13 June 2013

Chief Papakeecha and the village he left behind

Indian Village Cemetery, 1836, and Highway 5 on the left
If I am ever late to anything, you can assume one of two things have happened.  Either I am in a ditch, or my standard arrive 5-10 minutes ahead of schedule was over-compensated for and I arrived 20 minutes ahead of schedule......so I'm doing a little sight-seeing.

That's what happened when I arrived in Cromwell a full 25 minutes ahead of the meeting at which I was scheduled to speak.  So I kept driving south of out Cromwell-having never driven that stretch of Indiana Highway 5.  Not sure of where I would turn around, when I got about a mile and a half south of town my jaw dropped as I entered into a little hamlet that just bled history.

Original post office, c. 1855 (left) and church, c. 1880 (right)
The highway dropped and curved toward a small cemetery.  There was a short string of 1800s homes on the left side of the road, along with a picturesque chapel, and a small church on the right side of the road with the cemetery.  These were all situated on a small bluff.  I had entered "Indian Village" not to be confused with the incorporated town in St. Joe County.

Indian Village Brethren Church, 1879
The town, once called Alcinda, was the reservation home of the Miami Indian chief by the name of Papakeecha...which sounds more Italian to me.  The chief, whose name means "flat belly" (no doubt a product of 6 minute abs) lived in the village from 1827-1834.  He was chief from 1820-1837, at the time of his death and just before the removal.  An Indiana Historical Bureau sign marks the location of an Indian stove in the village where the Miamis prepared their last meal before being removed from their reservation lands.  The cemetery dates to the 1830s and a few nearby buildings, including the village's first post office, date to the early settlement period by European Americans.

Houses on the village's "main street" and bluff, all c. 1870
Yeah-it usually is pretty easy for me to get jazzed up about these things.  But I thought the setting was exceptional.  As I shot pictures in all directions from the cemetery entrance, I'm sure the mechanic across the street wondered....what the keecha anyway.

11 June 2013

What Ben Hur hath wrought

Study of General Lew Wallace
During the summer of 1996 I spent a long weekend with a college friend from Hoopston, Illinois, which is just over the state line west of Lafayette.  He introduced me to the west central region of Indiana with tours of Attica, Williamsport, and as far east as Crawfordsville.  There we visited a great little architectural gem, now open to the public, with a fantastic history linked to Indiana's golden age of authors and artists.

General Lew Wallace, a Civil War general and an author made famous by his book Ben Hur, was from Crawfordsville.  He married well, which allowed him to pursue his writing career.  His famous work, turned into movies in the 20th century, created more wealth for him than that of his wife's family.  Wallace, already owner of a stately home in Crawfordsville, decided that he needed a study (read:  man cave) on his wooded estate.  So in 1880 he designed a wonderful Romanesque building with a private terrace, moat stocked with fish, inglenook, and large room with a vaulted atrium.  Carved faces on each of the four walls of the building depict characters in Ben Hur and a second book he thought would surpass that book, but bombed.

Statue of Lew Wallace near the study
A few weeks ago a friend and I were attending an Indiana Landmarks meeting in Greencastle.  On our way back through Crawfordsville I suggested we stop at Lew Wallace's study for a short tour.  I'd say I need a man cave like this.....but I guess that's what the barn is for.

Both being familiar with local oral tradition that Wallace wrote a portion of Ben Hur while vacationing at Lake Maxinkuckee, we asked the tour guide if he knew if the story was true.  He said he had heard the story, and that Wallace did vacation on the lake, but given the timing of when the book was written, it was doubtful because Wallace was in Crawfordsville and the southwest during its writing.  Bummer.
Inglenook in the study-something every man cave needs
I've never read Ben Hur, and I don't think that I've ever seen the 1950s film version in its entirety.  But this did give me some incentive to do so.  Here is a link to the General Lew Wallace site:  http://www.ben-hur.com/_index.php.

06 June 2013

Receiving the mail in Hobart and Culver

I'm sticking with the New Deal post office theme for another post.

Hobart Post Office
I am working in Hobart, Indiana's downtown area.  Realizing they also have a New Deal-era post office, camera in-hand, I joined with the Hobarites in visiting the lobby of their post office to see if it was home to a public works supported mural.  Sure enough.  During the 1930s post office construction was prolific under the New Deal.  Post office design was all being handled from the post master general's office, which explains why so many look the same.  While the design style of Hobart's post office stayed true to the basic elements of the Colonial Revival style, which characterized nearly all post offices built during the 1930s, certainly elements of the then-popular Art Deco style were brought into play.  This is most obvious in the strong vertical window and entry bays and in the carvings of eagles above the windows.  The Hobart Post Office was constructed in 1937.

Culver Post Office
 Contrast that to the over-the-top Colonial Revival style application on the post office constructed in the tiny lakeside community of Culver.  It does make me wonder if there was a method in determining how designs were selected for each community.  Culver's post office is Colonial Revival in the truest sense of the term.  Right down to the Jeffersonian cupola on its roof.  The Culver Post Office was constructed in 1935.  Having known it was home to a public works mural, the last time I was in downtown Culver-camera in-hand again, I visited the lobby and shot a few pictures.

Receiving the mail in Hobart with town founder, George Earl's gristmill in the background
While generally all of the public works post office murals stuck with the theme of receiving mail in their communities, awarding commissions to complete the works to a wide variety of artists resulted in a broad interpretation of the theme.  Hobart's mural was painted by William Dolwick in 1938.  He depicted the early years of the community and included the founder's grist mill which would have lasted another 15 years before it burned in the 1950s.

Receiving the mail in Culver
Culver's mural was painted by Mrs. Henrick Mayer and was installed in 1938.  She selected the community's internationally known military academy as inspiration for her work.  In it she shows academy cadets alongside local residents and farmers receiving their mail.  At that time the academy was just over 40 years old, a scene certainly more modern at that time than Hobart's.  Another interesting feature of Culver's mural are the small vignettes the artist created on either side of the main picture.

04 June 2013

Main Street Ligonier

Ligonier's Carnegie Library
Traditionally a street dubbed "Main Street" is the commercial heart of a community.  It brought people in and out of town through the downtown retail area lined with tightly packed one to three story buildings....what we recognize as our historic downtowns today.

There are a few places where this is not the case though.  For example, in Plymouth the main commercial corridor is Michigan (Road) Street while Center Street, the founders' version of Main Street, lies a block to the west.  It functioned as a sort of civic corridor with the post office, town hall, courthouse, several churches, and later the Carnegie library all lining the tree-lined street.  A similar situation exists in Ligonier where Main Street lies a block west of the commercial corridor.  Here too are provisions for a public square, their Carnegie library, post office, police station, and at least one church-or should I say synagogue.

Ligonier Post Office

Post Office Interior
Ligonier's Main Street is very broad, as though the founders had intended it to be an avenue planted in the center with trees.  It has impressive homes beginning at its north end/intersection with the original Lincoln Highway, that continue south for nearly a dozen blocks.  Mixed among the impressive homes are a handful of architectural gems.

New Deal Mural
Their Carnegie library is situated in the public square that served the town as a park since its inception.  Across the street from the library is the town hall and police station.  A block to the north is Ligonier's Colonial-style post office created under the New Deal projects of the 1930s.  It also has a large interior mural created under the same program.  A fraternal lodge is located next to the post office.
Ahavas Sholom Synagogue
A few blocks to the north is the Ahavas Sholom Synagogue.  It was constructed during the 1880s and replaced the original wood-frame synagogue.  Ligonier had a large Jewish population until it dwindled in the latter half of the 20th century.  The synagogue is the second oldest in the State of Indiana.  Its stained glass windows reflect the religious heritage of those that built it.  The library owns the building and it is used by the Ligonier Historical Society for tours.

Interior of the synagogue.  The stained glass depict Biblical friends David & Jonathan.
Ligonier also has an impressive collection of large Queen-Anne and Classical Revival homes, many built by leading Jewish merchants and industrialists of the town.  A historic stone fountain and clock are located in a small triangular park on the south side of the entrance into the downtown.  Across from the park is an historic gas station that has been converted into a town museum.