25 May 2011

Random things from the Hill

I feel like things are starting to become a blur. I've hardly caught my breath with how busy I have been and how much I'm trying to get done at Sycamore Hill. We have the garden in and much weeding is in our future. We landscaped the west and north sides of the house (when we moved in there was some overgrown prickly landscaping on the south side in about 12" of sparkly quartz stone and that was it).

We found scads of mushrooms here this year. 80 around one tree in our yard alone. We also found trespassers on our property while we were looking for the tasty little morsels. After three batches I had had my fill until next year.

This past weekend we acted on a rather good idea I had earlier in the week, if I do say so myself. We have a basketball rim that was intended to go up in the barn but the floor is too uneven so I planned to put it on the garage-but there is no concrete there....yet. So when I was mowing the path to the lower level of the barn it dawned on me that there was a heck of a lot of concrete out there. So with shovels and scrapers my son and I uncovered many more square feet of concrete that has become his basketball court and I put up the rim on the barn. Where else would you put a basketball hoop in Hoosierland?

18 May 2011

telling the Hoosier story

Indiana's Cultural Tourism Conference was held on Monday in Merrillville. Since it was a short jaunt down the road, and I thought it would be good exposure to thoughts and ideas about promoting the Michigan Road and other projects I am involved in, I took the day and spent it listening to heritage and cultural tourism cheerleaders.

There were a number of messages about how to promote and market yourself, but the over-riding theme was find what makes you unique and tell the story. My mind drifted into the stories to tell from my hometown and across the state. Some places do a great job with this. We just don't.

There is something to be said of a society that is wise enough to look inside itself and celebrate the cultural heritage that has been left to them. I think that there is something even bigger to be said of a society that is blinded to its past, its' lack of depth, and the rather vanilla appearance of its place. We are missing opportunities left and right to develop the quality of life that people want. It just takes forward thinkers and good leadership to deliver it-something we seem to run from. I coined the term "brain flush" several weeks ago to describe not the accidental loss of our brightest and best, but the deliberate disposal of quality people.

Certainly not to wallow in doom and gloom, I should point out that there are several refreshing locations across our state-maybe in the most unexpected places-that "get it". It's a joy and an honor to talk and work with Hoosiers of that caliber. And if I could give Hoosier Happenings a giant pat on the back, when this blog was started almost three years ago I wanted to celebrate our culture-to tell the story of what makes us unique as Hoosiers. With nearly 700 posts under our belt, I think we've been pretty successful in doing just that. And by reading all this dribble, you are as much a contributor to the discovery as I am.

09 May 2011

Another trip on Route 6

Maybe it's because I grew up on one of the greatest coast-to-coast highways in America, or maybe it's because our family's identity was so tied to the road, but I can't hardly get enough of driving the Grand Army of the Republic Highway....Highway 6. And my grandparents must have felt the same way when they shot this picture of my uncle Michael O'Leary back in the 50s when they traveled the road to the east coast.

Several weeks ago I was asked to meet on a project and I suggested this great diner I've always wanted to stop at but never had a reason to do so. The 20th Century restaurant located at 6 and 15 is a classic late-50s diner that doesn't look like its been touched since it was first opened, even as we've embarked on a new century. This fellow I met and I talked a long time about old 6 and the role it played both in our state and nation. And that led to establishing the need to survey 6 across Indiana to see what is left from its early era. More pictures to follow!

And since I've been driving 6 so much into LaPorte County, I couldn't help but stop on this little motel just east of Walkerton. The neon as dusk is a great sight. I suppose places like the 20th Century and the Bel-Air Motel have a hard time justifying their existence in the 21st, but certainly have established themselves a special place in the heart of this old soul. I was forwarded a blogsite on Route 6-it is under "Outside Links" at the left.

03 May 2011

Opulence in Hammond

I think sometimes we forget where Indiana's place in the nation was during the roaring 20's. Opulence abounded in many up-and-coming urban areas across the state. The Calumet region, particularly Hammond and Gary, had some of the finest buildings being constructed as a sister region to the Chicago metro area. The area was not only a sizable industrial and port area, but also a significant financial center as money flowed into it.

Hohman Avenue in Hammond is a good place to start in uncovering this past. South of downtown an area developed known as Harrison Park. Served by an electric rail line the area south of the center of town became a suburb for the city's burgeoning upper and upper middle classes. Maybe two of the finest buildings constructed during the boom time sit across the street from each other: the Southmoor Hotel and the Northern States Life Insurance Company Building.

The Southmoor represents the height of Hammond’s economic success of the early 20th century and the commercial building boom that ensued. It is considered one of Hammond’s finest early hotels. Prosperity demanded all types of housing; including workers’ homes, shop keeper and other middle income earners’ housing, as well as estate housing for the affluent. Also needed during this time were apartments for Hammond’s many single and newly married populations. The Southmoor itself became a popular place for teachers to live. The Southmoor catered not only to this population, but also upscale lodging needed by visitors to Hammond for business or pleasure.

The Southmoor was positioned well on one of the city’s main thoroughfares with access to the Green Line, taking commuters not only to the downtown districts, but also with connections to other northwest Indiana cities and Chicago. The apartment building provided a more suburban setting than the downtown and had immediate access to Harrison Park. The building provided a few retail necessities, such as a beauty shop, restaurants, and dry cleaners, located in the building’s commercial space to support its residential population. Developer Leo Deutsch contracted with Gary architect L. Harry Warriner to design the five-story building in 1927. Warriner provided initial drawings late in 1927 which were revised and used for construction in March, 1928.

The company originally known as Employee’s Life and Casualty Insurance began in 1910 in a small room in the rear of Hammond Trust & Savings Bank and was born into a well-suited economic climate that would ensure its success. The originators expected it to have great appeal to the “industrial army of this region”. The company was renamed Northern States Life Insurance Company in 1913, the same year it “took its first step in reinsurance, reinsuring $1,700,000 of business of another company.” From that year forward the growth was “steady and without any high pressure…..until 1919 when the year closed with ten millions of business in force.”

In 1925 a Minneapolis based company with the same name was persuaded to consolidate with the Indiana institution, liquidating the Minneapolis firm and making the Indiana firm of Northern States a giant insurance institution of the upper Midwest, opening up licensure in the states of Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, Minnesota, along with its current coverage of Indiana, Illinois and Michigan. This gave the Hammond-based company “a field of great diversity of industrial, commercial and agricultural interests.” The company had then, with the consolidation, thirty-two million dollars of insurance and total assets of about three and one-half million. The Northern States' "temple" was constructed in 1926 and rivals any building of its era in architectural excellence. The company, though boasting its economic diversity would weather any storm, was forced to close in 1930 due to the Great Depression.

Both buildings continue to be used today and are in excellent condition. They recently were placed on the National Register of Historic Places.