William T. Atwell, BiographyPorter County biographical sketches . . . .

Transcribed biography of William T. Atwell

WILLIAM T. ATWELL. Porter township possesses no more enterprising and capable citizen than William T. Atwell, whose name wherever known stands for integrity in business, substantial prosperity and public-spirited citizenship. He has been identified with this section of the state for many years, and both as a business man and farmer has been successful and has made a steady progress from the time when he started with little capital to carve the future.

Mr. Atwell, who is of English lineage, his great-grand-father Atwell having come to America from England, was born in Knox county, Ohio, January 9, 1847. William and Martha (Quigley) Atwell, his parents, had a large family consisting of four sons and seven daughters, William T. being the ninth in order of birth, and of them all only three are now living, the other two being: Martha E., the wife of Solon French, of Valparaiso; and Augusta C., the widow of William Stolker and a resident of Chicago.

The father was a native of Maryland, where he was born in September, 1800, and his death occurred in 1874. His youth was spent in his native state, where he obtained a meager education in the common schools then existing, and he was married in Pennsylvania. Agriculture was the pursuit to which he devoted practically all of his active career, and for a number of years he was a resident of Ohio. In April, 1853, the Atwell family came out to Porter county, and bought one hundred and twenty acres in Porter township. In 1865 the father sold this homestead, and after living about ten months in Valparaiso moved to Lake county, where he was a resident until his death. In politics during his early years he voted with the Whigs, and with the organization of the Republican party voted for its first candidate, John C. Fremont, and continued to support that party the rest of his life. He and his wife were members of the Methodist church. The mother was born in Lancaster county, Pennsylvania, in 1810, and she lived to the advanced age of ninety, passing away in 1900. Both parents are buried in the Crown Point cemetery, where a monument marks their last resting place.

William T. Atwell was six years old when the family came to Porter county, so that most of his career has been in this part of Indiana. His boyhood was spent when the old pioneer conditions had not yet yielded to the improvements which characterized the latter half of the nineteenth century, and he is one of the survivors of the period when school children received instruction in log cabins. The school he attended in Porter township was a log building fourteen by sixteen feet, with clapboard roof, with cast-iron stove in the center, slab benches without backs, an inclined board running around part of the walls for a desk. The schoolmaster made the goosequill pens with which the scholars wrote their copies, and the text books were of the kind and names which have long since become obsolete. The school was kept only three months each year, and was supported partly by general taxation and partly by subscriptions. Mr. Atwell also remembers that the salary of his first teacher was only two dollars a week. His wife has a similar experience in attending a log-cabin school in Lake county.

Though most of his life has been spent in the environment of modern conditions, Mr. Atwell has a keen recollection of the primitive surroundings of his childhood. The house in which he was born in Knox county, Ohio, was a log cabin, with not an iron nail in the entire structure except in the door, which was hung on wooden hinges, with a latchstring that always hung out for friend and neighbor. A large open fire-place was a principal fcature of the house, and the floor was made of the puncheons, while the clap-board roof was held down by weight poles.

Naturally enough Mr. Atwell's start in life was without luxury, and he has depended on his own efforts to win his way. When he was nineteen years old he earned his first money by teaming, his father having furnished him with wagon and horses for that purpose. He was about twenty-three years old when he established his own home and took up the serious responsibilities of family and home. On January 9, 1870, he was united in marriage with Miss Sarah A. Hetler. Three sons were born to them, but only one is now living, Walter E. He is the owner of a hundred-acre farm in Porter township and is one of the prosperous and progressive young agriculturists of the county. His education was obtained in the public schools of Crown Point and at a business college in Chicago. He married Miss Ivy Rigg, a member of one of the leading families of Porter county, her father being Mr. J. W. Rigg. .Mr. and Mrs. Walter Atwell are the parents of four children, Florence S., Harry E., Margaret and Bernice.

Mrs. Atwell, who has spent almost half a century in Porter county and vicinity, was born in Erie county, New York, February 18, 1842, a daughter of Mathias and Sarah (Letwiler) Hetler, her father dying when she was a year old. She was eleven years old when the family moved out to Lake county, where she was reared and educated.

At their marriage Mr. and Mrs. Atwell possessed plenty of youthful energy and determination, but little cash capital. Two years before, in 1868, he had bought one hundred and twenty acres in Winfield township, Lake county, obligating himself with a heavy debt at the purchase. There they began their wedded career, and for some years worked from sixteen to eighteen hours a day in order to become independent. A log cabin home and no fences to speak of were the principal improvements on the farm, and besides paying for the land they also developed and improved it into one of the productive and valuable estates of that vicinity. Later they sold the first farm and bought another of two hundred and twenty acres in Ross township, Lake county, where they lived for six years, when they sold and Mr. Atwell then moved to Crown Point and took up a mercantile career. For five years he was in the agricultural implement business, and in the spring of 1893 engaged in the grocery and bakery business in Englewood and also dealt in real estate. This was during the hard-times era, but he managed to pull through with fair success. In 1896 he sold out and retired to Porter county, where he identified himself with country life and its activities. He bought the beautiful place known as "Gates Corners," one of the most conspicuous sites in the county, a productive farm of one hundred and sixty acres and with improvements and home that make it extremely attractive both as a residence and as a profitable agricultural enterprise. These comfortable possessions are the practical results of the career which Mr. and Mrs. Atwell began, burdened with debt, over forty years ago, and few citizens of the county can make a better showing.

Since casting his first vote for the "Silent Man," General Grant, Mr. Atwell has been a stanch Republican and steady supporter of his party, and at various times has been a delegate to the county conventions. He and his wife are members of the Methodist Episcopal church in Valparaiso, and they have always borne their share of public duties and responsibilities. Mr. Atwell through an active career of varied relations with men through more than forty years has never been sued in court nor has he had recourse to litigation to defend his own rights. His word has been as good as a bond, and his life has been honorable and successful in every sense of the term.

Source: Lewis Publishing Company. 1912. History of Porter County, Indiana: A Narrative Account of its Historical Progress, its People and its Principal Interests. Chicago, Illinois: Lewis Publishing Company. 881 p.
Page(s) in Source: 503-507

This biography has been transcribed exactly as it was originally published in the source. Please note that we do not provide photocopies or digital scans of biographies appearing on this website.

Biography transcribed by Steven R. Shook


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