The Vidette-Messenger Centennial EditionThe 1936 special edition celebrating Porter County's centennial year . . . .

The following article has been transcribed from the August 18, 1936, issue of The Vidette-Messenger, published in Valparaiso, Indiana. This particular special edition focuses on Porter County's centennial celebration and contains a 94-page compendium of Porter County history up to that time.

Return to the index of articles from The Vidette-Messenger's Porter County Centennial special edition.

Source: The Vidette-Messenger, Valparaiso, Porter County, Indiana; August 18, 1936; Volume 10, Section 1, Page 16.


THE CITY OF VALPARAISO HAS HAD FOURTEEN MAYORS. Thomas J. Merrifield Was City's First Executive, Taking Office In 1865; Population in Excess of 2,000

The early city fathers, ambitious for the progress and welfare of their community, did not long remain content with the fact that Valparaiso had been converted - in 1850 from a hamlet to an incorporated town, even through the transformation took place 14 years after Porter county was formed. The actors of the municipal government changed, as did environment and circumstances, and fifteen years later in 1865, Valparaiso became incorporated as a city, even though the community status was little beyond that of a settlement.

Official municipal records beyond 1865 are absent from the city hall files, although various local histories give fragmentary accounts of the scenes and players of the days of incorporation as a village and later as a city. It will be recalled that Obadiah Dunham was the first inspector of elections. The town council generally met at the county recorder's office during part of the town's existence.

The assembly numbered six members. These were frequently changed, an election was held every year, and many citizens belonged to the number. The records of the council during the first four Olympiads of the organization were almost wholly devoid of interest, as only matters of minor importance claimed the attention of the councilmen, who were little disposed to be meddlesome or arbitrary in their measures.

Valparaiso has had fourteen mayors, seven republicans, six democrats and one independent. The ex-mayors living are P. L. Sisson, E. W. Agar, Louis Leetz and Harold J. Schenck. Valparaiso has grown from 2,000 when Mr. Merrifield was elected to approximately 8,000 or more in 1936 as Mayor C. L. Bartholomew begins the second year of his four-year term.

Valparaiso's first mayor was Thomas J. Merrifield, a democrat. Although the legislature of that year passed a general law providing for the incorporation of cities early in the session and adjourned in March, the excitement attendant upon the close of the Civil war and the assassination of President Lincoln was so great that no steps were taken to establish the city government until late in the year.

In November the city was divided into three wards and election of officers ordered for Monday, November 27. All parts of the municipality lying east of Franklin street constituted the First war; that portion between Franklin and Lafayette constituted the second ward, and the third ward embraced all that part of the city lying west of Lafayette street.

At that time Valparaiso had a population of more than 2,000, due to the return of soldiers from the war. The deferral census of 1860 gave it 1,690. Ten years before that, 1850, the census figures were 520. In 1860, Porter county's official population was 10,205.

Thomas J. Merrifield was an outstanding lawyer of his day. Born in New York state, he came to Mishawaka, Ind., and in May, 1855, was admitted to the bar at Goshen, Ind. Two months later he came to Valparaiso. Here he associated himself with State Senator Stephan T. Anthony until 1863. In 1858 he served in the Indiana assembly. He was later a law partner of Congressman W. H. Calkins, and then with Colonel Gilman Pierce, who later went to Chicago to assume control of the Chicago Inter Ocean. Other law partners of Mr. Merrifield were A. D. Bartholomew, William Johnston, E. D. Crumpacker and John E. Cass.

The first meeting which consisted of Dr. George Porter, Tilgham Hogan, J. C. Pierce, Obadiah Dunham, A. W. Sommers and A. W. Kellogg, was held December 2, 1865, and four meetings were held before the close of the year. The first ordinance was intended for the promotion of public morality by providing heavy penalties for profane swearing, notorious loudness, vagrancy, gambling and so forth.

Ordinance Number two gave special police powers to every special official. Other ordinances related to the city organization, the raising of revenues, the improvement of streets and so forth. John M. Felton, father of the late Chief of Police Robert L. Felton, was city civil engineer during Mayor Merrifield's first term.

The terms of the first officers expired in May, 1866, when the first regular city election was held. Mt. Merrifield was reelected mayor and served until 1868, declining a third term.

In 1866, the first water works was established with some financial assistance from the county. The system consisted of several cisterns which were never adequate to the demands of the city. They were located in the corners of the public square, and a large hydrant was established in front of the court house. The water was supplied through pipes running underground from the Washington street spring, south of the Pennsylvania railroad. The engine house was a two story frame structure at the spring. The expense of the enterprise was large, the cost being several thousand dollars, but the investment well repaid the enterprising city. On March 13, 1868, the council ordered the issuing of $50,000 in bond as a subscription to the Peninsular railway, later the Grand Trunk, to ensure the passage of the railway through the city. The Powell woolen mills and the Salyer paper factory were built during 1866 and 1867, and manufacturing enterprises in general received attention in the city. The year 1866 marking the Centenary period of American Methodism, was celebrated by the Methodist congregation in a public manner. In the following year the large tower and wing to the east of the old college were erected. In the same year the boundaries of the city were enlarged by the incorporation of Institute addition in Southwest Valparaiso.

Valparaiso's second mayor was Thomas G. Lytle, a republican. Mr. Lytle seemed to have a hold on the people that whenever he wanted the mayor's office, it was his for the asking. He succeeded Mr. Merrifield in 1868 and served four years.

Mr. Lytle came to Porter county from Wayne county, Ohio, in 1840. He served two terms as sheriff of the county from 1854 to 1858. During the Civil war he organized Company C. of the 138th Indiana Volunteer Infantry, and was chosen captain.

Mayor Lytle's first administration was marked by continued enterprise. One of the first acts of the council was to secure the control of the Old City cemetery, and to establish a new one, and laid off in the most artistic and elegant manner. A hook and ladder company was organized, as the beginning of a fire department, and an engine house was built east of the court house square.

The most marked event of Mayor Lytle's second administration was the purchase of the Valparaiso College building for city school purposes, and the erection of a public school edifice, the Central school, which in size and elegance was unsurpassed, perhaps unequaled by any other graded school in Indiana at the time. The first addition to North Valparaiso was incorporated in 1870. A move was made to build a bridewell. This however, was never done, and the city used for this purpose the basement of the Merchant's Hotel. During the greater portion of the time, Mayor Lytle's office and the city council chamber were maintained in the block of the Academy of Music. Within the year was commenced the publication of the Democratic Valparaiso Messenger, by E. Zimmerman.

John N. Skinner, a democrat, was the third mayor. His term began in 1872, and he served continuously for five terms until his death in 1882. During his terms of office a number of important events transpired in the history of the city.

Like his succeeding ones, Mayor Skinner's first administration was not marked by any enterprise which involved a large amount of money. An enormous debt had been incurred, and an era of strict economy was begun. Public improvement of the streets, however, went steadily on. One of the most exciting events of 1872 was the discovery of probable cause of murder near the city. No clew to the myster was ever found.

In 1873, the only pin factory west of New York was established in the city. A number of fine business houses were erected; notably those on Washington street. The Northern Indiana Normal School was established in the buildings of the old Valparaiso Male and Female College, then discontinued by Henry Baker Brown, a young professor from Republic, Ohio, and has rapidly rose to the front rank in size among American educational institutions. The winter that followed was signalized by the Temperance Crusades, in which all the leading ladies of the city united. By this singular movement Valparaiso became one of the most noted of all cities in the Union, receiving more attention from the press of the great cities east and west than any other locality, Lincoln, Neb., perhaps along excepted. In the midst of the intense excitement, Mayor Skinner issued a proclamation declaring that the city ordinances must be enforced. This had the effect of repressing disorder, though the temperance ladies retaliated with a proclamation of their own.

Mayor Skinner's second administration was marked by the completion of the Peninsular railway (now the Grand Trunk), in 1874. The finances of the city were at the beginning in a deplorable condition, which arose from the deficit of the former treasurer, William Fox. Under the skillful management of Treasurer Harrold, and the judicious course of the council, they were soon re-established upon a firm basis. Fox's bondsmen made good his shortage and the city was able to proceed upon an even keel. During this year the Valparaiso high school held its first commencement.

Early in 1875, the council chamber, which had hitherto been kept in the Excelsior block, was transferred to the brown stone block on Washington street, north of the First National bank. During this year was a degree of building enterprise hitherto unknown. The Grand Opera House of L. Fiske, immense school buildings, and a dozen business houses were erected in one season. Early in 1876 the fire department was established by the city, consisting of four companies, with two engines, a ladder car, and hose cart.

Other important events of Mayor Skinner's fourth and fifth administrations were the building of the City Hall on Indiana avenue in 1878, the issuance of a franchise to John W. Stratton for a gas works which was erected; the construction of a city jail in the rear of City Hall in 1881, and the granting of a franchise to the Chicago Telephone company to erect poles and maintain an exchange in Valparaiso. An independent company was also organized. After a time the whole plant passed into the hands of the Chicago Bell Telephone company.

Thomas G. Lytle then bobbed up to hold the office again following Mayor Skinner's death. He served until 1886. It was during his administration that Valparaiso had a water works fight.

In the fall of 1882, a move was made to build a water works. Joseph Gardner, Valparaiso banker, made an estimate of the cost of the water works, placing the figure at $34,000, exclusive of labor. At the time the city was in debt up to the constitutional limit, $50,000 having been voted in 1868 to the Peninsular railway (Grand Trunk), and other indebtedness incurred in making municipal improvements.

In February, 1884, the city council entered into a contract with Miciah Walker, of Port Huron, Mich., and Don A. Salyer, of Valparaiso, to build a water works system. A franchise was granted for fifty years with stipulation that the water come from Flint lake.

Immediately following the council's action, Joseph Gardner instituted an injunction proceedings in Porter circuit court against the council on the ground that the indebtedness would exceed five percent of the assessed value of the taxable property of the city. The lower court filed in favor of Mr. Gardner, but on appeal this ruling was reversed.

The council on February 1, 1885 entered into a contract with Walker and Salyer. A pumping station was built at Flint lake and in the fall of 1886 water was turned into the mains. Under the terms of the contract the city had the right to purchase the plant at any time after fifteen years.

During Mayor Lytle's term, on January 25, 1884, the police department was organized by ordinance.

The democrats returned again to power in 1886 when Alvin D. Bartholomew took office. He was one of the city's prominent lawyers and was associated during his career Colonel Gilman Pierce, William Johnston and E. D. Crumpacker. Mr. Bartholomew also served as judge of Porter circuit court through appointment by Governor Thomas R. Marshall.

One of the outstanding achievements of Mayor Bartholomew's administration was the reorganization of the fire department by an ordinance adopted January 29, 1886.

Thomas G. Lytle succeeded Mr. Bartholomew in office in 1888 and served four years, or until 1892. It was during the latter part of Mr. Lytle's administration that the present brick pavement on Jefferson street was laid. The Memorial opera house was built and the Dulaney clock works located in this city in the Mica factory building.

Frank P. Jones, a democrat, was elected mayor in 1892, and served until 1894. On April 9, 1894, the city council granted Edward S. Tice, of Chicago, a franchise to erect an electric light plant. In September following he sold the franchise to Elmer O. Noe, also of Chicago. Charles A. Sweet became possessor of the franchise and erected the plant. Later he purchased the gas plant of J. W. Stratton and consolidated them.

Colonel I. C. B. Suman, veteran of the Mexican and Civil wars, was the next mayor of Valparaiso, being elected in 1894, and serving two terms until 1898. He saw service under General Zack Taylor at Palo Alto, Monterey and Buena Vista, and the capture of the City of Mexico. He was a member of the Ninth Indiana Infantry in the Civil war and rose to the rank of captain, declining the rank of brigadier-general by brevet for distinguished service.

During Mayor Suman's administration, Valparaiso was visited by a branch of General Coxey's army, led by Randall. The army followed the Grand Trunk railroad here and camped at the fair grounds over night. Great excitement was caused here by there arrival.

The latter part of his administration was marked by the Spanish-American war. Mayor Suman, an old army man, was much in the limelight when local companies were formed here to enter the service. He made a number of trips to Indianapolis to hold conferences with Governor Finley Mount, tendering the services of a company of 105 men, and filing their names with the adjutant general. When Porter county failed to gain recognition because of the fact that only sixty-two companies were selected in the state, many of the men joined other companies.

In 1898, Addison E. Woodhull, a democrat, was elected mayor and served four years. The Chicago Mica Company, one of the city's leading industries, was located here in 1899 through the co-operation of citizens and city authorities who contributed $5,000 as a bonus to the company. The Valparaiso Business Men's association was formed in 1900 to aid in developing the city. Councilman Gardner also fathered an anti-spitting ordinance in the city council which became a law.

In 1902, William F. Spooner, Valparaiso's four-time mayor, appeared on the scene and held the stage for the next four years, being re-elected in 1904 and serving until 1906.

It was during his first term as mayor that the vexatious water works question was settled after years of litigation. The Valparaiso Home Water Company was formed and bonded for $90,000. The company, headed by O. P. Kinsey, took over the plant with the understanding that as soon as the bonds were paid from the earnings of the company the city was to have the plant by payment of $100.

In 1905, the Indiana legislature changed the law in regard to mayoralty terms, making it four years instead of two. William H. Williams, former druggist, became the first mayor under the new four-year law. He defeated Mr. Spooner by a close margin, and started his new term in 1906.

One of the important events of Mayor Williams' administration was the building of the Valparaiso and Northern interurban into Valparaiso.

Four years later in 1910, William F. Spooner was again the city's mayor, defeating his old opponent, W. H. Williams, by a close margin. During his term an extensive program of street improvement was begun, in which many of the city's brick streets were built.

Perry L. Sisson, son-in-law of Thomas G. Lytle, the city's second mayor, became mayor in 1914, defeating Mr. Spooner. Mr. Spooner, running on the Citizen's tickets, was pledged to a program of economy and efficiency. During his first term little in the way of municipal improvements were made in an effort to cut down the tax rate. The Valparaiso public library building was built during 1915-16.

Mr. Sisson was re-elected in 1918, and his second regime was taken mainly by the World war period. Mr. Sisson took an active part in many of the World war activities. The new McGill factory buildings on North Lafayette St. were built during 1919.

Mr. Sisson was succeeded by Edgerton W. Agar, a republican, who took office in 1922 and served until 1926. Mr. Agar's regime was outstanding for one act, the creation of a water board headed by himself as superintendent. Another important bit of legislation was the celebrated building code ordinance which passed on August 8, 1924. The Forest Park addition was added to the city in May, 1924, and the council by a sweeping resolution ordered the construction of 100 new sidewalks throughout the city. The Ku Klux Klan also held a big celebration at the fair grounds on July 4, 1924. In the same year the Calumet Gas Company piped gas here from Hammond for the local supply. Valparaiso was also given a fourth class ranking on Sept. 25, 1925, by a ruling of Attorney General Arthur M. Gilliom.

The zoning and flasher signals on Pennsylvania and Grand Trunk ordinance was introduced in the council during the latter part of 1925. The city's flasher signal was installed at Lincolnway and Franklin in 1925.

William F. Spooner was reelected mayor in 1925, defeating Mr. Agar. The new mayor took office on January 1, 1926, and then began a long-drawn out fight between the two men over water department affairs of which Agar was superintendent. The result was that Agar finally resigned and George W. Eifler was named in his place.

Valparaiso's $400,000 trunk line sewer system was projected in 1929, and was featured with legal controversy from its very beginning. It was finally finished by the Pennsylvania Surety Company, of Pittsburgh, Pa./, after Carl D. Traxler, the contractor, had defaulted, and then lost his life in an automobile accident. The negotiations for the acquisition by the city of the water works from private interests was successfully completed when the city complied with the terms of the contract made with local citizens and paid over $100 according to agreement. Another highlight of the Spooner regime was the codification of the city ordinances after forty years.

Mr. Spooner died in May, 1928, and Louis F. Leetz, a member of the council was elected by the council as his successor. During his term the council was engaged mainly in supervising sewer construction and rehabilitation of the city water works distribution system.

Harold J. Schenck became mayor in 1930. A republican, he was an easy victory over Dr. Malcolm B. Fyfe, democratic candidate. Mr. Schenck had been a member of the old council in 1903 when the question of municipal ownership of the water works was up. One of his first moves was the adoption of a garbage ordinance which is still in operation today. A number of asphalt streets were built during the Schenck administration.

An attempt on the part of the Leetz council to annex a large tract of land north of the city in the Wolff's Corners district was knocked out by the council. During the administration the council created a board of trustees for the water department which functioned for a time and later was abolished. The administration was the target for attack on part of various factions, and four of the members of the council were indicted by a grand jury, but later the charged were dismissed. One of the amusing bits of legislation was the enactment of a snow shoveling ordinance passed on July night when the thermometer hovered around the 100 mark. The Schenck council also made settlement of the sewer suit, which the Spooner and Leetz councils had failed to agree upon.

Efforts of the council to build a sewer disposal plant and a storage tank and three miles of distribution lines in rehabilitating the water works were frustrated by opposition of citizen groups. The Schenck administration as a final gesture provided for funds in its final budget for acquiring rights-of-way for the widening of Lincolnway, which led to its improvement by the state highway commission. The Urschel farm, north of the city, was leased for five years for a municipal airport.

The Schenck administration served five years due to the celebrated skip-election law passed by Governor Paul V. McNutt.

Mr. Schenck was succeeded by Charles Leroy Bartholomew, a republican. He took office on January 1, 1935. The creation of a sewer department which has given beneficial results and the acquisition of the right-of-way for the Lincolnway widening, settlement with property owners and the building of the street was one of the highlights of the Bartholomew regime. Through clever coup on part of Mayor Bartholomew the city received the brick from the old paving. A large amount of this was used in street and alley repair and other purposes. A large amount of street sidewalk repair was accomplished during the year with WPA labor. A move to build a sewer disposal plant was left up to a referendum vote of the people and it was voted down 2 to 1. The council amended the daylight saving time ordinance to include one more month to accommodate Chicago and Calumet commuters and refused to rescind the ordinance at behest of farm groups. A parking lot for farmers was also established on the Griffin lot on Indiana avenue. By refusing to sign a contract until a more favorable offer was made the council was able to obtain substantial savings on its street lighting bill for 1936-1937.

Article transcribed by Steven R. Shook


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