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 23.


County's Stately Court House Razed By Fire After 51 Year Reign

The destruction of the Porter county court house by fire on December 27, 1934, was one of the hardest blows dealt Valparaiso and the county in many years.

The razing of the 51-year-old structure, seat of the county government, was a distinct loss to every citizen, and the factional fight which followed over its restoration was a blot on the progressiveness of the community.

Warned time and time again that a fire hazard existed, county commissioner boards, especially these of later years, remained derelict in their duty in making the proper changed which would insure safety to the building.

Some twenty or more years ago, Frank D. Chase, Chicago architect, was employed at a cost of $860 to draw plans for remodeling the building. The cost was estimated at $30,000. No further action was taken after the plans were submitted.

Later on one county board was warned that the electric wiring in the building was defective. No steps were taken to remedy the situation.

The fire which gutted the majestic building was a spectacular one. With the thermometer below zero firemen from Valparaiso; Gary and LaPorte fought the blaze with small success. Flames leaped higher than the 175-foot tower and carried embers for a long distance, threatening other properties.

One fireman, Raymond Meinke, of LaPorte, died of injuries when the LaPorte fire truck, returning to LaPorte, skidded on the icy highway, six miles east of Valparaiso and was wrecked.

Burning of the court house precipitated a bitter fight between republicans and democrats owing to the death of Morgan Porch, democratic county commissioner, a short time before the fire. The controversy found its way into the courts and is still undecided.

Destruction of the records caused Porter county courts considerable trouble and inconvenience. A large amount of records stored in the court rooms were destroyed. Some of the cases had been tried, while others were pending.

Because of the lack of court facilities many cases from Lake county generally venued here were lost by transference to other counties. Much of the business which formerly came here was shunted to LaPorte and Jasper counties.

William Hutton, of Hammond, employed by the county commissioners to draw plans and specifications for the old building and also for a new building was the center of a political fight in which J. H. Wilson, Valparaiso citizen, and a son of John D. Wilson, builder of the court house in 1883-4-5 filed and injunction to enjoin the county commissioners from paying him any money on his contract. It was claimed that the county board had failed to make any appropriation to cover the contract before it entered into one with Hutton.

Hutton finally countered with a suit of his own, demanding $6,910, but agreed upon a settlement of $2,500 in the LaPorte superior court where the case was venued. Hutton had acted for the county in the settlement of the fire loss by which the county received approximately $100,000 from the insurance companies.

Porter county authorities in order to receive government aid in rebuilding filed numerous petitions with the state PWA. Opposition developed in certain circles against accepting this aid, and finally the PWA turned thumbs down on all petitions.

Several surveys were made of the razed building to determine the fitness of the foundations and walls for rebuilding.

E. H. Ward and Company, Chicago, hired by the county board, made an unfavorable report on the foundations and walls. Another inspection was made by engineers of the Indiana Industrial Board and their report was that the foundation and framework were sufficiently strong to bear the load contemplated.

In a final showdown the WPA notified Porter county authorities it did not care to allocate funds for an old building on the ground that it was technically and economically unsound to remodel the old structure.

Early this year Walter Scholer, of Lafayette, was employed as architect to draw plans for remodeling the structure. Scholer drew plans for reconstructing the building at a cost of $172,000, which were finally approved by the county board.

At present appropriations and a bond issue in this amount have been approved by the state tax board. Bids are expected to be asked sometime in September and work on the new building started in October.

Article transcribed by Steven R. Shook


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