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The First 100 Years of Lake County

Source: "The First Hundred Years of Lake County, As Lived and Acted by Bartlett Woods and Family and by Sam B. Woods and Family", 1938,
by Sam B. Woods.

Submitted by K. Torp

The continuing articles in this book were written for our local paper, The Calumet News, from week to week. The articles were prompted by the questions of the day as they came up and the editor, Miss Ora M. Biggs, allowed me full and free expression on any subject that I had a mind to tackle. So here is perfect freedom of the press and free speech without strings.

May 2, 1930
Lake County
Lake County is the northwest county in the state of Indiana, and the Calumet region is the northwest section of Lake County. At this time there is no small section of the globe that is receiving more attention in the way of business and commerce than the Calumet region. But it was not always so.
Up to the time that the G. H. Hammond Company started a slaughter house at the state line, now called Hammond, about 60 years ago the Calumet region was a wilderness with the exception of the trunk line railways running through this section and a few scattered houses where the men lived along the lines in the different villages of Tolleston, Clark, Hessville and Gibson. It was made up of sand ridges and marshes and its principal crop was huckleberries, wintergreens and sand-burrs. In a great many places it had dense growth of underbrush which had the reputation of hiding the horses and horse thieves on their road to Chicago from south and eastern sections. And there were many railway cars broken into and goods thrown off as they passed through the wilderness, and then the goods was picked up by wagon and team and hauled to the hiding place.
The Calumet region was noted for its game and fur bearing animals with its broad expanse of overflow land which grew to perfection the wild rice for the food of the ducks and geese. It was the natural home of the muskrat and mink, and no one was denied the right to hunt, fish and trap to the heart's content. Many a good hunter would fill his boat with ducks, and some times wild geese. The fur bearing animals were not only caught with traps but when the sloughs were frozen up the hunter would have a long straight spear to plunge into the muskrat's house and generally secure the rats in great numbers.

Chicago sporting men, coming to know of the good hunting on the Calumet, organized a club, bought up a lot of this good hunting ground, built a club house southwest of Tolleston and proceeded to have a great time and, if all reports are true, there was a lot going on there besides hunting. The boys over the country who were accustomed to hunt and fish wherever they wanted to, continued to hunt on the Club grounds after being ordered off. Before the war was over there were four different ones shot-one the bullet went completely through him - but no one killed.
Not so many years ago the land where Gary now is could be bought for 10 or 12 dollars an acre. In fact, for agricultural purposes it was entirely worthless. But as a place to build railroads and mills it fits into the general plan in fine fashion. As to its importance in politics it was of small consequence as compared with the rest of the county, but now it just about dominates the whole thing. Most of the voters of the Calumet region in this early day were workers on the railroads of German descent and liked their beer. Every burg had a big saloon. The candidates for office would go over to set up the beer to melt the voters and get acquainted. But the big thing for a candidate to do was to see Joe Hess, the founder of Hessville who kept a general store and a saloon, the main part of the business being the selling of beer. Joe carried the whole political situation in his vest pocket and the candidate that got Joe's approval got the vote north of the Calumet. He was also township trustee and the prospective teachers would go into the saloon to sign their contracts.

About 1856 the Michigan Central was built through Lake County on its way to Chicago and about the same time the Illinois Central was built from Chicago south and west, and in 1857 the Joliet cut-off was built from Lake Station (what is now called East Gary) to Joliet. They established two stations in Lake County- Ross and Dyer- which were very important at that time as they built big grain elevators and grain was hauled 20 to 30 miles to these stations. Part of the teams which drew the loads were oxen. There would be long lines in waiting to unload at these elevators and a hotel and store at that time did a big business. The engine was a small contraption to what it is now and the steam was generated by fire from cord wood. A great lot of it was kept piled up in the depot yard ready for use.

Griffith was not thought of until Divine Providence centered all railroads there. Her early history was not as colorful as Ross or Dyer but modern conditions may make her more important than both of them.

May 9, 1930
The Ridge Road lying between the Calumet river and the Cady Marsh is one of the best known wagon roads (now better called automobile roads) second only to Lincoln Highway in now a choice residence district for popularity. It extends from the Illinois line at Lansing to Hobart. It is most of its length, the ridge above the road making a very desirable location for homes.

But it was not always thus. Mrs. Joseph Douthett relates some of the early incidents of her father Rodvick, better known as Red Johnson and what she has heard of her grandfather's experiences. Mike Johnson was a pioneer settler on Ridge Road east of Highland. Deer were very plentiful in an early day and Mike would have the trees decorated along the road with deer heads and antlers.

When Rod was a boy he went down on the Calumet bottoms after a very cold night and found the ducks frozen in the ice, and with a stick he killed and sold enough ducks to buy 20 acres of land at $1.25 per acre, government price, which was $25.00 for the 20 acres.

At another time Mike and his son Rod took the hired man along and went rabbit hunting where Black Oak now is. Mike and Rod did the shooting and the hired man picked them up. They quit when they got a wagon box full and called it a day. Rod saw a flock of wild geese light north of where the school house is in Highland, got on a horse and brought in 5 fat ones before breakfast. Ducks were so plentiful they did not bother about cutting them up- just served each one a whole duck.

Wolves were plentiful and they would come around the houses and make so much noise it would disturb the sleep of the inhabitants. Muskrats were caught by the thousands in traps and when the marshes were frozen over folks would travel on the ice and thrust a long spear into the house of the muskrat and empanel him on the spear. At that time the skins were worth from 5 to 10 cents each.

Fish were plentiful in the calumet and, in drawing the net, part of the catch would be bull frogs and turtles. Mike made a pretty good trade, the way things turned out, when he traded a yoke of oxen for 40 acres of land.

Up at Munster lives August Richter who came there in 1862 with his father Christ Richter. At that time Ridge Road was just wide enough for a wagon and had big trees on both sides. The pioneers of Munster beside the Richters were Case Klotwyk grandfather of John Klotwyk, who now runs the store, Jacob Munster the first postmaster. Olive Brass and wife who were widely known in early times as keepers of The Brass Tavern.
Harvey Wilson, one of the early settlers had a son by name Chausey. They both were drafted at the time of the Civil War and both were killed in the army. Chausey had a son by name Charles, who now lives in Hammond.

A. N. Hart came into this section in 1857 and bought 5 or 6 thousand acres of government land, paying $1.25 per acre. He had great faith in the future of this locality and was often heard to say, "This land will be valuable some day." A great portion of his possessions was wet land, and ditching was his hobby and the cause of success. He with the help of hired men and two yoke of oxen plowed a ditch from Plumb Creek at Dyer to Ridge Road. The ridge had to be deepened more and Hart and Dibble hired Eldred Munster, Jr. and father of Ben Munster to make it deeper. This he did by filling a big box with sand and drawing it out of the ditch with oxen. There were no scrapers or steam shovels in those days and that was the beginning of the big ditch you now cross on Ridge Road west of Highland.

Mr. Hart loved to ditch. He had a one horse buggy to ride over the farm in, and always carried a hoe and if he saw an obstruction in a ditch would stop and clean it out. His death was caused by a high bank of a ditch caving in on him. He had several sons and one daughter. His oldest son, West, was considerable of a sport and would rather make his living by his wits than by hand work. He was quite a horse trader and a good story is told of West getting a fine mule and selling it to his father. Some time after he was hard pressed for cash and he asked his father what he would give for a mate to the mule he had sold him. His father offered him a good price. West went to the pasture and got the mule and sold it to him the second time. The father was pleased to get such a good mate for the mule until he found out he had only one mule.

Ira C. Dibble was another big government land buyer in early times. He sold part of his purchase to Charley Wicker and Wicker Park is now of that tract.

An old family by the name Kimbell had a son named Dick, and a daughter who married Thomas George Mesham, an Englishman, who had an endowment from his people in England, which he spent mostly for high power drink. He was one, we think, who caused the bringing about of the 18th Amendment.

Steve Reed another old settler and Civil War veteran, who lost his eye in the army, was at one time justice of the peace and, if occasion required, he could administer justice by personal application. His daughter, Phena, married Leroy Holms, and they live in California. They have just lately celebrated their golden wedding anniversary.

You can say of Ridge Road in the words of the ''Ode to the Indian": "Not many generations ago where you now sit with all that exalts and embellishes civilized life the rank thistle nodded in the wind and the wild fox dug his hole unscared."



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