30 April 2013

Receiving the Mail on the Farm in Jasper County

Rensselaer Post Office with the Jasper County Courthouse in the background.
Until 2009 I had been to Rensselaer only twice in my life.  Once I had driven through it on the way to Remington; actually I was driving through Remington also.  This was back when I would just pick a route in my college days and then just drive.  The second time was on the job for a potential project associated with Drexel Hall (Indian Normal School), a part of St. Joseph College.  But in 2009 I was invited to take a look at the city's New Deal-era post office and its downtown for possible National Register nominations.

So I drove into the Jasper County seat of government, spied their amazing courthouse, and quickly noted that the street grid threw me off my Midwest-mindset that streets go north-south and east-west.  After multiple trips to Rensselaer, I still get confused which way I'm heading until I leave town and become re-acclimated with polar north.

The Rensselaer Post Office, built in 1937, is fairly non-descript and was designed in a style that became known as "starved classicism".  This was due to the fact that leading up to the Great Depression the United States Postal Office was building more and more elaborate buildings in high classical or colonial revival styles and that just wasn't going to fly under the stretched budget of Depression-era America, regardless of the USPS being a recipient of New Deal funding for construction.

So, the post office's chief architect during the 1930s stripped away all the frills of more exuberant times and primarily focused his attention on the entry areas in new construction.  This is why post office after post office constructed during the 1930s all look very much the same (they repeated the pattern almost to a T).  But the Rensselaer Post Office has one exciting thing that differentiates it from the scads of other post offices around the country and puts it in good company with only a handful of other Hoosier Depression-era post offices.  It was the recipient of a large mural in its lobby.

The mural was also created under an arts project of the New Deal.  The mural was painted by John Costigan, a well-known East Coast artist who had received a commission for two other post office murals outside of Indiana.  The Rensselaer mural is called Receiving the Mail on the Farm and it was completed in 1938.  Costigan's commission was $670.  Several other Indiana post offices have retained their historic murals painted under this program (more coming to this blog soon).  Only one has been lost.  A book by John Carlisle called A Simple and Vital Design explores all of Indiana's post office murals.  Occasionally I find myself in a community I recall from Carlisle's book and get the itch to pay a visit to the post office lobby.....one of America's last great meeting places.

"Receiving the Mail on the Farm"
The Rensselaer Post Office's National Register nomination is pending review by...well...the USPS, and it's been 4 years.  At one point the nomination had ironically been "lost in the mail."  No kidding.  The good folks in Rensselaer are anxious to have the mural cleaned and restored.  Godspeed.

25 April 2013

For 200 years...the best we can come up with?!

The new...and boring...Indiana license plate.
Not being aware of any major unveiling of our newest state license plate that will take us into our Bicentennial celebration in 2016, the forgettable plate made its first appearance to me while I was waiting in a drive-thru line at Starbucks.

And I thought-no way.....is this the best we can come up with for our 200th anniversary of statehood?  There probably is some symbolic message we are sending, not so much with the artwork, but by the lack of imagination on display for the rest of the country to see on our backsides.  Maybe it really does represent what we are?  Oh geesh.

Here are some words I think best describes our new plate design: bland, boring, drab, dull, humdrum, insipid, lifeless, mundane, prosiac, and vapid.  Yes-I googled synonyms for boring.  And I can't imagine having that plate on my car for the next 6+ years.  I found what must have been a specialty plate design for our 150th, along with what must have been standard issue.

1966 standard issue plate?
1966-150th-special issue plate?  I think this looks familiar.

I also found many of the new plate's predecessors so I felt like I should share them.  I remember many of them and wonder if you remember them too?  How about the state of Wander?  Or just the plate with stripes at the bottom during the 80s?  I guess the new plate could be worse.

1928-when a plate was nothing more than a plate!

1980-not a bad design, just hard to see.
1981-pretty boring

1984-outsiders thought we were the state of Wander.

23 April 2013

An Avenue through the Forest

This c. 1929 home has the appearance of a French manor house.
Hammond's wealth abounded and while much of the downtown may have lost its link to the city's vibrant past, one area of the city retains the atmosphere present during its glorious heyday.  There is a long strip of residential development that occurred between the Illinois state line and Hohman Avenue, south of the downtown.  These blocks straddled Forest Avenue, aptly named because of its development in untouched areas.  The development occurred during the late 1890s but blossomed during the 1910s and 1920s.

A simple Dutch Colonial Revival home, c. 1925.
As the city extended further south, the neighborhoods were serviced by electric car lines on Hohman.  The developments became known as Moraine, Southview, Roselawn, and Ivanhoe at the southernmost end of Forest Avenue.  Southview and Ivanhoe were some of the most desirable locations and carried the most prestigious addresses.

One of a multitude of bungalow style homes in the Moraine neighborhood.
The neighborhoods appear much as they did during the height of their development, save a few more garages and drives.  While construction fell off during the 1930s and early 1940s, it rebounded after the war and held strong into the 1950s.  Simple bungalow and Colonial Revival designs were popular in the Moraine area, while Southview and Ivanhoe displayed  robust wealth and finer tastes with massive examples of Tudor Revival and Colonial Revival homes.  Several of the homes have a storybook look as if they fell out of the pages of a childrens' fairy tale.  The string of neighborhoods were placed on the National Register in 2009-2010.

The shingled roof of this Tudor Revival home is supposed to mimic the thatched roofs of the English countryside.

18 April 2013

Hammond's downtown isles

Hohman Avenue, Hammond, looking south
I wouldn't have been able to tell you anything about downtown Hammond prior to 2009.  That area of northwest Indiana was simply a place to drive 70 mph through on the interstate toward western destinations.  Then at the end of 2008 I began to make trips off-interstate into what was once one of the wealthiest locations outside of Indianapolis in the Hoosier state.

Unfortunately the grandeur once associated with downtown Hammond has been largely scarred by tear-downs due to abandonment, urban "renewal", and major transportation corridor projects.  In fact the downtown hardly exists as a whole anymore, but is rather two enclaves as if a sea of asphalt flooded the downtown and only a few blocks on higher ground were saved.  One of those downtown enclaves is located along State Street, which was listed on the National Register several years ago.  The buildings that remain along State Street have largely become a part of the Hyles-Anderson First Baptist Church campus.  The fundamentalist mega-church and its college located in Crown Point have recently endured a great deal of less-than-fun-damning scandal that has left its own pall on Hammond's downtown.
Hohman Avenue, Hammond, looking north toward St. Joseph's Catholic Church
The other, certainly more marketable and vibrant downtown enclave is situated along a three block area of Hohman Avenue.  The buildings that remain demonstrate the city's impressive gilded past as a banking and insurance center in the Midwest.  The Great Depression spun the city around on its heels, though it managed to stage a comeback into the 1950s.  But urban renewal and transportation corridor development in many ways doomed the city's core to a deserted island with little coming and going....mostly going.
Hammond's Masonic Temple, demolished in 2009
I sense that the downtown is due for another comeback.  In order for that to happen the city has to capitalize on its financial foundations and easy access to Chicago.  In this on-line world, the large office buildings offer immense expandable space for new tech development companies as the recent Innovation Center on Hohman can attest.  Retailers follow white collars, as is evident from the metro-style cafe' that opened in 2009 across the street.  But the tear-downs have to stop....hopefully the Masonic Temple, one of the largest in Indiana, will be the last lost to the sea of asphalt.  It was demolished before the ink was dry on Hohman's National Register certificate.

16 April 2013

Family roots in the Old (Indiana) Northwest

Andrew Moore, pioneer of Lake County
Several weeks ago I wrote about a project that took me over the state line to Beecher, Illinois.  Since the outing was largely charitable in nature, I combined it with a little genealogical research that I had wanted to do in the area so that the sting of giving away services wasn't felt too deeply.

During the 1820s through 1830s two branches of my family traveled through northwest Indiana to settlements on the border of Lake County, Indiana and Kankakee County, Illinois, probably down the Sauk Trail.  The trail was an ancient Native American game route, also confirmed as a mastodon trailway around the south edge of Lake Michigan.  The Sauk Trail was incorporated into a supply route to Fort Dearborn from Detroit by the federal government in 1825.  The road became known in Indiana as the Chicago Road.

Adam Hamilton, pioneer of Kankakee County, IL
Adam Hamilton was born in 1793 to English immigrant Thomas Hamilton.  Thomas, though born under the Union Jack, was part of the First Virginia Regiment during the American Revolution and was camped with General Washington at Valley Forge.  Adam married Margaret Howard in Ohio in 1819 and then moved to Jackson County, Indiana.  Adam purchased property in Kankakee, Illinois in 1835 and 1836.  In 1841 he bought property on the west side of the Illinois/Indiana border, east of Sherburnville.  This became his permanent home.  The farmhouse is still there on the south side of Route 2, immediately across our state line.  After his death his farm was sold to Washington Allen.  Adam's son, Jacob, continued to live in the area and became the first supervisor of the township.  While no gravemarkers remain, it is believed Adam and Margaret are buried in West Creek Cemetery, a stone's throw from their farmstead, in West Creek Township, Lake County.  Jacob and several other Hamilton's are buried here, along with Washington Allen.

Village hall and church in Sherburnville, Illinois
Jacob Hamilton's wife's grave in West Creek Cemetery
Adam and Margaret's daughter, Rebecca Hamilton, met William Moore and were married in 1858 near Momence, Illinois.  William was called away to duty for the Union army, enlisting in Company H of the Illinois 100th regiment.  William was wounded in the Battle of Stone River, TN, captured, and imprisoned during which time he carved a ring from "a generals horse's bone which had been shot out from under him".  I've never been able to confirm that story.  We do know it was carved while he was held, and I wore it in my wedding thanks to the generous folks at the Marshall County Historical Society.

William Moore, Col. Company H, 100th Illinois Infantry
William Moore was the son of Andrew and Hannah Cole Moore, and one of a long line of William and Andrew Moores that stretch back to the 1600s in Connecticut.  Andrew was born in 1806 in New York and married Aurena Hine in 1825.  They moved from New York through Adrian, Michigan, where William was born in 1836.  They purchased 160 acres in West Creek Township, Lake County, Indiana the following year.  He was the first justice of the peace in the township and helped organize the first Methodist church in the area in 1838.  They lived several years in the Sherburnville area before permanently settling in Indiana.  All seven of Andrew's sons volunteered for service during the Civil War; three died and the other four suffered from life-long disabilities.  William and a brother, Frank, began a sawmill operation in Argos, Indiana.  The work proved too much for the wounded vets and William began a drugstore in the community.  Andrew sold his land holdings in 1865 and moved to Lowell where he opened a mercantile until his retirement in 1872.  He and Aurena are also buried in West Creek Cemetery.
A sales receipt for merchandise at William Moore's Argos mercantile.  These were made out to his daughter Lucy Chapman (my great x2 grandmother) and his son, Charles.  Based on the date, it appears that the merchandise was part of their inheritance from their father who had died a few weeks prior in 1893.  Check out the prices!

An interesting story about another of William's brothers, James, relates to his occupation.  He had a contract to build railroad depots along the Union Pacific Railroad, which included depots for the new transcontinental line between Omaha and Promontory Point, Utah.  He was witness to the driving of the golden spike that joined the railroads in 1869.

11 April 2013

Angola's Public Square: Second only to Monument Circle

Angola's Public Square
Toward the end of 2008 I was contracted by the City of Angola to place their downtown on the National Register.  Worthy of the listing?  Absolutely.  I had been to the city in northeast Indiana only a few months prior to being contacted.  The most remarkable space is their downtown "square" which evolved into a large round-about after a war memorial was placed in the center of the square in 1917.  As far as Indiana town squares go, Angola is second only to Indianapolis's famed Monument Circle, but has a hometown flare all its own.

With the opportunity to stay over at Pokagon State Park, I took the family for a weekend get-away while I worked over their Christmas break.  Unfortunately, the toboggan run at Pokagon had closed for the season.  And it was cold....I should know....I spent hours walking up and down the city streets in a brisk sub-zero wind.
Angola was platted in 1836 and was established as the county seat of Steuben County in 1837.  The town's founders incorporated a public square on the highest point in the original plat.  The purpose of the square was to serve as a space for both civic functions and for farmers to bring their crops to a public market.  As automobiles gained in popularity and the important cross streets in the square needed more definition at their intersection, the community devised a plan for a monument to soldiers of the Civil War.  The 70 foot tall monument includes an inscription of Lincoln's Gettysburg address and is topped by a statue of Columbia.
TWO downtown theaters on the Square

Some of the city's most important architecture front the public square.  This includes the 1868 Steuben County Courthouse, a large Masonic Hall, impressive First National Bank building, and the Angola Opera House.  Near the middle of the 20th century the square boasted two movie theaters, still in operation today.  The historic county jail and sheriff's residence is located immediately behind the old courthouse and is used as a museum.

In 2009 I was part of a team that worked toward new streetscaping in the square and on Maumee Street (Highway 20).  I returned to Angola in 2011 to see the finished product.  Impressive.  The downtown was placed on the National Register in 2010.  Here is a post from my first trip to Angola:  Landmarks and the Powers Church

09 April 2013

Comfort in Lincoln Park

On the first day without employment....or I guess I should say the first day of self-employment, I received an email about another National Register nomination.  I thought, sure I'm interested, I'll ride this as far as God wants to take me.  It was a New Deal project in Mishawaka on the Saint Joseph River.

The Lincoln Park Comfort Station was constructed in Lincoln Park in 1934 by the Civil Works Administration (CWA).  It was part several projects constructed in Mishawaka by the CWA, and part of President Roosevelt’s New Deal program, that provided jobs to Americans left struggling financially by the Great Depression.  The Lincoln Park Comfort Station was constructed to provide additional amenities to Lincoln Park, sandwiched between the Lincoln Highway and St. Joseph River at the west edge of Mishawaka.

For all us Hoosiers who complain about FDR and the New Deal-some interesting stats reveal that our ancestors felt much differently.  Indiana ranked as one of the top beneficiaries of wages paid out.  By the end of 1933, 104,000 persons had been given employment throughout Indiana under the CWA banner with a weekly payroll of $4,500,000.  The first week of January, 1934, South Bend, Mishawaka and the townships of St. Joe County, showed 4,742 men who were receiving weekly wages amounting to nearly $75,000 from federal funds.  Given that, the actual average weekly pay per employee was about $15.82.
An article in the South Bend Tribune from 1934 was a bit prophetic if you ask me:  "only the passage of time will reveal to the fullest extent the lasting benefits that may be derived from the gigantic CWA program".  As well we know, the benefits are unmeasurable.
The CWA and other New Deal, get America back to work, programs used materials readily available for construction of stone walls, buildings and other park related structures.  Often the public works projects in Northern Indiana used native granite fieldstone for structure and building materials.  In other parts of the state, other locally quarried or available material was used such as limestone or sandstone.  The materials were then adapted and configured into an architectural style that became identified as "Park Rustic".

04 April 2013

Chesteron: when you know you're not in Kansas anymore

The Martin Young House was built in 1878 in the Italianate style.  It is individually listed on the National Register.
A few things put this small Porter County town on the map.  The annual Wizard of Oz fest is one, and the community's claim at the gateway to the Indiana Dunes is the other.  I could, at least, find it on a map in 2008.  Now my car knows the way....including the best local coffee shops.

I developed a close association with a non-profit organization that was doing National Register work in Lake and Porter Counties by the end of 2008.  They asked me, as a pilot project I believe, to complete a nomination for a historic neighborhood on the west side of Chesteron's downtown.  At this point, what I knew about Northwest Indiana was merely what could be viewed from the toll road.

The Henry Christianson Home was built by the owner who was a brick mason in c. 1880.
Chesterton was established by two families during the early 1830s.  It took the name "Coffee Creek" from a creek by that name which flowed through the settlement and after which the post office had been named.  During the 1850s it was changed to Chesteron, after Westchester Township it was located in.  Regarding industrial development, possibly the most important early industry of Chesterton was the Hillstrom Organ Company, founded in 1869 by Swedish immigrant, C. O. Hillstrom and relocating to Chesterton in 1880.  The historic neighborhood has a great collection of homes that are well-maintained and speak well of the community.....and no doubt support the small downtown district.

A Queen Anne style home in Chesterton
Of particular note to the settlement history of Chesterton is the influx of Swedish immigrants to the area which saw its earliest concentration in the early 1850’s.  Their primary trade was cutting timber for the new railroad and local markets.  Swedish immigrants built some of the most outstanding homes in the Chesterton Residential Historic District including Par Johnson, Oscar Peterson, Richard Anderson, and Henry Christianson who was a masonry contractor. The construction of the Bethlehem Evangelical Lutheran Church and the former Catholic church were built by Christianson and other Swedish immigrants.  The neighborhood was placed on the National Register in 2009.


02 April 2013

Suburban Rage

Not the actual offender
Aside from occasional political rants, which I hope are at least somewhat informative, I don't typically go off on tangents.  I'd like to think I'm more evolved, possibly spiritually mature enough, to hold it together and let it go.  But I have to say this to the new silver suburban with Michigan plates at my son's school....

YOU, SIR, ARE.....(fill in the blank)!

When my wife's job expanded from part time to full time at the beginning of this year, I tried to pick up some of the slack by doing some of the chauffeuring needed by our two kids.  Two days a week my daughter stays late after school for orchestra, so I have to pick up my son.  And this is what I've realized at his school, unlike my daughter's elementary school......some of those parent's need some common decency training.

Sitting in the parking lot, usually just 1/4 to 1/3 full, I watch as SUV after SUV dart through the parking lot and back into areas striped for no parking.  Now, the guys who laid out the parking lot didn't just decide that stripes would look pretty in an angled design near crosswalks and drives.  They did it for safety reasons.  When you've got your massive SUV parked over the top of these "no parking areas" other SUVs driving at speeds way too fast, cannot see around the corner and will plow down kids and adults alike in the parking lot.

But today took the cake when a new silver suburban with Michigan plates pulled up, not even on the angled stripes, but this time partially blocking the drive.  And when he left he drove over the lawn because he was too lazy to back up.  Prior to today he at least parked on the angled stripes-too lazy for that infraction now I guess.  I'm considering parking to block him in some day-no less illegal.

Now-call this the rantings of an old fart who was maybe brought up a little-heck-a LOT differently than the violators in the parking lot, but I would think a little common sense and common decency should be in play in a parking lot full of little kids.  Am I wrong?  I realize I got started a little late in the kid department and that many of these parents are 10 years my junior......but c'mon, what, did we seriously raise this generation?

I considered snapping a picture of the silver suburban, but figured that may invite gunfire.  And I thought about asking if the Michigander understood what angled lines mean in parking lots....trying to give him the benefit of the doubt-maybe it doesn't mean the same in Michigan.  I figured that wouldn't end well either.  My pastor sits in the parking lot too.....I'd hate for him to see me go into full-blown parking lot rage.  He drives a suburban too.

There are two or three of River City's finest who pick up their kids at my son's school.  It would be nice if they could tap on the windows of the perpetrators and just remind them to practice safe parking.....I think that would go over much better than if I did it.

There, I'm done.