of equal dollar value.
Conceding that the special (and short-lived) legislation bordered closely on confiscation and was “a little too rank even for an Indiana Legislature,” Krueger nonetheless made no apologies for the action. He explained: “Necessity knows no law, neither did I.”
In addition to securing special state legislation, the Washington Park plan required approval of the city council. Seven affirmative votes were necessary. When the roll was called at a special meeting Aug. 18, 1891, presided over by Mayor Krueger, the vote was 6-1. Krueger tells what happened then:
“Immediately there was great confusion among the spectators. I did not announce the result of the vote officially, but instead declared a recess of 20 minutes or until order was restored. Then I asked the one councilman who had voted no to come with me into the clerk’s office adjoining the council chamber and he came. I was excited, nervous and sore and what I said to this man in that little room had best be forgotten. He and I had been good friends and I had at one time been of great service to him and saved him a large sum of money, all without charging him a cent. I reminded him of that. Then I showed him that his three objecting friends (three anti-park councilmen who had not come to the meeting) had not the courage to come and vote with him but had tried to make and were making him the goat by voting no alone and shifting all the responsibility on him and finally I said, ‘As long as you live people will blame you and, you alone for having been the instrument by which the city had been robbed of its lakefront park.
“Suddenly he said, ‘What do you want me to do?’
“I told him I would have the roll called again because of the confusion in the council chamber and I wanted him to vote aye when his name was called.
“He said, ‘Mr. Mayor, you are the only man in this town who could get me to do that, but I owe it to you personally and I’ll do it.’
“I called the council to order again, ordered the roll called again and seven men voted aye. The resolution had passed.
“I have been in many a hard fought political battle; I have won some and lost others, but in all my life I never felt so bitterly disappointed as when that vote stood 6 to 1, and never have I so glorified over a victory as when it finally stood 7 to 0.
“One great shout of victory went up from the assembled audience. The fight was over; the park was an accomplished fact.”
Krueger named the first park board, had the lakefront area graded, and solicited help of common citizens and influential industrialists in the establishment of the park. While citizens were planting saplings, industrialists were paying for erection of a monument, peristyle and bandstand.
Krueger’s resourcefulness came to the fore again when money was not available for the establishment of an adequate water department here. In 1899, he organized a stock company of wealthy citizens who built the water plant and turned it over to the city on terms it could easily meet.
It’s clear that Martin T. Krueger was a better politician and attorney than he was a poet, but the song he wrote for Michigan City reflects the deep feeling he had for his community. It was entitled The City by the Lake. Its words:
There’s a city by the lake
That is bright and wide awake!
Michigan City, Indiana!
You can travel up and down
And not find a better town
Than Michigan City, Indiana!
Hurrah, folks, hurray!
Strong in December
And full of pep in May
And the water’s always fine
In the good old summertime
In Michigan City, Indiana!
The immigrant mayor was passionately patriotic and dedicated to his adopted land.
On Feb. 3, 1917 – the day on which President Woodrow Wilson severed diplomatic relations with Germany – Krueger was a speaker at the annual Elks banquet in Chicago.
His stirring speech brought the audience to its feet, drew editorial praise in the Chicago Herald and other publications, and was reprinted in many newspapers all over the country. An excerpt from that address:
“…In this great republic where men are judged largely by what they know and what they can do, he (the immigrant) is welcome only if he will sincerely seek to make the most and the best of established conditions which he finds here, and will prepare himself honestly and diligently for the great responsibility of American citizenship.
“He is welcome to every blessing that flows from the fountain of free and popular government, but he must not muddy the water for others after he has drunk his fill. That is the price. If he cannot pay it, let him go back and tell those he left behind that although this country may be a melting pot, it is by no means a garbage can.”
Krueger’s wit was demonstrated in a full speech which he delivered to Rotary Club in 1928 on the subject of the groundhog. He was an ecologist – a fact demonstrated by his act to preserve the lakefront, by his gift of the unspoiled Memorial Park forest preserve to the city, and by a speech he made in 1926 on the topic of trees and conservation. And he was a proud community booster – as evidenced by these concluding words of a speech to the Michigan City Rotary and Lions clubs at the Spaulding Hotel in 1929, on the subject of his 65 years in Michigan City:
“Such are some of my impressions of old Michigan City, as I knew it more than half a century ago. What it is today you know as well as I do. With great wisdom and foresight she was the first Indiana city to beckon to herself the great commerce of the inland seas and provide for it harbor of trade and refuge.
“She was the first Indiana city to seek and obtain legislative authority to acquire and improve land for public park purposes and to use that authority to possess for her people nearly a mile of lakefront and the most picturesque and lofty mountain of sand on the lakeshore; a worthy monument to her foresight and a priceless heritage for the present and future generations.
“Such is Michigan City: There she stands, behold her. What opportunities are ours to make her indeed a model and master city. Not alone to excel in commerce, industry and good citizenship, but to dominate by a lofty and aspiring soul and place herself by the side of the best and fairest cities of our state.”
That was Martin T. Krueger – a self-made man who said what he thought in plain terms.
Something in Their Hearts Besides Despair
Eight Men Determined to Turn Things Around
Jasper Packard wrote, in his 1876 History of LaPorte County: “Michigan City has been subject to many vicissitudes, her prospects at times seeming to be very bright, at other times gloomy in the extreme; but the leading business men of the place have never abated one jot of heart or hope. When a bright future seemed to offer, they have energetically set themselves to meet and improve its opportunities; when the prospect was forbidding, they resolutely met the emergency, by themselves opening new avenues to prosperity.
Packard’s words, written nearly a half-century earlier, could as well have been put to paper in response to the positive action taken by eight men in 1918.
Michigan City, where cycles of progress seem to be punctuated by periods of doldrums, was very much in a doldrum state in 1918.
Even as the community joined in the national celebration of victory in the War to End All Wars, citizens found little to cheer about on the local scene.
Michigan City was deep in vicissitudes again – the kind that, in Packard’s words, made her prospects gloomy in the extreme.
The years between 1916 and 1918 had not been good ones for the community.
Many of its 19,000 inhabitants were leaving, and so was industry. There were 300 vacant homes and 50 empty stores. When the Michigan Central Railroad moved its shops to Niles, Mich., 200 more homes were vacant. Four new industries had come to town in those two years. Three of them had gone broke. Michigan City was virtually a one-industry town. The Pullman “car shops” dominated the economy – an unhealthy situation.
There were other problems, too:
A smelly, open ditch – a veritable sewer – ran right through the heart of the residential section. Known as Rommel’s ditch, it meandered all over town, crossing Franklin Street at Decatur Street and ending up on Michigan Street near Porter Street.
The harbor was in serious disrepair. The turn of the century had seen Michigan City with a thriving port. But in the first decade of the 1900s, shipping business began dwindling away and maintenance of the harbor decreased proportionately. The city asked for help from the Federal government. But the Army Corps of Engineers, in a tough-worded report, said there just wasn’t enough shipping and industry in Michigan City to warrant investment in the harbor.
The city shoreline was littered with debris. The sandy beaches were covered with trash. The amusement center in Washington Park had been destroyed by fire.
Roads connecting Michigan City with other communities were in sad shape – little better than cowpaths.
The city’s luxury hotel of the 1880s, the Vreeland, was no longer modern. A new high school was needed. Citizens were outraged because the graves of their dead in Greenwood Cemetery were not receiving proper care.
Looking back on the situation which existed in Michigan City in 1918, an article in The Nation’s Business magazine of January 1924 concluded:
“The sands of the desert about Michigan City began to grow cold.”
That’s how it was in January, 1918. Then came one of those dramatic turning points in the community’s history. As the 1924 magazine story put it:
“In February some citizens with something in their hearts besides despair got together…turned their backs on the past and founded a Chamber of Commerce.”
The eight founding fathers of the Michigan City Chamber of Commerce, men determined to turn things around and set the community on a positive course, were Joe Hays, Leon Kramer, Jacob L. Staufer, George T. Vail, Louis W. Keeler, William W. Vail, John R. Abbott and Major George O. Redpath.
Men with something in their hearts besides despair.
The magazine article notes, “These men didn’t hurry. The situation was too serious for hasty action. Plans were formulated and carefully considered. Not until October was a secretary secured. A young businessman in Chicago, active in the Association of Commerce there and familiar with Michigan City (Walter K. Greenebaum), agreed to spend three days a week on the job to assist in developing a program.” He was to become one of Michigan City’s biggest boosters and promoters.
Other citizens quickly joined the Chamber bandwagon – men such as Lewis Stein, E.A. Simpson, William Manny, Herb Levine, Harry B. Tuthill, Louis Bartholomew and Walter Mellor.
In a short time, 171 members had joined the new Chamber of Commerce. In only nine days, $10,000 was raised for special projects. Then the chamber moved into its first permanent office, on the second floor of the building at the northwest corner of Franklin and Seventh streets. Over the entrance was placed a sign: “Where there is no vision the people perish.”
The funds were raised by calling on business and industry, by asking persons who made $500 to $1,000 a year to contribute 50 cents a month, and persons who made $1,000 to $1,250 a year to give 75 cents a month.
In the first 10 years of the chamber, no less than 26 new industries moved to – or started anew in – Michigan City. It was no longer a one-industry town.
The smelly Rommel’s ditch was closed over. A million-dollar sewer system was installed.
A new hotel was needed. Citizens raised several hundred thousand dollars to build the Spaulding Hotel. The original plans for the Spaulding called for a six-story structure. But this would have meant that Michigan City’s new hotel wouldn’t be as tall as the Rumely Hotel in LaPorte. So the walls of the Spaulding were extended two more floors, leaving the floors as shells without rooms. Michigan City then claimed the tallest building in LaPorte County. And, within a year, the hotel’s top two floors were completed.
There were other developments of consequence in the community in the Roaring ’20s and the chamber was instrumental in all of them.
The lakefront park and midway were improved. The Dunes Highway was built and other road improvements made – including the taking over by the state of the route of Ind. 43 (now U.S. 421) so it could be paved. The new high school was built. So were 500 new houses and an apartment building. Michigan City became a convention and tourist center.
Chamber members were prepared to do battle to obtain improvements they regarded as vital. The magazine article gives an example:
“The Chamber of Commerce advocated the building of a three-quarter-mile strip of pavement to connect two important districts. The city council considered the matter one night and by a majority vote turned down the proposition. The Chamber of Commerce rallied its forces, got the council to reconvene, and at ten o’clock the same night the original vote was reconsidered and the construction authorized.”
The determination that went into the chamber’s effort to secure new industry was illustrated in a quote from the president of a company that invested a million dollars in Michigan City: “When this company decided to abandon its old plants in Illinois and consolidate its efforts in a new plant, a score or more cities sought the industry. Of this number, but three got their story across right from a salesmanship standpoint, and Michigan City walked off with that order. And it was C.O.D. in spite of offers of free factory sites by some other cities. When it came to final negotiations, practically the entire town waited on us in a body. The delegation was composed of two judges, the leading bankers, merchants, manufacturers, physicians, the mayor and city officials and representatives of labor.”
Ernest R. Smith, author of the Nation’s Business article, commented in 1924: “So remarkable is the spirit of the community, so unusual the program, so inspiring the way in which the citizens of all classes and creeds stand behind their Chamber of Commerce, that one turns to cold figures assured that these will reveal how substantial have been the profits that the city gathered to itself by developing to the highest degree the physical and mental assets of the community.
“It is no surprise, therefore, to learn that between 1917 and 1922 the annual payroll jumped from $4 million to $10 million, the annual value of building permits from $117,000 to $2 1/2 million, the assessed valuation from $7 million to $19 million, and the bank resources from $4.8 million to over $8 million.”
He quoted a manufacturer familiar with the Michigan City situation at the time the eight men got together to organize the chamber: “In 1918 the city was absolutely without community spirit. The people would not work together. Now they have a common object. They decide what they want to do and then unite and do it. It took all of three years to bring this change about. There are still fossils without vision, but they may, in time, get the right viewpoint.”
Another author much impressed with Michigan City’s accomplishments in those years was Fred High, writing in The Rotarian of January 1924 He wrote: “Since (the Spaulding), they have’ built two more big hotels… and converted their city into an all-year-round health resort. One of the finest moving-picture theaters in northern Indiana was recently added to the attractions of Michigan City and it is significant that the working people subscribed for a large portion of the stock. A new $1,250,000 plant was recently built at Michigan City. Its output is mostly sold abroad so that, in this case, it was not so much traffic facilities which the company was seeking as it was a location where the community understood the meaning of cooperation. The official bulletin of the Pere Marquette Railroad mentions Michigan City as an example of what can be done through united community effort. But that is not the whole story.
“Besides transforming barren sand dunes into industrial sites; besides spurring the State of Indiana to appropriate $1 million for the conversion of barren wastes into a state park; besides building 30 miles of boulevards; and having building projects costing a total of $5 million, the people of Michigan City have gone to work to make theirs a great convention city. In 1922 they had 11 conventions; in 1923 they had 15, and an equal number have already been secured for 1924.”
Writer High concluded that “the spirit of service is infectious – nearly everyone in Michigan City has his share of it. And that is the real secret behind these achievements in a city of 25,000 population.”
That was the dramatic story of years in which a bleak situation in Michigan City was faced up to. Adversities were overcome. Achievements were notable. Things were turned around. And it all began, as the magazine article so well put it, when some “citizens with something in their hearts besides despair got together.”
Diana of the Dunes
A Tragic but Fascinating Character
Philosophers say the more things change the more they are the same – and so it is with streakers, the current crazies of a zany age.
Suddenly it’s the “in” thing to dash about in the altogether, startling or titillating sundry oglers. To the naked nuts, it’s a brand-new rage … a never-done-before kick.
Nonsense! Cavorting in the buff really is old stuff, as any Hoosier elder with a bright memory can tell you. A half-century ago, Indiana had a renowned streaker making gaudy headlines. They called her Diana, nude nymph of the dunes.
And for the benefit of others who may suffer delusions of first-ever grandeur, Diana also was a gung-ho women’s libber … a drop-out rebel against society … a flower child who fled to wilderness … and died there after a short life that wrote a tragic but fascinating story.
Diana really was Alice Fray, a Chicago doctor’s daughter who grew up in a comfortable home with a sister and two brothers, had a happy childhood, a splendid education – including European studies – and in time a good secretarial job.
Small, shapely and lithe, Alice loved nature and often came to Indiana to hike in then-wild and beautiful dune country east of Gary. About 1915, in her early 20s, she grew troubled, hating the city, the sham of society, male chauvinism.
Suddenly Miss Gray rebelled. No one is sure what triggered it – a shattering love affair, perhaps, or quarrel at home, or accumulated frustrations of fighting what then was an undisputed man’s world. In an early interview, Alice herself gave these few clues:
“I wanted a life of my own – a free life. The life of a salary earner in the cities is slavery, a constant fight to live. Here (in the dunes) life is so different. My salary when I worked was nothing extraordinary, but here I have lived all winter and summer on my last paycheck. I buy only bread and salt…”
Whatever her inner reasons, Alice Gray came to the dunes with only the clothes she wore, a glass, knife, spoon, blanket and two guns. For a few days the sky was her roof, the sand her bed. Then she found an abandoned fisherman’s shack and moved in, later fashioning some “furniture” of driftwood and adding a few utensils and philosophical books.
Alice had one winter of peace and privacy. The spring and summer of 1916 brought trouble, and “streaking” was her undoing.
Most mornings Alice hiked to a nearby bit of deserted beach, shed clothes and plunged into Lake Michigan, skinny-dipping with childish delight because she dearly loved to swim. Emerging, she disported nymph-like – or “streaked” if you prefer – on the beach until dry. Often she sun-bathed – a nude bronzed goddess.
Inevitably Miller fishermen soon found excuses to cluster off Alice’s beach each morning … and just as inevitably their wives got wise. One marched righteously to the “hussy’s” hermit shack to protest. Gun in hand, Alice warned her away.
The fishwife got revenge by tipping off Chicago papers. In no time, Alice’s retreat crawled with reporters. She talked with one, pleading to be understood and left alone. That story was sympathetic. The others, mostly made-up hokum, appalled shy, sensitive Miss Gray. They had her flitting sylph-like and naked through the woods and dale. They put words in her mouth, love affairs in her past.
And they tagged her with a name never thereafter shed – Diana of the Dunes.
Worse, this yellow journalism infested Diana’s dunes with peekers, prowlers and curiosity seekers who made life a hell of dodging and hiding. Gradually, however, the uproar subsided. World War I flamed and Diana, to her joy, was largely forgotten.
She still swam nude and “streaked” on the beach to dry. She roamed the dunes, studied nature, read, reflected – and guarded her privacy with guns and half-wild dogs.
To buy essentials, Diana sold wild berries. Her clothes (when she wore clothes) were crude but serviceable. She made occasional trips to Miller- and more rarely Gary – for food and library books. Among people, she was shy and reserved – never surly, mean or balmy. Her voice was pleasant and melodious, her manner gentle, her courtesy inbred.
World War I ended and 13 months later a new decade began. Contentedly alone and obscure, Diana had no hint that her fleeting years of relative happiness soon would end with a strange mating, unwanted violence and mysterious murder.
No one is quite sure how or exactly when Diana was wooed and won by Paul Wilson, a towering, gangly giant of prodigious strength, volcanic temper and possibly a prison background.
In any case, Paul began sharing Diana’s squatter shack in the dunes late in 1921 — a curious mating of opposites. She was small, lithe, darkhaired, cultured, well-educated, almost dainty despite their crude wild life. He was tall, angular, blond, rawboned, scantly schooled, rough mannered and easily angered.
Their love was strange, yet deep and enduring. Unwavering devotion later carried both through great trouble and travail.
How Paul came to Diana is still a mystery. So is his background. Many versions, none confirmed, have been offered. He was a Texas rattlesnake who read about Diana, fell in love from afar and came to the dunes to woo and win. Or he was an ex-convict holed up in a sand cave … or an industrial engineer who met Diana while camping and also chose to forsake society’s world…or a Michigan City ne’er-do-well with a knack for woodsy courting.
Whatever his origin, Paul Wilson (if that be his true name) was a great comfort to Diana. Tough, resourceful and handy with fists, tools or gun, he won them greater privacy, improved their shack and enlarged their income by fishing and making rustic furniture to sell.
Murder and chain-reaction violence destroyed this idyllic new life.
Early in June, 1922, dune hikers found the gruesome remains of a man who had been clubbed or strangled then half-cremated on the spot – not far from Diana’s retreat.
Flaring headlines spawned ugly rumors. Paul’s trigger temper was well known. So was his great strength, his jealousy, his dislike of strangers.
Hearing the rumors, Wilson and Diana confronted Eugene Frank, a special deputy hired to guard dunes cottages. A violet row ensued. Diana’s skull was fractured by a pistol butt and Paul was shot in the foot.
Police arrested both Wilson and Deputy Frank. Diana went to Gary’s Mercy Hospital, near death.
Next day, released on bond, Paul hobbled home to find their shack stripped of almost everything, including Diana’s books and writings. Bitterly he blamed Deputy Frank’s friends, but police said it could have been souvenir hunters, reporters or cheap thieves.
While Diana hovered near death, Paul next deepened the puzzling murder mystery by telling police a mad, gun-crazy hermit named Burke lived in the dunes and had visited them a time or two.
“He’s got one bad foot that leaves an unusual track – and I saw those footprints near the murder scene,” Paul concluded.
To prove sincerity, he helped police try to find the gimpy trail, but it was futile. By then, the scene had been thoroughly trampled by police, reporters, and morbid hordes.
Then Paul offered a Diana diary that described their activities in precise detail around the time of the murder.
All this merely complicated the mystery and raised new questions. Burke couldn’t be found. Could he have been the victim, slain by Paul? If not, who was the nameless seared corpse? Who killed him? Why?
The questions went unanswered because the body never was identified – although grisly Chicago reporters gave it a real college try. One midnight they reopened the grave and “borrowed” skull, jaw and teeth to try for a dental identification.
That, too, failed and police finally wrote the case off as unsolvable.
Ultimately Deputy Frank was stripped of police authority and the assault case against him was dropped. Two years later he fell off a horse and died of a broken neck.
Diana recovered after long hospitalization and, with Paul, tried anew to find peace in obscurity. It was a futile, pathetic struggle. Besides the new publicity, the talk and the dark suspicions which the murder and their fight with Frank had provoked, Diana and Paul had a new enemy – progress. Slowly but inexorably civilization was creeping toward their once-wild sanctuary in the dunes.
Diana’s last days were saddest of all:
In 1922, a Gary group headed by Sam Reck, bought 600 acres and prepared to create the fine home development which now is posh Ogden Dunes. Smack in the middle of it was Diana’s shabby shack.
At first they resisted, taking refuge in squatters’ rights. But Diana saw the inevitable end. “We must find a new sanctuary,” she said.
“I know just the place,” Paul replied. “There’s some wild, unpopulated country along the Nueces River in Texas. I’ve been there. We can go by boat – to the Illinois River, the Mississippi, the Gulf…”
They tried twice in small boats that year. Both voyages failed and Paul and Diana came back to winter again in their beloved dunes. Through the summer of 1923, they worked toward a third departure. A handy mechanic, Paul built a sturdier boat, added a topside cabin, an engine and storage lockers. Late in the fall they left. In November, Reck told newsmen they’d reached the Mississippi and all was going well.
Their boat, the Nueces III, apparently got as far as New Orleans. There, for reasons never clear, Paul and Diana changed their minds and came back to the dunes – probably because Diana’s health had been fragile and failing since her skull was cracked.
A quiet, prosaic summer and fall ensued. Paul fished and again built rustic furniture to sell. Occasionally Diana, clad in blue jeans and a man’s shirt, guided nature tours through the dunes. Although barely into her 30s, she looked wan and weak and old. But her spirit was bright, her voice cultured and melodious – and children especially loved her.
Came winter, a new year – and suddenly Diana was in the headlines a final time. The night of Feb. 8, 1925, a desperately worried Paul fetched a doctor to their hermit’s shack. It was too late. Wasted by uremic infection, Diana already was in coma. Near midnight, she died in Paul’s arms.
For Diana, there was one final frustration. She’d asked to be cremated, but no facilities were available. Paul offered to build his own pyre in the dunes and consign Diana to it. Instead, he was persuaded to bury her in Oak Hill Cemetery after orthodox services.
Paul didn’t see Diana buried. After chapel services, he broke down completely at her casket. Barely recovered, he was infuriated by a reporter, whipped out a gun and started shooting. Fortunately the slugs went wild and cops jugged Paul to cool off.
Released the next day, he returned to their dunes shack, moped around a few days, then packed up everything, put a torch to the legendary structure – and disappeared.
Five years later, a Paul Wilson came to state prison at Michigan City for a Porter county robbery. Diana’s Paul? No one can be sure. Some say the nude nymph of the dunes’ mate went alone to that Nueces river country in Texas and ultimately died there.
If alive, he’d be pushing 100 today.
In a curiously offbeat way, the Diana story does finally contrive a happy ending of sorts…because a girl who hungered so desperately in life for privacy and peaceful obscurity seems to at last have found it in death.
For 10 years, Diana’s grave in Gary’s Oak Hill Cemetery was scrupulously tended by a Miller woman who knew and admired her. Finally that stopped, probably because of illness or death.
Today the grave is overgrown and neglected. There’s no stone, and not even the cemetery’s oldest workers are sure of its location.
So at long last Diana evidently has found the precious privacy she had the rare courage to seek but the ill fortune never to find.
He Gave His Life for His Country
Michigan City’s Medal of Honor Recipient
Abijah Bigelow, whose story is told in a previous chapter of this publication, is the only Revolutionary War soldier with a direct connection to Michigan City.
That’s understandable, since settlers did not begin to make this their hometown until more than 50 years after the War for Independence was fought.
But in all of the nation’s wars after Michigan City was established, young men from the community saw action. Michigan City men died, suffered wounds, gave years of their lives, performed acts of gallantry, in the wars.
One Michigan City man, a teen-aged Marine, performed an act of battlefield heroism which cost him his life – and which made him the posthumous recipient of the nation’s highest award for military valor.
The Medal of Honor was presented posthumously to Marine Corps Private First Class Daniel D. Bruce, a Michigan City native who was killed in action in Vietnam at age 18.
President Richard M. Nixon made the presentation in Washington Feb. 16, 1971, to Bruce’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Dean Bruce.
The presentation cited Pfc. Bruce for “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty.”
He was honored for action in combat that saved the lives of three fellow Marines.
The citation said in part: “Early on the morning of March 1, 1969, he was on watch on his night defensive position at Fire Support Base Tomahawk in Quang Nam Province in Vietnam when he heard movements ahead of his station.
“An enemy explosive charge was thrown toward his position and he reacted instantly, catching the device and shouting to alert his companions.
“Realizing the danger to the adjacent positions he held the device to his body and attempted to carry it away from the vicinity of the entrenched Marines. As he moved away the charge detonated and he absorbed the explosion with his body.
“Pfc. Bruce’s indomitable courage, inspiring valor and self-devotion to duty, saved the lives of three of his fellow Marines and upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the U.S. Naval Service.
“He gallantly gave his life for his country.”
Daniel D. Bruce was born in Michigan City May 18, 1950. He entered Garfield Elementary School in 1955, attended Barker Junior High School, and was graduated from Elston Senior High School in 1968.
He enlisted in the Marine Reserves in Chicago May 20, 1968, and entered the regular Marine Corps July 17 that year. In September of 1968, he was graduated from recruit training at San Diego, Calif., and then was transferred to Camp Pendleton, where he completed individual combat training in November and basic infantry training in December.
On Jan. 1, 1969, he was promoted to private first class and later that month was ordered to Vietnam. He was assigned to duty as an antitank assault man with Headquarters and Service Co. of the lst Marine Division in Vietnam.
Other medals he had received were the Purple Heart, National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Service Medal with one Bronze Star, and the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal.
Pfc. Bruce was one of 12 American servicemen who died heroically in Vietnam named recipients of the Medal of Honor at the 1971 ceremony in the East Room of the White House.
He was only the second LaPorte County serviceman ever to be named a Medal of Honor recipient, according to records in the Library of Congress.
The other recipient was a Civil War soldier, Aaron Hudson. Library of Congress records show his home only as LaPorte County, noting that he was born in Kentucky and moved to Indiana at an early age. He was awarded the Medal of Honor June 17, 1865, “for the capture of the flag of the Worrill Grays in the state of Georgia.”
Pfc. Bruce was the second Indiana serviceman named a Medal of Honor recipient as a result of gallantry in the Vietnam War. The other was Sgt. Sammy L. Davis of Martinsville.
The first in a series of memorial services for the young Michigan City hero took place at the city council meeting March 2, 1971. Mayor Conrad S. Kominiarek presented a plaque to the parents and their other three children, naming the Medal of Honor recipient as an outstanding citizen of Michigan City.
Part of the text of the plaque reads: “This city joins the nation in paying tribute to one of its most gallant sons. While we grieve at his loss, we laud and honor the principles by which he lived and the love of his fellow man that made necessary the ultimate sacrifice…his own life.”
The council also unanimously adopted a resolution commemorating Pfc. Bruce.
On March 15, 1971, ceremonies at Barker Junior High School and Elston Senior High School honored the young man who had attended those schools.
A monument honoring Pfc. Bruce was dedicated at Washington Park – between the Coast Guard station and the Yacht Club near the marina – at the beginning of the 1975 Summer Festival observance. The monument was erected by the city as one of its American Bicentennial projects.
About 500 persons attended the July 4 dedication ceremony, honoring Pfc. Bruce and 31 other Michigan City servicemen killed in the Vietnam War. Marine Corps Brigadier Gen. Edward A. Wilcox gave the dedicatory address.
People From Our Past was written by Bob Kaser, with the exception of a narrative published by Harriet Martineau in 1837, an article about Daniel Webster written by Jaznes Landing, and the story of Diana of the Dunes, written by Al Spiers. Reference sources for the other articles included Great Lakes Indians, by William J. Kubiak, The Pottawattomie Indians of Southwestern Michigan, by Everett Claspy; Michigan City’s First Hundred Years, by Elizabeth M. Munger and a compilation of local historical material by Edna Kitchell, Michigan City Historian.
Moments to Remember: An encompassing title, especially when applied to the 150-year evolution of a community. From the time in the 1820s when the Michigan road was planned up to the present, Michigan City has been the scene of countless memorable moments. About some, much detail is recorded. Of others, only sketchy information is available. The moments to remember chosen for this publication are some which enthused, amused, sometimes bemused, citizens of the town. Many are ones which have occurred in modern times. They may stir the memories of those who lived through, even participated in, them. And to those who may turn to these publications – either for leisure reading or for serious research – in future years, it is hoped they will provide interesting and informative insights about the way we were.
The First Train
Competition with LaPorte
The war already was lost, but a battle was won when the railroad train first arrived in Michigan City 124 years ago.
By the time that historic Michigan Central locomotive chugged into town in 1852, Chicago had long since bested Michigan City and secured its place as Lake Michigan’s great metropolis.
But the train’s arrival – an event which ironically occurred with Chicago support – enabled Michigan City to maintain its role as LaPorte County’s leading community after a short-lived coup by plotting LaPorteans.
From early in the 19th century until the economic crash of 1837, there had been many proposals for railroads and even more for canals in Indiana.
According to a history of Michigan City written 68 years ago by Rollo Oglesbee and Albert Hale, “scarcely a canal was projected which did not have Michigan City for a terminal and hardly a railroad was drawn on the map without beginning or ending at Michigan City or without aiming to establish connections.
“Canals, turnpikes and railroads headed (to Michigan City) and nature herself seemed to smile on the enterprise, but man’s impetuous desire overcame his own ends and with the panic of 1837 most of these dreams vanished.”
After the depression, the railroad supplanted the canal in most proposals. By that time, a race between Michigan City and Chicago and another between Michigan City and LaPorte had become open contests.
Chicago was the first winner when the Illinois Central line entered that city in 1848.
“When once the Illinois Central became a fact,” the historian noted, “there remained only the gap between New Buffalo and Chicago to be filled and Chicago would lie on the main traveled road from east to west and the vast Mississippi region beyond.”
Local attention from 1848 to 1852, then, turned to the competition with LaPorte to determine which would become the principal Hoosier station for the through east-west commerce.
In May 1849, the Michigan Central line reached New Buffalo. Not long after that, the Michigan Southern Railroad arrived at LaPorte by way of South Bend.
Now the question became one of whether the east would be connected with Chicago by way of New Buffalo and Michigan City – or by way of LaPorte.
“LaPorte,” the history book records, “was envious of the growing importance of her neighbor and was willing to shut her eyes if, even by a process not quite within authority, a road could be built from her border direct into Chicago and without passing through Michigan City.”
Such a process was employed to enable the Michigan Southern Railroad to proceed from LaPorte to Chicago without passing through Michigan City. On Feb. 20, 1852, the first train reached Chicago from Toledo via the LaPorte route.
Michigan City fought back furiously. The city council had granted the Michigan Central Railroad authority to lay tracks on certain city streets. Outcries from LaPorte that the Southern had exclusive rights to enter Chicago and that other lines must use its roadbed were ignored.
Illinois Sen. Stephen Douglas and influential Chicagoans supported Michigan City and the Michigan Central.
In 1852, the first Michigan Central train arrived here from the east. That still left the problem of completing the necessary track from here to Chicago.
Someone recalled that an obscure line had received permission 20 years earlier permitting it to lay track in Northern Indiana. Its charter was dusted off and utilized for the Michigan Central to connect Michigan City with the Illinois Central line at Kensington.
On May 21, 1852, only three months after the supposed LaPorte victory, connection from Detroit and points east to Chicago via Michigan City became an established fact.
Campaigners and Presidents
Cheers and Tears in Michigan City
At the time of the nation’s 200th birthday, 38 men have served as President. Two of them have come to Michigan City. One was en route to his final resting place. His funeral train stopped in Michigan City 17 days after his assassination. The other was on railroad tour of the countryside in the third year of his first term. He would be assassinated 23 months later. The stories of the days the Lincoln funeral train and the McKinley touring train came to Michigan City are told on the following pages.
Several men seeking their party’s presidential nomination have come to Michigan City. One of them, Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, also was to be felled by an assassin – in California, six weeks after he spoke before a huge weekday-afternoon throng in front of the Superior Courthouse in Michigan City in 1968. Sen. Eugene McCarthy, also a seeker of the Democratic presidential nomination in 1968, made a campaign visit to Michigan City. He also was a speaker here on another occasion. Sen. Hubert H. Humphrey (later vice-president under Lyndon B. Johnson) came to Michigan City twice, although not during his campaigns for the presidential nomination or the presidency. Sen. Edmund S. Muskie was here two times – once when he was a presidential nomination aspirant in 1972. And in 1976, former California Gov. Ronald Reagan spoke in Michigan City prior to his Indiana primary contest with President Ford. He was accompanied by film star James Stewart. In 1912, Woodrow Wilson made a campaign stop in Michigan City during his successful campaign for the Presidency.
A Boy’s Encounter With History
‘In Utter Awe, He Stood and Stared’
It was raining in Michigan City on May 1, 1865.
But boys, like flowers, thrive on rain. And 10-year-old Martin was no exception.
He and his buddies all had been born in Germany and, with their parents, emigrated to the United States.
Although in this country only a half-year, the boys had found summer jobs helping farmers plant potatoes.
This first day of May, they were puddle-jumping their way to one of the farms and were about a mile outside Michigan City when they were stopped short by the sound of cannons booming.
Boys don’t always keep too well-posted on current events, least of all boys who are in a new country where they neither speak nor read the language.
So, to Martin, there was only one likely explanation for the booms:
“The Confederates are attacking Michigan City!”
Like Martin, his friends were not aware the Civil War had ended. They accepted his explanation and joined him in typical boyish reaction to the “danger.” They ran right for it.
To their probable chagrin, there were no grey-coated soldiers advancing along Franklin Street.
Instead, there were hundreds of somber, but obviously excited, local citizens dressed in their Sunday finest.
Martin and his pals followed the crowd – and found themselves at the Michigan Central railroad station.
There, to the boys puzzlement, people were patiently waiting in a long line to board a Monon train halted beneath successions of evergreen-decorated arches which had not been there the last time the boys came to the north end of town.
A curious boy is as restless as a chain smoker at a double-feature. The only solution, obviously, was to board the train and seek out the cause of the excitement.
So Martin got in line. When he reached the steps of the railroad car and started to ascend them, he was rebuffed by a uniformed guard.
“No kids allowed without parents,” he was told.
Now, telling a 10-year-old boy to stay out of somewhere is about as effective as asking a Soviet politician to cross his heart.
A few moments later an elderly couple boarded the train. The woman wore a huge hoop skirt which, unknown to her, concealed a little boy.
Once on the train, Martin emerged from his hiding place and trailed closely behind the couple. To the officials they passed, he was evidently their son.
Finally, after moments of suspenseful expectation, Martin came upon the source of the excitement.
He was just 10 years old and only six months in America, but Martin was immediately aware of the significant sight before him.
In utter awe, he stood and stared – and held up the long line of people.
Then the spell was broken effectively–Martin was grabbed by the seat of the pants and the collar, marched forcefully to the end of the train, and dumped into a sandburr patch.
As the little German immigrant glared back at the soldier on the train platform, he could little guess the events his future held in store.
But years later, when Martin Theodore Krueger grew up and served six terms as mayor of Michigan City and four terms as a state legislator, it’s highly likely that his thoughts often returned to that day – May 1, 1865 – when the train carrying the body of President Abraham Lincoln paused here on its 1,662 mile journey from Washington to Springfield, Illinois.
Eyewitness to Assassination
…and the Funeral Train Comes to Michigan City
In 1816 a boy named Abraham Lincoln came to Indiana from Kentucky with his mother, father, and older sister. Bicentennial researchers have learned that two dappled horses carried all the Lincolns’ possessions.
The family lived in a pole and brush shelter for the first year in Spencer County. Then a one-room log cabin was built. Tragedy struck in 1818 when Mrs. Lincoln died. Her husband later married Sarah Bush Johnston, a widow who had three children.
Young Abe Lincoln grew to be a tall, bony youth who wore deerskin caps and homemade trousers–which were always too short!
He was a reluctant farm hand. He preferred reading and talking–and would tell stories at great length. Yet, he attended school for less than one year during his entire life.
Lincoln grew up in Indiana and then at the age of 22 left the state in 1830–destined to become President of the United States.
* * *
Because her mother had been killed in a bizarre accident during a patriotic celebration on Franklin Street months before, a teen-age Michigan City girl was an eyewitness to the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.
And the girl, 18-year-old Harriet Sherman, was one of the official escort party which accompanied the body of President Lincoln from Michigan City to Chicago and Springfield.
Miss Sherman and her older sister, Nancy, were in their final years at Cleveland Female Seminary in 1865. The previous year, on July 4, their mother had been killed when she was struck in the heart by a sky rocket barb while standing on a balcony of a Franklin Street hotel. Harriet had been at her mother’s side when that tragic incident occurred.
The girls’ father was Dr. Mason G. Sherman, a Michigan City physician (and brother of Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman) who was serving as a surgeon with the 9th Regiment. Not wanting his daughters to spend their Easter vacation in Michigan City where they would be reminded of the 1864 family tragedy, he arranged for them to go to Washington for a vacation visit with their uncle and aunt – George and Rose Hartwell. The uncle was with the patent office.
Happiness prevailed in the nation’s capital, where the end of the Civil War was being celebrated. The Sherman sisters found the streets decorated with bunting. They watched a parade. And their uncle took them to a President’s reception, where they actually got to shake the hand of Mr. Lincoln.
One of the events scheduled for the big week was a performance of the play, Our American Cousin, at Ford’s Theater – with the President and Mrs. Lincoln as honored guests. And Harriet and Nancy Sherman also were to be in the audience that night, April 14, 1865, which was to become sadly historic.
Seventy-one years later, when she was an 89-year-old widow living at the Sheridan Beach Hotel in Michigan City, Miss Sherman (now Mrs. Harriet Van Pelt), still had a clear memory of that night in Ford’s Theater.
She and her sister had been excited about the play, she recalled, but even more so by the presence of the President. Her eyes seldom strayed from the flag-draped box occupied by Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln, she said. And she was looking that way when John Wilkes Booth stepped into the box.
“I thought it was some theater attendant,” she said. “The box was about 25 or 30 feet away, to the right of our seats. A moment later a shot was heard. I recall nothing of Maj. Rathbone’s grappling with Booth and being stabbed by the assassin, nor of Booth leaping to the stage from the front railing of the box, although these things happened. I remember only the President’s head on the shoulder of Mrs. Lincoln, and hearing someone say quietly, ‘Mr. Lincoln has been shot.’
“The curtain was rung down, which left the house in darkness for a moment. Everyone was confused. A sort of paralysis gripped the house. “I saw the President being carried out of the box. After he had been removed from the theater and taken across the street to a boarding house, the throngs made their way out of the theater, stunned. We took a carriage home and the next day returned to school.”
On May 1, President Lincoln’s funeral train stopped in Michigan City. It was toured by many grieving local citizens – among them, Harriet Sherman. She was one of an official escort party which stayed aboard the train when it left Michigan City for Chicago and its final stop Springfield, Ill.
* * *
Four years earlier, on Feb. 11, 1861, a Wabash Railroad train had carried President-elect Lincoln over the Indiana farmlands to his inauguration in Washington. The train drew into Indianapolis at sundown to the booming sounds of a 34-gun salute.
Gov. Oliver P. Morton headed the procession which led Lincoln through the streets of surging spectators. On the eve of the Civil War, Lincoln spoke these words to 20,000 Hoosiers:
“I appeal to you again to constantly bear in mind that not with politicians, not with Presidents, not with officeholders, but with you is the question: Shall the Union and shall the liberties of this country be preserved?”
His welcome in Indiana convinced Lincoln that he had the support of the people of this state in his efforts to preserve the Union.
Now, in 1865, that great task having been accomplished, another train came to Indiana -this one carrying the body of the slain President.
The railway car which carried President Lincoln’s remains from Washington to Springfield was considered a triumph of the car builder’s art. On the 1,662-mile funeral route, more than a million people saw and admired the handsome railway coach. Few of them were aware that it had been designed originally not as a funeral car, but as a private presidential car for Mr. Lincoln.
The idea of building a private car for the use of President Lincoln and his cabinet originated with the War Department. The 42-foot-long car contained three compartments, one of them a huge stateroom. Its appointments included a sofa 7 feet long on which the tall President might be comfortable. It also could be adjusted at night for sleeping – the forerunner of the berths later used in Pullman coaches.
Ironically, it is reported that the coach was constructed to be bullet-proof. Though informed of its readiness for use, Mr. Lincoln chose not to travel in the car. One story has it that he feared chiding by the press for pretentiousness if he made use of so elaborate a conveyance. (What would he think of Air Force One?)
After his death and his family’s decision that burial should be in Springfield, the War Department ordered that the coach be converted into a suitable funeral car.
In the center of the stateroom, a catafalque was hastily constructed. At the foot of the President’s casket was placed a smaller coffin, that of Willie Lincoln, the son who died in the White House in 1862. At Mrs. Lincoln’s request, the father and son were to be interred in a vault in Springfield. Mrs. Lincoln was too ill to make the funeral journey.
Work on the funeral car was completed and the car was moved across the Potomac River in the early morning of April 21, to the Washington railway station, and attached to the rear of the funeral train already in waiting. On the journey, the funeral car was second from the rear – the last car for use of family and officials.
The same day, the train moved westward on its sad mission. It went to Baltimore, Harrisburg, Philadelphia, Jersey City, New York, Albany, Buffalo, Cleveland, Columbus, and Indianapolis. Indiana villages, towns and cities along the funeral route were Richmond, Centerville, Cambridge City, Dublin, Lewisville, Coffin’s Station, Ogdens, Raysville, Knightstown, Charlottville, Greenfield, Cumberland, Zionsville, Whitestown, Lebanon, Thorntown, Clark’s Hill, Stockwell, Lafayette, Battle Ground, Reynolds, Francisville, Medaryville, Lucerne, San Pierre, LaCrosse, Michigan City, Lake and Gibbons.
One reporter in the funeral cortege described the scene at Lafayette at 3:35 a.m. on May 1: “The houses on each side of the railroad track are illuminated and, as elsewhere, badges of mourning and draped flags are displayed; bonfires are blazing and bells tolling; Mournful strains of music are heard, and the people are assembled at all the stations to view the train.”
* * *
The train arrived at Michigan City at 8:25 a.m. The Monon had brought it here; the Michigan Central would take it to Illinois.
The Indianapolis Daily Journal of May 3,1865, described the arrival in Michigan City on May 1. Rain which had been falling through the night had ceased. The reporter thought the change in weather was “in harmony with the warm hearts and fervent patriotism of the men and women of Michigan City.”
Here is how the occasion was described by Rev. E. D. Daniels, in his history of LaPorte County published in 1904:
“The passing of the funeral cortege bearing the remains of Lincoln back to his old home in Springfield was a triumphal funeral march, a sad ovation. Great preparations were made at Michigan City to receive the remains. The train had to wait there for some time for the arrival of the committee sent out from Chicago to meet it. The committee stood together forming a complete tableau as the generals in charge came forward to receive the funeral cortege. The officers in charge … were in full dress uniforms; the Chicago delegation was in black wearing heavy crepe on their arms. Arches had been erected in the streets. A pyramid composed of 36 school girls dressed in white… sang the national airs. A number of young girls had been selected to lay a cross of flowers on the casket. These girls wore long black skirts and white waists, and with uncovered heads they carried their offering to the funeral car where lay the remains of the martyred president. This cross was composed of trailing arbutus gathered from our native hills. Guards, who never moved, kept their watch over the mortal remains as the throngs of people passed along to drop a tear over the great heart which lay quiet there. Nor were the temporal needs of the people forgotten for the ladies of Michigan City served a breakfast in the New Albany and Chicago freight depot, many notable housewives devoting their time to its preparation, and using their best linen and silver. Do not such scenes bespeak a patriotism which is both profound and intense?”
From William T. Coggeshall’s book, The Journey of Abraham Lincoln, published in 1865, this account of the scene in Michigan City:
“At eight o’c1ock and twenty-five minutes, the train stopped at Michigan City, under a beautiful structure 12 feet wide, and the main columns 14 feet high. From these sprang a succession of arches in the Gothic style, 35 feet from the base to the summit. From the crowning central point was a staff with a draped national flag at half-mast. The arches were trimmed with white and black, and ornamented with evergreens and choice flowers. Numerous miniature flags fringed the curved edges, and portraits of the lamented dead were encircled with crepe. At the abutments and the ends of the main arch were the mottoes: ‘The purposes of the Almighty are perfect and must prevail.’ ‘Abraham Lincoln, the noblest martyr to freedom; sacred thy dust; hallowed thy resting place.’ On each side of the arch were the words ‘Abraham Lincoln,’ formed with sprigs of the arbor vitae, with the mottoes, ‘Our guiding star has fallen;’ ‘The nation mourns,’ and ‘Though dead he yet speaketh.’ Near by this combination of arches stood 16 young ladies dressed in white waists and black skirts, with black sashes. They sang Old Hundred, concluding with The Doxologv. Many persons were affected to tears. Large military and civil escorts were attentive and mournful listeners. Thirty-six young ladies occupied a tastefully-decorated platform, in white dresses with black scarfs. They held in their hands little flags. In their midst, and almost hidden in the folds of the national flag, was a lady representing the Genius of America. Meantime, guns were fired and the sublime strains of music filled the air. Miss Colfax, a niece of the Hon. Schuyler Colfax, and 15 other ladies entered the funeral car and laid flowers upon the coffin of the dead. At Michigan City, the funeral party was joined by Schuyler Colfax, Senator L. Trumbull, and a committee of a hundred citizens of Chicago.”
The Indianapolis Journal reporter referred to the decorated arches as “the handiwork of the ladies of Michigan City … most beautiful in execution and design.” He commented: “In the brief moment we have to describe this wonderful piece of beautiful mechanism, it is impossible to do it justice. We have only to say that the women of Michigan City have reared a monument to the moral worth of Abraham Lincoln more lasting and enduring, more solid and substantial, than the laurels of warriors or crowns of kings – a cross of solid flowers.”
A student and chronicler of Michigan City history, Phil T. Sprague, wrote in 1962: “The choice of trailing arbutus from our dunes for the Lincoln memorial cross and white fish from Lake Michigan to serve the funeral party for breakfast, were both selections of our best products to honor the occasion. Presented by the most charming young ladies of the community, appropriately attired, they marked recognition of the visit of the Lincoln Funeral Train as an outstanding, historic, if sad, event in the early life of the patriotic and enterprising Lake Michigan city on Trail Creek.”
The train bearing the body of the fallen President was here only briefly. But for 18-year-old Harriet Sherman … for 10-year-old Martin T. Krueger … and for the hundreds of local citizens who boarded the train, and who surveyed the scene surrounding it, those minutes of May 1, 1865, constituted community Moments to Remember.
A Hearty and Rousing Welcome
Hail to the Chief….. But Beware Pickpockets
A too-casual perusal of newspaper files could lead to the conclusion that Michigan City was incredibly blase about the only visit by a living President in the city’s first 140 years.
The President was William McKinley. The date of his stop in Michigan City was Oct. 17, 1899.
The casual reader could get the idea that the town was not bubbling over with anticipation if he simply looked at the newspaper published the day before the President came here.
There was only one reference on the front page of the Evening Dispatch of Oct. 16 to the big event to take place in Michigan City the following day – and it wasn’t exactly what you’d expect.
It was headed “A Warning,” and was a message to the citizenry from William Gallas, captain of police. Its text:
“I would remind our citizens of the town before President McKinley arrives in our city to fasten your doors and windows good when there is nobody left in the house, secure your valuables and when you assemble at the foot of Franklin Street conceal your money and watches well, so that pickpockets cannot get at them. I warn you in earnest because I know robbers will come and that a number of complaints will be made. Already a gang of thieves and pickpockets arrived here, smooth and slick. To show you how slick they are I will illustrate a case which a young man from Chicago experienced, who came here a few days ago, and told with bitter feeling that he started out to see the President. Knowing that there would be a number of pickpockets, he put a big revolver in his pocket to shoot the first man that touched him. But when he got out of the crowd his $64 and a fine gold watch were gone, amounting to more than $100, but he still has the revolver to shoot burglars with in the future. So I warn everyone to be on the lookout tomorrow.”
It seems belatedly significant in light of today’s extraordinary security precautions and considering the fact that President McKinley himself was killed by an assassin with a revolver in 1901 – that the police captain appeared not especially concerned about the young man’s gun. At any rate, that was the message to the people of Michigan City on page one of the newspaper the day before the president’s arrival.
But the casual reader would err if he concluded from that one surprising note that Michigan City did not regard McKinley’s visit as a momentous occasion. The local enthusiasm about the event, and the reception which the community accorded its honored guest, is best told in a succession of newspaper accounts. The first is from Oct. 13 – a front page Dispatch story headlined: “To Greet McKinley – Michigan City Will Do Itself Proud Tuesday – An Immense Crowd Will Hear and Cheer the President.” The story read:
“Michigan City will give President McKinley a hearty and rousing welcome on the occasion of his visit to the city next Tuesday afternoon and the chief executive will learn that there is nothing lacking in genuine Hoosier Hospitality.
“Steps were taken at a public meeting of citizens held last night at the council chambers to perfect the arrangements for the proper reception of the President. The meeting was presided over by Mayor Krueger and about 50 representative citizens were present. C.J. Robb acted as the secretary. Mayor Krueger and (State) Sen. Culbert made brief addresses, stating the object of the meeting, and upon motion of N.W. Bartholomew the chair appointed an executive committee of five to have charge of the entire affair. Mr. Krueger appointed Sen. Culbert, J.G. Mott, A.H. Leist, L.B. Ashton and J.E. Shultz.”
The story then lists members named to other committees – finance, decorations, and reception (Mayor Krueger, Sen. Culbert and Cong. E.D. Crumpacker), and continues:
“The general committee met this morning at 11 o’clock and viewed the grounds at the head of Franklin Street, where it is proposed that the reception will take place.
“The President’s train will stop with the rear of the last car at the eastern line of the street, and it is proposed that a small platform be erected on the tracks in the center of the street to which the President will be conducted and from which he will address the crowd.”
The story goes on to say that space nearest the platform would be reserved for children from the town’s public and parochial schools, “invited to attend as a body;” that a crowd of 10,000 to 15,000 was expected; that “business generally will be suspended and every able bodied person in town is expected to congregate on North Franklin Street for the occasion,” and that “all the surrounding towns have been advertised by the committee, and many farmers as well as LaPorte, Westville and Otis people are expected here to swell the crowd.” Franklin Street and the immediate neighborhood of the railroad depot was to be festively decorated. Three thousand flags and 500 yards of bunting were purchased.
* * *
Thus, the city prepared for an historic moment. And this is how it went, as told in an Oct. 17 story with the headline: “President Here Chief Executive Gets a Warm Welcome – Immense Crowd Gathers to Hear and See Him:”
“President McKinley arrived in Michigan City this afternoon at 5:30 o’clock via a special train on the Michigan Central and was greeted by an immense crowd of school children, G.A.R. veterans, and people generally. The north end of Franklin Street was alive with people, the crush being the greatest in the history of the town.
“The President was received with a salute of 21 guns fired from the top of Hoosier Slide and by the wild hurrahs of the immense crowd.
“The President when he appeared at the rear of the train was again applauded vigorously. He appeared to be in good health and spirit, and spoke in a clear, resounding voice.
“The President appeared on the platform and was introduced by Mayor Krueger. He made a three minute address, but people ten feet away could not hear a word he said. The President said he was glad to see the school children, who waved the flag they love and we all love and that meant so much to the people of the United States. He was also glad to see the laboring men there and to know that they were prosperous and happy. He thanked them again for their presence and closed with the introduction of two members of his cabinet Atty. Gen. Gregg and Secretary of War Long, who each bowed his thanks.
“At the conclusion of the address by Mr. McKinley the crowd cheered again and the train pulled out for Kalamazoo.”
The following items appeared in the story, under the heading, “Notes:”
“There were 32 men and a half dozen ladies, including Mrs. McKinley, in the party. The President’s wife appeared and was warmly received.
“The Ames Band discoursed music when the President’s train approached the station and also as it departed.
“The street from Michigan north was a mass of bunting and flags and looked very pretty.
“Mayor Krueger and Sen. Culbert, who served as the reception committee, came down from Chicago on the special train, and had an interesting conversation with the President.
“The special train was the finest ever seen in this city. It consisted of six Pullman cars elaborately finished and furnished and lighted by electricity.
“The Michigan Central furnished its service to the President complimentarily, and, in fact, all railroads do. The President’s swing around the circle embraces a journey of 7,000 miles and extended as far west as Fargo. John Fogarty brought the train through from Chicago and made the run in one hour and 15 minutes.
“The thousands of school children who lined the north side of the tracks protected by a strong line of G.A.R. veterans made a beautiful sight, and the rising generation were highly complimented by the members of the Presidential party.
“The Dispatch is a trifle delayed this evening in order to present a full account of this afternoon’s ceremonies.
“The attendance from outside the city was not so large as anticipated, still the crowd was immense and shows what Michigan City can do when she tries.
“The factories, schools and nearly all business houses in the city were closed for the occasion.
“Hoosier hospitality manifested itself in no uncertain manner in the reception accorded the President.”
* * *
The following day, Oct. 18, The Dispatch had more to say about the visit of President McKinley to Michigan City, and a report on his stop in Three Oaks. The Oct. 18 story was headlined “McKinley’s Visit -Aftermath of the Big Demonstration – Reception of the President in Three Oaks.” It read:
“The reception given President William McKinley last evening was the greatest demonstration of the kind that has taken place in the city in many years. People began to assemble at the depot grounds by 1:30 o’clock in the afternoon to secure themselves points of advantage and by 3 o’clock the entire space on Franklin Street from Lake Erie (railroad) office on the south side of the Monon tracks to the Michigan Central freight depot north of the main tracks of the Michigan Central was massed with people.
“Every boxcar in the vicinity was covered with humanity and scores of people were perched on the roofs of nearby buildings. When the information came that the Presidential party was delayed in Chicago, some of the crow temporarily scattered, but most of the people stood at their posts and there were others to take the places of those who had departed.
“The school children arrived early on the scene and were massed at the most desirable location – the easterly side of Franklin Street just north of the main tracks. There they waited for more than an hour.
“When the train bearing the presidential party rolled slowly into the depot ground at 5:27 o’clock the patient, expectant crowd sent up a prolonged cheer, which increased in volume when the rear of the observation car stopped at the east side of the street. Then the President, Cong. Crumpacker, Mayor Krueger and Sen. Culbert appeared on the rear platform. Fully a minute’s time elapsed before order was restored sufficiently to permit the chief executive to make his address. He spoke for three minutes and his brief address was devoid of politics or any reference to current issues. At the conclusion of his address the crowd broke out into renewed applause and surged around the rear of the car.
“Someone handed the President a bouquet. At this juncture occurred an incident which Mrs. Hannah Hollenbeck of Oakwood undoubtedly regards as the proudest of her life. President McKinley inquired one of the Grand Army men standing below him for Mrs. Hollenbeck. (The 75-year-old lady had sent a note to the President in Chicago telling him she had lived next door to the McKinley family in Niles, Ohio, had been a friend of the President’s mother, and had on occasion been his babysitter.)
” ‘Here she is,’ said one of the men who had the old lady in charge.
” ‘That’s all right; that’s all right,’ said the President as he leaned low over the railing in a vain endeavor to reach her hand. The four men with her lifted her almost to their shoulders and the President warmly shook her hand, at the same time saying:
” ‘How do you do? I am glad to see you! Glad to shake hands with anyone who was a friend of my mother.’
“He then removed his button-hole bouquet and gave it to Mrs. Hollenbeck.
“The crowd continued to shout and surge about the car. McKinley disappeared and reappeared time and again before the train finally resumed its trip, waving his handkerchief to the children and bowing right and left.
“The crush became so tense that at least three women fainted and some of the school children began to cry from flight, but fortunately no one was severely injured.
“None of the spectators knew that the President was to pass this city without speaking. When he left Chicago he did not want to make an address until his arrival at Kalamazoo but Mr. Crumpacker and the committee which went from this city prevailed upon him to speak a few words, for the sake of the children if for no one else. While the crowd was subjected to great inconvenience, it felt repaid for all the trouble in hearing and seeing the chief executive of the United States.”
The Oct. 18 story, too, had a section headed, “Notes.” They included:
“Michigan city did itself proud in its reception to the President.
“The train was held here 20 minutes while the engine took water and the cars were examined.’
“It was too bad that the train was delayed until dark, for many people on the edge of the crowd could not hear or see anything.
“The Presidential party said the Michigan City crowd was one of the largest seen on his journey, considering the size of the town. This is very flattering.
“Committees from Buchanan and Dowagiac were on the Presidential train seeking speeches at their places, but were unsuccessful, and the train only slowed up to let the committees off.
“It is no exaggeration to say that fully ten thousand people tried to see and hear the President. More than a thousand returned to their homes when they heard the train was late.
“Master Don J. Henry, son of H.W. Henry, the nurseryman, of LaPorte., personally presented Mr. McKinley during his stop in this city with a beautiful bouquet of Mrs. J.H. Long and Gen. Washington roses. He thanked them very kindly for them.
“Judge Crumpacker joined the reception committee at Chicago and came down with the special train. The congressman aided the committee materially in impressing the President with the necessity for making a speech here and to this fact are our people probably indebted for what was seen and heard of the President, for Mr. McKinley was about worn out and was anxious to rest all the way to Kalamazoo. When he saw the big crowd at the foot of the street, however, he brightened up and expressed his deep gratification upon the magnificent ovation accorded him.
“President McKinley was taken under the wing of E.K. Warren, the Three Oaks village president, when the train left Michigan City, and when the party reached Three Oaks a great crowd greeted the visitors. The President and his official family were escorted under a canopy of electric lights to the city park, where a pedestal has been constructed for the Dewey cannon and from which Mr. McKinley made a brief speech. He said:
” ‘We have had many beautiful receptions in our long journey through the great north, but I assure you that we have had none more beautiful or picturesque than the one you have given us at Three Oaks…’
“The walk from the train to the stand was lined with little girls in white waving the American flag. Three Oaks certainly did it self proud.”
* * *
At least two ironic notes linked the visits of the Lincoln funeral train and the McKinley touring train in Michigan City in 1865 and 1899…
Harriet Sherman, the 18-year-old Michigan City girl who was in Ford’s Theater and witnessed the assassination of President Lincoln, and who 17 days later was in the escort party which accompanied the President’s body from Michigan City to Springfield, Ill., described the terrible scene she had witnessed in Washington to a schoolmate at Cleveland Female Seminary, Ida Saxton. Five and half years later, in Canton, Ohio where she worked as a cashier in her father’s bank, Miss Saxton met a young attorney in that town, the recently-elected county prosecutor, William McKinley. They were married. Ida Saxton McKinley, now the nation’s First Lady, was introduced to the Michigan City crowd when the Presidential train stopped here in 1899. Less than two years later, Mrs. McKinley, to whom her young Michigan City friend had described the Lincoln assassination, herself was widowed when a gunman assassinated President McKinley.
The other ironic note: When the Lincoln funeral train came to Michigan City in 1865, 10-year-old Martin Krueger, too new to this country to fully comprehend the significance of the occasion, had sneaked aboard the train to see the body of the slain President. Thirty-four years later, as mayor of the town, Martin Krueger rode from Chicago on the McKinley train – and introduced the President of the United States to his fellow Michigan City citizens.
* * *
In the style of journalism, and intra-county competition, prevalent as the 19th Century came near its end, the Evening Dispatch carried this snippity, uppity item: “Only about a dozen LaPorte people came over to see the President. Patriotism is evidently not quoted very high among the county seat brethren.”
A close reading of The Dispatch in the day or two after the McKinley visit had attracted the immense crowd indicates that the police captain’s warning apparently was well heeded: No reports of homes burglarized or pockets picked. On the contrary, the only “incident” reported (other than fainting women and frightened children) was a happy one: “Carl A. Gutschow lost a pair of spectacles in the crowd and in the evening found them on the ground undisturbed. He was fortunate.”
Indeed. It doesn’t say whether Mr. Gutschow lost his spectacles before he had seen the President. But even if he did, it nonetheless undoubtedly was for him – as for about 10,000 other persons – an experience which rates as true Michigan City Moments to Remember.
Snow Above the Window Sill
‘Occasional Flurries’ Become 1958 Super-Storm
The famous super-storm which hit Michigan City on the day after Valentine’s Day in 1958 left residents in snow up to their hearts.
Saturday, Feb. 15, 1958, started out pretty much like any mid-February Saturday in Michigan City. There was nearly a foot of accumulated snow on the ground, an inch of which had fallen Friday night.
The weather forecast Saturday morning called for more of the near-zero cold which had prevailed here for a week. There was a chance, the weatherman added, of occasional snow flurries. Early Saturday morning, the snow began to f all. It was obvious that “flurries” was hardly the word to describe it. But nobody suspected in those early hours how much snow was going to fall … and fall … and fall.
By the time some persons who were away from their homes began to realize the severity of the storm, it already was too late for many of them to do much about it – except put down their heads and start walking.
Vehicular traffic came to an abrupt halt by late Saturday night. Cabs were forced to stop running at 10:30. Cars dead-ended in drifts.
The city’s six pieces of snow equipment went into action-but they were no match for the snow being dumped on the town. Before long three were out of commission.
Snow continued to pile atop snow, and the effects of the storm continued to – pardon the expression – snowball.
The Rainbow Girls’ formal dance at the Masonic Temple turned into a “slumber party” for 30 stranded youngsters and their chaperones. The Spaulding Hotel rented 45 rooms Saturday night between midnight and 6 a.m. to persons who found themselves stranded downtown.
By 6 Sunday morning, the city’s snowbound state was apparent to everyone, except persons who had retired Saturday night and hadn’t yet had their rude awakening.
Mayor Francis G. Fedder set up emergency headquarters with Central Fire Station as the control center.
Seeking snow removal assistance, Mayor Fedder telephoned, and woke up, Gov. Harold Handley.
Those persons who had retired Saturday night unaware of the storm’s scope were fast becoming aware.
“I came into the living room and saw my Dad standing by the picture window,” one recalled. ‘Aren’t we going to church?’ I asked him. He just turned and gave me a funny look. Then I went to the window and saw why. The snow was above the window sill level. It didn’t seem possible.”
It soon became apparent that the Michigan City area had been the sole target of the freakish snowstorm.
When Mayor Fedder called the city controller of Gary to seek help, the initial reply was: “You’ve got to be kidding. The sun’s shining here-we have no snow.”
Assured that Fedder wasn’t kidding, the Gary official headed a delegation of men and 16 pieces of emergency equipment. They got to the Pine Cutoff quickly enough-but from there were able to proceed only with the snow equipment carving the way through the mountainous drifts.
Fire Chief Clem Noveroske and City Engineer John Kelley directed digging-out operations involving more than 65 pieces of heavy equipment rushed to Michigan City by other communities in response to Mayor Fedder’s SOS.
Citizens joined city employees and the volunteers from elsewhere in undertaking the overwhelming task of clearing the clogged city of more than four feet of snow.
Zero temperatures and winds of 30 to 35 miles an hour hampered their efforts. And the forecast wasn’t exactly cheered: More snow!
Seven telephone operators from South Bend were rushed here as the snowstorm became the talk of the town. Six thousand outgoing long distance calls – five times more than normal – were recorded by the telephone office on Sunday. Local calls also reached an abnormal peak. Waits of 10 minutes for a dial tone were not uncommon.
Newspapers, magazine and television reporters from “the outside world” mushed their way into Michigan City to cover the story of the super-storm.
Monday was a day for digging, or reflecting, and even of occasional cussing. Many industries were closed. So were schools and some stores. Radio station WIMS, which had not been able to get on the air until noon Sunday, had made up for it by continuous broadcasting since that hour. A short-staffed News-Dispatch published Monday minus a women’s page or neighbor’s page, but with a large (pre-scheduled) ad on page 3 suggesting that the time had come to start thinking of buying a power lawnmower.
The front page of that Feb. 17 paper carried a picture of Mayor Fedder – tired, unshaven, but showing he had (as, indeed, had most local citizens) retained his good humor. A button on his lapel read: “RELAX!”
By Tuesday, there was some basis for local “relaxation.” Ninety per cent of the city’s streets had been cleared for one-lane traffic.
But the crisis had moved to outlying areas. Snowdrifts – some as high as eight feet – imprisoned many rural residents in their homes.
Aid finally arrived on Thursday. Gov. Handley declared LaPorte County and part of Porter County a disaster area. The National Guard was mobilized. Helicopters – two had even been sent from Fort Riley, Kansas – rescued persons who needed medical treatment or otherwise required moving. Supplies were dropped to others. Surrounding states sent additional equipment.
Emergency operations in Michigan City finally ended at 6 p.m. Feb. 22-nearly one week to the hour from the time the snow had started. The storm had cost the city $35,000-but could have cost much more. Chicago, Hammond, Gary, South Bend, Lake County, and Berrien County, Mich., asked no pay for emergency equipment which had been dispatched here.
Things were returning to normal–well, almost normal. Sightseers came to look at the piles of snow which had been trucked to Washington Park. An estimated 10,000 cars joined in the gigantic traffic jam. Schools resumed classes on Feb. 24. Temperatures rose into the thawing 50s.
Except for the snow piles in the park, which would not disappear completely until spring, the Big Snow of 1958 was at last a memory.
118,536,633 Tons of Snow
A 1967 Storm…and Assault on Supermarkets
It began with springlike weather-temperatures in the 60s. It ended with the mercury at 16 below, the coldest February reading on record.
And in between, there was a full-fledged blizzard, an accumulation of more than 30 inches of snow, and a variety of weather-related drama that ranged from mercy errands to a panicky rush on grocery stores.
It happened in 1967.
The near-balmy weather was drummed out of the picture by a thunderstorm the night of Jan. 25 which was accompanied by tornado warnings.
The next morning, six inches of snow fell. Nearly all schools in LaPorte, Porter and Berrien counties were closed. Snow continued through the day and into the night–blown by 40 mile-an-hour winds into drifts higher than eight feet in places.
On Thursday, Jan. 27, schools and many factories and businesses were closed. Meetings were canceled. Basketball games were rescheduled. Funerals were postponed. The snow depth had passed 20 inches. Mayor Randall C. Miller advised citizens to stay home. Motels were filled beyond capacity with stranded travelers. Vehicles were abandoned.
A home on U.S. 12 burned to the ground because Coolspring Twp. firemen couldn’t get to it. In Michigan City, the fire chief advised residents to attach a garden hose to an indoor faucet–just in case.
Public transportation was coming to a near standstill. A South Shore train due here from Chicago at 7:15 finally arrived at 11:45. Several school buses taking children home after classes had been dismissed because of the snow became stalled. A Navy surplus tow truck was used to rescue the buses, and a jeep to rescue the passengers. State prison inmates were kept in their cells. Radio station WIMS stayed on the air all night – personnel were stranded there, anyway – to broadcast weather information and emergency announcements.
News-Dispatch sports editor Bill Redfield started walking to work at 4:30 a.m. and got a ride partway in a squad car. Enough newspaper employees made it – nearly all of them by walking – to get out a reduced edition.
By Friday, policemen were having to respond on foot to many calls. Answering what proved to be a false alarm, three fire trucks got stuck and had to be dug out by firemen.
Many people were stranded, particularly in rural areas, and emphasis was placed on emergency deliveries of food, fuel and medicine. National Guard and state police helicopters, Army personnel carriers and other military and commercial heavy equipment were employed. Kankakee Twp. firemen mushed by jeep as far as they could to get food to a woman and her 11 children marooned in their home on county Road 325E-then completed the errand by toboggan. The toll road was closed, nearly all county roads were considered impassable, and even mail deliveries had been halted.
By Monday – 27 inches of snow having been measured – some movement of people and vehicles resumed. Stores did a brisk business on snow tires; repair shops got a lot of clutch, transmission and muffler work, and people rushed to the stores to replenish food supplies.
On Tuesday, forecasts of a new storm prompted Mayor Miller to suggest that residents stock up on provisions. The crowds that converged on supermarket parking lots represented a scene not unlike the beach assaults in a John Wayne war movie.
Cart-to-cart traffic developed in food stores. Supplies of eggs, bread and milk were gobbled up. One store manager said he ran out of bread, frozen bread, rolls, Bisquick and flour, and then people started buying pancake flour.
“I saw people standing around with tears in their eyes when they couldn’t find any Bisquick, said one manager.
At one store, an employee observed shoppers taking milk out of the carts of other shoppers.
There also was heavy traffic at the meat counters, and frozen foods and ready-to-mix foods went fast.
At least one store even sold out of toilet tissue.
And one woman, apparently not as worried about the storm situation as others, left the store – after a long wait in line – carrying rubber plants under each arm.
Another half-inch of snow had fallen Feb. 1, and a final four inches was added on Feb. 5. The total cost in LaPorte County of road-clearing operations was put at $272,977.
Schools were closed for 6 1/2 days by the stormy weather–a day and a half longer than they had been during the February, 1958 snows.
The siege caused some citizens to – pardon the expression – lose their cool. Mayor Miller alternated with Street Supt. Larry Wiseman in fielding more than a thousand phone calls. He said he was told by one irate citizen: “If you don’t get my street open, I’ll call the mayor!”
A guy with a calculator and nothing better to do figured that the storms had deposited 118,536,633 tons of snow on Michigan City.
It had, indeed, been a heavy scene.
Other Weather to Remember
The stories of the 1909 tornado and the 1958 and 1967 big snows reflect three of the more memorable weather occurrences in Michigan City history.
There are many more, of course. A full book could be devoted to “weather moments to remember.”
A tornado which raged through the Michigan City area March 12, 1976, caused one death, seriously injured three persons, and left more than a million dollars in property damage. About three dozen homes were damaged or destroyed in LaPorte County.
Severe storms which coincided with the high level of Lake Michigan in 1929 and 1930 resulted in considerable damage to the shoreline and residences. The storm of 1929 covered the yacht basin shore with debris. The spring of 1931 found the beach and basin shore covered with seaweed, driftwood and timber. In excess of a thousand loads of debris were removed from the basin shore alone. The accompanying picture shows the Heisman dock, which had been submerged by the high water of ’29 and reappeared as the water receded the following year.
There also was a great storm on Lake Michigan in 1885.
A Twister, Bolts, and Tidal Waves
Three Destructive Minutes in 1909
The most destructive three minutes in Michigan City weather history occurred April 29, 1909, when a tornado swooped down on the city’s southwest area.
It was the crowning blow, so to speak, of a bizarre day in which lightning bolts and tidal waves also made local news.
The funnel-shaped cloud made its appearance above the lake hills shortly after 7 p.m. and zeroed in on the Southwest Side.
Before anyone could hard-boil an egg, something it’s doubtful that anyone did, the twister had completed its destructive binge and departed.
Behind, it left thousands of dollars in damage – and a 900-foot gap in the Indiana State Prison’s west wall.
As the Michigan City News summed it all up in its next-day headline: “TERRIFIC WIND STORM TORE THINGS IN GENERAL.”
That it did. The tornado disrupted communications; twisted, smashed and unroofed buildings; uprooted trees, and generally rearranged the neighborhood’s appearance.
Unhappily for the state, the tornado chose to alight at a point where the prison wall, 24 feet high, blocked its path.
That obstacle removed, the twister devoted several seconds to effecting various other architectural innovations at the prison. Gone with the wind were a dozen of the institution’s brick smokestacks. Borrowing the tops of two boxcars as its tools, the tornado revised the foundation of the north cellhouse. One of the boxcars became a battering ram, moved 200 feet on its tracks by a twister and dashed into a newly-built east gate.
Outside the prison wall – or what had been the prison wall – the storm continued its spree. It tore into several industries, including the Ford and Johnson Co., Reliance Co. and Sterling Co., indiscriminately plucking roofs, chimneys and walls.
At St. Stanislaus Cemetery, a storehouse and casket-lowering machine owned by A.G. Ott were given 100-foot rides. A barn owned by George Hyska on Wabash Street was moved from the rear yard to the middle of the street. Charles Kintzele’s barn at Greenwood and Franklin was lifted from its foundation.
A home at 2914 Franklin St. lost its rear porch. Windows were removed from Gus Erickson’s grocery store and the Eagle Bakery, both on S. Franklin Street, and a corner of a roof was torn from a house at 502 Cleveland Ave. Two chimneys and a barn were knocked down at 2105 Ohio St.
A street car motorman on Franklin Street Car No. 9 reported wind hit the car so fiercely it lifted the wheels on one side from the rail. With wires down, communications were cut off and the streetcars and South Shore trains were delayed.
But it was at the prison that things were really popping.
The warden, a man named Reid, was quite perceptive, according to the News’ account. After studying the 900-foot opening in his wall, he “at once realized the seriousness of the situation and knew it would be useless to take the prisoners from their cells with nothing on the west to meet their gaze but a stretch of open country…”
At midnight, the warden finally got through to Gov. Marshall. The governor immediately called out a national guard company from South Bend to stand guard at the king-size security crack. A Plymouth unit later arrived.
The tornado highlighted – but did not monopolize – the area’s freakish weather that day.
The day had begun with electrical storms and heavy rains. A lightning bolt shot down the chimney of a farm home two miles south of Waterford and killed a man and wife. In Michigan City, a bolt similarly entered a house at 402 Cloud St., missing a baby and its mother by inches.
Some of the more illuminating observations made by the Michigan City Evening News in its coverage of the city’s April 29, 1909, tornado:
“A barn belonging to Ernest Newman at 1802 W. 10th St. was torn to pieces by the storm. Two setting hens that were on duty had the scare of their lives. One sustained a broken leg and the other one is still setting on 12 guaranteed eggs.
“Warden Reid is very thankful that King Storm picked out the hour that he did for his work. Many others (prison guards included) are also rejoicing with the warden that the blow did not occur while the prisoners were in the factories. It’s dollars to doughnuts that there would have been as merry a time in the vicinity of the prison as one would care to witness.
“All things considered, the prisoners took the affair very cooly. With the roof shaking over their heads and the walls trembling at their sides they were certainly in a pretty tight place for a few seconds. They were no doubt frightened too badly for utterance and when they became calm it was of no use to let out an outburst.
“The courthouse fared well and all concerned are thankful that it wasn’t in the tornado zone.
“Residents of the tornado zone had the scare of their lives during the storm. Many a house seemed to be on its last pegs. The danger was soon over, but not all spent a restful night.”
But perhaps the best comment of all was a classified ad that insurance agent William Ohming was running at the time in the News:
“The wise will avail themselves of protection against loss by tornado or windstorm insurance.”
* * *
Hardly had the tornado faded from sight when a Lake Michigan tidal wave hit Michigan City and New Buffalo.
Effects of the wave were evident the entire length of the Michigan City channel. The excursion steamer Theodore Roosevelt, wintered at the foot of Seventh Street, shot upward and threatened to break from its moorings. The water level receded, though, almost as quickly as it had risen.
At New Buffalo, where the level ascended an estimated eight feet, a boathouse caretaker had a nerve-shattering experience. The tidal wave hit just as he was undressing for bed, lifted the house from its foundation, rolled it over several times and carried it about four blocks. The semi-conscious caretaker was found later, unhurt but bewildered.
A cottage was moved two blocks by the Wave, a highway crossing bridge about four blocks from the mouth of the river was washed out, and a bathhouse on the New Buffalo beach was – according to a newspaper article – “carried around a hill and into the marsh country.”
The weirdsville weather presented a violent break in what was a fairly peaceful time in Michigan City near the end of the first decade of the 20th Century.
Chief issue in town was whether the city would vote wet or dry in an upcoming local option election. Wet won. Men’s suits sold for $10 to $25. At the Reliance Clothing Store, 809 Franklin St., a sale featured boys’ suits “up to $3.50” on sale for $1.95. Ladies’ spring suits (Paris copies) were marked down from $30 to $19.48.
The Monarch Cigar Co. of St. Louis was looking for a Michigan City representative – at $10 a week and expenses.
The Vaudette Theatre, “Michigan City’s Five Cent Showcase of Quality,” was offering The Lost Sheep -“Picturing a young girl’s infatuation for a wealthy rogue, her sad awakening and return to the fold.”
A hypnotism act, The Flints, was playing at the Grand Opera House, which advertised “ladies free on Monday nights under usual conditions.”
A “C” Street resident was selling Montana mining shares … Teddy Roosevelt was chasing lions in British East Africa … trains were running regularly from Michigan City to LaPorte, Rolling Prairie, Hudson Lake, South Bend and “all intermediate stations,” with streetcars departing every 7 1/2 minutes for Mishawaka … the Monon had two passenger trains leaving daily, one for Indianapolis, Louisville and Cincinnati, and the other for Monon.
On the sports scene, the Cubs and Tigers were leading the major league pennant races and the Michigan City Grays were preparing to open their season against New Carlisle.
Woodson and Willits’ Drug Store urged its customers to buy some “root juice,” and advertised a testimonial by an anonymous woman who revealed that a few doses of the stuff had cured her “back pains kidney trouble, poor eyesight, dizzy spells, cold feet, poor circulation, tired and rundown feeling, upset stomach, side pains, frequent headaches, unsightly complexion and rings under the eyes.”
An aftermath to the day’s big storm occurred when several South Side residents complained to City Judge W. H. Kenefick that a Wabash Street woman was permitting her cows to run at large. Seeking shelter from the storm, the complaints charged, the animals, had trampled flower gardens on Greenwood Avenue.
Such was Michigan City on April 29, 1909, the date April showers brought a tornado and a tidal wave.
A collective sigh of relief on the part of city citizens undoubtedly followed the tornado’s departure.
“Surely,” the drenched residents mumbled to themselves, “we’ve had our quota of rain for awhile.”
They were right. The next day, April 30, it snowed.
The seven-story Spaulding Hotel, a downtown landmark and hub of Michigan City’s social life for more than 40 years, closed on April 18, 1966.
Paradoxically, the hotel – which survived the depression years of the 1930s – closed at a time when Michigan City’s economy was at its highest peak in history.
The closing displaced some permanent residents, businesses, the Chamber of Commerce, and local service clubs, which had been meeting in the hotel for many years. Sixty hotel employees lost their jobs.
The Spaulding, tallest building in Michigan City and a facility supported by the subscriptions of local residents, was the scene of much community history and tradition. It was headquarters for the Miss Indiana Pageant and social and civic events. Leading state and national political leaders and other dignitaries made the Spaulding their homes when visiting here.
When gambling flourished in Michigan City during the late 1930s, the hotel basement was a busy casino.
Back in 1921, a campaign was organized to build the hotel. More than $300,000 was subscribed. The hotel flourished. Investors got back their money and dividends.
Ownership of the hotel changed hands many times in its more than four decades of operation. Since its closing in 1966, there have been several proposals to reopen the building, but none has proved tangible.
A State Title: “How Sweet It Is!”
1966 Red Devils Bring City Championship
If there has been a happier, prouder, more memorable community-unifying moment in Michigan City history, it went unrecorded.
The moment came the night of March 19, 1966, when the final buzzer sounded at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis and the scoreboard read:
MICHIGAN CITY – 63
INDIANAPOLIS TECH – 52
Coach Doug Adams’ Elston High School Red Devils had become the state basketball champions!
The victory in the big game was the 20th straight for the 1965-66 Red Devil team. The Devils, who had been rated fourth and fifth in the state wire service polls before the tournament began, finished with a 26-3 record.
As assistant coach Al Whitlow so eloquently summarized the Devils’ season: “How sweet it is!”
The crowd at the Butler University gym had totaled just under 15,000. And almost that many fans were on hand to greet the triumphant Red Devils when they returned home Sunday. The coaches, players and cheerleaders rode on fire trucks in a parade to Ames Field, where a joyous celebration took place.
Players on the championship team included Rob McFarland, Jim Cadwell, Larry Gipson, O’Neil Simmons, Terry Morse, Dennis Krueger, Stan Farmer, Sam Garrett, Mike Adams, Harold Kennedy, Fred LaBorn and Cal George. Cadwell, who led Devil scoring in the title game with 21 points, also was named recipient of the coveted Trester Award.
The Red Devils began their trail to the state title by winning their 15th straight sectional tourney crown Feb. 26 at the Elston gym. In sectional competition, they defeated St. Mary’s, 97-50; LaPorte, 72-51, and South Central, 88-49.
The following week, the Devils finally ended a jinx-winning their first regional tournament in 31 years. They did it at Elkhart, where they whipped the Elkhart Blue Blazers (one of the three teams that had beaten the Devils during the season), 74-43, and South Bend Central (rated No. 1 in the state by United Press International), 79-72.
The Devil coaches and players got a heroes’ reception when they returned home that night. An elderly woman stood outside her home on U.S. 35 as the team buses passed, waving a handmade congratulatory sign and blinking a flashlight on and off. Others along the route waved, or otherwise signaled, their appreciation-and when the contingent reached the Elston auditorium at 11:30, they found 3,000 persons had ignored a snowstorm to attend an impromptu pep rally.
The state of ecstasy which prevailed then approached delirium by the next Saturday-when the Devils moved from Sweet 16 to Final Four status. At the Fort Wayne semistate, they defeated Kokomo, 74-66, rebounding from a 10-point deficit, and then added another trophy by besting Anderson (the Associated Press selection to win the state), 90-81.
The team didn’t get back to town that time until almost 1:30 a.m. – but there were more than 5,000 fans happily celebrating at the gym.
The cry in Michigan City became, “Hey! Hey! All the Way!” Those words were used to separate stories in the newspaper. They turned up on all kinds of signs – homemade and commercially printed. Messages projecting the same sentiment were in evidence everywhere – in public and parochial schools, business places, marquees, on autos, and in windows of houses. A sign in front of St. John’s United Church of Christ read: “Contrary to our normal policy, we too are backing the Devils.”
Doug Adams, who was to become the Indiana and national high school coach of the year, led his talent-laden team to Indianapolis for the climactic day of play.
In the afternoon game, the Devils socked it to East Chicago Washington, 81-64. That set the stage for the nighttime showdown with Indianapolis Tech, which had eliminated pesky Cloverdale, 58-51.
Tech led at the first quarter break, 17-15. At halftime, it was 30-30. Fingernails were getting shorter in the Michigan City cheering section at Hinkle, and back home where thousands of fans followed the game by radio or TV.
Adams said he told the Devils they would have to get aggressive on the backboards in the second half. They got his message. In the third period, Elston out rebounded Indianapolis, 20-7, and gained a 48-38 lead. Tech’s famed press gave the Devils some problems for a brief time in the final period – but nothing the determined, title bound Elston team couldn’t handle.
When the buzzer made it official, Doug Adams got a happy kiss from his wife, Betty, and Devil players and boosters at Hinkle and at home were jubilant.
In Michigan City, whistles, sirens, car horns, firecrackers and other noisemakers began sounding after the end of the championship game. People who had been watching the game on television or listening on radio left their homes and either headed downtown – where a traffic jam soon developed – or shouted to their neighbors. Children waved sparklers, porch lights flicked on and off, and in dozens of other ways the stay-at-home Devil supporters made their enthusiasm evident.
There was a day off school Monday, of course. There were speeches and proclamations. Cong. John Brademas recognized the Devils’ achievement on the floor of Congress. Fans re-played the game, savoring its outcome, again and again. When the Devils took the floor for the first game of the next season, they received an ovation from not only their fans, but from the fans in the visitors’ section and members of the opposing team.
As Whitlow had said, “How sweet it is! ” Memories fade, even of sweet moments, but a high school basketball championship is something super-special in Indiana. A decade later, fans in the Elston gym glance at the west wall, at the life-size replicas of the 1965-66 Devil team, and they remember very well.
Loren Tate, the sports editor of the Hammond Times, had written after the ’66 title game:
“If you were going to build a perfect high school basketball team, what is there about Michigan City that you would change?”
Looking at those replicas, recalling that exciting team – which averaged nearly 19 points a game – the local fans would answer Tate’s question: “Nothing … absolutely nothing.”
The super statistics:
|Michigan City Player
|Inpls. Tech Player||FG||FT||FTM||PF|
15, 30, 48, 63
17, 30, 39, 52
John Fee, Monticello, Homer Owens, Carlos
Michigan City 20 of 48 for 41.7 pct.
Inpls. Tech 19 of 64 for 29.7 pct.
Michigan City 41
Inpls. Tech 26
Michigan City 20
Inpls. Tech 12
Michigan City: All-American City
The year 1966 saw Michigan City gain double recognition of major note.
Already the toast of Indiana, thanks to the basketball prowess of the Elston Red Devils, the town became an All-America City on April 8.
Michigan City, cited by Look Magazine and the National Municipal League for the quality of its community life – particularly as evidenced by citizen action programs – was one of 13 All-America Cities chosen from an original field of 142 entries.
President Lyndon B. Johnson wired his congratulations and lauded the city for its “excellent example of citizen effort and interest in municipal affairs.” Michigan Gov. George Romney, speaker at a May 13 banquet at which formal presentation of the award was made, added his praise.
The Summers of War
The Fourth of July, 1976, the milestone 200th year of America’s independence, comes 30 years after the community’s return to peacetime conditions following five fateful war years. What follows are brief samples of how it was in the community on Independence Day in the World War II years.
War was five months and three days away on the Fourth of July, 1941. But military preparedness was under way – a newspaper story reported that 238 local youths who had turned 21 since Oct. 16 had been registered under the Selective Service Act. An ad promoting the USO (local headquarters for which was the Spaulding Hotel) asked: “Where will your boy spend his leave?” The price of milk went up a penny – to 13 cents for a quart.
On the eve of the Fourth of July in 1942, the Indiana State Prison conducted a 10-minute test blackout, and local air raid wardens were making plans for a community-wide blackout. Michigan City residents observed their first wartime Fourth of July since 1918, as a page one News-Dispatch story said, “with the determination that they shall preserve the independence which our forefathers won for us 166 years ago.” Tires were rationed and a 40-mile-an-hour speed limit was in effect.
Independence Day in 1943 found rationing of meat, butter, fats, cheese and coffee. Headlines told of a new U.S. offensive in the Pacific. Pullman-Standard sought workers at its railroad car plant here, promising “at least a 45-hour week.” Groceries featured bread for a dime a loaf and 10 pounds of potatoes for 55 cents. The OPA office warned that motorists would face arrest if they attempted long trips on gasoline rations. In the three-day holiday, 65,000 cars were counted at Washington Park. Lake Michigan was at its highest level since 1929.
The Fourth of July weekend in 1944 found Art Kassel’s band at the Oasis Ballroom, with special rates for servicemen. All available rooms at the Spaulding, Warren, Milner and Sheridan Beach hotels were taken. News from the war fronts was encouraging, and the Municipal Band’s concert selections included There’s Something About a Soldier.
The end of the war was near when Michigan City celebrated the Fourth in 1945. A Lions Club musical show, Flying High, was presented twice at the Tivoli Theater and sold $384,000 in war bonds. Washington Park had a busy weekend, and South Shore passenger traffic from Chicago to Dunes State Park was the heaviest ever.
The first peacetime Fourth of July in five years, in 1946, found car dealers asking the public to be patient and not to sell their used cars on the black market. The local zoo board took a shakedown cruise on the new Ludwig fish tug, the Thomas C. Mullen. A new feature was introduced in The News-Dispatch, called Anvil Chorus. In one of the first letters, a reader expressed disgust about women having the bad taste to wear shorts downtown. An editorial stressed the importance of safe holiday driving. Not a word about war. That experience, those years, that great victory, were history.
Moments to Remember was written by Bob Kaser. Information used in the articles came from files of The News-Dispatch and from historical material compiled by Edna Kitchell, Michigan City Historian.
Quality of Life has to do with aspects, facilities and general character of a community that contribute to the enrichment, the edification, or merely the enjoyment, of its people. In other words, their lifestyle. In this last of five Bicentennial publications about Our Heritage, some of these aspects of Michigan City’s past–and present–are examined in a general way, with an emphasis on photographs.
With a Song in Our Heart
Our Musical Heritage
The dunes are alive with the sound of music. That description very well could be applied to Michigan City at any point in its history.
Singing was a popular pastime for early settlers. A history book describes the hauling through the streets in 1840 of a brig bearing a brass band playing Whig tunes, and of a concert by “the Michigan City band” in 1841.
Today’s Municipal Band traces its origins 107 years – to a band organized in 1869 and called the Silver Cornet Band and the Brass Band. That first local band existed until 1880. Ten years later, two groups – the Union Band and the Independent Band – were formed. They soon merged and became the Ames Union Band, named in honor of George Ames, one of Michigan City’s great civic benefactors and a strong band booster. For a time after Ames’ death, the band received funds from his estate. In 1896, the city council appropriated money for the band. Prof. Albert Cook, who had come from LaPorte to be supervisor of music in the public schools, was the city band’s director. Members of the band were inducted as a unit in the Spanish-American War, were stationed at Camp Young in Kentucky, and were known as the Ames Second Regimental Band. In 1914, industrialist John Barker bestowed an endowment to supplement the city’s appropriation. The band was called the Haskell & Barker Band – its name until it became the Municipal Band in 1925.
The original bandstand in Washington Park was replaced in 1911 by the one which still is in use in 1976. Public subscriptions helped build the 1911 facility, dedicated at a July 6 concert that year attended by about 10,000 persons. One of the numbers played that evening was a march, Greater Michigan City, written by Harry Hamm, the band’s director at that time. In 1976, Guy F. Foreman is in his 34th year as Municipal Band director. Plans are progressing for a new facility in Washington Park, which it is hoped will be ready for band concerts in 1977.
Three times, Michigan City has had a symphony orchestra. The first, in 1905, was a joint venture with LaPorte. The second try, also short lived, came in 1932. A member of the ’32 orchestra was Palmer Myran. He had a long career as director of an Elston High School music program which produced noted alumni – such as the Cathcart brothers – and attracted national attention to its progressive jazz band in the late ’40s. Myran became conductor of the Michigan City Symphony Orchestra which played its first concert Feb. 27, 1949. Later, James Cathcart and Rocco Germano were directors. But Myran was conductor 14 of the orchestra’s 18 years, and held the baton when the group presented its final performance April 9, 1967. The 60-member symphony featured the works of local composer William Nelson at several concerts. Both local and visiting soloists were featured.
During the time the late Ward Lane was warden at Indiana State Prison in the 1960s, Myran established a music department and built an inmate band which made appearances outside the institution, presented public concerts behind the walls, and performed on a weekly radio broadcast.
There have been many popular local bands. One of the earliest was the Wheeler-Seymour band. Dr. Charles Seymour was a local dentist. Louis Wheeler was a newspaper reporter who later became the city’s chief abstractor of titles.
The city also has had many choral groups over the years. A barbershop chorus, which came to be known as the Ambassadors of Harmony and won first place in international competition in 1956, was organized in 1947. For many years, Rudy Hart was its director. Michigan City has several topflight barbershop quartets.
A scene of major musical events – particularly in the 1940s and 1950s – was the island stage in Lake Lucerne at International Friendship Gardens. Florence Smith Walton was president and founder of the Friendship Gardens Music Festival, Inc. For many years, talented area performers competed at the gardens for selection as contestants in the Chicagoland Music Festival. Among the local winners – who have gone on to achieve educational and professional music honors – were pianist Ronald Jones and soprano Bobbi Annette Meriweather.
On the subject of music and Michigan City, it should be noted that famous country music singer Johnny Cash has written and recorded a song entitled “Michigan City, Howdy Do” in 1976.
The Performing Arts
Theaters and Thespians
Spotlights and footlights have shone for a multitude of performers in Michigan City. Great thespians and struggling vaudeville troupers have entertained local audiences at a variety of theaters, ranging from modest to ornate.
Early sites for performances included the Union Hall at Michigan and Franklin Streets, the original Elston School at Fourth and Pine streets with its small top-floor theater, the Armory where the Jaymar-Ruby plant now stands on W. Michigan Street, and Mozart Hall on the south side of E. Michigan Street near Franklin Street.
Michigan City’s pride in the early years of the 20th Century was the Grand Opera House, opened in autumn of 1906 at what is now part of the downtown Citizens Bank site. The Grand had 1,500 seats and a huge stage, where musical and dramatic companies headed for Chicago often performed. Many well-known actors of the day played the Grand before it lowered its admission prices and became a vaudeville house called the Orpheum. Still later, it was renamed the Garden Theater, had live canaries in colorful cages in its floral foyer, and featured silent films. But it continued to bring to town such live productions as Macbeth. Fire destroyed the Garden in 1921, and the Tivoli Theater then stood on the site for more than 50 years. The Tivoli also occasionally featured stage productions. It was the home of the Miss Indiana Pageant in its first few years here in the late 1950s.
Other early theaters included the Dreamland, Lyric, Idle Hour, Vaudette, Dixie, Willard, Up town and Starland. Later came the Ritz, Lake, Liberty and Lido. Fire in 1959 destroyed the Liberty. The Lido is the only surviving downtown movie theater in 1976. The city has one outdoor theater on Indiana 212, and the Marquette double theater facility at Marquette Mall, and Cinema four-theater complex at Dunes Plaza.
The first summer theaters in the area – two of the earliest in the state – were built in Beverly Shores and in Washington Park.
The building which today is Dunes Summer Theater was built in 1940. It was called the Michigan Theater and later the Barnum Theater. In 1951, through the efforts of the late Tyler MacAlvay, his wife Nora, and others who shared their dream, the Dunes Arts Foundation was established. It now owns the summer theater, a theater workshop, and the 32-acre wooded site on which they are located. Classes in theater, painting and crafts are offered to adults and young people. The MacAlvays originated the children’s theater concept in the United States. Many graduates of Dunes Children’s Theater training have gone on to notable achievements in the arts.
An earlier school of fine arts in Michigan City was founded by Catherine Barker Hickox at 707 Washington St. and flourished from 1923 until 1941. Many who were students there still entertain their fellow townspeople with their talents today. Other local studios have provided professional instruction in music and dance.
Summer theater came to downtown Michigan City in 1969, when Lyman Taylor preserved the 100-year-old former St. John’s United Church of Christ building as The Canterbury. The Festival Players Guild was formed and sponsors wintertime productions, as well as summer plays, at The Canterbury. Other area dramatic fare is provided by the Footlight Players; at Barlo Playhouse, and at Scotty’s Playhouse and the Tin Tree in New Buffalo.
Organizations have been formed to bring famous performers to the community over the years. The most recent was the Community Concert Association. Local audiences have seen a gamut of talent – ranging from the Guy Lombardo band to the U.S. Marine Band, from Nelson Eddy to the New Christy Minstrels, from Cornelia Otis Skinner to Jose Greco. In the heyday of Chautauqua – the years before and after World War I – tents went up on the grounds of Central School or Elston High School so audiences might see the plays of Shakespeare and Broadway.
And Michigan City has exported talent, as well as importing it. Charles Arnt and Jane Keith (shortened from Keithley) went to Hollywood to pursue film careers in the 1930s. And one of the nation’s leading actresses, Ann Baxter, once called Michigan City home.
The Wisdom to Listen
From Chautauqua to Forum
In the second year of its existence as a town, Michigan City welcomed no less an orator than Daniel Webster — and in the 139 years since then, many great men and women have come here to speak.
On July 4, 1837, Webster stood at the foot of Hoosier Slide – the occasion was the turning of dirt for a proposed railroad route down the center of Wabash Street – and predicted a great future for this community. (Tradition has it he had been wined and dined so well by citizens of the town that he was rather tipsy when it came time for his speech and offered to settle the national debt out of his own pocket.)
Political personages who have given talks in Michigan City have included an incumbent President – William McKinley – and many candidates, among them Woodrow Wilson, Stephen Douglas and William Jennings Bryan.
In the years preceding and following World War I, the Redpath Chautauqua was a cultural influence in Michigan City. It was an organization which brought lecturers to small communities.
The Mozart Hall building on Michigan Street had an upper-story lecture room. Such noted orators of the day as Henry Ward Beecher, Wendell Phillips and Charles Sumner were among those who lectured there.
One history of Michigan City observes that “such orators as Beecher and Phillips, such literateurs as John G. Saxe and Bayard Taylor, were welcome and appreciated guests in the community. Information traveled slowly in those days, and public thought and opinion were dependent upon such sources, because the newspapers could not possibly supply the larger knowledge possessed by such eminent men.”
In 1954, the Sinai Sunday Evening series was begun in Michigan City – a non-profit undertaking sponsored by Sinai Temple and involving a cross section of citizens. Speakers brought to Michigan City by Sinai Forum the past 22 years have included such famous personalities as Eleanor Roosevelt, Norman Thomas, Clement Attlee, Justice William Douglas, Walter Cronkite, Madame Pandit, Ralph Bunche, Eric Sevareid, David Brinkley, Whitney Young, Ogden Nash, Jackie Robinson, Itzhak Rabin, Ralph Nader, Dr. Robert Hutchins, Dr. Joseph Sutton, and Sens. Paul Douglas, Edmund Muskie, William Proxmire and Gene McCarthy.
Canvas and Film
One name stands above others when it comes to art in Michigan City. It is that of Robert W. Grafton.
A native Chicagoan, he came here in 1908 to open the community’s first art exhibit in the public library. While here, he met Elinda Opperman, the assistant librarian, and married her.
In time, Grafton became nationally famous, painting portraits of Presidents Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover, and of Cardinal Mundelein.
The Graftons lived on the northwest corner of Coolspring and Tilden Avenues in the 1920s and 1930s. It was during the 1920s that he painted the large mural of a lakefront scene of about 1840 in the study hall of Elston Senior High School; another in the Merchants National Bank Building on the southwest corner of Franklin Square and Sixth Street, now occupied by the Indiana Bell Telephone Co., and a third in the lobby of LaPorte’s Rumely Hotel.
(A portion of Grafton’s painting in Elston Senior High School is reproduced on the cover of Book No. 2, Lakefront Legacy).
Grafton suffered a general breakdown in health after completing his largest commission – that of replacing 275 portraits destroyed in the Saddle and Sirloin Club by the Chicago stockyards fire of 1934 – and died at his home here on Dec. 17, 1936, at the age of 60 years.
Other names prominent in Michigan City art circles are those of the late Wheeler S. (Willie) Marsh and Robert Wilcox, both portraitists; Karl Warren, who specializes in water colors, and the late Billy Nelson, who specialized in dune scenes.
Marsh was instrumental in establishing the Michigan City Art League about 1932.
The late Paul L. Brown also became widely known for his work in commercial art circles
Another local person who reached national fame of sorts at his easel was Capt. William C. Eddy, who supplied cartoon calendar art to Honeywell’s Brown Instruments Division (now the Process Control Division) between the years 1938 and 1971.
Earle C. Calvert, who operated a photography studio between the years 1889 and 1937, the year of his death, had one of the earliest cameras in Michigan City.
Also worthy of mention when it comes to photographs were the postcards created and sold by the late George Leusch, who operated in an ice cream parlor and novelties shop for years on the northwest corner of Franklin and Michigan Streets. His postcards, showing local and area scenes, became known far and wide and still form the basis of many home collections.
In 1938, J.F. Sullivan, a Honeywell, Inc., executive, happened to notice a cartoon Capt. W.C. Eddy was drawing as they rode together on the same train. It was “cartoon love” at first sight and Eddy was signed to a lifetime contract to draw annually such cartoons as the one at left, which appeared in Honeywell’s Brown Instruments division calendar in 1967. The cartoons basically reflected man’s inability to cope with the machines he builds.
The Pleasures of Our Leisure
Big Bands and Singing Sands
With a town to be built, early settlers had their work cut out for them. Still, as a history of Michigan City notes, “these advance couriers of municipal greatness had time to hear Rev. Armstrong preach the gospel, to set Gallatin Ashton up as a school teacher, and to attend lectures, and they did not neglect the amenities of social intercourse, for Robert Cissne came over from his home at Bootjack in 1883 to play the fiddle for dances, he being the only fiddler then for many miles around.”
For the boys of the town, in Michigan City’s early days, there was skinny-dipping in the lake on the “other side” of Hoosier Slide. And there was their discovery, long before adults recognized it, of the recreational advantages of Trail Creek. Where pleasure boats now are parked, but where officials for years stubbornly sought to create a commercial harbor, the kids happily swam.
Leisure pleasures favored by some did not meet with approval of others – or the law. An 1837 ordinance banned horse racing in the streets. Later-day hotrodders also were curbed. Gambling flourished from time to time, particularly in the ’20s and ’30s, but crackdowns eventually came. During prohibition, bootlegging was prevalent.
More legal leisure-time pastimes included cruises on lake steamers. Once there were many. The last to make regular cruises to and from Michigan City was the S.S. City of Grand Rapids in 1951. The next year, the 40-year-old ship, which had a 2,200-passenger capacity and had cost $3 million to build, was sold in bankruptcy action to a scrap metal dealer.
For all that changed in a century, little changed. Religion and education and culture still are emphasized. Hoosier Slide is gone, so skinny-dipping is not a prevalent pastime. But swimming remains a favorite local activity. The leisure pleasures we treasure have changed only in style – and to the extent that technological progress has gifted us with such marvels as movies, radio and television, the phone, electricity, convenient heating and cooling systems, and, of course, the automobile.
Some people still delight in fiddle music. Others have danced to a different sound. For almost a quarter-century, from the late 1920s to the early 1950s, a huge ballroom sporting one of the finest dance floors in the nation was the pride of Michigan City and – along with all of the other attractions in Washington Park and zoo – what attracted summertime throngs.
At the Oasis Ballroom, thousands came to swing and sway with Sammy Kaye – and to “dance around the world” to the music of just about all of the name bands in the country.
In 1962, the Oasis and the imitation palm trees so long part of its dance floor decor were removed. The reasons were diverse. Some were strictly local. Others had to do with changing times – with the end of the big-band era.
Sports and Recreation
Arenas and Competitors
Ask a modern day sports buff what he considers the high point in Michigan City athletics to be and, chances are, he’ll zero in on the Elston Red Devils’ state high school basketball championship in 1966.
But there also have been other memorable moments and events through the years.
Michigan City, for instance, has been the “finish” line for yachts sailing from Chicago in the Columbia Yacht Race since 1891. The race, normally staged on the third Saturday of June, is the oldest continuous fresh water race in the world.
And semi-pro baseball made its debut locally in 1905 when the Michigan City Yukons ran onto the diamond for the first time at Donnelly Field on the West Side near the prison.
Then in 1916 the Haskell & Barker team defeated the Michigan City Grays, 7-0, in a winner-take-all contest to see which of the two teams would continue to play at Lakeside Park, on the north side of the harbor where the filtration plant now stands.
The Michigan City Wonders, the Democrats, Daly’s Boosters and the Merchants also had some real games at Doll’s Park before it gave way to the Eastgate Shopping Plaza.
But the crowds at these baseball parks were not as large as those the Michigan City Cubs drew at Ames Field in the 1940s, with such stars as Babe Ruth, Bill Nicholson, Phil Cavaretta and Stan Hack making guest appearances.
Michigan City also had a full-blown professional baseball team in the 1950s. Remember the White Caps of the Class D Midwest League, which came into being in 1956 and lasted through the 1959 season? You should – because major league players like Juan Marichal, Mattie and Felipe Alou, John Orsino, Manny Mota and Bob Bolin got their start in the game right here.
Boxing also had a golden era locally – for a while – in the 30,000 seat Sky Blue Arena which was located in the 1920s on E. Second Street, across from where Josam Manufacturing Co. now stands.
Built for prize fighting, it never reached its full potential because Gov. Warren T. McCray decided after the first bout that prize fights violated the Indiana Constitution.
Before the arena was torn down, however fighters like Jack Dempsey, Benny Leonard, Tommy Gibbons and Georges Carpentier had appeared here in exhibitions.
Heavyweight champion Jim Braddock also trained in Grand Beach for his ill-fated title defense against Joe Louis in Chicago’s Comiskey Park on June 22, 1937.
Ten years later, on Oct. 29, 1947, Louis went four rounds against Bob Garner of Louisville, Ky., in an exhibition at the High School Auditorium.
Welterweight Chuck Davey also trained on the beach for his bout with Kid Gavilan in Chicago in the 1950s.
Michigan City likewise gained a place on the professional football map when the Chicago Cardinals worked out here for three weeks in advance of the 1936 National Football League season. In an exhibition game at Gill Field on Aug 30, 1936, the Cardinals ran over the Kamm’s Beers of South Bend, 70-0.
Semi-pro basketball started with the YMCA Seniors in 1919. Following them were the Indians, the Redskins, the Dictators, the All Stars, the Northern Indiana Steelers and the Moose.
Denny Shute, then a well-known name, led the professional golf visits into the area with an exhibition match at the former Beverly Shores course in pre-World War II days.
Bob Toski, who won a $100,000 purse in the 1954 Tam O’Shanter tournament, played an exhibition match at the Municipal Golf Course on June 26, 1955, shooting a 72. Larry Tanber shot a 70. Sam Bohlim and Carl Engstrom, the other two members of the foursome, had 78 and 79, respectively.
Dr. Cary Middlecoff also appeared here during dedication ceremonies of the first nine at Pottawattomie Country Club on May 14, 1966.
Not all of the famous on the Michigan City sports scene have been visitors, however. The community has produced its share of notable names, as well. Among them:
Don Larsen, who pitched the only perfect World Series baseball game against the Brooklyn Dodgers on Oct. 8, 1956, while a member of the New York Yankees.
Abe Gibron, who went on from football exploits with the Red Devils, Purdue University and the Cleveland Browns to become head coach of the Chicago Bears during the years 1972-73-74.
Doug Adams, who coached the Red Devils to the state basketball title in 1966 and was named national high school basketball coach of the year in 1971. The Red Devils’ 24 consecutive sectional crowns from 1952 through 1975 – 18 of which came under Adams – represent the second longest string of consecutive wins in Indiana high school basketball history. Lafayette had 29.
Tom Nowatzke, who fashioned a brilliant professional football career with the Detroit Lions and the Baltimore Colts after standout years at Elston High School and Indiana University.
Tony Cline, who became a regular lineman for the professional football Oakland Raiders following play with the Red Devils and the University of Miami.
Larry Tanber, who won the Indiana state amateur golf title in 1965.
Norman Ross, who won the Indiana state billiards title in the early 1950s.
Dave Phelps, Rogers High School swim star, who won the Indiana state high school 200-yard freestyle title in 1975 and 1976, and the 500-yard freestyle title in 1976. He also was named to the national high school All-American swimming team in 1976.
Vernon Payne, Red Devils and Indiana University basketball star who became an assistant coach in that sport at Michigan State University.
Ken Schreiber, an Elston graduate, who coached the LaPorte High School Slicers to two Indiana high school baseball titles in 1967 and 1971. He also is the winningest active high school baseball coach in the state, with 388 victories.
Hal Higdon, long distance runner who has participated in the Boston Marathon and other national events.
Mike Storen, who has held the office of commissioner of the American Basketball Association and other high executive positions with ABA and World Football League teams.
Doug Dunlop, who earlier this year was named to the No. 2 position of the United States Olympic Committee, that of Director of Planning, Projects and General Counsel to the committee.
Joe Joseph, long-time member of the Professional Bowling Association and bowling Hall of Famer.
And Jim Matuszak, who just recently became affiliated with the Professional Bowling Association.
Other happenings on the local scene with a sports flavor:
Harry Gonder, the professional at Beverly Shores Country Club, took 1,817 shots over a 16hr., 25-min. period on June 20, 1939, in an attempt to make a hole-in-one on the course’s 10th hole and win a $25 bet. He hit the flagstaff once, the ball stopping three inches from the cup.
Capt. William C. Eddy televised weekly boxing matches from the High School Auditorium over a four-month period starting on, Feb. 17, 1948, to provide a sports program for Chicago station WBKB. He selected Michigan City for the early television experiment when Chicago interests told him he would have to pay for all unoccupied seats in the Chicago Stadium if he staged the bouts there.
Occasions for Celebrations
The first recorded civic celebration in Michigan City occurred 140 years ago tomorrow – on July 4, 1836. Citizens’ muscle power was mustered to maneuver a schooner – the Sea Serpent – over a formidable sandbar at the mouth of Trail Creek and to a docking place upstream. The ship thus became the first commercial vessel to successfully enter the local harbor, dramatizing its potential, and townspeople joined in a festive celebration of the accomplishment.
There have been many occasions for community pomp and pageantry in succeeding years.
The traditional national holidays have been commemorated locally. In 1896, on Decoration Day, the Winterbotham monument at the entrance to Washington Park – a memorial to Union soldiers who died in the Civil War – was dedicated. A picture on this page shows a Michigan City celebration in the 1880s.
In August of 1916, Michigan City joined in observance of Indiana’s Centennial with a “Homecoming Week.” Events included a parade, downtown vaudeville acts, band concerts, oratory, fireworks, a lake excursion cruise, and a 21/2 hour lakefront pageant in which 500 persons dramatized episodes of Michigan City’s early history. The concluding event was “a gigantic Mardi Gras ball” on W. Seventh Street between Franklin and Wabash streets.
There have been spontaneous, as well as scheduled, celebrations. On Nov. 11, 1918, when official word came that World War I was over, “the town went wild. Whistles blew, bells rang and the crowds yelled and shouted with joy of the occasion. There was no thought for business that day and the community treated itself to a holiday. During the afternoon a parade was staged in the downtown district with the Haskell & Barker band and Red Cross workers leading the procession.”
In homes, business places and factories, residents listened on radios at 8 a.m. May 8, 1945, when President Truman announced “complete and final victory in the European Theater” of World War 11. There were no festivities, because victory still was to be won in the Pacific. But oh Aug. 14 that year, when Japan capitulated and World War 11 was over, it was different. Moments after victory was announced, at 5:58 p.m., Franklin Street was a four-lane traffic jam. The News-Dispatch reported: “Soon sore throats, weak-batteried auto horns and tired people attested to the general amount of energy spent by humans and machines in expressing pent-up feelings. No more war, no more shootings and bombings, ship sinkings, and other terrors of battle. Long into the night, with a sort of wild elation, the crowds remained on the main street. Inches of torn paper littered sidewalks and streets. People were unable to buy anything in the stores, the business houses having closed with the first blasts of the waterworks, prison and Pullman whistles, Many persons attended churches, the doors being thrown wide open, while others who have men and women in the services knelt in prayer at home.”
Between the celebrations of the ends of the two world wars, Michigan City had its own unique observance in 1933. That was the year selected by citizens to commemorate the town’s 100th birthday. A Centennial pageant in Washington Park July 1, 2 and 3 depicted nine episodes highlighting community development. Participants included dancing girls, boy and girl scouts, a chorus, drum and bugle corps, Indians, horses, covered wagons – more than 600 persons presenting “scenes of yesterday in an interesting and spectacular manner.” The pageant’s grand finale was “The Wheel of Life,” described as “a gigantic closing spectacle in which a living wheel is formed.” The 1933 festivities also included dedication of a marker on the courthouse lawn signifying the construction of the Michigan Road, the principal factor in establishment of a community here.
Those were depression days, but in addition to the local Centennial many townspeople attended the World’s Fair being presented in Chicago. The South Shore Railroad ran hourly trains to the fair.
Another pageant of magnitude was the “Passing of the Pottawattomies” at the Friendship Gardens island stage Aug. 9, 1941. The production featured hundreds of local persons and Chief Whirling Thunder and his Indian tribe from Wisconsin.
Mayor R.C. Fedder was a prime force in the initiation of the Indiana Days annual celebrations here in the final years of the 1930s. Indiana Days was an outgrowth of the Dunes Water Sports Carnival – featuring selection of a Miss Indiana – that had first been staged in 1934. In 1935, Indiana Days featured the biggest parade ever staged here, with 75 floats and bands from four states. Another highlight was a drum and bugle corps competition at Gill Field.
Indiana Days was revived in 1955. The following year, when Fedder’s son, Francis, became mayor, the annual Summer Festival celebration was begun and included the city’s first mammoth parade since 1938. The Summer Festival has been a July event every year since, and the annual drum and bugle corps spectacle at Ames Field has become a Festival highlight. Michigan City also has been the home of the Miss Indiana Pageant, at which the state’s contestant in the Miss America Pageant is chosen, annually since 1957.
Other civic presentations and celebrations over the years have included the Gay Nineties observance, beard-growings and other events to commemorate the state’s Sesquicentennial in 1966, aviation shows, the annual Memorial Day parade, the Half-Century of Progress Exposition in 1950 and Town and Country Fairs at the Oasis Ballroom, and the Horne and Sports Shows at Rogers High School.
A Yearning for Learning
All cities have elementary and high school educational facilities today. But few have the wide range of post-high school educational benefits that Michigan City enjoys.
There are, for instance, two major universities, a major college and branches of two other major universities within 35 miles.
The University of Notre Dame, St. Mary’s College and Indiana University at South Bend are all located at South Bend. In addition, Bethel College is located a short distance to the east at Mishawaka.
Valparaiso University is located at Valparaiso, Purdue North Central between Michigan City and Westville, and Indiana University Northwest at Gary.
Technical, trade and special purpose schools also abound in the area.
Indiana Vocational Technical College has branches at Michigan City, South Bend and Gary, and Valparaiso Technical Institute is located at Valparaiso.
The American Jet School and the Northern Indiana School of Radiologic are located here. So are the Sheltered Workshop and Therapy Center, schools for the retarded and handicapped.
Naguib’s School of Sculpture is located at Beverly Shores.
There also are a number of commerce and business schools in LaPorte, South Bend and Gary.
Purdue North Central might be called Michigan City’s “own” school. From a beginning in Elston Senior High School, it moved to the Barker Mansion at Seventh and Washington Streets in 1948, and then to a handsome campus near Otis in 1967.
Two other post-high school opportunities are available in Michigan City – Community School classes and Adult Education classes, both offered by the school city.
Community school classes are designed to provide elective courses as well as general education development courses, which can be used toward a high school diploma.
Adult education courses, on the other hand, are designed to provide the needed three or four credits for college work and vocational skills.
The Michigan City public library is another cultural resource. Besides the main facility at Eighth and Spring streets, there is a branch library in Marquette Mall.
A new main library currently is being constructed just east of Superior Courthouse on the city’s North Side.
The Industrious Citizenry
Self-help and citizen involvement in civic projects have been the rule rather than the exception in Michigan City for most of its history.
Aroused by a lack of federal help in developing the harbor, for instance, a group of townspeople as early as July 4, 1864, took over the job themselves, expending $200,000 of their own money financing the work and prodding the government to action.
The former and present YMCA structures, the Spaulding Hotel, the present public library, Barker Hall, St. Anthony Hospital and the present Memorial Hospital medical and surgical pavilion all came about with the help of contributions from the people.
The Municipal Golf Course, the Washington Park Zoo and the South Lake Michigan Industrial Park also are the result of citizen involvement. So are the Municipal Airport and Camp To-Pe-Ne-Bee, the Boy Scout camp, built by members of the Boosters Club.
In the late 1950s, the Community Development and Advisory Committee helped to secure the merger of Michigan City and Lakeland.
The community’s service clubs rallied in the 1960s, also, to help replant Michigan City’s trees following widespread loss of its elms through disease. And school children gave Washington Park many of its trees in 1934 in a tree planting project.
A People-in-Politics program initiated by interested townspeople and The News-Dispatch fostered grass roots activity in the municipal political structure in the 1960s and, in 1966, was instrumental in Michigan City being named an All-American city.
Michigan City also has taken care of its underprivileged and handicapped through the years.
Informal groups helped the poor and needy even before the turn of the century.
The United Welfare and Relief Organization came into being in 1931. The Community Chest followed, with a name change to Community Fund in 1952. It was during the last year of the Community Fund, in 1954, that the organization started a string of 14 consecutive years of fund raising success exceeding goal each time within the time framework of the campaign which lasted through 1967.
The organization became the United Fund in 1955 and kept the name until 1974, when United Way was adopted in keeping with a change of names for organizations affiliated with the national organization.
Providing for the Needs
Michigan City’s first hospital was founded by Dr. Alexander Mullen Jr., a physician who worked for the railroads. The Mullen Hospital -as it was known – opened on Aug. 24,1892, at 409 Washington St. Located in a private home, it may not have resembled the hospitals of today, but it lasted until shortly after Dr. Mullen’s death on May 4, 1894.
About a dozen doctors handled Michigan City’s health problems in that last decade of the 19th century.
The Tillotson Hospital, founded by Dr. A.G. Tillotson and his son-in-law, Dr. Edward G. Blinks, came into being about the turn of the century in a building located on the north side of W. Sixth Street, a half block from Franklin Square. This establishment operated until about 1910.
Meanwhile, Michigan City recognized the need for more sophisticated facilities and St. Anthony Hospital was constructed in 1904, at Wabash and Ripley Streets, much of the $80,000 cost having been donated by Mrs. John H. Barker. This original unit could care for 80 patients. The hospital was expanded in 1926 with a wing to the south.
Then in the 1960s, with the help of a $2,163,332 Hill-Burton grant and a fund campaign by citizens, a new five-story building was constructed just south of the 1926 wing. The new hospital, with a capacity of 200 beds, opened on Jan. 10, 1968.
St. Anthony is operated by the Sisters of St. Francis as a not-for-profit, church affiliated institution.
Memorial Hospital, originally named The Clinic, was founded in 1925 by Dr. J.B. Rogers, Dr. F.V. Martin, Dr. L.A. Wilson, Dr. E.O. Krueger and Dr. H.L. Brooks. The last named then bought the hospital from the others and operated it until 1951, when he sold it to Dr. M.L. Bankoff. The hospital was renamed Doctors Hospital at that time.
Dr. Bankoff operated the institution until July 1, 1963, when it was converted to a not-for-profit establishment under the operation of a foundation and board of trustees. Coincidentally with this move, the name Memorial Hospital was adopted.
Capacity of the hospital was increased to 19 beds in 1968 with the construction of a medical and surgical pavilion across Pine Street from the original building. A Hill-Burton grant of $534,681 and the citizen fund campaign which helped St. Anthony also helped to underwrite the cost of the pavilion.
Walters Hospital had its beginning in the Warren Hospital, which opened in 1938 on the sixth floor of the Warren Building in downtown Michigan City. Along with the Walters Clinic, which came into being later, it stayed in those quarters until 1963, when its chief of staff, Dr. William H. Walters, constructed a new 50-bed hospital at 3714 Franklin St. The institution adopted the name Walters Hospital at that time. Subsequently, it also was converted into a not-for-profit establishment.
Michigan City has had a health laboratory since 1904, when Dr. H.L.B. Coote undertook work in it on a part-time basis. A typhoid epidemic in 1912 led to the establishment of full blown Board of Health.
The Changing Skyline
Preservation and Progress
It’s safe to say that Major Isaac C. Elston wouldn’t recognize the town he laid out 144 years ago if he were to return today. For one thing, it has expanded considerably beyond the southern border – Ninth Street – of his 1832 map. For another, its dominant landmark of that day and that century is long gone.
But even a person absent from the community only a decade or two might not be sure he was in the same town if he came back in 1976.
The skyline has changed and been rearranged – particularly on the northern and southern limits of the community.
When Elston first came to inspect the land he had purchased sight unseen, he must have been struck – as were all first-time visitors to Michigan City for its first 90 years – by the towering sand dune which stood west of the Trail Creek entrance, where the Northern Indiana Public Service Co. generating station stands today. The dune, which came to be called Hoosier Slide, was 175 feet high. It was a famous landmark, one which attracted tourists and inspired visitors and homefolks alike to climb to its top for picnics, for the view, even for an occasional wedding. Men first removed the trees from the dune, for use in building the new town. Then, irked by the blowing sand, they moved their main street from Front Street (where Amtrak trains now run) to Franklin Street. Then, for profit, they permitted the sand to be hauled away, carload by carload – 131/2 million tons over a period of 30 years – until Hoosier Slide was no more. Where did it all go? For fill and construction in Chicago. For the manufacture of fruit jars and plate glass in Muncie and Kokomo. For other industrial uses all over the U.S. and elsewhere. For sand beaches at inland lakes. For the private golf course of Hoosier humorist George Ade. One of the uses of Hoosier Slide sand was the making of glass insulators for telephone poles. It’s safe to say that there is a bit of Hoosier Slide – Michigan City sand – from coast to coast, from Canada to Mexico, and beyond.
The Michigan City skyline has had its imposing structures through the years. Hotels sprouted rapidly in the beginning – for Michigan City was, as a history book puts it, ” a frontier city into which were entering the hardy pioneers who built our West…” There were 10 hotels here by 1836, year of the town’s incorporation.
The Ames and Holliday drug store, built in 1835, was the first brick building west of Detroit.
There were imposing homes constructe–Lyman Blair’s, for instance, which later was converted into a hotel (the Fairview).
At one time, Michigan City had more than 100 saloons – and was described by one native as “a poor man’s Milwaukee.”
Neighborhoods developed through the years, along with a flourishing downtown section. More hotels. Stores and theaters. Large churches with towering steeples. Washington Park’s zoo and facilities and midway – a center of summertime activity.
But the oldest part of downtown, the north end, showed signs of old age. Surgery was prescribed. Landmarks were razed. An era ended in the park. Department stores, and some others, moved south. The city moved east, doubling its size; There was a flurry of school-building. New and expanded hospitals. In 1935, somebody had figured out that in the 11-year-old Warren Building, a typical business day saw 801 elevator trips transporting 1,512 passengers. Management of the Tivoli-Lido-Uptown theaters reported 20,000 moviegoers a week. A few decades later, the movie business was televisioned to a trickle. Suddenly, the town had only a couple theaters. Then, presto-chango, movies were rediscovered – the town had seven movie theaters (albeit six of them in two buildings) plus the outdoor. The elevator at the Warren Building was engaged heavily in governmental business; the city even was considering buying the building. But a block away, the once-proud Spaulding was pigeon prey. And a couple blocks west on Seventh, all that remained of the Pullman-Standard complex, which once dominated the town’s economy as much as its West Side skyline, were a couple structures, a lot of bricks, and two smokestacks.
There was some preservation of the past. The Canterbury. The old post office. The Barker mansion. Churches. Barker Hall. The Brewery. Maybe the library.
The new landmarks were the NIPSCO cooling tower – and the twinkling light visible from afar.
And trees grew on Franklin Street.
Were he to come back, Maj. Elston might deem it ironic, after noting the absence of Hoosier Slide, to find the town’s newest and southernmost commercial development is called Dunes Plaza.
By Rail, by Sail, and Otherwise
Early settlers came to populate Michigan City by boat, by stage coach, or by travel over the early roads which were built to supplement the Michigan Road.
The Yellow River Road (U.S. 35) was constructed in 1833 from Michigan City to Knox by way of LaPorte. An earlier road connected Michigan City and Lafayette with a ferry across the Kankakee River. Another road connected Michigan City with Door Village and still another ran from the northern to the western boundaries of the state on the approximate route of U.S. 12 today.
One highway, still labeled Michigan City Road, snaked its way through Hammond and the southern Chicago suburbs even before 1839 dawned.
These roads were traveled by foot, horses, mules or oxen, until the auto arrived about the turn of the century. Then came hard surface thoroughfares in the 1920s – the Dunes Highway, U.S. 12 east, Johnson Road, etc. – and combustion engine transportation was on the way.
U.S. 20 between Michigan City and Gary – originally called the “Relief Road” because it was designed to provide relief for U.S. 12 – was constructed in the early 1930s.
Built without a divider and with only 10-ft. lanes, two feet narrower than modern highways, it soon became a death trap as traffic crowded onto its four lanes.
In the early 1950s, the toll normally exceeded a death a mile per year and it earned the name “Gore Road.” For several years it was the most dangerous highway in the state and, for one year, at least, it was called one of the dozen most dangerous highways in the country.
Toll roads also became popular in the 1950s and, following suit, Indiana began construction of its northern toll road, between Chicago and the Ohio state line, on Sept. 21, 1954. Groundbreaking was in St. Joseph County, on the exact spot where the road crossed the historic Chicago trail, which served as the main stagecoach route between Chicago and Detroit more than 120 years ago.
With a 16-mile stretch on the western end still to be completed, the Indiana Toll Road was dedicated officially on Sept. 17, 1956, in ceremonies at the South Bend Plaza. The remaining 16-mile segment was opened on Nov. 15 of the same year.
The last major highway to cross the northern part of the state – Interstate 94 – was completed on Nov. 2, 1972, after a 27-year struggle by civic leaders to get it built. Originally called the Tri-State, it connected Chicago with Detroit.
Railroads, meanwhile, had been around since 1852, when the first Michigan Central train reached Michigan City. Others followed before too long – the Monon, the Nickel Plate and the Pere Marquette, as they came to be known through most of their years.
The Northern Indiana, an electric line, began service in 1903 and the South Shore, another electric line, reached Michigan City in 1908.
All carried passengers at one time or another, and all but the Northern Indiana still are in operation. Old timers still chuckle when they recall that the Lake Erie and Western, predecessor to the Nickel Plate and the Norfolk and Western, once was known affectionately as the “Leave Early and Walk.”
Streetcars, which creaked along Franklin Street rails as early as 1881 behind mules and horses, received electrical power in 1907 and continued their journeys along Franklin and Ninth streets, east and west, until the 1930s, when they went out of existence.
Michigan City’s first official airport opened in 1927 at the intersection of U.S. 35 and U.S. 20, where Joe Phillips now operates Phillips Airlines. Phillips began passenger service to Midway Airport in Chicago in 1946 and to O’Hare in 1955.
Excursion ships also contributed an exciting chapter to local transportation, with many people going to the lakefront just to see them come in.
And who can forget the hustle and bustle and the acrid smells as transcontinental buses rolled under the shelter at the rear of the South Shore station? Or the lines at the counter and the clanging of silverware during bus stops at Mark Moorman’s Dunes Restaurant, at Second and Franklin streets? Or the South Shore buses rolling along U.S. 12 between here and St. Joseph, Mich.? Or Jahn’s buses, which provided service between Ohio Street and down town Michigan City?
All were a part of the Michigan City transportation picture in the past.
Would you believe that the South Shore once had diners and club cars on its trains between here and Chicago?
It did. But that was a long time ago – when trains were trains and when a passing airplane drew kids out-of-doors to yell:
Quality of Life was written by Elwin G. Greening and Bob Kaser. Information for the articles came from The History of Michigan City, by Rollo B. Oglesbee and Albert Hale; Michigan City’s First Hundred Years, by Elizabeth M. Munger; a compilation of local historical material by Edna Kitchell, Michigan City Historian, and from the files of The News-Dispatch. Appreciation also is expressed to G.C. Calvert, Nora MacAlvay, James H. Fleming, Richard G. Cook, Capt. W. C. Eddy, Kenneth Werdine, Mrs. William H. Harris and Doug Adams for their assistance in furnishing material and pictures.