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, Pages 15-16.


As Compiled By History Class and Instructors For The Vidette-Messenger


Millions of years ago, Nature set the stage for the geologic action which produced the topography and surface soil of Portage Township.

Two hundred feet below our present soil is limestone of the Devonian age with its fossilized organisms. Extending from this limestone to the surface is glacial drift, which, containing no fossils, was left by the receding glacier that covered this area in past ages. The last great glacier of the northern hemisphere extended as far south as Valparaiso, leaving its terminal moraine in that region. One spur of this moraine, about two miles in width, extends into Portage Township and includes a portion of Twenty-Mile Prairie. This glacier gouged out a great basin, and after its recession this basin was filled with water, forming Lake Chicago. Lake Chicago was about sixty feet higher than Lake Michigan, and the northern border extended south to where Lincoln highway now is; Portage township was under water at the time. As Lake Chicago gradually receded, sand and silt were deposited, building up the present soil of this area. Several beaches apparently were formed during the recession of this larger lake, evidence of one being the sand in the sand-pit at Crisman. Another beach extended along the present location of the Dunes highway here in Portage Township.

The sand dunes on the north of the township form the most picturesque and striking feature of its scenery. They are the result of the wind and wave action of the lake. These great hills or ridges of sand rise to a height of from fifty to a hundred feet, being steep on the southern side with a gradual slope to the north.

Running south from the old dunes the soil of the township is mainly sand as far as the Gary and Valparaiso Electric Line. A great deal of this sand has been shipped to Chicago for building purposes. From there south the soil is richer with vegetation and is good farm land. In the McCool area there is a deposit of loam about two feet thick. This is being dug up and shipped to the steel mills for use in molding and calking boilers, etc. Along the Calumet river bed is found marl, a mixture of snail and clam shells with clay, which is a good alkali and fertilizer. The Lake Chicago beach sand is made up of quartz, silica, vegetable matter, clay and silt and has been found to be valuable in the steel industry. The Crisman Sand Company ships this sand to a number of steel mills and motor companies.

The chief drainage of Portage township is afforded by the Calumet River, which flows between two of the old beaches of Lake Chicago. It has a low gradient and is consequently sluggist of current and was formerly subject to frequent overflow. Burns Ditch was constructed to overcome this condition. Salt Creek is a small stream winding through the township in a northerly direction and finally draining into Calumet River. Willow Creek is another small stream running from a swamp in Garyton. It meanders through Garyton and drains into Burns Ditch near the B. and O. bridge.

The vegetation of our locality offers many varied plants, particularly in the dunes region. In this area we find many very different species of plants living together, a condition which is not duplicated in many places on our continent. This is due to diversity of conditions of moisture, food, sunlight and temperature. In a short distance one may find plants of the desert, as cactus; plants of the deep woods, trillium; plants of the pine woods, bearberry; plants of the swamp, larch; plants of the oak woods, salmon seal; and plants of the prairie, St. Johnwort and various grasses. Species of such different natural habitat are piled together in such abundance as to make a natural botanical preserve of our usual native plants and plants of many outlying regions. We may find the prickly pear cactus of the southwestern desert fighting with bearberry of the arctic and the alpine regions. A few of the other more rare plants are the jack-pine of the north growing in the bare sand, the larch, bunchberry, dwarf birch, sage, willow, orchids, cranberry and leather leaf.

South of the dune region we find the oak and sassafras trees growing together and farther south next to Union Township are the beech and oak trees and many ferns. Throughout the township are found the fringed and bottle gentien, cranberry marshes, the poplars, willows, and dogwood trees and many other flowers and trees.

According to records, a bear and a cub were killed in the northern part of the township in 1838. A few wolves and foxes were seen until people, railroads, and highways drove most of them out except for one or two dens of foxes. There are numerous woodchucks, gophers, red and gray squirrels, oppossums, skunks and minks and rabbits and a few raccoons and flying squirrels. The squirrels and rabbits are the only wild game animals.

The bird life of Portage township is more abundant than the animal life, both in birds of permanent residence, migration birds, and migratory visitors. A few of the permanent birds of this region are crow, blue jay, junco and sparrows. Some of the migratory birds are the robbin, wren, bluebird, goldfinch, meadowlark, morning dove, various wood peckers, cardinals and song sparrow. A few birds rest here only for a short time as they make their way north or south such as the geese, duck, and scarlet tanager.

Early History

One can not be sure who was the first white man to set foot on the soil which now comprises Portage township. One may conjecture that Marquette, Joliet, Hennepin, De la Croix, may have traversed this bit of land or that Fathers Allonez and Dabion crossed it in 1672 or that Don Eugenio Pierre when he came from St. Louis in 1781 to seize the lake shore for Spain may have set his flag here. At least, the flags of France, Spain and England flew over it before the stars and stripes. The first white settlers came in the spring of 1834 when Jacob Wolfe, Berret Door and Reuben Hurlburt brought their families and located claims within its boundaries. In the same year there came also two Spurloch brothers and R. and Wilford Parrott. In 1835 S. P. Robbins and Benjamin James and his son, Alllen, arrived and between 1836 and 1840 Perry Blake, Walker McCool, Thomas Field, Palmer, Summer, Peter Ritter, and Harrison Curtis, Smith and Arnold settled here. The homestead of Mr. Blake was built where Calvary cemetery is now located; but at the time the burial ground was established, the house, a two-story frame and chink building was moved south of the Gary and Interurban tracks and is still being used there as a place of residence. Mr. Blake also helped to prepare the grave of Mrs. Taylor in 1836 in Blake Cemetery, which was named for him although the ground had been donated by another settler.

The township as a political and geographical unit was created April 12, 1836 by a general order of the board of county commissioners and was probably named after Portage county, Ohio, but the present boundaries are somewhat different from the original ones. It was originally bounded on the north by Westchester Township, on the east by Westchester and Liberty townships, on the south by Union Township; and on the west by Lake County. Now Lake Michigan is the northern boundary. In February, 1850, sections 30 and 31, township 37, range 6 and sections 25, 26, 27, 34, 35, and 36 township 37, range 7, were taken from Westchester and added to Portage. These sections constitute a strip two miles in width across the northern part of the present township. Portage township is now four miles wide from east to west on the northern boundary and 5 miles in width on the southern. Its greatest length from north to south is a little over eight miles and its area is about 36 square miles.

To go back, the township was created April 12, and the first election was held less than three weeks later at the house of Jacob Wolfe and James Spurloch as inspector.

Twenty nine men polled their votes.

Conditions were hard for these pioneers. Homes were built from logs without nails; greased paper was used for the windows and quilts with sticks across for the doors. All supplies had to be brought from Michigan City, the nearest trading center and it was twenty miles away. Matches were a luxury, selling for 12 1/2 cents a dozen. Postage on a letter was twenty-five cents and payable on delivery. Conditions were hard but homes were built, schools established and industries begun. A tavern, the first in the township, was built in 1837 by an Italian, Carley, by name, on Willow Creek among the sand hills on the old stage line between Detroit and Chicago. Another was opened later by two women and these two were the only taverns that were kept in the township.

Of the earliest industries there is no definite knowledge. A sawmill was built among the sand hills in 1851 or 1852. It was run a while and then abandoned. One may suppose that much of virgin forest of this area may have been cut to supply the rapidly growing Chicago with building material. The fertile soil of the southern part of the township made dairying a profitable occupation and it is known that a cheese factory was running in 1874, which did a flourishing business.

By the time of the Civil War the township was well settled. There is no record of all those who responded to the call for men but from the county records we have the lost of those who went, leaving dependents: Stephen Coleman, Adison Crisman, Joseph Ensign, who died in service, Henry Gaylord, Joel Hunter, Frederick Kreiger, the grandfather of our present trustee, Carl Hamstrom; John Miles, who was disabled; Thomas Russel, Judson Stovins, Jerome Sargent; Ezra Spencer, disabled; and Charles Traiger. It may be mentioned here, too, that Henry Battan, a revolutionary soldier who now lies buried in Liberty township, first settled in Portage.


In 1840, four years after Portage township was created, the first schoolhouse was erected on section 20, township 36, range 6, about a mile and a half southeast of McCool. A Putnam Robbins was the architect and the labor and materials were donated. Not long afterward a second school was erected in the southwest part of the township.

Among the early teachers were N. S. Yost, M. L. Ferris, W. E. Hawthorne, Lottie Hewitt, Minnie Spencer, and Rose Mitchel.

The first school houses were log buildings. Windows were made by leaving out one log on the side and covering the opening with oiled paper. Window glass would have been considered too great a luxury to be placed in the school. Heat was furnished by a huge fireplace at one end of the building and seats were constructed of split saplings bored with a large auger and pins inserted to form the legs. The desks, which ran along the sides of the room, were wide board supported on pens drives into the logs. Goose quill pens were used. The course of study consisted, for the most part, of the three "R's". A pupil who mastered the "Rule of Three" in mathematics was generally considered accomplished in that field.

The earliest known record of Portage township business, which is in the possession of the present trustee, Carl Hamstrom, dates back to April 25, 1853. At this time there were four schoolhouses and a board of four directors, one for each school district.

There is an account of money being raised for school purposes at the rate of twenty-five cents on the one hundred dollars and twenty-five cents poll tax.

On June 14, 1853 the board met for the purpose of letting the "job of building" a school house to H. P. Wheeler for one hundred and ninety dollars to be finished by December first. There were four teachers in the township in 1854, one male and three females. The average salary of the male was thirteen dollars a month, and of the females, ten dollars per month. The average school term was one hundred and twenty days. There was expended for education two hundred and thirty-seven dollars, of which one hundred and fifteen was from the public fund for education and a hundred and twenty-four was from the special tax fund. The assessed valuation was sixty-seven thousand, five hundred and eighty-five dollars. The enrollment was one hundred and two males, five to twenty-one years of age, and eighty-three females, five to twenty-one years of age.

In 1856, the state report shows that the tax rate for schools was twenty-five cents on the one hundred dollars for property and a fifty cent poll tax. There were one hundred and seventy tax payers of which one hundred and nineteen paid on five hundred dollars or less and thirty-two paying on more than a thousand dollars.

According to the state report, by 1867, there were one hundred forty-eight males and one hundred twenty-two females, five to twenty-one years of age attending school. The school term had been increased to one hundred forty days and there were seven teachers, all of whom were female. The average wages was sixty cents per day.

The names and locations of the early schools as accurately as we have been able to determine them follow here in a rough chronological order:

The Robbins school was probably the first in the township and its location has been given above. The Heaton school was a very early one also. It was one half mile south of the McCool airport. The Peak School, another very early one, and which was later made into a residence, was located a mile east of the Lake County line and about three-quarters of a mile south of State Road 6. It was discontinued when consolidation took place. The Summer school, which was opposite the present residence of George Lute and the Blake School, which was across from James Love's store in Garyton were, consolidated to form the Bender or Blake school, which is being used as a residence by Herman Swanson at the present time. The Sand Knobs, which was located near what is know Old Glory Garage was discontinued in 1906 when consolidation took place. The Dombey school, which was abandoned in 1921, still stands. It is about a quarter of a mile west of the present Garyton School. The Fifield school, a very early one, was located one quarter of a mile west of the C. E. Fifield farm. It and the Robbins school were consolidated to form the present McCool school. The Wolfe school, located about a mile southwest of the Seven Dolors Shrine was abandoned and razed in 1918. The Ad Crisman school was located at Willow Creek.

Where Crisman now stands was created a log school house 18x24 which was used for nine years. The first term was taught by Elder Bartlett, a Baptist minister. Cyrus Sales taught next and after him the order came Christina Fry, Emily Gerhart, Chancey Gaylord, who was a cripple and the last to teach in the log house. A frame building followed the log construction and a brick building was erected in 1879.

The first school bus was purchased in 1906 by trustee, Burt T. Spencer, for the price of one hundred and twenty-five dollars. It was a horse drawn hack. A ruling was made at about this time that all schools having less than eight pupils were to be closed. This necessitated transportation of the pupils and accounts for the consolidation of many of the schools. A high school has been maintained at Crisman since January, 1909. It kept this standing until 1913 when it expired. There is no state record of the school's standing from 1913 to 1922 when it was given a commission. At this time an addition was made to the brick building and three high school teachers were employed whereas formerly there had been only two. Two or three years later the first gymnasium, a frame building, was built at a cost of approximately $12,000. The enrollment increased very rapidly and before the addition of 1922 was paid for the present high school plant was created at a cost of $90,000 and was ready for use the fall of 1929.

The high school was given an expiring commission in 1923 and kept this rating until 1928. An additional high school teacher was employed in the fall of 1927. In 1930 a conditional commission rating was given which was changed to a continuous rating in 1931. In the new building seven regular high school teachers and a part-time music teacher were employed. The school was organized on a six-six plan and on December 18, 1933, it was given a first class commission, one of the few rural high schools in Indiana to be so rated, the highest which the state gives. The authorities have an invitation to apply for rating on the North Central Association of Secondary schools.

Besides the high school three grade schools are maintained in the township; at Crisman with three teachers for grades one to six; at McCool, one teacher for grades one to five; and at Garyton, three teachers for grades one to six. The school building at Garyton was begun in 1921 as a two-room school on a four and one-half acre site purchased from D. P. Blake and was completed before the term ended in 1922. During the first part of the term the Swedish church was used for holding school as the former school building, the Dombey school, was not large enough. Because of the growth of the village, more room was needed and in 1927, two more rooms were added to the building, making it a two-story structure. In 1927 three teachers were employed for the eight grades; the following year four were employed, but in 1933 grades seven and eight were transported to Crisman to become part of the 6 year high school and thereafter three teachers have been employed for the first six grades.

In contract to the one horse drawn bus of 1906, today six large motor busses gather the children from all over the township and convey them to Garyton and Crisman.

Churches and Cemeteries

A young community always establishes schools and churches as soon as possible; in Portage, other buildings were used for worship at first, for the first church was the Presbyterian in 1852, at a cost of eight hundred dollars. Mr. S. P. Robbins built the church and furnished all the material and money except about one hundred and sixty dollars by subscription. After the church was completed, it was deeded to the trustees of the church. The first organizers were S. P. Robbins, Mr. and Mrs. R. Stoddard, Francis James, Emily James, Russell Door Daniel Richardson, Mrs. Leter and sister. Rev. J. Brown was the first pastor. Rev. Humphrey and Rev. Ogden were the only other two ministers. Eventually, the Methodists acquired possession of the building which was located about half a mile south of the village of McCool, the congregation having disbanded and the members having joined other churches.

The Methodist church, located at McCool, was first organized in 1855 near the present site of Crisman. Mr. McCool was the main factor in the construction of this small house serving for a church. After a time the Methodist organization died out, and the house was used temporarily by the German Lutherans. The present Methodist church is directed by Rev. Beatty with a total of ninety-one members participating in the church work. They have a joint service in the morning -- children and adults -- no distinct Sunday school. The oldest member, as far as records show, is Mrs. Peter Samuelson, seventy-one years of age. There are a Ladies' Aid and an Epworth League organization.

The German Lutheran Church at McCool has been organized at its present site since 1880. The first pastor, whose name is unknown, was an itinerant minister serving several churches. The present pastor, Rev. J. A. Bescherer, has served diligently since 1901. The church has a membership of seventy-five with two organizations carrying the activities -- the Ladies' Aid Society and the Epworth League. The four oldest members are Charles Hamstrom, John Gottlieb, Henry Slanger, and Mrs. D. Lenburg, whose ages range from seventy to eighty. This church is very active in its work and is growing steadily.

The Mission Church of Garyton and East Gary is the oldest church of that community. The land was donated to the church by G. J. Johnson in 1873. The first trustees were: J. P. Melon, Johannes Malmstone, Peter Gustafson, and C. J. Larson. In 1929 the congregation decided to affiliate with and become a member of the Swedish Evangelical Mission Covenant of America. The old church building was completely destroyed by fire on Dec. 19, 1929, but church services were continued in the Garyton school house and at the home of Mrs. Malmstone, until the new church building was completed on the old site and ceremoniously dedicated on Feb. 20, 1932. Rev. E. J. Mattson was pastor at this time of the building of the new church. The trustees during this construction were Nels Anderson, H. T. Lenburg, and Albert Parker. The Mission Covenant church has a total membership of fifty-two. The church extends its work through five organizations and societies: the Ladies' Aid, the Brotherhood, the Young Peoples' Organization, Confirmation class, Teacher Training group and the Sunday school. The present pastor is Rev. Bethel Bongston. The two oldest members are Nels Anderson, age seventy-five, and Christine Malmstone, age seventy-four.

The Hope Lutheran church, located at Crisman, was organized in 1893-94. The first service was approximately held on Thanksgiving Day in 1894. Services were continued without the aid of a constitution until April 5, 1896. Two more years passed before the church was dedicated on Feb. 6, 1898. The church has four very active organizations to provide Christian activity for some ninety-six communicant members: the Ladies Aid, Men's Brotherhood, Luther League, and the Junior Luther League. The present pastor is Rev. Carl Grabeman, who was preceded by Rev. O. K. Bosse.

The youngest church in the township is the United Brethren church at Garyton. D. P. Blake presented the community with the necessary ground. The church was dedicated on April 27, 1930, with D. A. Searfoss as pastor. The church was reorganized on Aug. 21, 1932, as the United Brethren church of Garyton under the direction of Rev. W. B. Taylor and Pastor L. E. Hawtin. The present pastor is Albert Smith. Mrs. Edward Anderson serves as the Sunday school superintendent. She was one of the directors of the present church building. The other organization within the church is the Young Peoples', administering activities for those between the ages of fifteen and twenty-five.

In 1929, the Franciscan Fathers established a monastery in the south end of Portage township. Within five years they built a Friary and a beautiful shrine to perpetuate the love of their founder, St. Francis of Assisi, Italy. It is called the "Seven Dolors Shrine." Judge Fetterhoff donated the land for the shrine and the Rev. John Lach, the present active pastor of the Immaculate Conception church of Whiting has been intimately associated with the undertaking. The Right Rev. John Francis Noll, D. D., Bishop of Fort Wayne, by his encouragement, was very influential in establishing the shrine, which has been known to peoples of distant cities and states and visited by thousands.

When S. P. Robbins donated land and aided in the construction of the Presbyterian church, he also donated one acre of land for burial purposes. The cemetery is located about one mile southwest of McCool, and about one-fourth of a mile east of the Robbins' home. There are seven soldiers interred, one Revolutionary and six Civil war veterans. S. P. Robbins lies within the family burial ground, together with several other pioneers, Mr. and Mrs. William Babcock, a soldier and his wife, and Mr. Ashton. There are approximately one hundred fifty graves, some with stones and some without. The cemetery lots are open to anyone who wishes to purchase a lot from the association. The present officers are Chester Robbins, president, and Ruth Robbins, secretary.

The Schrock cemetery is classed as one of the earlier graveyards of Portage Township. It is located one mile north of Robbins' cemetery. It was founded in 1836 by an unknown person. Mrs. August Schrock, the present owner of the land surrounding the cemetery states that the deed stipulates anyone who wishes burial there may have it upon request. This graveyard also has the distinction of entombing some of the pioneers of Portage township; namely, Allen James, 1838, Levenia James, 1845, who are the children of Russell and Emeline Door, the two first married in Portage, Bathanna Wolfe, who was born in Pennsylvania in 1779, and died Jan. 27, 1868, and Jacob Wolfe, 1851.

The Blake cemetery located near the present Mission Covenant church is an all congregation burial gound. Lots can be procured. No history is available.

The Calvary cemetery was organized by the Calumet Cemetery organization in 1913. It comprises a total of 101 acres and is located in Garyton. This cemetery is owned by a number of stock holders known as Calumet-Gary Cemetery Association. There are two thousand four hundred and twenty-six graves. -- the first one being Catherine B. Hennessey on June 5, 1914.

It seems that in 1876 the present McCool cemetery was located on the east side of the road back of the church. Mr. Weissmeyer, the donor, requested that the land there be used for church purposes, rather than for burial ground. When his request was granted he donated the present acre for interment purposes. This change necessitated moving several graves. The township owns the land and allows one lot for each taxpayer in the township. Any other person desiring burial on this ground may do so by purchasing a lot for $25 or a grave for $5. In this graveyard lie some of the early pioneers, Walker McCool, William McCool, Benjamin Fifield, Col. Wolfe, Benjamin Crisman and several Civil war veterans and a World War nurse. Each grave owner maintains his own grave.

Before the white men buries their dead here the Indians had a burial ground in the extreme north central end of the township near an old Indian trail where it is believed there are about twenty graves.

Roads and Railroads

The first road through Porter county wound its uncertain way through the wilds of Portage Township in the early part of the nineteenth century. This was the Fort Dearborn road, over which the government's soldiers carried mail between Chicago and Detroit in knapsacks on their backs. This road, which was established in 1831, was a very crude affair, but it was a choice road at that time, and the right to run a stage over it was let by the government by bids. This road, which at first followed the shore of the lake, was later changed and ran farther south through Willow Creek and east.

Michigan City was the supply center for all of Porter county for a number of years, and was known as "the city" far and wide. The roads were mere paths, at times impassible, and distance meant much to those early settlers with their crude conveyances. Twenty-mile-Prairie, in the northern part of which is a part of Portage township, derived its name from the fact that twenty miles separated it from "the city." The needs of the people for easier means of travel created an interest in the provision of building better roads.

The attempt to get to "the city" is exemplified by the early building of what is still called the Michigan City Road in Portage Township, which runs north and south through sections 23 and 26, township 36, crossing the present State Road 6 and angling northeast through the village of Crisman and out of Portage township in the northeast part, making its way on through Porter in Westchester township. We find the Michigan City road referred to in township records as having been completed in 1854, and the general effort seems to have been to establish links with this road.

In February, 1854, the Portage Township Board of Trustees accepted the report of S. H. Myers, John McPherson, and John Walton, viewers for the road coming into Crisman from the north, going west, then south from there. This road was another link with the Michigan City road.

In March, 1854, the board accepted the report of viewers and approved the establishment of a road running east from the Lake county line on the line between sections 15 and 22 to the north and south Michigan City road. The following July, the two other roads south of this one linking into the Michigan City road with the county line road were approved by the board. These roads, which were forty feet in width altogether, would present a strange contrast to our present day sixty, eighty to one hundred forty feet highways to be found in the township.

The Valparaiso-Liverpool road formed a link with the county seat in these early times.

The earliest records show that the highways in the northern part of the county were not developed to any great extent until a somewhat later date. In June, 1855, the board received a request for a road in the north part, but a remonstrance accompanied it, so it was dismissed without further consideration.

The east and west road which leads from the south edge of McCool to Calvary cemetery was petitioned for and granted in January, 1856, and the present Samuelson north and south road was approved the same year. Both of these roads are now hard surfaced.

The majority of the roads came into existence between the years 1850 and 1880. It seems that the majority of the township board's business consisted of accepting petitions, appointing viewers, and accepting reports, rejecting or approving the prospective roads according to the judgment of the viewers.

Thus the development of Portage Township's road system went on year after year until the present time which finds it one of the finest in the county.

Portage township is well equipped, with east and west highways, having three splendid paved roads: No. 12, No. 6, and No. 20, with state maintenance. U. S. Road 20, sometimes called the Dunes Relief Highway, is a splendid four-lane construction, which has done a great deal to relieve National Highway 12 of its excess traffic and has thus reduced the danger of travelling across northern Porter county.

Portage township, although it has no state of national highways carrying traffic north and south, has managed to maintain a fine road system of its own and has a well kept network of macadamized and otherwise hard-surfaced and graveled roads throughout the entire township.

At the same time that all of this development of public highway system was going on, we find the growth of another means of travel; just as important to the country as roads; names, railroads.

The first to be established were the Lake Shore, which is now the New York Central, and Michigan Central, which were completed at about the same time, approximately 1851. The Michigan Central was the pioneer railway by a very narrow margin of time, and it was by this road that the first goods shipped to Porter County by rail came.

During the year of 1874, the Baltimore and Ohio Railway laid its rails across the township, bringing with it much excitement and an unusual occurrence. According to the plan, it was necessary that the road should cross the already established Michigan Central railroad at the site of the present Willow Creek station. The attempt to cross the tracks was resisted by the Michigan Central and a riot was the result. The appearance of hundreds of armed men made a bloody battle seem  inevitable, but the matter was taken care of quietly and peacefully, without any fighting and the Baltimore and Ohio went through.

The Wabash road, which crosses both the B. and O. and Michigan Central tracks at Willow Creek station, just west of Crisman, was established some eight or ten years after this, and the Elgin, Joliet and Eastern came along soon after.

Other railroads running through Portage Township at the present time are the New York, Chicago and St. Louis (which is more commonly known as the Nickel Plate) and the Pennsylvania, both of which cross the southwest corner of the township; the Chicago South Shore and South Bend, and the Gary and Valparaiso lines, both of which are electric.

Altogether, Portage township has running through it a total of nine railroads, while another, the C. I. and S., which would follow the lake shore is proposed at the present time. Portage township has not only more railroads, but more miles of railway within its bounds than any other township in the county.

Towns of the Township

In the earlier period of its history, the inhabitants of Portage township were almost wholly engaged in agricultural pursuits. The rich soil in the southern half was well adapted to farming. Because of the nearness of Chicago, dairying became, after the advent of the railroads, the chief branch of farming, as it is today; now it is even more widespread than formerly, for the milk trucks picks up the milk at each farmer's home, whereas the shipping of raw milk into the city was previously limited to those within hauling distance of the railroad station.

The small towns developed in the last half century. Crisman, which was laid out by B. G. Crisman after whom it was named, and which was located on the Michigan Central railroad, and McCool, which was named after the pioneer family and is located in the triangle formed by the B. and O., the E. J. and E., and the Wabash railroads. This railroad junction attracted a few small business enterprises, houses were built there and in 1910 both towns were about equal in size. Postoffices were established at each place, the one at Crisman in 1891. The one at McCool is in operation at the present time but the one at Crisman was discontinued several years ago, that community now being served by rural routes from Chesterton and Gary. At one time there was also a postoffice at Dune Park, a small station on the New York Central railroad, formerly known as the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern. It has long since been discontinued.

In the last quarter of a century, following the building of the steel mills at Gary and the growth of Gary as a city, and because of the transportation facilities offered by the two electric lines, and by good roads and automobiles, the northern end, and particularly the north-western portion of the township, has grown rapidly in population because of the large number of industrial workers who make their homes there. This fact accounts for the growth of Garyton, a village on the Gary and Valparaiso Electric Railroad, comprising, with adjoining subdivisions, about sixty-nine houses, not including those of the surrounding rural district. The promoters of the town were the real estate firm of Van Lon and Funke of Gary, and the first houses were built by the Steel City Home Builders of Gary in 1914.

Portage has thus grown not only in population, but also in wealth, its assessed valuation now being $5,543,950, and the assessed valuation of Ogden Dunes being $243,210. Portage ranks in third among the townships, Center and Westchester coming first.

Portage has one other town of recent development which will be discussed in the next chapter.

Ogden Dunes

The story of Ogden Dunes begins long before the time of any of our readers. The first visitor here was Nature, and she seems to have been in one of her extravagant moods. Perhaps she foresaw some of the things which have taken place in more recent years. She has, at all events, laid very good foundations for them.

Nature, in the form of the glacier, gave this region an ideal arrangement of dunes and hollows for home sites for nature lovers. These dunes are arranged in three "levels," each of which commands a view of the lake, and the last, or highest, range commands a view of the back country as well. This is one of the few places on the lake where home builders can have such a wide choice of locations and, as it were, at the same time have the lake in the front yard.

Ogden Dunes is very fortunate in its variety of vegetation. Here again, nature has certainly outdone herself. She has give to this region five districts of plant life. First, is the indigenous vegetation, the native, of the kinds of vegetation which would be found here naturally. Second, is the Northern hangover type, of the kinds of which have been carried southward, and have found a suitable environment here in our Duneland. They have decided to live with us and have added much to the picturesque beauty of the dunes. Some examples of this type are jack pine, white pine, juniper, and bearberry or "kinnikinnik." The northern harebell also belong in this group. Third, we have the southern immigrants, or those which rightfully belong in the south, but which, having found their way here after arriving, having found a nice southern slope, protected from Lake Michigan's icy winds, have settled down to travel no more. In this group are to be found the tulip tree and certain of the grasses. Fourth, we find the Eastern vegetation. This is represented by New Jersey, ---?---, sea rockets, Mayflower or traveling arbutus, and the moccasin flower, or lady slipper. We account for these visitors by the fact that in early times, geologically speaking, Lake Michigan was a part of the Atlantic ocean. The fifth division consists of the Western type of vegetation, best illustrated by the well-known cactus which any visitor to the dunes must have seen. This cactus invites you with its beautiful, pure yellow, rose-like flowers, and at the same time, repulses your advances with its harmless looking, prickly leaves. Do not try to pick the flower, but be satisfied to admire it from a short distance, and it will repay you by continuing to add beauty and unique coloring to the dunes.

Nature, in Ogden Dunes, is a veritable Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde personage. The cactus, a plant of arid regions, grows within a few feet of the cephalanthous, or button-bush, a plant which grows only in water or very near it. Thus is made possible by the case with which the button-bush can send its roots down for water into the sand, on the top of which same the cactus gets is scanty moisture needed for its existence. In one part of this comparatively small area lives a pair or eagles, while less than a mile away can be found birds such as the wren and robin, which live close to human habitations. In a secluded spot one may see a group of moccasin flowers from the South, while just over the dune may be seen the juniper furze, typical of the north. Even the dunes themselves afford an example of these opposites of nature. These are living dunes and dead dunes; the living are the bare dunes which are everchanging in form and even in location, while the dead are the dunes which have stopped moving and have acquired a a shroud of vegetation. Sunlight and moonlight, naturally opposites, take on even more of the contrasting nature here in the dunes. The dunes by daylight are a wonderland of natural beauty, but with the soft ethercal glow of the moon they become in fancy, a fairies' playground or a witches' hollow -- depending upon the nature of the spot one happens to be in at the moment. In several places one may see the tops of trees looking up out of a living dune. The dune has engulfed the trees and will later move on and leave the bare trees standing as evidence of the work of the sands of time, or the time of the sands, just as you please.

The Dunes for years have been the natural home of the wild animals and it has been here that the animals have made their last stand against civilization. Within the memory of some of us, deer, foxes, wolves and the like have been trapped or seen within this region. There are still the opossum, raccoon, and an occasional fox to be found.

The ancestors of these animals must have been a source of livelihood for the early settlers. Certain it is that just outside the limits of Ogden Dunes proper, was an old trading post. Remains of stores, evidence of camping grounds relics of Indian life and other similar proof leaves no doubt in the mind of the student of such things that such were true. Perhaps boats stopped here for trading purposes also. One boat stopped, it is certain, for now, of the beach is just right and if the waves have been in an accommodating moods during the preceding winter, the top outline of the hull of an old boat can be seen. This is not always visible; Nature has to be on your side if you are fortunate enough to be one of the few who have seen it. I have seen it; I know it's there, but you will have to weave your own sea-faring yarn about it, for there can be no material found on the subject. Such a sailor's story is not hard to imagine if you visit the place on a windy November night when the waves are dashing a frenzy of foam over the heavy timbered outline of the hull. Nature has covered it up in the last few years, but as before she may, in one of her prankish moods, uncover it again and set us all the weaving stories anew.

The early settler did not take kindly to this region for this home. This was but natural, since his livelihood came from the soil and certainly this white glistening sand would not furnish much in that line. We have on record that a Mr. Goodrich in 1836 bought sixty acres in what is now the present town of Ogden Dunes for $75.00. That is quite a different figure from the price some of the same land brings today. The price of lots now ranges from $500 to $3,000 each.

Some years ago there was one man, a Mr. Banks, who made his home here. His time was spent in fishing. From that time on we have no definite record of anyone living permanently in this region, until the time of Diana of the Dunes. No history of Ogden Dunes would be complete without mentioning Diana.

She sought the refuge and solitude of the Dunes for some reason, not quite clear to us. For some years she lived further east in the dunes, but with the influx of home seekers Diana left there an came to live in what is now Ogden Dunes. At some time during her sojourn she met and married Paul Wilson, a powerful man, who used his great strength to protect Diana. She had a great influence over him and was the only one who seemed able to quiet his anger when he was aroused over the incoming of strangers.

They had a small abode a short distance from the lake and were living here when Mr. Samuel H. Reck took option on the land in 1922. They were permitted to remain here until Diana's death in 1925. After this Paul and Mr. Reck burned the place and destroyed the last vestige of one of the most romantic episodes in the history of Ogden Dunes. No, not all, for still to be seen lying in the hollow where the couple lived is the twenty-foot steel stack of a tugboat, which served as a chimney. To see this is to fill one with awe at the strength of the man who placed it there. To visit this spot on a quiet moonlight night is to make one wish history could turn back and permit one to converse with this couple who knew and loved the handiwork of Nature as she was to be ground here in Ogden Dunes. This was in the days before modern civilization made its debut about 1923.

The land for the town of Ogden Dunes contains four hundred eighty-six acres and was obtained from Francis A. Ogden, of Madison, Wisconsin. A small piece was obtained from a Mrs. Chamberlain in California.

In 1922 Mr. Samuel H. Reck of Gary took option on this land and laid plans for the development of a restricted lake front community.

In 1923 Ogden Dunes, Incorporated, was formed to take over the contract for the land from Mr. Reck. The same year Mr. Reck had a home built for himself and family near the lake. This was the first permanent home to built of the lake front between Miller and Michigan City. The material for this home was hailed by a four horse team from Dunes highway. A far cry, this, from today when high powered cars go up and down the hills and travel at ease within sight of the beach and over the same trails which Indians trekked and Paul and Diana wandered such a few years ago.

The town of Ogden Dunes was formed in 1925. At a special meeting on August 31, 1925, the following trustee were elcted: Samuel H. Reck, Lynn A, Glover, and R. B. Nicholson. Nelson Reck was elected town clerk and treasurer. Samuel H. Reck was president of the Board of Trustees. The present Trustees are E. M. Kratz, president; James E. Cassidy and Harold M. Whelpley.

The Ogden Dunes Realty Company was formed in 1927, to stimulate sales, and since then the growth of the town has been quite rapid. In the spring of 1930 there were thirty-five homes here and now in 1936 there are seventy-three homes, with several now under construction and several more contracted for. From all indications it would seem that the venture started by Mr. Reck just fourteen years ago has certainly borne fruit. For those who remember the dune land as it was when the only way to reach Portage Township's lake front was by tramping over hills, the change is more than remarkable; it is awe-inspiring and perhaps not altogether pleasant for anyone who likes Nature in the wild.

Nature is protected, however, here in Ogden Dunes, and few predations are made against her, other than those necessary for the building homes and roads. Many spot can be found within a stone's throw of the road, which, except for the hum of a passing motor on the other side of the dune, are just as Nature planned them. Certainly these were not places which are liable to get into the movies, yet such a thing has happened.

The Ogden Dunes Ski Club was responsible for this fame. In 1927 the Grand Beach Ski Club, which later changed its name to Ogden Dunes Ski Club, bought a strip of land on a high hill over which was later built the largest steel ski slide in the world. The rear towers of the slide were one hundred ninety-two feet high, or equivalent to the height of a twenty-story building. The first ski meet was held on January 22, 1928, and a meet was held each year for four years thereafter until January, 1933. The longest jump ever made on this slide was one hundred ninety-five feet. In 1932 the guest stars were the champions from Norway who later took all prizes at the Lake Placid Olympic meet. It was at one of these annual meets that Paramount News Reel took pictures, which were shown in theatres throughout the United States. The Ski club met with reverses during the depression. Expenses were especially heavy in the years when snow had to be imported from northern Michigan and Wisconsin. In the spring of 1935 the steel structure was sold to the Rockford, Illinois ski club, and during the summer was dismantled and re-erected near that city. Now a road has been built to, and a home is under construction on the top of the hill over which thousands have walked and a few daring souls have leaped. Thus Nature is returning, in part, to a place where she once nearly lost her foothold.

Burns Ditch Harbor Project

Mention has been made elsewhere of the fact that the main drainage of Portage Township was the Calumet River and that it was subject to frequent overflows. To correct this, the Burns Ditch was excavated in 1928 for drainage purposes. By draining flood waters into Lake Michigan this makes the surrounding land available for agricultural purposes. Two major promoters were Judge Crumpacker of Valparaiso, and Senator Burns.

Deed for an open harbor on Lake Michigan for Porter county was felt and the mouth of the Burns Ditch seemed the ideal spot. The first steps toward building this Burns Ditch Harbor were taken in August 27, 1930. The Mid-west Steel Corporation, a subsidiary of National Steel, which at this times owned a large tract of land adjoining the proposed Burns Ditch Harbor, planned to erect a steel manufacturing plant at this location of the harbor project could be accomplished. The Mid-West Steel Corporation submitted a survey to the United State Board of Engineers for Rivers and Harbors which later resulted in an unfavorable report. Later, in the fall of 1935, the promoters of this proposed Burns Ditch Harbor had a hearing in Chicago before the Board of Engineers for Rivers and Harbors, at the office of Resident Member 2848 Munitions Building. Those present at this Chicago hearing were Brigadier General George B. Pillsbury, senior member; Colonel Wilbur Willing, resident member; Colonel Earl I. Brown, Richmond; Colonel George R. Spaulding, New York; Colonel Elliott J. Dent, Baltimore; Colonel Max C. Tyler, Cleveland; Lieutenant Colonel Glen E. Edgerton, Washington D. C.; J. Ben Walker, executive secretary. Various worthy reasons were proposed by the Indiana representative some of which were that a harbor need existed at this location to help the steel industry and labor in this section; that a city would develop here and added tax revenue would aid the state of Indiana and the federal government, etc.; evidences of similar values were submitted at this Chicago hearing, which was unfavorably acted upon.

In Washington, D. C., another hearing was held April 2, 1936. Those present were Governor McNutt, Indiana; John Ward Wheeler, chairman Std. Planning Board, member State High Committee, Indiana; Cong. Charles J. Hallock, second District, Indiana; Congressman Wm. Schulte, first district, Indiana; Senator Sherman Minton; Congresswoman Virginia Jencke; H. B. Snyder, editor Gary Post Tribune; Mayor Clayton, Gary, Indiana; P. W. Clifford, Valparaiso, President Northern Industrial Division Association; F. M. Clifford, director Valparaiso Chamber of Commerce; F. W. Morton, member Executive Committee, Northern Industrial Division Association; George A. Nelson, secretary Northern Industrial Division Association and Secretary Valparaiso Chamber of Commerce; N. S. Amstutz, Research Patent Attorney before Supreme Court of the United States; Wm. Urschel, director, Valparaiso Chamber of Commerce; Wm. J. Benning, Consultation Engineer, city of Chicago; L. M. Whipple, editor Valparaiso Vidette-Messenger; James Crane, editor, South Chicago Reporter, Calumet Clean Streams Commission. At this hearing the Board of Engineers for Rivers and Harbors was asked to review the reports on the Burns Ditch Harbor, Indiana. The Honorable J. J. Mansfield, chairman of the Committee of Rivers and Harbors recognized the probably future need for a suitable harbor for general commercial use on the Lake Michigan shore of the State of Indiana, but it was of the opinion that the selection of a site for such an improvement should be based on a comprehensive review of the whole available frontage rather than the consideration of the site at Burns Ditch alone. A consideration and review of this entire lake shore in Indiana will be made in the future.

A bill has been introduced in the House that calls for a survey and an examination of the lake shore of the State of Indiana, with a view to the establishment and construction of a new and adequate commercial harbor at the most suitable site. If this harbor is, at some time, constructed on the Burns Ditch site, Portage Township will experience a great industrial development.

A history of the township would not be complete without a mention of the airport located on Section 19. It was first established in 1924 about a half-mile northeast of its present location on the land of Glen Robbins, an emergency landing field for the air route between Chicago and Cleveland. Later it was moved to its present location bordering U. S. 6 on the land of Ross Crisman. Frequently especially in bad flying weather, planes land there. The lightkeepers and caretakers in 1924 were George Samuelson, and now in 1936 are Louis Himebrook, Harry Ditser, and Mr. Rowlett.

Article transcribed by Steven R. Shook


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