Monday, May 2, 2016

Wildflowers of Ainsworth: Wild Ginger

2016-5-2. Wild Ginger 1
(Click on images to enlarge)

I had been seeing colonies of these round-leaved plants on the forest floor in Deep River County Park, and thinking I'd identify them once they bloomed. At last it occurred to me that maybe I had better check for blooms under the leaves. And there they were.

2016-5-2. Wild Ginger 2

Ugly little things, aren't they? According to Jack Sanders, their ugliness serves a purpose: "An early bloomer, wild ginger attracts the types of early-spring flies and gnats that come out of the ground, looking for the thawing carcasses of animals that died over the winter. These flies are probably drawn to the flower by the dull red color, similar to carrion …."* He also says that wild ginger is not botanically related to the ginger you buy at the grocery store, but the roots have a similar taste.

2016-5-2. Wild Ginger 3

2016-5-2. Wild Ginger 4

*Jack Sanders, The Secrets of Wildflowers: A Delightful Feast of Little-Known Facts, Folklore, and History. Guilford: The Lyons Press, 2003.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

In the Rocker, by the Window

his is how Eldon Harms remembered his grandfather, Henry Harms, Sr. — sitting in the rocker by the window in his big house in Hobart.

2016-4-30. lh005
(Click on images to enlarge)
Images courtesy of Eldon Harms.

In the photo below, probably taken the same day, Henry is holding his granddaughter, Lois (daughter of John and Sophia (Schavey) Harms).

2016-4-30. lh004

While the photo is undated, Lois was born circa October 27, 1915 (Social Security Applications), and here she looks to be only a few months old, so we can probably date the photo to the winter/spring of 1915/16.

The photographer was a Helen R. Webster of Chicago.

I forgot to mention in the previous post that the house had a small barn on the alley, where Henry and Anna kept a horse and buggy. They kept chickens in an enclosure in the backyard.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

"Adopt America as New Home"

In the summer of 1922, two pre-teen girls left their widowed mother and their siblings in Lithuania, and "traveling only with friends," crossed an ocean and a third of a continent, to end up in Ainsworth with Uncle Charles and Aunt Amelia.

2016-4-28. Goldmans adopt immigrant nieces
(Click on image to enlarge)
Hobart Gazette 4 Aug. 1922.

When we first met the Goldmans, I mentioned that the 1920 Census showed them with a 16-year-old daughter who hadn't been listed in the 1910 Census. Her name was Ada. While she was indeed described as their daughter, the birthplaces of her parents did not match those of Charles and Amelia, so she must have been adopted. As far as I can determine, the Goldmans had no children of their own, but willingly opened their home to other people's children.

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Over in the "Local Drifts" column on the right, we find an item about a family reunion at "H.W. Kent's home, near Deepriver." This was Hugo William Kent, and his home was just over the Porter County line, on the Lincoln Highway. Until now I've ignored the Kent family, but I just started looking into H.W.'s background and found enough to make me think he deserves his own post.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Hobart Harmony House

Here is the southwest corner of the intersection of 7th and Lincoln, in 1970:

Henry and Anna Harms house in Hobart.
(Click on images to enlarge)
First two images in this post courtesy of Eldon Harms.

Henry and Anna Harms house in Hobart.

As we can tell from the signs, this was the Hobart Harmony House Conservatory of Music. Here is a listing for that business in a 1962 Hobart directory:

Hobart Harmony House ad

The house had been built long before, however, on a farmer's town lot, and for many years was the home of Henry (Sr.) and Johanna Harms.

How long before, I do not know, but I did find this intriguing item in the "Local Drifts" of the Hobart Gazette of Nov. 15, 1901: "Paul Newman is building a brick foundation for Henry Harmes' new house that will be built next spring just west of Main street and south of the 'J' railroad." If the Harmses had previously built a house on that lot, you would expect that item to describe the new house as being next to the present house. Early in March 1902, the Gazette mentioned that the house was nearing completion, and the Harmses planning to move into it soon.

The 1901-02 house is no longer standing. The house that now occupies that corner was built in 1970, according to the county records, so perhaps the two photos above show the old Harms house in its last days.

The second house from the corner was built in 1925, per the county records. That one, I believe, the Harmses built so that they could live in one and rent out the other … but I haven't got that far in my newspaper reading yet.

The records give 1918 as the building date of the third house from the corner; that's the one that Fred and Mayme (Harms) Harney moved into in July 1920.

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As for the Hobart Harmony House, I don't know much about it, except that if you went there seeking to learn to play the bagpipes, you were out of luck.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

The End of an Era

Image courtesy of Eldon Harms.
(Click on image to enlarge)
Image courtesy of Eldon Harms.

Eldon Harms
April 1, 1924 — April 18, 2016

The photo above was taken on April 1, 1954 — Eldon's 30th birthday. It shows him standing in front of his 1950 Mercury, his favorite car. "Dummy me," he once said, "I traded it in for a 1954 model because I just had to have the new thing. I wish I'd kept that 1950 Mercury. That was the best car." And he'd had plenty of other cars in his lifetime, to judge by.

We encountered this photo in the last album we looked through together, Eldon and I, just last month. Over the course of the few years I've known him, we'd been through nearly all the photos he had, but this album was up on a high shelf in a closet, and we hadn't found it before. The album began with photos from the early days of his marriage, before he and Norma owned a house or had children. I found those photos so touching — just a young couple on their own together, free to do as they pleased; one who loved to drive, one a happy traveling companion … and hundreds of miles of open road. They drove all over the country on vacations. Aside from the usual attractions, they visited the shore of Lake Michigan on a winter's day and photographed each other standing on the shelf ice. "You aren't supposed to do that," Eldon said, mock-shamefaced, as we looked at those pictures. "It's too dangerous." But there was Norma, snappily dressed in a skirt suit and high heels, risking her life with a beaming smile. The album (arranged in chronological order, like all his albums) goes on to show the old John and Sophie Harms place as it looked when Eldon and Norma bought it "on a promise and a prayer," as he said. There are photos of what looked to be a very fun housewarming party. And then photos of their baby daughters.

I wish I had met Norma, but I never had that opportunity. She died in 2005, before I started my historical research, and it was this blog that led me to contact Eldon in 2010. A former co-worker of his at NIPSCO happened across the blog, saw Eldon's name as my guess at the identity of the "Harms boy" who'd seen Henry Nolte's murderer, went to ask him about it and (to his surprise, since Eldon had never mentioned the murder in all the years they'd worked together) got an earful. That same co-worker tracked me down and told me I should talk to Eldon. "Maybe I will," I said. Thank goodness I did. He became a wonderful source of historical information and material.

Eldon had an interesting range of experiences in the Ainsworth/Hobart area. He grew up on a farm where the plowing and harvesting was done with teams of horses; where his parents produced molasses from their own sorghum and apple butter from their own orchard; where the light came from kerosene lamps and the water from a windmill. His family never had electricity until he was about fourteen. Eldon had broken in a team of young horses in the field where Big Maple Lake is now; he had plowed with a tractor where Veteran's Memorial Park is now. As a high-school student, he earned money for textbooks and a suit of clothes by tending the 2,000 hens at the poultry farm run on the old Chester place. He was lawn-mower and driver to John Dorman. He worked with his father in Hobart's historic old mill, and years later was able to tell me the location and function of the various buildings in the mill complex. He also worked at the Wheeler mill. Eventually he settled on a career with NIPSCO.

He had a knack for describing people as they appeared to him. Milton Brown, one of the partners who ran Hobart's old mill, was kind but peremptory: hearing of a school holiday, he showed up at the Harms farm and asked Eldon: "What are you doing while the schools are closed?" and when Eldon replied, "Nothing," said, "You're coming to work for me." John Dorman was a "grand old man," involved in everything that the high society of Hobart did, exacting and careful of his own dignity. Gust Lindborg, presented with the challenge of a broken piece of machinery, would become lost in studying it, while Eldon quietly saw himself out of the shop, knowing that Gust needed and wanted no help and would get the job done. Jack Hendrix, a professional musician, responded sharply to Eldon's question about when he would "start" a particular engagement: "I open on such-and-such a date." ("He educated me," Eldon said with a laugh.)

Through him I got to meet so many of the Ainsworth people I've talked about in the blog, and the farm animals and machinery, and the cars. When we (his home health aide and I) were looking at old pictures with him, we sometimes had to laugh at the way, at each turn of the page to a new picture, Eldon's eyes would go straight to any car in it, and he would announce, "That's a Studebaker," or "That's a Ford V-8," or "That's a 1958 Desoto," before he'd say a word about any people in the photo.

Eldon did have a home health aide in the last few months of his life. He was not allowed to drive, and practically housebound. For someone who had always been active, hard-working, and self-reliant, that must have been difficult. Eldon liked to quote his mother's saying: "Growing old is not for sissies." He found out the truth of that. And I don't mean just the physical infirmities of old age. There was one statement I heard over and over as Eldon talked to me about the people of Ainsworth and Hobart: "He's dead," "She's dead." Sometimes he would just throw up his hands and say, "Everybody's dead!" I once said to him, "That's the problem with life: you either have to die, or stand around and watch everybody else die. And I don't know which is worse." "I don't either," he said. He and Norma used to clip the obituaries of their relatives and friends until the task became overwhelming. And finally, Eldon told me, there came a day when he had to miss a friend's funeral to attend Norma's.

It sounds awfully depressing, doesn't it? And yet, during the many hours I spent with him over the years, he was nearly always cheerful — laughing, joking, making fun of himself — interested in the world, interested in other people. Though I began spending time with him just to learn about Ainsworth, eventually I spent time with him just because he was good company.

And so, as a friend, he will be greatly missed. As living history, he is irreplaceable. The title of this post is another favorite phrase that his mother and father used to describe an event that meant things would never be the same again: "It's the end of an era." That phrase had come to mind, Eldon said, the night he watched the old mill in Hobart burn. And now it comes to my mind. Eldon has gone, and taken Ainsworth with him.

I wish him rest, and if there are happy reunions beyond this life, he is having plenty of them.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

South of Deepriver

Random bits from the countryside south of Deepriver, late July-early August 1922.

2016-4-20. South of Deep River
(Click on images to enlarge)
Hobart News 3 Aug. 1922

I don't know exactly what a separator canvas is, but the wording of that item suggests that the farmers of southeastern Ross Township had chipped in to buy themselves a communal farm machine — a sensible thing to do — and it was getting a workout in that summer's wheat threshing.

… Here's a little article about a threshing machine that has a separator and a canvas, somehow or another.

2016-4-20. Separator
(Click on image to enlarge)
From the Chilton Tractor Journal, Vol VIII, No. 4 (April 1, 1922). Retrieved from

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Elsewhere in the August 3, 1922 issue of the News, we find out that the strikebreaker has still not recovered …

2016-4-20. Ida Heck Carlson et al.

… and among the familiar names in the second column, we also find Miss Jeanette Peterson, daughter of Lena and George. The Hugo Zobjeck at Camp Knox in Kentucky was Hugo Jr., now about 17 years old.

In the third column are a couple of obituaries. The first concerns the untimely death of Ida (Heck) Carlson, who probably grew up on the old Heck place. The second brings me to consider the Wilson family of Union Township, Porter County, whom I have considered very little up to now. Mrs. Jane Harwood would have been Aunt Jane to "Miss Leola Wilson of Blachly's corners," and also, I believe, to Ralph Wilson, who in his youth took music lessons from Ainsworth's own Hugh Dotzer ("Ainsworth Pick-Ups," Hobart Gazette 6 Jan. 1905). In my notes and in the blog, I find several references to Wilsons, and some day when I retire and have time on my hands, perhaps I shall investigate which of them belonged to the Wilson family of Union Township.

Here is the farm of Jane's parents, Amos and Hannah Wilson, as it appeared on the 1876 plat map:

2016-4-20. Wilson 1876
From, courtesy of Steven R. Shook.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Hobart Then and Now: Nickel Plate Bridge

Ca. 1906, and 2016:

2016-4-18. Bridge 001
2016-4-18. Nickel Plate bridge 2016
(Click on images to enlarge)

Thank goodness the sender wrote those identifying notes — I would never have recognized the first photo as Hobart. Even with the notes, I have to take her word for it. The best I can say is that I don't see anything in the 1906 photo that would rule out Hobart. (And you can see a smokestack about where you would expect the brickyards to be.) The bridge looks like a railroad bridge, as opposed to the Third Street bridge, so I'm guessing Nickel Plate, and that assumption fits with the view of the buildings that make up downtown; also, there's a water tower on the opposite side of the river, which would be needed by steam engines.

You cannot stand where the circa-1906 photographer stood and get anything remotely resembling that photo. The riverbank is steeper now and heavily overgrown, and the Norfolk Southern bridge has become a massive earth-and-cement structure that constricts the river and blocks your view of the town. I had to stand up higher, nearer to the tracks.

Here's the verso, with the 1906 postmark.

2016-4-18. Bridge 002

I have no idea who any of these people were.