Thursday, December 31, 2009

Two Lives for Five Dollars (Part 2)

(Continued from Part 1)

(Click on image to enlarge)
This aerial view, taken in 1938 or '39, shows the area east of Ainsworth, with its 1934 residents marked.

On the morning of December 31, Ed Davis, the young hired hand, showed up at Henry Nolte's farm to help with the morning chores. He found no one stirring, which was odd — Henry was not the type of man to lie abed when the cows needed milking. Ed wandered around to the back of the house. There he noticed a trail of blood over the frozen ground, as if Henry had slaughtered a pig just outside the back porch and then dragged its carcass across the back yard. Out of curiosity, Ed followed the trail to an unfinished cellar entrance. He peered down the incline and saw a crumpled form at its base.

History does not record how young Ed felt when he realized that he was looking at the bloody corpse of Henry Nolte. It records only what he did: he lit out for home to tell his folks. On hearing his story, they telephoned the Hobart police and the Lake County sheriff.

Hobart Police Chief Fred Rose was the first to arrive at the scene of the crime. Soon he was joined by Lake County Sheriff Carroll Holley and his deputies.

They examined the body. Henry had been struck by two shotgun blasts: one in the abdomen, the other in the head — the latter blasting away half his skull. Either shot would have been fatal. The officers found a shotgun, both shells fired, tossed down a cellar stairway. The blood on the ground outside, and the lack of blood anywhere else, evidenced that Henry had been gunned down near his own back porch.

Inside the house, a litter of cigarette butts on the kitchen floor suggested that someone had lain in wait for several hours, smoking to pass the time or steady his nerves. The way the house had been ransacked made the officers think that the killer or killers (they weren't sure how many people had been involved) were familiar with the house — in particular, someone had found and rifled a little hiding-place under a stair-step where Henry kept important papers and, perhaps, cash. And his car was missing from its usual storage spot in the barn.

The investigation spread into the surrounding area. Officers questioned the neighbors, trying to find someone who had seen or heard anything, or who knew of any enemies Henry might have had.

The neighbors were universally shocked by the murder. They may have considered Henry slightly eccentric, for he had never married, and since the death of his younger brother Louis almost two years ago, he had lived completely alone — a bit of an oddity in that time and place. But everyone liked him and respected him as a hard-working farmer and a good manager; his dairy farm was reputed to turn a profit even in the midst of the Depression. Nor did they know of any enemies, or any reason for his having any.

In the course of this questioning, the police came across the child described in the newspaper accounts as the "young Harms boy" — his first name is never given, but based on the 1930 census we can guess that he was Eldon Harms, about 10 years of age. He told police about the incident on the previous afternoon, when he'd been in Mr. Nolte's yard and Richard Chapman had stopped by.

That name set off an alarm bell in Chief Rose's mind. He knew Richard Chapman and had no high opinion of him. Richard had grown up in Hobart as the foster son of Louis and Gertrude Dunham. While still in his teens, he'd served at least two terms in a reformatory for crimes involving mail fraud or the outright robbing of the Hobart post office, or perhaps both. Since leaving his foster parents' home, Richard had drifted around Hobart, Valparaiso and nearby towns, mostly working as a farm hand. The previous summer he had worked on a farm adjoining Henry's. He'd probably heard the rumors that Henry had money.

None of the neighbors had seen Richard since the previous afternoon. He no longer lived in the area. Chief Rose figured he'd better find out where that young man was now.

(To be continued)

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Two Lives for Five Dollars (Part 1)

On December 30, 1934 — the last night of his life — Henry Nolte went to a party.

He'd been out most of the day. In mid-afternoon, when a young acquaintance named Richard Chapman stopped by the Nolte farmhouse, Henry wasn't home, and a neighbor kid hanging around the yard had no idea where he'd gone. A 45-year-old bachelor, Henry lived entirely alone, and came and went as he pleased.

If he returned to his house at all that afternoon, no one saw him. His dairy cows would have needed tending, of course, but another neighbor boy, 14-year-old Ed Davis, always helped with the morning and evening chores, and may have been able to handle them on his own once in a while.

The evening found Henry at a party in the home of some friends in Miller. The visit went on until nearly midnight, when Henry decided he'd better get going. He had a problem, though — the headlights on his Ford wouldn't come on. That would make for dangerous driving on the dark country roads in Ainsworth. Someone at the party volunteered to drive another car ahead of the Ford, lighting the way, so Henry could at least get back home. He'd have plenty of time when daylight came to get his headlights fixed.

The little convoy arrived safely at the entrance to the Nolte farm. The friend did not get out of his car or even pull into the yard. The two men might have paused to call out a few parting words through rolled-down windows — thanks and goodnight and have a happy New Year! breaking the silence of the frozen countryside. The farmhouse was dark and quiet.

Then they parted. Henry drove into the yard, toward the barn that doubled as a garage. The friend drove off, back toward Miller; anyone inside the house would have heard the crunch of his tires fade down the gravel road.

That helpful friend was the second-to-last person to see Henry Nolte alive.

(To be continued)

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Wildflowers in Winter

Foreground: small white asters. Middleground: chicory. Background: intersection of Ainsworth Road and Grand Boulevard.
(Click on images to enlarge)

Foreground: toadflax. Middleground: idiot dog. Background: Grand Trunk Railroad.

Foreground: out-of-focus icicles. Middleground: Queen Anne's lace. Background: Shilo Ranch.

I could continue, but I think we're all sufficiently depressed at this point.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Season's Greetings!

(Click on image to enlarge)

From the Valparaiso Vidette-Messenger of December 17, 1934.

Monday, December 21, 2009

BNSF on the Grand Trunk Tracks

(Click on image to enlarge)

Every day an eastbound train goes through Ainsworth consisting of two BNSF units pulling a long line of hopper cars brimming with coal, followed by one BNSF unit pushing the train.

This wasn't that train. These BNSF units were pulling auto carriers.

Here the train is passing through Deep River County Park on a high grade.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Train in Snow

What is it about a snowy landscape that makes every idiot want to go out and shoot pictures? And by "every idiot," I mean this idiot.

Signals on, gate down:
(Click on images to enlarge)

Train coming:

Train going:

...Train gone.

By the way, I took those shots standing approximately where the Ainsworth station used to be.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

"Grand Trunk Hot Spot"

Here's an article from the December 1945 issue of Trains magazine about the Grand Trunk depot in Durand, Michigan. Nothing to do with Ainsworth, of course, but some interesting photos.

"Grand Trunk Hot Spot": Durand, MI 1945

It really makes me want to put on my good traveling suit, pack an overnight bag and walk over to the Ainsworth station to wait for the next eastbound passenger train.

♦    ♦    ♦

When I started this thing I thought that blogging was a good platform for this project. Not only would the immediate gratification of seeing my words on the internet keep me motivated to work, but the episodic nature of a blog perfectly reflected the fragmentary and disjointed way information about Ainsworth was coming into my hands. However, the information I've blogged remains pretty disorganized, and I have a naturally disorganized mind, so this is reinforcing my weakness. On the other hand, it's the best I've got. There is a (brief) history of Ainsworth from the beginning to the present day that could be written, and maybe the Hobart Historical Society would print it up just like the other helpful history booklets they've prepared — but I'm not the person to write it. I have to do episodes: I can't concentrate long enough on one impersonal topic, like the history of a town (as opposed to the history of a family, or one memorable event in a person's life), to bring together a coherent synopsis.

Now I'm finding that even researching one memorable event in a person's life, or at the end of it as in this murder case, takes so much time that it interferes with my blogging. If you blog, you're supposed to update frequently. But I'm spending so much time and energy comparing newspaper reports to reconcile their inconsistent statements, poring over old plat books to figure out where things happened, speculating over census reports to guess at a first name where only a surname was reported, that I just can't produce something on the side to put into the blog while I'm working on another story in the background.

All of this just to explain to you thousands of adoring Ainsworth fans out there why I'm not updating very often.

It's going to keep on that way, too, because I've got two more research-intensive stories I want to work on after the present one — I'd like to educate myself about the Indians who lived in this area, and then there seems to have been some big guy on the Chicago labor-union scene in the 1920s-30s, with a shady history and dubious friends, who bought a dairy farm out here in the mid-1930s, and I'd like to look into that whole thing.

So, in sum, sorry about the infrequent updates. Now back to work.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Grand Trunk Western: Accident, 1963

Continuing on the theme of stuff that relates to Ainsworth only because it relates to the Grand Trunk Railroad, which passes through Ainsworth, here's an ICC report on an accident that happened near Charlotte, Michigan, in April 1963.

ICC Re GTW Charlotte 1963

And I've updated my images map with this, as well as with a few more images.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Grand Trunk 1890s freight waybill form

Grand Trunk Railroad freight waybill form - 1890s

Thank God I only paid $0.99 for these. I've got seven six of them and they're all the same. Want one? — drop me a line.

Someday I'm going to look back at this blog and ask, "What was I thinking?"

Friday, December 11, 2009

And Now for Something Corny

Here we have the love child of Santa Claus and the Grim Reaper:

(Click on image to enlarge)

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Trains, Plains and Automobiles

(Click on image to enlarge)

All right, it's not so much a "plain" as a shorn soybean field, but try making a pun out of that.

This field used to belong to Henry Nolte, the "Ainsworth bachelor farmer," as a newspaper described him. We shall hear more about him later.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Sign-Eating Trees of Deep River

This sign used to say "NO HUNTING." Now it just says "HUNT." Give that tree a few more years, and the sign won't say anything at all.
(Click on image to enlarge)
Photographed along Ainsworth Road at the entrance to Deep River County Park.

Nothing Much, Just an Update

Another day, another update to my Historical Images map.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Garbage Dumps of Ainsworth: The Gruesome Remains

After I bought my house, I discovered, 'way out in a corner of my field, the partial remains of a dismembered car.

(Click on images to enlarge)

I wonder, did they drive the car out there and then take off the axle? Then how did they get the car away from the scene of the crime? Or did they take the axle off somewhere else, and then carry it out to the field where nobody would think to look for it? — in which case, we've got two crime scenes, one here and one unknown.

CSI: Ainsworth might be able to get prints off these glass bottles.

Was this mysterious rusted thingy somehow involved?

*   *   *

I've already updated my Grand Trunk Western Historical Images map with a few more scenes, plus a 1948 accident report I stumbled across. That project is useful to while away the time until the newspaper archive gets its search engine updated, and the Hobart Historical Society gets a new toner cartridge for its photocopier. I spent a couple hours there on Saturday and found a lot of detailed stories in the 1935 Hobart paper relating to the murder I'm researching. The Hobart paper is a great resource but it's not searchable. I either have to know what I'm looking for — what happened and when it happened — or just spend hours randomly reading papers on microfilm to see if I can find anything touching on Ainsworth.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Historical Images along the Grand Trunk Line

See the link over there in the sidebar — "Grand Trunk Western Railroad Historical Images"? I just wasted a couple days of my life putting that together. I had to figure out a lot of things that were very taxing on my poor little brain.

It's just an assemblage of old images from places along the Grand Trunk line that goes past Ainsworth, linking them to their place on a map from one of my timetables. This is a work in progress, obviously, since I've got only four images at the moment! I will update it as I manage to track down more. Right now, I'm tired.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Hobart Then and Now: Gas Station, 428 Main

The gas station at 428 Main Street, in 1962 and 2009.

428 Main 1962
428 Main 2009
(Click on images to enlarge)

The building north of the tracks — to the right of the gas station in the 1962 photo — has been demolished and replaced by the City Hall. In 1962 a gallon of gas cost $0.31.

♦    ♦    ♦

I am researching a murder case in Ainsworth, probably the only murder in Ainsworth's entire history. (The shooting at the Chester home doesn't count — that was self-defense.) I also want to start assembling historic images of railroad depots on the Grand Trunk Railroad between Fort Gratiot, Michigan, and Chicago, Illinois. So much I want to do, so little time!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Autographs of Ainsworth: The Sidewalk

When I said there were no sidewalks in Ainsworth, I meant public sidewalks, that any casual stroller through the town might use. As for private sidewalks … well, children, gather around and I will tell you a story.

The year was 1973. Hemlines were high, heels were clunky, and Tony Orlando was tying a yellow ribbon 'round the old oak tree. The Paris Peace Accord, signed by President Woodrow Wilson in January 1973, signaled the end of the French and Indian War, but not until August would the last Indian troops return to Mumbai. Isaac Newton had rocked the world with his invention of gravity, and the first man had walked upon Mars, but scientists continued to search for an effective vaccine against percussion.

Meanwhile, in a tiny town in Northwest Indiana, somebody was pouring cement. And somebody was writing in it with a nail.

(Click on image to enlarge)

Ma … Dad … Ron … Tim … Ellen … Lori … they all lived happily ever after.

The End. Storytime is over, children.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Milkweed and Multifloral Rose

Another artsy-fartsy foto. I just can't help myself.

(Click on image to enlarge)

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

"The Entire Town Would Have Been Burned"

The Ainsworth-Deep River Fire Department was formed in 1953. Before then, Ainsworth depended on the improvised efforts of its own residents, and on the fire departments of neighboring towns, to deal with any fires.

On August 20, 1933, Ainsworth just escaped being burned off the face of the earth.

About 2:30 on that Sunday afternoon, Henry Sievert put his car away in his garage, next to a car owned by Leonard Lindborg, and then left the garage to go on about his business, never suspecting that anything was amiss.

Somehow, a fire started inside the garage. Later speculation focused on a short-circuit in one of the cars. Whatever the cause, both cars and the garage itself were soon engulfed in flames.

The fire quickly outstripped the amateur fire-fighting of the Ainsworth residents. Someone called the Hobart fire department as the blaze spread south to William Fratzke's chicken coop and barn. Inside the barn were two tons of coal and a large supply of firewood.

The Hobart fire department showed up and began fighting the fire with chemicals. When their chemical supply ran out and the fire still raged, they began pumping water from two neighbors' wells. By then, the fire was threatening the Fratzke home. The Crown Point fire department arrived and joined in the fight. The combined forces got the blaze under control, but it had been a close shave. According to the firemen, "[H]ad the wind been blowing from the opposite direction the entire town would have been burned."

The barn and the chicken coop, the garage and its contents, were all destroyed — about $2,500 worth of property (roughly $41,600 in today's dollars). Mr. Fratzke had no insurance.

♦ "Ainsworth Is Threatened by Sunday Fire." Vidette-Messenger (Valparaiso, Ind.) 22 Aug. 1933. Access Newspaper Archive. Lake County (IN) Public Library 29 Nov. 2009 .
♦ "Databases and Tables: CPI Inflation Calculator." United States Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics. 30 Nov. 2009 .
♦ "Hobart." The Times (Hammond, Ind.) 22 Aug. 1933. Access Newspaper Archive. Lake County (IN) Public Library 29 Nov. 2009 .
Ross Township Fire Service: Ainsworth Deep River Volunteer Fire Department. 30 Nov. 2009 .

Monday, November 30, 2009

The Klan at Work in Ainsworth

Henry J. Paulus ran a general store in Ainsworth for a brief time — so brief that I can find no trace of him in the census reports.

One evening in 1924, he attended a political party in Ainsworth. He returned from it to find "a group of hooded men burning a cross in front of his store … who he believed were KKK members." Mr. Paulus was Catholic, which was probably what angered the Klan. An investigation by federal agents failed to catch any of the culprits.

The incident did not make the papers at the time. We know about it only from a newspaper article 22 years later. In July 1946, somehow the Vidette-Messenger found out that the Klan had paid a second visit to Mr. Paulus, who now owned a hardware store in Los Angeles. This time, the paper reported, a cross had been planted in front of Mr. Paulus' home, but he took it less seriously than the earlier incident.

In June of 1926, we find Mr. Paulus advertising his Ainsworth general store for sale. By March 1927 he had sold out to "Mr. H. and George Argus." I don't know whether his decision to leave Ainsworth was a result of Klan intimidation.

♦ "Former Ainsworth Resident Gets 2nd Klan 'Visitation.'" Vidette-Messenger (Valparaiso, Ind.) 15 Jul. 1946. Access Newspaper Archive. Lake County (IN) Public Library 29 Nov. 2009 .
♦ "Hobart." The Times (Hammond, Ind.) 15 Mar. 1927. Access Newspaper Archive. Lake County (IN) Public Library 29 Nov. 2009 .
♦ "Real Estate for Sale." The Times (Hammond, Ind.) 1 Jun. 1926. Access Newspaper Archive. Lake County (IN) Public Library 29 Nov. 2009 .

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Commerce: Popp

The Popp Family (click on image to enlarge)

When I wasn't looking, Charles (pictured above) and Lucy Popp swept into Ainsworth and opened a grocery store. The first I ever heard of these two was when Lucy made it into Along the Route for getting herself appointed postmistress.

I know very little about Lucy because I can't find her maiden name. In 1933, after the birth of one of her children, her mother came down from Chicago to help out, but the newspaper reporting that visit fails to give the mother's name. And so, apart from Lucy's birth (March 23, 1901) and her not-quite-four years as postmistress, all I can say is that she married Charles Popp and bore his children. Indeed, that seems to be all I can say about most of the women of whom I speak in here, except Carrie Chester Raschka. My research is fairly superficial, dealing only with public records and newspapers, and those sources show women as someone's daughter, then someone's wife, then someone's mother, then someone's widow, and then they die. Newspapers speak of women as "Mrs. John Smith" or even just "Mrs. Smith." Women pay social visits, which are sometimes recorded, and they hold meetings of ladies' clubs; they occasionally perform in public musical recitals. A better writer and a deeper researcher might make a story from those activities.

The newspapers so far haven't given any hint of the less respectable things a woman might possibly get up to — not regarding these Ainsworth women, I mean. Other women in other places were involved in all sorts of scandalous things, and here I can't even get a woman arrested. Although — who knows? — maybe John Chester was taking the fall for Emma in that bootlegging business.

Anyway, now that I've explained the androcentrism of this blog, let's get more androcentric and move on to Charles Popp.

He came from a relatively old local family. Both his father, Andreas, and his mother, Susannah (née Weis), were born in Lake County. Charles was born April 18, 1895, in Merrillville. (Take a look at Susannah Popp in the photograph above. She looks very good for having borne eight children, doesn't she? — and that's eight children who show up on the census. There may have been more.)

It was a farming family. The 1910 census finds Charles still at home on the farm, but within a few years, it seems, he'd had enough of farming. He went to work for the Grand Trunk Railroad as a pump man at the Lottaville station.

I had to go look up what a "pump man" does. Here's a job description circa 1918:
Description: The pump man must operate pumps and keep a constant water supply in tanks or troughs. He must be able to run any sort of small gasoline, electric, or steam pump. He should understand the firing and care of a small steam boiler.

Qualifications: The pump man should know enough about the machinery to keep it oiled and to report at once the need of necessary repairs.

Schooling: Common school.
So Charles was in charge of the pump that kept water in the Lottaville tank for passing Grand Trunk steam engines that might need it.

By 1920 he'd had enough of pumping. He moved to Gary and went to work in the steel mills. He lived in what must have been an interesting rooming house — ten roomers, four of them foreign-born, one a young woman, most of them steel workers, but also a railroad worker, a telephone company electrician, and a stenographer and a laborer in a tin-plate company.

I don't know when or how he and Lucy met, but they married sometime between the January 1920 census and 1923, when their first child was born.

At some point after 1920 Charles found he'd had enough of steel mills. By 1926 he was living in Ainsworth, running for 2nd Precinct Committeeman. He and Lucy had probably moved there to operate the grocery store. In 1927 Lucy was appointed postmistress.

Our favorite Enumerator in the 1930 census, Elizabeth L. Fredrick, places the couple and their two children on "Ainsworth Road," by which, as is evident from the other names listed, she meant State Road 51 — so the grocery store was at the intersection of Ainsworth Road and Ainsworth Road. I haven't found out yet what the present-day Ainsworth Road was called back then, other than the "Old Sac Trail."

He may have been a pretty good shot, our Charles. We find a Charles Popp involved in a Valparaiso gun club, winning a trophy in 1930, but I'm not sure this is the same man. The region was crawling with Popps at the time.

By 1931, Charles had had enough of either Ainsworth or the grocery business, and the family moved to Merrillville. I don't know what occupation he pursued there. In fact, I've pretty thoroughly lost sight of this branch of the Popp family once they left Ainsworth.

Charles died in 1963, Lucy in 1987.

♦ 1900 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2004. Original data: United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Twelfth Census of the United States, 1900. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1900. T623, 1854 rolls.
♦ 1910 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2006. Original data: United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Thirteenth Census of the United States, 1910. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1910. T624, 1,178 rolls.
♦ 1920 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2009. Images reproduced by FamilySearch. Note: Enumeration Districts 819-839 on roll 323 (Chicago City) Original data: Fourteenth Census of the United States, 1920; (National Archives Microfilm Publication T625, 2076 rolls); Records of the Bureau of the Census, Record Group 29; National Archives, Washington, D.C.
♦ 1930 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2002. Original data: United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Fifteenth Census of the United States, 1930. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1930. T626, 2,667 rolls.
♦ Social Security Death Index [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2009. Original data: Social Security Administration. Social Security Death Index, Master File. Social Security Administration.
♦ World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2005. Original data: United States, Selective Service System. World War I Selective Service System Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration. M1509, 4,582 rolls. Imaged from Family History Library microfilm.
♦ U.S. World War II Draft Registration Cards, 1942 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2007. Original data: United States, Selective Service System. Selective Service Registration Cards, World War II: Fourth Registration. National Archives and Records Administration Branch locations: National Archives and Records Administration Region Branches.
♦ Ballantyne, Dorothy, and Robert Adams. Along the Route: A History of Hobart, Indiana, Post Offices and Postmasters. Hobart: The Hobart Historical Society, Inc., 1979.
♦ "Charles Popp Wins Trophy at Gun Shoot." Vidette-Messenger (Valparaiso, Ind.) 21 Apr. 1930. Access Newspaper Archive. Lake County (IN) Public Library 25 Nov. 2009 .
♦ "Legal Notice." The Times (Hammond, Ind.) 27 Apr. 1926. Access Newspaper Archive. Lake County (IN) Public Library 29 Nov. 2009 .
♦ "Merrillville." The Times (Hammond, Ind.). 10 May 1933. Access Newspaper Archive. Lake County (IN) Public Library 27 Nov. 2009 .
♦ "PetrusFranzFamily." 28 Nov. 2009 .
♦ United States Department of Labor. Descriptions of Occupations: Metal Working, Building and General Construction, Railroad Transportation, Shipbuilding. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1918.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Train Graffiti

A freight train stopped in Ainsworth this morning.

(Click on images to enlarge)

I hustled out there with my camera to get some pictures of chalk and other line graffiti.


♦    ♦    ♦

The newspaper archive I use through the Lake County Public Library is undergoing maintenance and has become temperamental and unreliable. The work is supposed to be finished and a new search engine in place eventually — on November 19 they told me this would take place "within a month or so." But at present, research is very difficult and slow.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Grand Trunk Western Transit Freight Waybill 1957

Here it is, folks, the post you've been waiting for — an unused 1957 Grand Trunk Railroad Freight Waybill!

Grand Trunk Western RR Waybill 1957

I have reached the pinnacle. I can end my blog now.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Clearing in the Woods

If you go wandering in Deep River County Park north of the railroad bridge, you might accidentally stray from the path, inadvertently fight your way through the blackberry thorns, unmindfully duck and weave through the low-hanging branches, coincidentally slog through a natural drainage channel — and all at once find yourself in a wide open clearing.


Or you could do it the easy way, and walk along the tracks until you see the clearing. Then you just have to scramble down the side of the railroad grade, which is steep and rocky, but it's better than blackberries. And at the bottom, there you are: in that magical clearing where the Railroad Elves hold their annual revelry.

We know the clearing must have been made by elves, because it's surrounded by dense forest and yet no trees grow there. Q.E.D.

We know they are Railroad Elves, because it's beside the railroad. Also: they drink spiked punch.

And they've been doing it for a long, long time.

They come here by night — we know it's by night, because they are never seen in daylight — get drunk on their spiked punch and dance their wild dances.

When they can dance no more, they run away on their little two-toed elven feet.

They run out to the soybean field, where they eat every last soybean.

And then they disappear for another year.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Wandering Post Office


The Ainsworth Post Office, in its 52-year existence, revolved clockwise around the Ainsworth Triangle to end exactly where it began.

(1) In January 1882, Ainsworth's first post office opened in a general store (I think this store was later operated by William and Carrie Raschka) on the southwest corner of the intersection of Ainsworth Road and State Road 51.

(2) In 1927, it moved to Charles and Lucy Popp's grocery store across Ainsworth Road.

(3) In 1931, it moved into the Grand Trunk Railroad station and was administered by the railroad's agent, E.G. Clark.

(4) Subsequently (date unknown), it moved back into the general store where it had started. The Ainsworth Post Office ceased operation on February 15, 1934, and Ainsworth's mail delivery was handled by the Hobart Post Office.

The table below lists the seventeen people who held the position of Postmaster and the dates of their appointment:

Name of Postmaster Date Appointed
Henry Chester 1/10/1882
Francis W. Clinton 9/4/1885
George Guernsey 9/21/1888
Mary E. Guernsey 5/23/1889
Willard O. Halsted 5/11/1893
Elmer Griffith 5/15/1901
Frank Coyle 1/14/1902
Hugh Dotzer 1/28/1904
William Raschka 5/24/1904
Mr. Pintz[1] 9/7/1915
Amelia Goldman 12/14/1915
Henry J. Paulus 5/15/1923
Lucy Popp 6/10/1927
E.G. Clark 3/11/1931
Nellie Slaters 9/3/1931
William Summer 10/29/1932
Milton Guernsey 7/12/1933

Source: Dorothy Ballantyne and Robert Adams. Along the Route: A History of Hobart, Indiana, Post Offices and Postmasters. Hobart: The Hobart Historical Society, Inc., 1979.

[1] This postmaster's name was actually Max Mintz.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Hobart Then and Now: Main Street, West Side

Post-1907 and 2009

Main Street West 1907
Main Street West 2009
(Click on images to enlarge)

We're on Main Street, looking at the west side, facing south from a point slightly north of Third Street

The postcard has been used but somehow escaped a postmark. Although the Strattan building (the big yellow building) was built in 1870, the superstructure on its roof did not exist before 1907.

There is a "Strattan Opera House" sign at the top of the corner façade. The Strattan Opera House closed around 1916, so we can tentatively date this image between 1907 and 1916, but that's assuming the sign was removed when the Opera House closed.

Source: Elin B. Christianson. Hobart's Historic Buildings. Hobart: Hobart Historical Society, 2002.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Aerial Photo: 1958

Photograph courtesy of the Indiana State Archives, Indiana Commission on Public Records.
(Click on image to enlarge)
Photograph courtesy of the Indiana State Archives, Indiana Commission on Public Records.

My first impulse was to write, "Nothing to see here, folks. Move along," but then I took a better look.

Houses have popped up in the countryside like zits on a high-school junior's face the week before prom. Comparing this photo with the three 1939 aerial photos, we see several new houses in the vicinity of Ainsworth School (at the center of the photo) and a whole enclave along Old Lincoln Highway west of Dekalb Street; the land along Clay Street and Route 30 has grown neighborhoods where in 1939 it grew only scattered farmhouses.

If the observer effect and the critical-mass phenomenon had a love child, they might call it People Moving Out to the Country. "I've had it with the city," you might say, "with the crowding and the traffic and the crime. I'm moving out to the country." But by moving to the country, you change the country. Perhaps you move into an existing house, so your impact is softened. Still, you bring your citified ways with you, for example, putting up a chain-link fence to contain your dogs, and asking rabbit-hunters to stay out of your field. Or perhaps you buy part of a field or a forest, bulldoze it barren and build a new house. "Ah, the country life!" you might say as you walk out in the summer sunshine to spray herbicide on the wildflowers marring your perfect lawn. And then comes another bulldozer, a new neighbor, another three cars, another perfect lawn. And another. And another. And another. And then a big box store goes up down the street, and then another, and you find yourself sitting behind the wheel of your car, complaining about the traffic and wondering how many more people can move out to the country before it becomes suburbia.

But the analogy to critical mass is probably inapt. You don't see or feel a bomb going off. The country ceasing to be the country is more like a person ceasing to be young. When did it happen? How do you know if it's happened yet? And, really, is it so bad? Being old has its good points, even when your knees ache and you have to take your glasses off to read.

… I can't believe I wrote all this nonsense based on one 1958 aerial photo. I am going to go do something productive, like cut down trees.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Hobart Then and Now: Main Street, East Side, Looking South from Third St.

1919 and 2009

Main Street 1919
Main Street 2009
(Click on images to enlarge)

Hobart has done a good job of preserving its historic buildings, but not such a good job on its historic level of traffic. Or on its historic groups-of-loafers-in-doorways.

The top image is from a postcard postmarked 1919. At the far left is the First State Bank. The second-story awnings on the side read: "Dentist." Next door is "The Bee Hive," whatever that might have been. At mid-block is a "Garage." The other signs I can't read.

At the far right is the Strattan building, built around 1870, demolished in … when was it? 2008?

I'm not sure what that low rectangular thing is across Main Street in the far distance. It looks vaguely like a locomotive, sitting on the tracks blocking the street. Or maybe it's a combination of a delivery truck and a house further south.

Here's a slightly earlier shot of the east side of the street, again looking south from Third. This is from a postcard postmarked 1908:

Main Street 1908

Check out that wood-plank sidewalk.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Commerce: Tonagel

I came across this in a 2007 Post-Tribune article:
Mary Henning of Valparaiso … attended Ainsworth School and used to walk to Tonical's (she's not sure of the spelling) grocery store where the school supply store now is located on 73rd Avenue (called Lincoln Highway in those days). There also was a place called Hoosier's Nest that dispensed goodies for the kids.
The spelling was Tonagel … or maybe it wasn't:
Sunday supper guests of Mr. and Mrs. Chas. Bennett were Mr. and Mrs. Cecil Tonagal of Ainsworth, Ind.
No, I think that 1940 tidbit of social gossip contained a misprint. Everywhere else I see this name, it's Tonagel.

We first meet Cecil R. Tonagel in 1910, when he's a boy of six living with his parents, Charles and Mary, big brother Victor and big sister Edna, in Washington Township, LaPorte County, Indiana. It's a farming, land-owning family. In 1920, he's still at home on the family farm. Ten years later, he's moved out and married Ruby A. Rosenquist, and they have a one-year-old son, Donald. Still in Washington Township, they live in a rented house and Cecil farms in a general way.

Beyond 1930, census records are not available and we have to try to keep track of the Tonagels through the newspapers. [2014 update: The 1940 Census shows Cecil and Ruby living near the intersection of 73rd Avenue and State Road 51, operating their own grocery. They have two children, Donald (11) and Carol (9). The household includes Ruby's parents, Charles and Amanda Rosenquist.]

In 1934, "Mr. and Mrs. Tonagel" advertised a Thanksgiving Dance at Walnut Gardens on Thursday, November 29. The Walnut Gardens was a dance hall on 40 acres along the Lincoln Highway, west of Valparaiso; it had gone into receivership in 1930. The Tonagels advertised it as "opening under new management" with a "new orchestra." I believe these Tonagels to be our Cecil and Ruby because a year later, an advertisement for Mobilgas named "Cecil Tonagel, Walnut Gardens, Road 30" as one of its local dealers.

In 1939 the Vidette-Messenger noted with amusement that "Mr. and Mrs. Cecil Tonagel, Ross township residents," had been chosen to sit on the same jury, and speculated that the deliberations would be "a lot of fun." No follow-up on what the verdict was.

The Tonagels had another child, Carole (or Carol Jo), who by 1941 was old enough to visit relatives in Chesterton without her parents.

I don't know what became of the Walnut Gardens venture. The next glimpse we get of the Tonagels is in a strange entry in the local directory for 1952-53:
Tonagel, Carol, Old Lincoln Hwy., Rte. 5, Ph., Office, NIPSCO.
Tonagel, Cecil R., Old Lincoln Hwy., Rte. 5, Ph., Grocery, Self Employed, HO, wife Rubie.
Tonagel, Donald, Old Lincoln Hwy., Rte. 51, Ph., Sales Dept., Blainus, Gary.
I say "strange" because Route 5 is too far east to be included in this local directory, which covers no further east than south Portage Township. If we assume that "State Road 5" is a misprint for "State Road 51" (where Donald is located), these entries make perfect sense and put Cecil, Ruby and family, as well as the grocery store, right where Mary Henning remembered them: on the northeast corner of the intersection of State Road 51 and Old Lincoln Highway.

I don't know when the grocery business closed. A Hobart city directory lists Ruby Tonagel's residence address as "RD 2," which might be Ainsworth but I don't know. No word is given of Cecil or anybody else, or the grocery store.

By the early 1990s the Tonagels had moved to Hobart. Cecil died in 1994, Ruby in 1995.

♦ 1910 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2006. Original data: United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Thirteenth Census of the United States, 1910. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1910. T624, 1,178 rolls.
♦ 1920 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2009. Images reproduced by FamilySearch. Note: Enumeration Districts 819-839 on roll 323 (Chicago City) Original data: Fourteenth Census of the United States, 1920; (National Archives Microfilm Publication T625, 2076 rolls); Records of the Bureau of the Census, Record Group 29; National Archives, Washington, D.C.
♦ 1930 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2002. Original data: United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Fifteenth Census of the United States, 1930. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1930. T626, 2,667 rolls
♦ U.S. Public Records Index [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2009. Original data: Merlin Data Publishing Corporation, comp. Historical Residential White Page, Directory Assistance and Other Household Database Listings. Merlin Data Publishing Corporation, 215 South Complex Drive, Kalispell, MT 59901.
♦ Social Security Death Index [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2009. Original data: Social Security Administration. Social Security Death Index, Master File. Social Security Administration.
♦ Burns, Bob. "Whatever happened to fender skirts and steering knobs?" Post-Tribune (Gary, Ind.) 10 Jun. 2007. NewsBank, inc. Lake County (IN) Public Library 18 Nov. 2009 .
♦ "Chesterton News Briefs." Vidette-Messenger (Valparaiso, Ind.) 9 Aug. 1941. Access Newspaper Archive. Lake County (IN) Public Library 19 Nov. 2009 .
♦ "Chesterton News Briefs." Vidette-Messenger (Valparaiso, Ind.) 1 Jul. 1942. Access Newspaper Archive. Lake County (IN) Public Library 19 Nov. 2009 .
♦ "Chesterton News Items of the Day." Vidette-Messenger (Valparaiso, Ind.) 9 Aug. 1929. Access Newspaper Archive. Lake County (IN) Public Library 19 Nov. 2009 .
Directory, 1952-53 Hobart-Wheeler-New Chicago-Ainsworth-Green Acres-Deep River-South Hobart Twp.-South Portage Twp. Nappanee: Advance News, 1952.
♦ "Hurlburt." Vidette-Messenger (Valparaiso, Ind.) 12 Jun. 1940. Access Newspaper Archive. Lake County (IN) Public Library 19 Nov. 2009 .
♦ "Looking Backward." Vidette-Messenger (Valparaiso, Ind.) 18 Jul 1940. Access Newspaper Archive. Lake County (IN) Public Library 19 Nov. 2009 .
♦ "Mobilgas advertisement." Vidette-Messenger (Valparaiso, Ind.) 2 Jul. 1935. Access Newspaper Archive. Lake County (IN) Public Library 19 Nov. 2009 .
♦ "'Round About." Vidette-Messenger (Valparaiso, Ind.) 13 Jan. 1939. Access Newspaper Archive. Lake County (IN) Public Library 19 Nov. 2009 .
♦ "Walnut Grove advertisement." Vidette-Messenger (Valparaiso, Ind.) 27 Nov. 1934. Access Newspaper Archive. Lake County (IN) Public Library 19 Nov. 2009

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Chester's Camp Location: Newspaper Testimony

I took some photos this morning of Old Lincoln Highway in the vicinity of Dekalb Street so that those who aren't familiar with that section of the road will have a better idea of how it looks.

Starting a little more than one-tenth of a mile east of Dekalb Street, moving west along 73rd Avenue (Old Lincoln Highway):

(Click on images to enlarge)


On the north side of the street, there's a piece of flat land that would make a nice place for a tourist camp, if you know what I mean:


The camera seems to flatten the road out somewhat. The road dips through this curve:


A shallow creek runs under the road at the lowest point of the dip:


We've gone around the curve; now we're looking up toward the crest of a hill to the west, and that's Dekalb Street on the right:


Turning around at Dekalb Street (which goes off to the left now) and looking back east, there's the dip-curve again:



Unsurprisingly if Chester's Camp was indeed located near this curve, there were numerous car wrecks in the vicinity. Below are excerpts from the Valparaiso Vidette-Messenger describing some of the accidents:

[Jul. 1929] West Lincolnway at Chester's Camp Dip Curve is Scene of Crash Sunday Morning … Chester's Camp is on an "S" curve with a dip in the road adding further hazard to the drive.

[Jan. 1930] Argie Weider … was approaching the brow of a Hill at the Chester camp, when he was blinded by the lights of an approaching automobile.

[Feb. 1930] The accident occurred … near the Chester camp, between Deep River and Merrillville. Mehok, according to witnesses, rounded the curve at high speed ….

[Jan. 1932] An unidentified man was killed Thursday morning when the automobile he was driving skidded into the ditch on Lincoln Highway, near Chesters' camp, eight miles west of Valparaiso. … [Witnesses] saw the other machine run into a ditch as it rounded a curve near them.

[Oct. 1934] Cars Driven by Chicago and Gary Drivers Crash Early Today Near Chester's Camp on Road 30. … The accident is said to have resulted when one of the cars attempted to cut around another car.

What we can gather from these descriptions is that Chester's Camp was on a dangerous section of road that involved a sharp, dipping curve and a nearby hill — all of which sounds remarkably like the section of 73rd Avenue pictured above.

All the same, I'm not quite ready to invoke the Unscholarly Blogger's Fiat and declare myself satisfied. I don't know what I'll require to do that.

♦ "Bright Lights, 'Skiddy' Road Causes Crash." Vidette-Messenger (Valparaiso, Ind.) 9 Jan. 1930. Access Newspaper Archive. Lake County (IN) Public Library 16 Nov. 2009.
♦ "Car Skids Into Ditch, Driver Not Identified." Vidette-Messenger (Valparaiso, Ind.) 29 Jan. 1932. Access Newspaper Archive. Lake County (IN) Public Library 16 Nov. 2009.
♦ "Dean Family Trapped When Making Curve." Vidette-Messenger (Valparaiso, Ind.) 24 Feb. 1930. Access Newspaper Archive. Lake County (IN) Public Library 16 Nov. 2009.
♦ "Hammond Man Held; Drunk at Wheel?" Vidette-Messenger (Valparaiso, Ind.) 8 Jul. 1929. Access Newspaper Archive. Lake County (IN) Public Library 16 Nov. 2009.
♦ "9 Hurt When Autos Collide West of City." Vidette-Messenger (Valparaiso, Ind.) 15 Oct. 1934. Access Newspaper Archive. Lake County (IN) Public Library 16 Nov. 2009.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Location of Chester's Camp: Census Testimony

Let us now praise the name of Elizabeth L. Fredrick, Enumerator in the Fifteenth Census of the United States: 1930. Thanks to her notes on the enumeration schedule that includes the John Chester household, we can get a notion of where Chester's Camp was.

On the left side of the sheet, she notes that it represents the north side of State Road #30 (i.e., the Lincoln Highway). She notes that while the entire sheet is devoted to State Road #30, only the first 17 lines represent Deep River households.

The theory that she is moving west from Deep River, along the north side of State Road #30, is supported by the 1939 plat map of the Ainsworth area. On the census schedule, we find the Hallowell, Baessler and Eason households owning land; looking at the 1939 plat map, we find those same landowners, in that same order, east to west on the north side of State Road #30.

The next name we encounter on the census sheet that matches the 1939 plat map is Hurlburt. We've already met Jacob and Augusta Hurlburt, and we know they owned land on the northeast corner of the intersection of Grand Boulevard and the Old Lincoln Highway.

Continuing west, Mrs. Fredrick records two renters who wouldn't show up on any plat book, and then the Chester household, operating a tourist camp.

West of the Chesters, there are two more renters. The next landowner listed is Albion D. Paine. We've now moved out of Range 7 into Range 8 and my copy of the 1939 plat book seems to be missing the relevant page, so we have to go to the Plat Books of Indiana Counties of uncertain date, estimated on the IUPUI website to be between 1925 and 1941, in order to find Mr. Paine. Here is an excerpt from the undated plat book, showing the Hurlburt and Paine land outlined in pink:

(Click on image to enlarge)

So Chester's Camp is west of the Hurlburts and east of the Paines (assuming the land ownership has not varied greatly between the plat book and the census), on the north side of the street.

Here's an aerial view of the area, with the Hurlburt and Paine land holdings marked.
(Click on image to enlarge)
I can't determine where Chester's Camp was using the aerial photos for two reasons. First, when you enlarge them to try to see things at ground level, they become so fuzzy as to be almost useless unless you already know what should be there and you're just trying to confirm it. Secondly, I don't know what should be there. We've already learned that John Chester left this location in 1935, moving his tourist camp operations to the vicinity of Tremont. What became of this Chester's Camp after 1935, whether any part of it was still standing in 1939, and, most importantly, what its layout was, what I should expect to see from the air — I simply don't know.

♦    ♦    ♦

Still to come: newspaper testimony about the location of Chester's Camp.

♦ 1930 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2002. Original data: United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Fifteenth Census of the United States, 1930. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1930. T626, 2,667 rolls.
♦ Lake County Title Co. Plat Book of Lake County 1939. n.p., n.p., n.d. Print.
Plat Books of Indiana Counties, Vol. 3, p. 253. Lombard: Sidwell Studios, n.d. IUPUI University Library Program of Digital Scholarship. Historic Indiana Plat Books. Indiana University-Purdue University Indiana. 16 Nov. 2009 .