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 24.


Valparaiso Police Department History Goes Back Full Century of City's Life; James Jones Was First Official Head

Valparaiso's law enforcement body, the police department, which had its inception when Ruel Starr was elected justice of the peace, defeating G. Z. Salyer and John McConnell in the community's first election on April 3, 1836, has grown and become modernized with the growth of the city, and ranks with the most efficient of any city of its size in the state, although operating with a limited number of officers.

The city had its criminals and outlaws one hundred years ago. Crime was different in those days. Outlaws did stage holdups, steal horses, and commit other crimes, many of which are regarded as misdemeanors in the present day. The usual weapon was an old muzzle-loading pistol or rifle, and the only transportation was horses.

Crime has increased by leaps and bounds, probably more so in the last decade, especially after prohibition went into effect. With the entrance of prohibition came a new criminal, the bootlegger. He was regarded as "small fry" for a year or two but when he gained wealth and power, the country was confronted with the most dangerous type of criminal yet experienced.

Speedy automobiles, machine guns, sawed-off shotguns, and other modernized means of overcoming the law drove police to use similar method to combat the dangerous evil. They have been successful to a marked extent. The government stepped into the war on crime several years ago and has fought a winning battle, either killing or imprisoning most of the "big shots" of gangland.

Police now fight criminals with means which never were dreamed of by the officer of a century ago. They have experts on fingerprints, ballistic tests, laboratory experiments, lie detectors, truth serum and many other modernized methods which now make it difficult for the criminal to escape detection for long.

The first law enforcing officer in Valparaiso probably had but little to do. There were but few citizens in the community and they were probably of the law-abiding type.

The first election in this community was held April 3, 1836, at the residence of C. A. Ballard on grounds formerly owned by C. A. Tallcott, where W. B. Williams resides on Brown avenue at the foot of Michigan avenue. On May 28 of the same year a second election for justice of the peace was held at Ballards, and G. Z. Salyer received eight votes out of a total of fifteen for justice of the peace.

Valparaiso's police in the early days consisted of a marshal who was supposed to keep order, and was often times given help by civilians whenever the occasion arose. Generally the man picked out for this important job was capable of handling himself in most emergencies.

Anson Goodwin was the first marshal of Valparaiso. Many others served in the same capacity. James Maxwell and William Sergeant were old timers. The latter served more than twenty-five years in this capacity. Most every kid who played ball on the streets knew this distinguished gentleman for he had the uncanny habit of being about every place at once, especially when a ball game was on.

Tip Kyes, a big hulk of a man, and a terror to lawbreakers, also served in the marshal capacity for a number of years. Many of those who transgressed the law and clashed with the doughty Tip knew better the second time.

Terrence Billings, Claus Dreesen, Matthew Jones, Richard Lytle, Gregg Stansell, Matthew Brown, Joseph Crowe and T. C. Thedens also wore the badge denoting the rank of marshal.

In addition to the marshals, some of whom were elected by the people and others appointed by the mayor in later years, there were also patrolmen.

Matthew Brown, former marshal, and still a member of the Valparaiso police department, is the veteran of the local department. Mr. Brown was elected to the police department by the city council on June 1, 1895, or forty-one years ago. He has served only thirty-six years as a member of the department because of five years employment with the Pennsylvania railroad which was necessitated because of administrative changes.

Policeman Brown has had some thrilling experiences during this time, which have brought him into the limelight. One of these was the sensational silk robbery on the Pennsylvania railroad, west of the city, in 1897.

Four men broke into a car and dumped out $10,000 worth of silk along the right-of-way, between this city and the Grand Trunk crossover, at Louck's Crossing. Pennsylvania detectives, unable to cope with the men because of inefficient numbers, called on the local department for help.

Though not duty-bound to do so, Policeman Brown accompanied the railroad police to Louck's Crossing, and engaged the robbers in a gun battle. Bullets flew all around the officers. One man was shot in the head, but no one killed. Three of the robbers were captured, the fourth later apprehended in Chicago.

The assistance rendered by the Valparaiso man was never forgotten by the railroad, and when he failed of reelection at the hands of a democratic council years later, the Pennsylvania railroad placed him in charge of a fence gang.

Many other thrilling encounters were the lot of Mr. Brown during his long career as a police officer. One meeting he still remembers to this day is a fight with a man armed with a knife. The man flew at Mr. Brown as if to butcher him. Brown stepped back from the thrust, shifted to one side and shot one to his ear which toppled him to the ground. Then he jumped on him and the threat was over.

The local policeman is one of the most popular men ever connected with the department. In his younger days he was a crack first baseman on the old Valparaiso Maroons. The love of the pastime has never deserted him and he still exhibits as much interest in the game as he ever did in the heyday of his playing career.

James Jones, sergeant of police on the Pennsylvania railroad, and a veteran of thirty years in police work, was the first chief of police in Valparaiso.

From 1906 to 1910 he was a member of the Valparaiso police force. Then he resigned to enter the employe of the Pennsylvania railroad police department, under the late Captain Henry H. Stoll, "grand old man" of the Pennsylvania Lines.

After twelve years' service with the Pennsylvania, he returned to the Valparaiso to become the city's first full-fledged police chief under Mayor Edgerton W. Agar.

While his stay in this position was brief, due to the fact that he received a most remunerative offer to return to the Pennsylvania, which he accepted, he introduced many new features in local policing which are carried out at the present time. One is the record system and the other is the presence of an officer at the station at all time to receive calls.

Jones was succeeded as police chief by Robert L. Felton. He served two years and then was succeeded by Charles Cook. When May W. F. Spooner came into office in 1926, William Pennington became chief of police. Scandal enveloped his regime and he was ousted, and Robert L. Felton was again installed as chief. Felton served until January 1, 1935, when Freeman Lane was named by Mayor C. L. Bartholomew to head the department.

At the present time the personnel includes besides Chief Lane, A. C. Witters, captain; Jerome Frakes, Matthew Brown, William Clark, Ralph Humphrey, James Doran and Charles Gilliland, patrolmen, and Mrs. Anna Benson Cowdrey, police matron.

Article transcribed by Steven R. Shook


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