Babcock, BiographyPorter County biographical sketches . . . .

Transcribed biography of Babcock


Submitted by Mrs. Carl Dalke

If courage, initiative and self-reliance were needed in the make-up of a pioneer, then William ("Bill") Babcock and his sixteen-year-old bride Emily ("Em") Rebecca Storms could qualify! They came from the East when the government was selling land in Porter County -- an acre for the same price as a yard of calico. They were young, healthy and hard-working, cherishing a dream of owning land where they could build a home. They settled in Liberty Township, ten miles north of Valparaiso at what came to be called Babcock on Babcock Road.

Eleven children came to live in their home. The sons were W. H. ("Hod"), A. J., Charles, Daniel and Frank; the daughters were Lenore, Etta, Rose, Maud, Kitty and the baby, Emma, who lived only a few days.

There were many years of hard work for Bill and Em. Besides clearing the land and farming, Bill built his house, the big barn (which stood as a landmark until 1974 when it was torn down) and a son-in-law 'shanty' which was a comfortable little cottage in the cherry orchard where the children took turns living as they married. For the great sum of $500 Bill built the Babcock School which stood for many years nestled among the trees of the Weitzel woods on Babcock Road -- a road which stood deep in mud in winter and deep with dust in summer. Bill cut his own timber to build the little white school which was eventually moved to Crocker, used as a dwelling and later burned.

When the B & O Railroad came through this part of Porter County, Bill sold his timber for ties as did other settlers in the community. Em did the cooking for the crew that built the tracks.

Besides being a fine carpenter, Bill was skillful at making furniture. A fine cherry chest of drawers that was a wedding gift for his bride came with them from the East and is in the home of a great-granddaughter today. The lovely walnut cradle that rocked their children is cherished by another granddaughter.

The long dining room in the Babcock home was very unusual. Bill had built a large bay window to the south which Em filled with flowering plants and singing birds. At one time -- besides her canaries -- she had a cardinal that could sing the canary's song as well as his own. Nor were all Em's flowers indoors. Her flower garden was a riot of color and her special pride was in unusual shrubs and trees. A red peony with a fern-like leaf which Em gave to the Robbins, another pioneer family, was returned to members of the Babcock family just recently -- after 100 years! From this same window could be seen Em's peacocks strutting proudly in the apple orchard. At night they would roost high in the trees, safe from any prowling "varmints".

Also in this bay window stood Em's sewing machine ever-ready to gather, tuck and ruffle for anyone wishing to exchange work. These were the days of the stay, stiffening, flounces, buttons and bows but none were too complicated for Em.

While Em was busy stitching, women would wash -- on a washboard with homemade soap which the pioneer women made by leaching the wood ashes for lye to combine with the fats from butchering. Ironing was a real chore -- heating the "sad" irons on the kitchen wood stove. There was plenty of baking needed -- starting the yeast by growing their own hops --along with cooking, gardening and canning with no modern conveniences.

The Babcock hospitality was enjoyed by a large circle of friends and neighbors. With a house full of pretty girls and likable sons as well as an attractive "school marm" along with several interesting railroad men (whom Em boarded), many came for company and the lively barn dances in the big new barn. One never lacked for good times here.

As time went on the children married: Lenore wed Andrew Gustafson and they farmed. When Lenore died, Andrew married Olivia Carlson and moved to Valparaiso to run a rooming house for Valparaiso University students on Greenwich Street.

"Hod" married Christina Gustafson who had recently arrived in America from Sweden. Hod did some farming then tried homesteading in Kansas but came back to Indiana due to heat, insects and lack of water. He was a contractor -- moving buildings of all kinds. He did moving for Frances Howe who lived at the Bailey homestead and was a descendant of Joseph Bailey -- the first white man in this area, who established the homestead in the early 1820s. He moved the first building into Gary -- a small ticket station for a railroad.

Frances Howe was an easily-recognized figure as she drove a beautiful, high-stepping horse pulling a shiny buggy -- holding the reins high -- a picture enjoyed by the children of Porter who would run along side.

A. J. married Emma Clevenger and they lived in Porter where his daughters worked in the Featherbone Factory, a new industry on the Porter Boom. A. J. was a skilled carpenter and many of the farmers on the 'twenty mile prairie' would have no one else put up their big barns -- many of them still standing sturdy and tall.

Charles married Florence Clevenger but died while still a young man. His widow married George Pratt.

David married Brenda Wetmore, a milliner for the Specht, Finney, Skinner Store. Brenda made Em's bonnets -- black straw and taffeta for summer, black quilted taffeta for winter. The bonnets were made much like a sunbonnet with long, flowing ties. Em, dressed in her black taffeta dress and bonnet, lovely brooch at her throat, driving her gray mare, Daisy, was a familiar sight going to Valparaiso where she was a member of the First Christian Church or to McCool to attend the Methodist Church.

Dan and Brenda ran a neighborhood store in the northern part of Valparaiso.

Etta married Alfred Lindberg. They bought the Brasht farm at Salt Creek.

Rose married Jeff Clevenger. They lived just across the tracks from the Babcock farm. Jeff ran a thriving store serving as postmaster and station master for the many farmers who brought their milk to be shipped on the B & O from Babcock Station.

Maud married Charles Pillman who was a railroad man in Crocker.

Frank, so pleasant and gentle, died when he was just a young man.

Kitty married Fred Wimple, a teacher in the schools in the area.

In all the years Bill and Em were always together, making the best of everything that happened to them until the Civil War came. Bill was called and Em was left alone to care for the children as best she could. She had many trees, but no way to cut wood for fuel until the folks from the Daly settlement just south of Babcock came to her aid. Bill came home from service blind. Em took him to Chicago for treatment. While he was in the hospital there, the Chicago fire broke out. Em went to Chicago hunting for Bill and finally found him on the lake shore where the nurses had led the patients to safety. Back home Em gathered herbs along the creek bank and made an ointment that restored Bill's sight. (She had doctored sick neighbors successfully for many years.)

Later another war was to invade the Babcock family -- the son Dan and an underaged grandson, Virgil, were in Cuba during the Spanish-American War.

Tragedy ended Bill's life. As he was riding on the mower, bees stung the horses. As they bolted he was thrown from the seat and severely cut. By the time he was found, gotten to the house and a horse and buggy sent for a doctor in Valparaiso ten miles away, Bill had lost so much blood that he died. Now Em must go on sad and alone. Courageously, she had her son, A. J., build her a little white house beside the original big farm house. While tenants farmed her fields, Em had more time for travel (spending time with relatives in Washington and friends in California), reading and visiting.

On one trip she was fortunate to meet Carrie Nation whom Em greatly admired. A prized possession was an autographed book received personally from Miss Nation.

Through her reading of the welfare of the United States, Em became involved in politics. She followed the political aspirations of William Jennings Bryan and waited long hours for his arrival for a whistle stop campaign in Chesterton. Her patience was rewarded as Em pushed a favored grand-daughter up the train steps and they were the only two to shake the candidate's hand before the train moved on.

During a trip to Chesterton Em took a heavy cold which developed into pneumonia. She slept peacefully away in the little cottage on the Babcock farm.

People for miles around came to pay their respects to Em and -- indirectly -- to Bill, for with their passing, the community had lost that very remarkable couple -- the pioneers of Babcock Station.

Source: American Revolution Bicentennial Committee of Porter County. 1976. A Biographical History of Porter County, Indiana. Valparaiso, Indiana: American Revolution Bicentennial Committee of Porter County, Inc. 180 p.
Page(s) in Source: 77-78

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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