Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Puppy Break

I have a foster puppy this week.

2021-12-01. Foster puppy 1
(Click on images to enlarge)

Hmm, should I research Ainsworth history, or play with my foster puppy?

2021-12-01. Foster puppy 2

Sorry, Ainsworth.

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Chester's Grove

This Thanksgiving, I am grateful for trees.

The Lake County Parks people have been very busy lately around Big Maple Lake, and now the old Chester place has a grove of saplings in what used to be the back and side yard.

2021-11-25. Chester's grove
(Click on images to enlarge)

There is an interesting variety of trees: Kentucky Coffee Tree (I don't know much about trees, I just read the labels):

2021-11-25. Kentucky Coffee Tree

This one is Black Cherry:

2021-11-25. Black Cherry

And this is Ohio Buckeye:

2021-11-25. Ohio Buckeye

And Pin Oak:

2021-11-25. Pin Oak

In another ten or twenty years, I expect, Chester's Grove will be lovely.

Along the gravel road that leads back of the lake, they have planted some Cucumber Trees. I am looking forward to seeing how those turn out.

In other tree news, I discovered a little volunteer oak sapling in my field. From the looks of it, I had run over it with my brush mower last spring (maybe the spring before, too), not even realizing it was there. But now I have marked it so I will never run over it again.

Friday, November 19, 2021

The Farm Under the Big Boxes

Standing at the intersection of U.S. 30 and Colorado street today and looking west, you see a vast expanse of asphalt surrounding big-box stores such as Sam's Club, Wal-Mart, and Home Depot, as well as restaurants and gas stations. Thousands of vehicles pass through the intersection, day and night. The parking lots are never empty. The lights never go out.

You can hardly imagine those hundred-plus acres as quiet farmland. You can hardly imagine U.S. 30 ending there, either; and yet all the maps we have show the road that is now U.S. 30 going no further east than Colorado, until the new Lincoln Highway came through in the mid-1930s.

I have been researching that area because the Merrillville-Ross Township Historical Society received an inquiry about the farm that once lay there — specifically, the farm of Frank and Catherine Willy, which comprised approximately 115 acres on the west side of Colorado Street, cut in half by the road that is now U.S. 30.

Here is my attempt to outline the Willy farm on the modern-day Google satellite view:

2021-11-19. Willy farm outlines, 2021 satellite view
(Click on image to enlarge)
Image from

This farm, under various owners, had retained nearly the same dimensions for over a century. The earliest record I can find of it comes from the NWIGS' Early Land Sales, Lake County: on October 18, 1852, Harmon Underwood bought a total of 160 acres.[1] On January 11, 1854, those 160 acres became the property of John Underwood, who I believe was Harmon's son.[2]

Sometime between 1854 and circa 1874, the farm lost 40 acres on the west, as we can see on the 1874 Plat Map:

2021-11-19. 1874 Ross Twp. - future Willy farm
(Click on image to enlarge)

The new owner of those 40 acres, P.A. Banks, was probably Parley A. Banks. You can also see that H[armon?] Underwood owned another 200 acres east of the original farm.

And lastly, you can see that the mapmaker has clearly drawn a road from the west up to what is now Colorado Street, but eastward of that point, there is no trace of a road.

The 1891 Plat book does not include Section 23, so next we have to jump forward to 1908. Now we find the farm owned by Mary Burge.

2021-11-19. 1908 Ross Twp. - future Willy farm
(Click on image to enlarge)

We also find the parcel reduced in size by almost five acres, taken, I believe, by the Chicago, Cincinnati & Louisville (later Chesapeake & Ohio) Railroad, which began buying up right-of-way through Ross Township circa 1903.

My best guess as to the identity of Mary Burge is that she was a daughter of Julius and Nancy Demmon and married Winfield Scott Burge in 1878. The 1900 Census shows Winfield and Mary, with numerous children, living on their own farm in Ross Township in the general area of Colorado and U.S. 30 (to judge by their neighbors). Mary died in 1922. By the mid-1920s the farm had been sold: we find a new owner in the 1926 Plat Book.

2021-11-19. 1926 Ross Twp - future Willy farm
(Click on image to enlarge)

I cannot identify Caroline Schwer.

In 1932 the farm changed hands again. I will let the new owner tell the story of how that came about, as he told it to his descendants:
Three Ears of Corn

by Frank Anthony Willy

After Frank and Catherine were married, they moved onto a farm in Dyer, Indiana, which Frank rented from his father August. Besides charging rent, August required his son to hire his brothers to work the farm. This was a difficult situation at best for Frank and Catherine. During the Depression they had little money to spend and Frank's brothers were teenagers, with poor work ethics. Eventually Frank and Catherine realized that they could no longer afford to rent the farm in Dyer. They knew they would have to go out on their own and start a new life away from Frank's family.

Frank set out to visit three farms that were for sale nearby. The first was in Wisconsin. The ears of corn in the fields were large and well-formed and the house was well built with a natural spring underneath that could be used to keep food cold. This farm, he thought, would be an excellent choice.

The second farm he visited was in Illinois. Once again, the corn in the field was large, showing that the soil had been well taken care of. The outbuildings and home were also in excellent shape. He believed this would be a good farm to own.

Lastly, Frank visited a farm for sale in Indiana. This corn was just "nubbin."[3] The soil seemed to be spent, with most of the nutrients used long ago. The farm and its buildings were neglected and in very poor shape. As he took pictures of this farm he thought, "This is a very poor farm. It would be difficult to make a go of it here." As Frank returned to Catherine to tell her of his trip, his heart was heavy. He laid an ear of corn from each farm in front of her and then began to cry, for he knew the only farm they could afford was the neglected one in Indiana. And so it came to pass, that in 1932, Frank and Catherine Willy moved their family of eight and all they owned to the neglected Indiana farm with "nubbin" corn. Little did either of them realize what an excellent choice it would turn out to be.
(Story courtesy of Nick Hopman.)

Frank was then about 35 years old, Catherine (née Alber) about 32. They had been married in 1920.

Frank mentions taking photos of the farm when he first visited it. That may be the source of these two photos of the farmhouse and barn.

2021-11-19. 1932 Farmhouse in country
(Click on images to enlarge)
This and the following image courtesy of Nick Hopman.

2021-11-19. 1932 Farm in Crown Point 1932

Again, thanks to Nick Hopman, we have Frank Willy's own story about the early days on the farm, and what the construction of the new Lincoln Highway did for the family:
You kids first went to St. Peter and Paul's School. I had to drive you. But when I had no money to buy gas, I sent you to the Ainsworth school as the bus passed our house. The first day you came home you said you needed about $14.60 for books. Had to sell corn for $.12 a bushel. Had about $.60 over on that truckload. That shows you what the Great Depression was like. I did not sell any more, as Henry Bloom[4] said, "Don’t sell. I will go along with you if it takes ten years. I won't foreclose on the mortgage!" The mortgage was for $7,000. The next year we had the cinch bugs. Twenty acres of corn barely filled my little silo. The next year we had the great dust storm. Steady wind from the southwest. In Kansas the dust covered fences and buildings. People left their farms. We bit our lips and held on.

Had 12 acres of fine wheat. Wanted to cut it on Monday. Henry Bloom was out on Saturday. "You ought to cut it. Sometimes it don't pay to wait 'til it has fully ripe." Sunday night it hailed. Shocked everything flat. Holes in the tarpaper roofs. Cut off branches of trees. It was a quarter-inch thick on the ground. I raked the wheat field and got Hank Homeier[5] to come and thrash it. Blew the straw into the barn and got 60 bushels of wheat. I needed that straw. Also paid Koehler[6] $10 so I could cut some slough grass, and Old Nick (our hired hand) herded the cattle there. In 1934 the new highway (US 30-the Lincoln Highway) came through. Then I had it made. When US 30 road work was being done I rented a small area to the state for material storage. When the work was done, instead of having the state clean up the storage area by removing the remaining sand, gravel, and steel, I negotiated to do it myself, for a price of course. But instead of cleaning up the mess, I just sold the materials until they were gone.
For some reason, the 1939 Plat Book fails to show the new highway east of Colorado:

2021-11-19. 1939 Ross Twp - Willy farm
(Click on image to enlarge)

But the 1939 aerial view shows it clearly:

2021-11-19. Aerial photo 1939 Willy Farm (LakeBFJ-04-043)
(Click on image to enlarge)
Image from

This raises the question whether the 1874 cartographer just made a mistake about the road extending east of Colorado, and that mistake was perpetuated by subsequent map-makers who didn't bother to investigate for themselves. But I am going to ignore that possibility because it's just no fun at all.

Anyway, the 1950 Plat Book shows the new U.S. 30:

2021-11-19. 1950 Ross Twp. - Willy farm
(Click on image to enlarge)

As you can see from the 1939 aerial view above, the Willys' house and farm buildings stood on the west side of Colorado Street, north of U.S. 30. This photograph shows more clearly how the buildings were arranged in relation to Colorado Street, which runs diagonally across the bottom of the photo:

2021-11-19. Willy farm, Crown Point mail address
Image courtesy of Nick Hopman.

Frank and Catherine Willy farmed that land for 30 years, through the Great Depression, through World War II, and beyond. Their children grew up, moved out, started families of their own. Frank and Catherine bought a modern ranch house in the Green Acres neighborhood. In 1962, they sold their farm.

Here is the former Willy farm as it appears in the 1972 Plat Book:

2021-11-19. 1972 Ross Twp. - former Willy farm
(Click on image to enlarge)

The new owner probably rented most of the land to locals who were still in the farming business.

This 1978 aerial view from the Lake County GIS website shows that the farmhouse and outbuildings have been removed, and some kind of business is operating in the northwest corner of the U.S. 30/Colorado intersection:

2021-11-19. 1978 aerial view (Lake County IN GIS)
(Click on image to enlarge)

The 1990s brought the era of the big-box store, and the landscape of the old farm was utterly transformed.

[1] He bought the south half of the northeast quarter, and the north half of the southeast quarter.
[2] Cf. Lake County Encyclopedia, p. 80. I'm a bit confused.
[3] "Nubbin" — a small or imperfect ear of corn [per the author].
[4] We don't know for certain who Henry Bloom was. My best guess is Henry Blume (1867-1958), who shows up in the 1910 Census farming his own land in Center Township, but in all subsequent censuses he gives no occupation. He and his wife, Mary, had only one child, who died in 1920.
[5] I think this was Henry Homeier, who farmed northeast of Merrillville.
[6] I give up.

Tuesday, November 9, 2021

The Maples on the Old Chester Place

I stopped by the old Chester place late yesterday afternoon to photograph the lovely foliage of the maples there.

This shot would have been impossible a year ago, when the house was still standing:

2021-11-09. Maples through house
(Click on images to enlarge)

Looking east along Ainsworth Road:

2021-11-09. Maples along Ainsworth

The side yard, and the setting sun shining through the leaves:

2021-11-09. Maples in the sun

The back yard, looking toward Big Maple Lake:

2021-11-09. Out back

Maybe someone who actually knows something about trees can tell me if any of those are old enough to have been planted by a Chester. Maybe they are the Wasy trees, I don't know.

Saturday, November 6, 2021

How Uncle Dan Cured His Ham

I found this handwritten "receipt" for curing ham and bacon in a cookbook printed in 1907 by the Merrillville Methodist Ladies Aid Society.

2021-11-6. Uncle Dan's Receipt for Cureing Hams
(Click on image to enlarge)
Image courtesy of the Merrillville-Ross Township Historical Society.

Here's my transcription:
To 100 lbs of meat take 8 lb. salt. 4 lbs. C or light brown Sugar. 4 oz. Salt-peter. Disolve saltpeter in about 1 gill hot water pour over the above, mix all well in a wooden tub or large Bucket
Rub hams and shoulders thouroly 3 times about 3 days apart, bacon 2 times, lay on incline board and let drip into tub holding salt & sugar
Ready to smoke in 10 to 15 das.
Brine in tub O.K. for the pickle pork. Pack meat in cool place in barn or granery in paper flour sacks in Boxes or Barrel with Oats
First of all, I like Uncle Dan's use of that old measuring term, "gill," meaning one-fourth of a pint or about four fluid ounces.

I do not know what "C" meant with regard to the type of sugar.

Saltpeter is potassium nitrate, a preservative.[1]

So, after 10 to 15 days of this treatment, you can smoke your 100 pounds of meat. (I wish the writer had included the details of how Uncle Dan did that.) Then you pack away your smoked meat, wrapped in paper flour sacks in a box, or layered with oats in a barrel.

And then, if I understand correctly, you use the leftover salt-sugar-saltpeter mixture in the tub (now seasoned with the liquid from the ham or bacon that has run down the incline board) to pickle additional pork. The necessity of food preservation is the mother of some pretty awful culinary inventions. But I suppose if your choice is pickled pork or nothing at all, you're going to eat pickled pork, and be glad you have it.

And, finally, I have no clue who Uncle Dan was.

[1] And also an ingredient of gunpowder. I came across an interesting article about saltpeter here:

Friday, October 29, 2021

Mr. and Mrs. Johann Christian Traugott Erfurth, Just Passing Through

Now let's get back to the northern 40 acres of the Harms 73rd Avenue farm. We left off in 1870, at which time ownership of those 40 acres was transferred from Charles Smith to Albert Van Doozer. Charles' parents, Jacob and Hannah, may or may not have still been leasing the land and farming it themselves.

Five years later, it appears that the elder Smiths had no further want of the land, for whatever reason that may have been. On New Year's Day, 1875, Albert and Emma Van Doozer sold the land to someone named Johann Christian Traugott Erfourth.

2021-10-29. 1875-01-01 Van Doozer to Erfourth - Harms Abstract of Title 018
(Click on images to enlarge)
Images courtesy of the Eldon Harms family.

Johann aka John, and his wife, Eliza Rosalia, borrowed the money to purchase the land from one Emma P. Smith …

2021-10-29. 1875-01-01 Mortgage - Erfourth to Smith - Harms Abstract of Title 019

… who was, I'm guessing, the daughter of Luther and Sarah Smith. If my guess is correct, Emma was about 20 years old (born circa 1855 per the 1860 Census). I do not know where a 20-year-old would get $500 to lend out, unless she inherited it from her mother, or perhaps a grandparent (we know that both her grandparents were dead by September 1877). I have not been able to find out anything about Emma's life after her father's estate was distributed, beyond the fact that she became an orphan in 1871.

The surname of the purchasers has already appeared in two different spellings: Erfourth and Erfurth. Later it shows up as Ehrfurth. Even with all those options I cannot identify Johann and Eliza in any other record, such as a census, that would give us details about them.

A lien search two years later (when the Erfurths were selling the land) showed that Johann had been active enough, during the previous ten years, to be involved in a couple of lawsuits:

2021-10-29. 1877-09-12 lien search Harms Abstract of Title 021

That first lawsuit, Ehrfurth v. Kline, might have involved an Ainsworth-area Kleine/Kline, but without a first name we can't know.

The second lawsuit, Steinfeld v. Ehrfurth & Bommerschein, tells us that the Erfurths were in business with a Martin Bommerschein — but I can't find any information about him, either. Nor can I identify this Steinfeld person who sued them.

So this episode in the history of the Harms 73rd Avenue farm is a big "I don't know."

Finally, in 1878 — several months after the Erfurths had sold the land — Emma Smith released the mortgage on it.

2021-10-29. 1878-02-11 Release - Harms Abstract of Title 022

I just have to add that I think "Traugott" is an interesting name. It means "trust in God."

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Ipsilon Dart

2021-10-21. Ipsilon Dart
(Click on image to enlarge)

This Ipsilon Dart can't believe how busy I've been lately. Where does the time go? wonders this Ipsilon Dart.