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 3, Page 11.


Memories of Early Valparaiso --- There Were Traditions of the Puritans, Of Southern and Eastern Aristocrats

Eggleston and Riley have put an indelible stamp of ignorance and bad grammar on early Indiana. Moreover, such people as Ralph Hartsook and the circuit rider encountered were to be found no doubt in large numbers along the Wabash and Ohio rivers. But there were, even in the early days, place of a different atmosphere, where the tragedy and comedy of life went on under high aspirations. Pious aristocrats from New England or Virginia settled in large enough numbers many towns of the state to maintain, in spite of the sprinkling of poor whites and Indians, the ideals of their earlier environment.

Such was my home town in the middle of the nineteenth century. There the Puritan traditions of a half dozen Connecticut families, most of whom were related by blood or marriage, mingled with the perfume that pervades the home life of those gentle folk fortunate enough to have been born in the colonial mansions of Maryland and Virginia. There were besides a few thrifty New Yorkers, at least one dominant strain from Pennsylvania, and another one from old England.

Washington street, of generous width, rising gently from Main street, intersected narrow humble lanes, with the exception of Jefferson street, which might have been considered something of a rival, since the Methodist and Presbyterian churches fronted it, as did two earlier attempts at institutions of higher learning. However, after a hundred rods of level road, Jefferson street plunged abruptly into ravine, while Washington street in the early days offered unlimited possibilities of prolongation through gently rolling prairie.

Some far sighted pioneer had planted either side of the roadway with hard maples, delicately green in the spring, gorgeous in all the shades of red and yellow in the autumn, furnishing grateful shade in the summer and beautiful, graceful outlines of bough and branch in the winter. Early the first families of the town had appropriated its pleasant incline, while humbler folk built up the outlying squares; so naturally it would seem in any group is humanity prone to set up class distinctions sand to widen the cleavage with passing years.

In the early days the well-to-do pioneers built for themselves houses of different degrees and styles of magnificence; but to occupy even one of the small cottages, hastily built and waiting to be replaced by a more substantial structure, carried with it some distinction. A succession of well-kept lawns met the eye on either side of the road; pansies, moss-roses, and mignonette bordered the brick walls; carefully trimmed hedges shut from view the kitchen gardens, which invariably occupied the space at the rear of the house; white picket or iron fences enclosed each lot, whose gates must neither creak nor sag.

Within the houses the families severally cherished some "relics of old decency," as my brother used to express it, solid silver brought from back east, real lace, or mahogany furniture. In our own home were some pieces of Puritan marble, which scarcely fitted in with our homely furniture but which shower the heights to which the family might attain if money were more plentiful. Browning was not alone in being confronted by what he aspired to be and was not.

And yet the true gentility of the street depended not on brick or stone. The principles and ideals of the people who dwelt in these pleasant homes, constituted their real claim to superiority. Every family had its own traditions, savoring the best for which the race stands; and these traditions gave to each household some individuality and at the same time added stability to the common stock. Lives were ordered as circumspectly in this new environment as they had been formerly in Orange county, New York, or Frederick, Maryland.

These two names cling in my memory; no such fruit was to be found elsewhere on earth; no such butter, no such cattle as in Orange county; and the perfume of the wild honeysuckle, carefully transplanted from Maryland, recalls the halcyon days of my own mother's girlhood in Frederick.

Duties and pleasures were all after accepted standards. In the same pew each Sunday the whole family sat together for the morning service. Certain families living near the house of God came early and were comfortably settled before those a few blocks farther away arrived. What a pleasant procession they made on a sun-shiny sabbath! It was expected that a husband and mother with a large family of children, for Sunday apparel usually required some extra adjustment. A sure sign of caste was the possession of these sabbath robes, which otherwise seldom saw the light of day. The first minister of the Presbyterian church had laid down this dictum on dress, "Keep your best for church, the national holidays, a funeral, or a wedding day."

In the early days nearly all the families on Washington street were Presbyterians, the doctor, the two bankers, the druggist, the two lawyers, the head of the Presbyterian Institute, the principal dry goods merchants, and several men who had brought money with them from the east. In those days a few thousand made a man a capitalist. There were two forty-niners, who, it was whispered, could tell if they would wonderful tales of the gold fields. Neither belonged to the church, although the sobriety of their lives was if possible more pronounced than that of their neighbors. The orthodoxy of the street looked askance at the non-conformity of these two silent, kindly men and trusted the Lord would remember their benevolence and the sound faith of their wives, who it was known met weekly to pray for the salvation of their husbands.

One of the joys of life in spring or fall was to sit in one's pew and watch the new costumes displayed at church. The merchant had been to New York for goods and had brought home to his daughters silks which they had fashioned into wonderful creations. Mrs. Hunt's velvet bonnet had cost ten dollars. Aunt Mary Buel had bought at Marshall Field's a real cashmere shawl; she had promised to her niece when she was through with it. Mrs. Wilson's black silk had turned to look as good as new.

Such before and after service were the items exchanged sub rosa by the women. Sometimes there was an unusual note of expectancy, Mary Jeanette had sent a purple satin to her mother direct from Paris. For many years only two families in the street could speak familiarly of "abroad." Mary Jeanette, the most beautiful and fascinating creature in the world, so the tradition ran, had married a painter and gone to Paris to live.

There was added delight, when visitors furnished a new note of color to the church procession. The town was greatly indebted in this respect to the doctor's wife, whose wealthy relatives from Philadelphia, came and went in rich apparel, to the satisfaction of their hostess and the gratification of her neighbors. Handling her gold headed cane more as an emblem of superiority than a support for her feeble limbs and wearing the heaviest of dark colored silks, I have been told that the ladies above Arch street in Penn's city carry a magnifying glass when they go shopping and count the number threads in a square inch in a fabric before purchasing -- came Aunt Keziah.

Such material as she bought seldom wears out; and, the doctor's wife being handy with her needle and Aunt Keziah fond of new clothes, the great nieces frequently blossomed in some of her rich brocades the very first week of her visit. She never travelled alone, so her favorite niece, Jennie, swelled and dignified procession that issued from the doctor's side door on Sunday. Sometimes she brought with her a child of my own age, a very superior child in an embroidered frock and an elegant blue silk bonnet.

But Sunday was not the only day where ceremonies were duly ordered. On Washington street the maids put out long lines of snowy clothes on Monday morning. Every family kept one maid and trained her to do her work according to accepted standards. Clothes never hung on the lines over night, even if rain made it necessary that they put out again the next day. I remember a woman characterizing a family who had recently moved into the neighborhood with the remark, "They are the kind that leave their clothes line up all the week."

Tuesday was ironing and baking day, the cook stove heating the irons for the maid and at the same time baking the bread and pastries prepared by the mistress of the house. There were innumerable ruffles to be fluted on garments four and five yards around. To have such apparel was highly commendable; to keep it spotless a part of the creed; to economize on fuel with wood only two dollars a cord was also laudable. And so the week sped, each day devoted to the duties which properly belonged to it.

Thursday was left open for events, both public and private, not down in the regular calendar, weddings, sewing bees, and donation parties. My aunt desired to be married on the anniversary of her birth; but since May fourth fell on Wednesday, prayer meeting night, she as a matter of course postponed the ceremony until the next evening.

Every Saturday the good wives of Washington street made ready for the sabbath by putting their homes in order and by preparing special dainties for the Sunday dinner. Little was cooked on the sabbath; yet the meal was a festive one. Relatives on that day visited each others' homes or strolled together through the country lanes; but there was no promiscuous visiting. "He spends Sunday at her house" meant that a young man had serious intentions.

To be sure there were some differences of opinion. A great uncle looked askance at my mother's fondness for Dickens. All novels were evil in his eyes. Didn't they declare themselves fiction. He was a New Englander and objected to making merry at Christmas, so he bestowed his gifts at Thanksgiving. My father's people came from England, and my aunt instituted the English Christmas. She sent my father to the sand dunes of Lake Michigan to find an English Christmas tree; she moulded candies for it, strung pop corn and cranberries to festoon it, made bunnies of cotton for each child in the Christmas party; she frosted cakes and baked cookies of curious design for the Christmas feast.

The Connecticut father and mother next door had qualms of conscience as they watched her preparations but could not deny their children the joy of dancing around the lighted tree. I have heard a daughter of the Connecticut household say that her father took off the curse of making merry at Christmas by always giving his children bibles for presents.

My aunt was the dominant personality on Washington street for several years. She followed Mary Jeanette's mother. A minister's daughter and versed in the scriptures, she taught in the sabbath school, was president of the missionary society, and could speak or pray in the women's meetings to the edification of all. She was well read and had reared a large family in the fear and admonition of the Lark. But I do not believe this gave her the prestige she enjoyed so much as did her well ordered household, her exquisite needle work, and her beautiful flower garden. Her shelves were filled with the choicest preserves, her cake was most sought after at the church suppers. She entertained with that blending of thrift and hospitality thought so desirable, in that community. She had abundant means and exercised a wise charity.

Her nearest neighbor was a woman cast on the same mold but obliged to each a living for her family. She kept borders; yet her home had none of the earmarks of the traditional boarding house. Her living room was the stateliest room I had ever seen, as a child, and suffers nothing by comparison now. Everyone recognized her beauty and realized her nobility of character, but everyone commented on the dignified, quiet way in which she managed her household and maintained her high standards of domestic economy.

Such are my memories of my home town. When I think of Sinclair Lewis' book, I wonder why we choose to dwell on the sordid Main Street of the Middle West, when we know that crossing it at right angles we may find the simple refreshment, the blessed fragrance of Washington street.

Article transcribed by Steven R. Shook


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