Historical Tidbits

RIP James Shilling

posted Oct 20, 2015, 4:08 PM by North Judson-Wayne Township Public Library   [ updated Oct 20, 2015, 4:13 PM ]

We were saddened to hear the news that James Wellington Shilling passed away at his home on October 17, 2015.  Mr. Shilling was a willing volunteer in many areas of the community:  Gateway Area, Knox Depot, Knox United Methodist Church, Starke County Courthouse Celebration, Starke County Courthouse renovation, Starke County Historical Society, Starke County Sesquicentennial Celebration, and Wythogan Park to mention just a few. 

He will be greatly missed.  

Check out the Starke Co. Forest for a walk with nature

posted Oct 6, 2015, 9:57 AM by North Judson-Wayne Township Public Library   [ updated Oct 6, 2015, 9:57 AM ]

Check out the Starke Co. Forest for a walk with nature
By M.J. Bendt

The Starke County Forest is one of several interesting, and historic, sites to visit in Starke County. Bruce Wakeland donated the 129-acre Forest to the County in 2011 in the form of a trust. Wakeland, who received his degree in forestry from Purdue University, oversees the area. Proceeds from the sale of timber go into a special County fund, and are used to maintain the Forest, which provides a location for forest and wetland education for the general public.

The property includes 5 miles of trails, giving access to 22 acres of ponds and marshes, 40 acres of native woodlands, 62 acres of tree plantings of different ages and 5 acres of open areas. Public access is provided from dawn to dusk daily for hiking, bird watching, jogging and cross country skiing. The entrance to the Forest is at 10625 E. Division Road, just north of Ind. 8, between C.R. 1025 E. and C.R. 1100 E., on the south side of Division Road. No vehicles or horses are allowed past the entrance on Division Road.

Historically, the area dates back to the mid-1800s, when two parcels of land were granted from the U.S. Government, the north 80 acres granted to John Marks, and the south 49 acres to Mary Ann Robbins. Most of the marshy area was drained and trees removed for use as farmland around 1900. Wakeland purchased the north acreage in 1985. The farmhouse and large barn were eventually removed, and the cropland was planted with trees starting in 1986.

Fourteen acres of the south part of the Forest were farmed until 1987, when Wakeland planted it to trees. The remaining 35 acres were purchased in 2000, and in 2001, the remaining Scotch pines from a Christmas tree field were removed to allow the oak that had regenerated naturally under the pine to grow. Portions of the area include a pond and a 13-acre area used to demonstrate timber productivity.

Wakeland explains the process of starting and managing a timber business, which is the fourth most important business in Indiana. He also provides forestry consulting services throughout the area. After he graduated from Purdue, he started working for Stanley Hensler at Hensler’s Nursery in Hamlet. 

Wakeland is proud of his accomplishments, “You have to have a passion for it,” he said of starting your own business. “There’s too much work and risk.” He added, “The Forest pays its own way by selling timber, and you still have the beauty of nature.”

Verne Trinoskey - Starke County Tidbit #63

posted Sep 8, 2015, 9:45 AM by North Judson-Wayne Township Public Library   [ updated Sep 8, 2015, 9:45 AM ]

Another Greek Tragedy – this one in January 1944

Veterans have many stories to tell after their service to their country.  Some are never told.  Some of this story was reported in the North Judson News, April 18, 1944, then later on May 4, 1944.  The story is about Verne Trinoskey from North Judson and his B-17 bomber. 

The B-17 was known as the flying fortress.  It had thirteen 50-caliber machine guns on board.  Enemy fighters could hardly get close to it.  Verne was the tail gunner on his plane.  

Nazi Germany had been taking over Europe.  The United States military had driven them out of North Africa, and by January of 1944, had taken over Italy.  The U.S., during a very cold winter, now had airfields on the island of Sicily.  On January 11, 1944, squadrons of B-17s departed Sicily to bomb the ports of Greece in the fight against Germany. 

With dozens of bombers flying through the cold, icy clouds, windows in the planes froze over, making it hard to see.  As the first squadrons unloaded their bombs on the targets, they turned back to Italy.  Instead of turning and returning in a different elevation, they turned into the path of the oncoming squadrons.  Plane after plane destroyed one another.  Fifty three airmen lost their lives.

Verne Trinoskey's plane was sliced in two by one of the other bombers.  A plane without a tail cannot fly.  Likewise, a tail without a plane cannot fly.   Already injured from the crash, Verne found himself falling fast, still in his tail section.  Somehow he worked himself free from the wreckage and pulled the ripcord on his parachute.  He landed in the snow on the foot hills of a mountain range and was saved and hidden from the Nazis by the local Greek patriots.  In April, 1944, three months later, he and two of his fellow airmen made it back to Sicily.  He had been “missing in action” since January 11, 1944.  He had completed 45 combat air missions for his country.

The North Judson News report of Verne, May 4, 1944 says – Missing in Action, Local Boy arrives Home Safely
“ ‘Back home again,’ the dearest words I’ve heard in a long time,” says S/Sgt. Verne Trinoskey, as he arrived in North Judson, Tuesday noon.

Jim Shilling
 Starke County Historical Society 

Foo Mobile - Starke County Tidbit #62

posted Aug 4, 2015, 1:51 PM by North Judson-Wayne Township Public Library   [ updated Oct 31, 2015, 9:12 AM ]

Years ago, the blacksmith was the corner of the community.  Take your idea to the blacksmith and he would hammer out that idea.  It could be a new wheel or a new plow.  That is how John Deere started in 1837.  John was a blacksmith.  The blacksmith days are gone, but we still have innovators looking for better ways of doing things in shops and farms around the world.

When I talked about the Space Ship landing in Hamlet, I mentioned that we have fun in Starke County.  Pulaski County has fun, too.   I have stretched the borders of Starke County before, so I thought I would do it again.  Just west of Francesville, Indiana, is a company called Schlatters, Inc.  Pulaski County is just like Starke County in the fact that we are major agricultural production counties in the state - rural and wonderful.  And creative, too.

Bill Holman was a syndicated writer in Chicago for the Smokey Stover comic strip between 1935 and 1973.  In the comic strip, Smokey was a fireman and would drive the fire chief, Chief Cash U. Nutt, to the different fires.  To fully understand the comic strip, you need to click on the following ----

Now, to get back to Pulaski County, Pete Schlatter of Francesville was a genius in his ability to build anything.  His son, Ron, is the same way. Pete created a real live Foo Mobile - the seemingly impossible two-wheeled car like Smokey Stover's in the comic strip.  I'm not going to tell you how it stays up on the two wheels, but if you really want to know, you can look around on Google and find it.   I have included a photo of Schlatter's Foo Mobile when Melba and I drove it in a parade years ago.

Jim Shilling
Starke County Historical Society

Koffel Building, Knox, Indiana

posted Jul 14, 2015, 10:27 AM by North Judson-Wayne Township Public Library   [ updated Jul 14, 2015, 10:27 AM ]

2 North and 4 North Main Street 
(Koffel Building – 1891)
Knox, Indiana
April 1, 2013

The building comprising 2 North Main Street and 4 North Main Street in the City of Knox, Starke County Indiana was constructed in 1891 and was also known as the Koffel Building.  It is part of the Starke County Courthouse Historic District.  It is located in what became the main downtown central business district.  Although there were other business buildings on other streets in the Knox Downtown business district, those streets did not house the most prominent businesses.  This specific area is the first two blocks of Main Street located south of the southwest corner of the Starke County Courthouse Square.  The current Starke County Courthouse was erected during the years 1897 and 1898.   The then existing courthouse, a two-story columned white wooden structure, was relocated to permit construction.

The east side of the first block of Main Street south of the Courthouse Square became known as the Koffel Block; presumably because the Koffel Building predated many of the other buildings on the east side of that block on Main Street.  In 1892 the two blocks of Main Street south of the Courthouse Square were laid in brick.  Electricity was installed in 1895 and water was installed in 1908.  This two block area became the core of the downtown business district of Knox, Indiana. 

Lincoln Highway - Starke County Tidbit #61

posted Jun 2, 2015, 9:47 AM by North Judson-Wayne Township Public Library   [ updated Jun 2, 2015, 9:47 AM ]

Automobiles were the playthings of the rich until 1909, when Henry Ford produced the Model T- the first car that the average working family could afford. The number of cars manufactured and owned began to take off, but unfortunately there were few good places to drive them! For over half a century, long-distance travel in the United States had been accomplished by rail, and few roads suitable for the new horseless carriages existed. If the early cars did not break down on their own, it was very likely they would get stuck in mud on the dirt roads outside of cities and towns.

A grass-roots effort began, backed by car companies and related industries, to pull the country out of the mud. The Good Roads Movement championed named auto trails on the best available roads and advocated for government involvement in building hard surfaces on the public highways of the country. The first named auto trail to be marked from coast-to-coast was the Lincoln Highway.  Only the Yellowstone Trail, the Lincoln Highway, and the National Old Trails Road were transcontinental in length and notability, out of the 250 named Auto Trails of the era.

As you probably know, there were two Lincoln Highways through Northern Indiana.  The original one (1913-1928) was north of Starke County and went through Noble, Elkhart, St. Joseph, and La Porte Counties into Valparaiso.    Later, the route was straightened to a more direct route through Kosciusko, Marshall and Starke Counties.   This was because U.S. 30 was established in 1926, which led to the changing of the Lincoln Highway to a more direct southern route in 1928.

The Boy Scouts placed concrete Lincoln Highway markers at 5 different intersections in Starke County as well as across the nation.  The following is from the Boy Scouts Council meetings:  DP means direct or straight ahead post.  RP means Right Turn. 
DP main crossing Grovertown (Ind. 23) No. 630
RP 300 yds, E of Highway Gravel Loading Plant No. 631
DP main crossing (600 N) Hamlet No. 632
DP crossing roads (550 E) about ½ mile W of Hamlet No. 633
DP at Junction with Road No. 29 (U.S. 35) No. 634

I can find only one of these markers which is still displayed, although it has been moved from its original location.  It is north of the main intersection in Hamlet – Old 30 and CR 600E on the west side of 600E.  There is also a modern metal marker on a tall post on the northeast corner of the Starke County Co-op’s grain elevator lot in Hamlet.

The Indiana Lincoln Highway Association is developing a corridor management plan.  If you know of any other markers or information about the Lincoln Highway, give me a call – 574-772-4311.

Jim Shilling
Starke County Historical Society 

Abraham Lincoln's Funeral Train Stops in San Pierre

posted Apr 23, 2015, 9:29 AM by North Judson-Wayne Township Public Library   [ updated Apr 23, 2015, 9:31 AM ]

The President has been shot!
150 years ago, on April 15, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln died as a result of a gunshot wound to the head.
The President’s funeral train traveled through many cities on its way to Springfield, Illinois, the President’s home.  It stopped in San Pierre, Indiana on May 1, 1865 at 6:15 in the morning.  The Starke County Historical Society will commemorate the historic event of 150 years ago.
Saturday, May 2 at 2:00 PM CDT on the grounds of the Little Company of Mary Hospital just south of San Pierre in Starke County.

  Ed Hasnerl, Peg Brettin and Alice Dolezal have arranged for the following participants:
  • The Living History Club from Culver Military Academy will appear in Civil War dress and the The Culver "Pipes & Drums" from the Culver Military Academy will perform.
  • A North Judson high school student, Jacob Dessauer will recite the Gettysburg Address.
  • A story of the young man who “hitched” a ride from San Pierre to Springfield on the train will be read.
  • Alan Selge will appear in Civil War civilian attire.
  • State Representative Douglas Gutwein, serving the people of District 16, and Senator Ed Charbonneau, District 2, and Tom Dermody, District 20 have been invited, as well as the Starke County Officials.
  • Light refreshments will be available at the nearby pavilion.
  • Ed will serve as the Master of Ceremonies and be attired appropriately.
Come, be part of Starke County History.

Teachers may find more on the events of 150 years ago at the following site:  http://lincolnfuneraltrain.org/pdfs/Teacher_Resource.pdf

A little history of what happened that night at the Ford Theater.

President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination is one of the saddest events in American history. Yet on the morning of April 14, 1865, the President awoke in an uncommonly good mood. One day less than a week before, on Palm Sunday, April 9, Robert E. Lee, the commander of what remained of the Confederate States’ Army, surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant, the commanding General of the Union. The truce reached at the Appomattox, Virginia, Court House signaled the end of the nation’s most destructive chapter, the Civil War.
To celebrate, Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln decided to attend the hit farce comedy “Our American Cousin,” which was playing at Ford’s Theatre. The Lincolns invited Gen. Grant and his wife to attend the play with them. At a cabinet meeting later that morning, however, Gen. Grant informed President Lincoln that they would not be able to join the first couple and, instead, would be visiting their children in New Jersey.

Lithograph of the Assassination of Abraham Lincoln. From left to right: Henry Rathbone, Clara Harris, Mary Todd Lincoln, Abraham Lincoln, and John Wilkes Booth. Rathbone is depicted as spotting Booth before he shot Lincoln and trying to stop him as Booth fired his weapon. Rathbone actually was unaware of Booth’s approach, and reacted after the shot was fired. While Lincoln is depicted clutching the flag after being shot, it is also possible that he just simply pushed the flag aside to watch the performance. From the Library of Congress

Even more ominous, the ornery Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton, pleaded with the President not to go out that evening for fear of a potential assassination. Stanton was hardly the only presidential advisor against the outing. Mrs. Lincoln almost begged off, complaining of one of her all too frequent headaches. And even President Lincoln moaned about feeling exhausted as a result of his heavy presidential duties. Nevertheless, he insisted that an evening of comedy was just the tonic he and his wife required. Mr. Lincoln, confident that his bodyguards would protect him from any potential harm, shrugged off the warnings and invited Maj. Henry Rathbone and his fiancée, Clara Harris, to join them for a night at the theater.

Lithograph of the Assassination of Abraham Lincoln. From left to right: Henry Rathbone, Clara Harris, Mary Todd Lincoln, Abraham Lincoln and John Wilkes Booth. Rathbone is depicted as spotting Booth before he shot Lincoln and trying to stop him as Booth fired his weapon. From the Library of Congress

Jim Shilling
Starke County Historical Society

Space Rocket hits Hamlet, Indiana – 1954 - Starke County Tidbit No. 60

posted Jan 7, 2015, 9:29 AM by North Judson-Wayne Township Public Library   [ updated Jan 7, 2015, 9:29 AM ]

All Richard Jensen wanted to do was create a little excitement in the sleepy town of Hamlet. It turned out that he created a little more excitement than he expected; boy, did he ever. 

It was October of 1954 and Richard was a high school student who worked part-time at the local Shell Oil gas station. Because he liked mechanics and building things, he came up with an idea of building a fake space rocket. Every night, after the gas station had closed, he secretly worked on his project. He started with a 6-foot long aluminum tube, installed old car parts and a gas line to give the appearance of jet propulsion, added push rods and old car radio tubes to make it appear as if it were radio-controlled, and fashioned air intakes and fins to the exterior. To add even more realism, he heated and darkened the outside of the rocket to make it look like it had actually traveled through space. 

The completed rocket was transported late at night to the local golf course. Richard used a tire iron to beat the side of a tree, impaled chunks of aluminum into the tree trunk, dug a trench in the ground, and placed the rocket at the end of the trench. The stage was set with the rocket appearing to strike the tree before hitting the ground. 

Upon discovering the rocket the next day, Clem Hall, the owner of the Hamlet Golf Course, loaded it into the trunk of his car and started to show it to everyone in town. It wasn’t long before someone suggested to Clem that he might want to contact the local Kingsbury Ordnance Plant to determine whether or not the rocket was dangerous. Officials at the ordnance plant gave instructions that the rocket was not to be touched, and they further said that they would send a team of technicians to make an inspection. Clem hurriedly returned the rocket to the location on the golf course where it had been found. 

Kingsbury Ordnance Plant officials arrived to inspect and take pictures of the rocket and then released the pictures and story to the news media. News stories immediately began to appear, not only in newspapers across Indiana, but also around the Midwest, and then around the country. The 5th Army Headquarters, located in Chicago, reprimanded the ordnance plant officials for releasing the pictures and story of the rocket, because they thought it might be some sort of secret missile. The FBI was called in to make an investigation and the rocket was sent to the U.S. Air Force for evaluation. 

New stories about the rocket continued to multiply. A Chicago Daily News reporter, who just happened to be vacationing at the nearby Town of Koontz Lake when the rocket was discovered, stated that he had seen it fly over the lake the previous night heading in the direction of Hamlet. Mrs. Ossler, a resident of Hamlet, said that her TV went blank at about 10:00 p.m. on the night the rocket landed. And every time a new story about the rocket came out in the paper, the trench made by its impact became deeper and deeper. 

Richard nervously followed all the new stories, thought for sure that he would go to jail if the truth came out, and was too afraid to admit that he was the one who built the rocket. It wasn’t long, however, before an FBI agent showed up at the Shell Station to question him. It seemed that a late-night gas station customer, who had accidentally discovered Richard working on the rocket some time before had reported that fact to officials. The FBI agent questioned Richard and obtained his full confession. To his relief, the FBI agent told Richard that he was not in trouble and that he had done a pretty good job of placing Hamlet on the map. The following February, officials from the Air Force returned to Hamlet and gave Richard two shoe boxes filled with the pieces of his rocket. Every piece had been placed into a labeled envelope, indicating that they had all been individually and meticulously inspected. 

It was almost exactly five years later, in October of 1959 that a small meteorite struck a house in Hamlet. Ironically, the house belonged to Clem Hall, the owner of the Hamlet Golf Course. It took quite some time for many people in town to be convinced that the meteorite was real, because Richard now worked only a block away from Clem’s house, at the local lumber yard, and they thought for sure that it was another one of his pranks. The meteorite was, in fact, determined to be real and, to this day, it is still on display at the Field Museum in Chicago. 

Richard has never taken up the game of golf.

Jim Shilling
Starke County Historical Society

Have you ever wished you could have met someone and never got the chance? - Starke County Tidbit #59

posted Oct 30, 2014, 9:46 AM by North Judson-Wayne Township Public Library   [ updated Oct 30, 2014, 9:52 AM ]

I would like to have met Stanley Pieza.  Some of you have.  From all accounts of this man, he seems like an interesting individual to have known.  Philip Potempa says of Mr. Pieza, "My mentor was the late Stanley Pieza, my Sunday school teacher and a former reporter".  

Mr. Pieza was born in Lithuania in 1905, and was a newspaperman in Chicago, Illinois, before retiring and moving to San Pierre, Indiana. He became interested in local history while working on the history of the All Saints Catholic Church.  Click below to go to the 125th Anniversary Publication, written in 1983, of the All Saints Catholic Church in San Pierre.  His photo, with the other program book staff, is on page 39.

He started as a police reporter in the 1920s, and then covered religion for more than four decades for the Chicago Examiner, the Chicago's American and Chicago Today. 

Mr. Pieza made his mark by scooping other religion writers. He was especially proud that he had interviewed four popes and had covered the proceedings of the Second Vatican Council.

In the All Saints Catholic Church Anniversary Publication, he mentions Lincoln's funeral train stopping in San Pierre, 6:15 a.m., Monday, May 1, 1865, and Horace Greeley passing through town on a railroad handcar in 1853.  He also tells of Thomas Alva Edison staying in San Pierre for a few nights.  In Edison's early life, he was an itinerary telegrapher for the Monon Railroad.  With the help of others, Mr. Pieza compiled quite a history of the All Saints Catholic Church and San Pierre, keeping our Starke County history alive.  I hope you enjoy reading it.

Jim Shilling
Starke County Historical Society

Horse tank --- yes - no - Starke County Tidbit #58

posted Sep 3, 2014, 5:38 PM by North Judson-Wayne Township Public Library   [ updated Oct 30, 2014, 9:53 AM ]

A lot of people have talked to me about the "horse tank" in Knox.   Early in Knox history, horse tanks were needed, not only for horses to drink, but for fire protection.  Knox didn't have much of a fire department in the early days.  There were some driven wells and some volunteers.  Each merchant in town was expected to help in case of a fire and was required to have two galvanized buckets for that purpose (Bucket brigade).   If you couldn't show your two buckets upon inspection, you would be fined $5, which was a lot of money in 1900.

The attached photo, taken In 1897 during the construction of the courthouse, shows clearly on the bottom right of the photo, a horse tank.  This was a one-piece tank, carved out of limestone.   One can see the horse hitching area to the left with the post and chain.   Remember, in 1897 the method of transportation was by horse, or you walked.   There were no cars.   I vaguely remember as a kid a horse tank similar to this on the east side of the courthouse.

The second attachment shows a 1904 Sanborn insurance map of Knox.  These maps were made to show the danger areas for fires in towns.   On this map one can see a well and pump across the street from the courthouse on Washington Street.  (Near the current offices of LeRoy Gudeman and Ken Whiles.) There was probably a horse tank nearby.  

The third attachment shows what a lot of people think is an old time horse tank, just east of the Community Center on Lake Street.   Sorry, folks, this was not a horse tank.  

OK - so what was it?

During the early years of Knox, wood was used as fuel for stoves in homes and offices.   Wood was replaced by coal shortly after the turn of the century.   Then in the 1930s, fuel oil started being used for heat.   That "horse tank" is really a flower bed with a fuel oil tank buried half-way into the ground.   Notice the filler pipe and the vent pipe.  It was a concealed fuel oil tank servicing Dr. Bell's home and office.

Jim Shilling
Starke County Historical Society

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