History of Porter County, 1936A brief county history written by Mabel Benney . . . .
The following history of Porter County, Indiana, was published in 1936 and authored by Mabel Benney. This historical sketch of was included in a program published for the celebration of Porter County's centennial in 1936.
Benney, Mabel. 1936. Brief History of Porter County. In: Porter County Centennial, Souvenir Program. Valparaiso, Indiana: Leonard D. Smith. 16 p.
BRIEF HISTORY OF PORTER COUNTY
BY MABEL BENNEY
resume of Porter County history relies mainly on the account written by Hubert
M. Skinner in 1882. No one loved the place of his nativity more than he or was
more alive to the beauty of its varied landscape, hills and dales, rolling
prairies. noble trees, sunny pastures, watered by winding, spring fed streams,
and the solemn glory of the wave washed dune land, habitat of the most
variegated fauna and flora in the world.
We have no record of Porter County being the permanent abode of the Indians but rather a happy hunting ground at certain seasons of the year, as they passed around Lake Michigan between Wisconsin and the state of Michigan and stopped for indefinite periods to hunt, fish, or as some believe to visit the medicinal springs in different parts of the county. They remained, however, long enough and in sufficient numbers to attract the attention of the French missionaries, traveling, from Canada toward the Mississippi. In 1672 Fathers Allonez and Dablon visited the lake shore. In 1673 Marquette with six followers paddled up the Kankakee. In 1679 about thirty men, among whom were LaSalle, LaMotte, Father Hennepin. and the Chevalier de Toni, crossed from Illinois to Michigan, probably by the Old Sack Trail. In 1711 many Indians embraced Christianity under the teachings of Chardon.
Traders followed the Church men. These were both English and French. Both traded "fire water" for furs. The missionary Charlevoix, mentions this and the rivalry between English and French as the cause of much strife. In 1759 the territory passed to the English. One of the results of the French and Indian War. The Pottawatomies always favored the French. In 1781 Don Pierre siezed the lake shore in the name of the King of Spain. This occupation was short lived. In 1783 at the close of the Revolution, the Colonies interpreted the treaty with England as giving them claim to the Lake Michigan shore; in 1896 Great Britain acknowledged their claim; and in 1803 Col. John Whistler passed through this country on his way to the Chicago River, at whose mouth he erected Fort Dearborn.
From 1816 when Indiana became a state, traders passed back and forth from Detroit to Fort Dearborn, notably Alexander Robinson and Joseph Baille, the first of mixed English, French, and Indian blood, the second a pure Frenchman. Finally in 1822 Baille, who had married an Indian girl, made his permanent home at Baille Town in Westchester Township, presumably the first white settlement in Porter County. A stage coach line from Detroit to Fort Dearborn in 1833 brought settlers in considerable number to the county. Jesse, William, and Isaac Morgan, Adam S. and T. A. E. Campbell, Jacob Fleming, Reason Bell, and Ruel Starr were among the number. The Crumpackers, Bartholomews, Gossets, Paines, Hurlburts, Jacob Wolf, Thomas Frame, Jesse Johnston, J. P. Ballard, and Abram Stoner came the next year. Many of their homes became road houses for the entertainment of travelers. Some brought in small quantities of goods for sale; others turned to milling, blacksmithing and wagon making. By 1835 all were buying government land, establishing homesteads, and setting out orchards. Finley's "Hoosiers' Nest" described these homes.
Wherever a considerable number of people gather together, boundaries must be marked, laws agreed to, and courts established. Porter County was set up by act of legislature January 28, 1836. Provision was made by the appointment of Benjamin Saylor as sheriff and by empowering him to order an election of two associate judges of the circuit court, one clerk of court, three commissioners and one recorder. Judges elected were James Blair and L. G. Jackson; commissioners, John Sefford, Benjamin Spencer, Noah Touts; recorder, Cyrus Spurlock; clerk, George Turner. The new county was named for Commodore David Porter, one of the naval heroes of the War of 1812.
In 1836 the first session of circuit court find .Judge Samuel C. Sample holding court in the home of John Saylor, south-east corner of Franklin and Lincolnway, first in the front room, later under an oak tree on the lawn. Many of the settlers of '33, '34, and '35 were among the jurors, which included also Wilson Malone, Lewis Corner, Solon Robinson, David Bryant, William Trinkle, John Jones, and James Ross. In 1837 a frame court house was built on the block west of the present court house square by Solomon Cheney at a cost of $1,250.00 and a log jail, where the present jail now stands, arose in 1838.
Religious and educational facilities were cherished equally with law and trade by the early settlers. The rendezvous at Baille's home was the scene of many gatherings, where the Catholic priests instructed both whites and natives all through the county. Later such rendezvous were held by the priests. As small hamlets were founded in other parts of the county, these were visited by home missionaries of many denominations. Miss Mary Hammond taught school in a log school house near State Road 49 as early as 1835; a circulating library dates back to 1837. Religious services were held by the Baptist denomination as early as '35 or '36. The present church in Valparaiso was organized by Rev. Alpheus French in 1837. Rev. J. C. Brown, who came to Valparaiso in 1839, organized churches at Salem, Tassinong, and Twenty Mile Prairie as well as the Valparaiso church. Byron Smith has in his possession a scrap book of his grandfather, Sylvester Smith's, mentioning a Methodist class meeting in 1835 at Valparaiso. Very early there were preaching places also at Morgan Prairie, Kankakee, City West, Horse Prairie, Hebron, Salt Creek, and Louis Penock's home.
Newspapers, another agency of uplift and intelligence in a community, were inaugurated by James Castle's Republican of 1842. William M. Harrison and William C. Talcott were among the early publishers.
As mentioned before the stage coach was the earliest public conveyance and the Detroit to Chicago line the first one to pass through Porter County. Michigan City was the market for selling produce and buying supplies. It was reached by a day of difficult and dangerous travel over corduroy roads; later by a plank road. The driver generally slept on the floor of the warehouse over night and returned home, if lucky, the third day. It was not till 1858 that the county seat boasted a railroad. Ruel Starr and John Skinner were instrumental in securing its right of way for the Pennsylvania. The Lake Shore and Michigan Central had crossed the county to the north three years before. With the coming of the railroads Porter County entered on a new era of progress. To this period belong the three institutions of higher learning which the people of the county have enjoyed and profited by, the Valparaiso Male and Female College, the Valparaiso Collegiate Institute, and the Northern Indiana Normal School. The first two, established by the Methodists and Presbyterians respectively, were short lived. The third still flourishes as Valparaiso University. It was founded in 1873 by H. B. Brown, who bought the building of the Valparaiso Male and Female College. His school was known the length and breadth of the land for the sterling type of citizens it sent into every state of the Union. The Dodge Institute of Telegraphy also dates back to this period and has made an enviable record for itself.
Following the Civil War many of the beautiful old homes in the county were erected; the brick business blocks, the Grand Opera House, the Academy of Music and Memorial Opera House. Brick churches took the place of the old frame structures. The corner stone of the court house was laid in 1883. The corner stone of the beautiful Catholic Church of Valparaiso the same year. Other denominations followed her example.
At this time also several manufacturing ventures flourished for a season. The present Continental Diamond Fibroc offices date back to 1864. The school city of Valparaiso in 1870 acquired the building of the Presbyterian Collegiate Institute; and the first consolidated school in Porter County was opened under Superintendent W. H. Banta.
The history of modern Porter County dates from the World's Fair of 1893. From that great object lesson came the impulse for water works, better roads, and electricity in homes as well as public buildings. The telephone and automobile followed, moving pictures offered amusement within the reach of everyone. Yet amid all these distractions Porter County remains a farming community with spots of beauty and recreation, which attract travelers from every state in our land.
Transcribed by Steven R. Shook, April 2012