Historical Tidbits

Maybe mom should just stop thinking, every time she does it means less time with me and more time on the computer!  Nasty, nasty computer.

Anyway, she was reading an email she got from Starke County Historical President Jim Shilling and thought it should be shared with the rest of the world.  (You can access the first 46 tidbits at their website, mom's not sure where to find the other 3.)  Along with interesting historical Starke County info, this section will also offer any tidbits mom finds from all over the state of Indiana.  

So I hope you appreciate the sacrifice I'm making by letting mom search the internet instead of feeding me doggie delicacies and scratching my belly after she finishes.  - From an Annoyed Anubis.

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 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 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

Center vs. Knox - Starke County Tidbit #57

posted Aug 18, 2014, 5:10 PM by North Judson Public Library   [ updated Aug 18, 2014, 5:18 PM ]

Lots of things have happened in my short lifetime.  One thing of interest is that school rivals could join together in a reunion to celebrate graduation.  On July 10, 1982, a class of the Center Township School and a class of the Knox High School jointly held their 50th class reunion.  Each group had graduated in 1932.

Now, for some of you who may not know, the Center Township School (for students living in Center Township outside the city limits of Knox) was located just west of Knox on the property where the White Flyer Company is now.  The Knox High School was in town.  The two schools were only a mile apart, but were strong rivals in sports.   The "Blue Streaks" (Center) and the "Knox Redskins" would always battle very hard in basketball (the sport of the day).  The Center School burned in January 1942, so the "country bumpkins" had to join together with the "city slickers" to form the Knox Community Schools.  And that is why the official colors of the Knox Community Schools are now Red, White and Blue.

The news article about the unique reunion relates how each person shared memories about living conditions in the great depression and how different things were "now" (in 1982).  

It is interesting in 2014 to read about corn selling for 10 cents a bushel and a cup of coffee selling for 5 cents in 1932.  The news article lists other items subject to inflation over the years (now 82 years ago).  Fascinating where time has taken us.

Attached is the article with picture of those "rivals" who put aside differences to celebrate together.   (Maybe folks in the Middle East could take a lesson?)   You may have to enlarge the article to be able to read it better.

Jim Shilling
Starke County Historical Society


Starke County Historical Society loans horse to Henry F. Schricker Library

posted Jun 25, 2014, 10:34 AM by North Judson Public Library   [ updated Jun 25, 2014, 10:34 AM ]

A 1920 German antique Carousel Horse now looks down upon children in the Henry F. Schricker Public Library.   Fred and Judy Parker from Boca Raton, Florida, formerly from Starke County, had donated this beautiful horse to the Starke County Museum a few years ago.   It has been on display at the Museum, waiting for a special place worthy of its antique value.   Because of space limitations at the Museum, the Board of Directors began looking for another location in the community where it could be properly displayed.  With the building of the new children's area in the Library in Knox, they wondered if it might be displayed there.  Dave Bullock, a Library board member, consulting with Sheila Urwiler, Librarian for the Henry F. Schricker Library, and with the help of his son, Wesley, built a mount for it.   The Carousel Horse is now on loan to the Library and beautifully displayed above the reference desk in the library's new children's addition.   I thought you would enjoy seeing a photo of it.

Jim Shilling
Starke County Historical Society

Small Man arrested !!!!! - Starke County Tidbit No. #56

posted May 29, 2014, 10:40 AM by North Judson Public Library

Most of you remember the stories about Che Mah, the smallest man in the world who retired from the circus and lived here in Starke County.   But did you know that he was arrested in New York?   A friend of mine sent this news clipping that I hadn't seen before.   I thought you would enjoy it.  It is small print, so you may have to enlarge it some.

Also, more on Che Mah can be found on our website --- http://www.starkehistory.com/index_files/Page1263.htm

Jim Shilling
Starke County Historical Society


Preserving your ancestors' photos - Starke County Tidbit #55

posted Apr 9, 2014, 2:49 PM by North Judson Public Library   [ updated Sep 9, 2014, 9:47 AM ]

The Starke County Historical Society was featured on Channel 34 Open Studio program a few years ago.  Marvin Allen was a guest and demonstrated the importance of preserving old photographs and digitizing the photos on CD's to be stored for the future.  One graphic illustration showed the effect of light and air on photographs.  He displayed two identical photographs of his g-g-grandfather.  One photo had been stored for over 100 years.  The other one was displayed on the wall for the same period of time.  The displayed one (left in the attachment) was faded with age while the stored photo was sharp and clear.

The lesson here is to perhaps make copies of your important photos and display the copies while storing the original photo in an acid free envelope.  Identify the subject in the photo by writing the name on the back of the photo with a soft lead pencil.     

There are several websites that can help you in preservation of your family heirlooms.   A good website is  http://www.loc.gov/preservation/care/ .  It shows preservation methods for different kinds of paper products, even comic books.

Jim Shilling
Starke County Historical Society

Snow - Starke County Tidbit #54

posted Feb 17, 2014, 11:43 AM by North Judson Public Library   [ updated Feb 17, 2014, 11:44 AM ]

Tidbit No. 54

Snow - I suppose most of us have had enough of it by now, but the headline from the newspaper below tells of times past.

A snow blizzard created drifts up to 6 feet high closing roads and stopping trains in their tracks.

I remember as a kid, lots of snow - of course I was shorter then and it may have seemed like bigger drifts than they really were.  But in my youth, I had fun in it, like the children of today.  I suppose to my dad it wasn't as much fun, trying to get around to feeding the livestock on the farm.

I believe it was in 1978 that the northern part of Indiana got hit by some really big snow drifts.  The Army Corp of Engineers hired many of us excavators in the county to use our dozers to push snow drifts off of the county roads.  Jim Falk and Warren Bickel helped clear some of the roads in North Bend Township, southeast of Bass Lake.  Extreme caution had to be used, because it was hard to know if a 10 foot snow drift might be hiding a car inside of it.   

Attached are two photos of snow conditions in years past.  The first one shows train engines (I think there are four engines) pushing snow off of the tracks near Boone Grove in 1917.

The second photo shows the south side of Lake Street and the corner of Pearl Street in Knox with lots of snow in 1910.  All of that snow was piled up by hand. 

Jim Shilling
Starke County Historical Society


Klopot Studios - Starke County Tidbit #53

posted Jan 15, 2014, 9:14 AM by North Judson Public Library   [ updated Sep 9, 2014, 9:47 AM ]

Over the years, Starke County has had several Photographic Studios - example:

PW Needham    Knox & North Judson   1895
Horn, C. W.    Knox, North Judson   1890's
Barnum's Studio    Knox    1890's
Whipple    Knox    1890's
Henning, W. R.     1890's
Myers     Knox      1890's
Klopot, Sigmund     Knox, North Judson, Bass Lake   1895-1912
Ewing, George D.    North Judson    1900
Klopot, Clara & Bonner, Stella     Knox, North Judson, Bass Lake   1912-1970
Coffins, N. M.    Hamlet    1916-1917
Lavery, P. J.    Bass Lake     1916-1917
Warren Studio     Knox 

But few of them have stayed very long or have done so much for the history of Starke County as Klopot Studios.   Sigmund and Clara were photographers in Chicago  in the late 1800's and moved to Starke County in 1896.  Their daughter, Stella, was born in 1894 and helped her mother for years after her father died in 1912.  Later, she took over with the help of her husband, Matt Bonner.  Matt was also Knox City Court Judge at one time.

Stella Bonner was also Starke County's first state appointed Starke County Historian.  Many years ago, she made a recording about their photography business in Starke County and how they had businesses going in Knox, North Judson and Bass Lake.   The following is a transcript of that recording:

"Now about a trip to Bass Lake; my mother and father were both photographers and I handled a camera at a pretty early age, too ...It was quite a thing to have a branch store. Gus Reiss, the clothier, had a store in North Judson and one in Walkerton. My folks branched out, too. They had moved to Knox from North Judson, and they kept a little studio there after they moved. They went over there one day a week and took what pictures there were to be taken - one parent would go over there while the other would stay in Knox. They decided that there was quite an untapped reservoir of business at Bass Lake - there were bathing girls coming out from Chicago and it was the only chance on earth a girl had to show a leg in those days, and they loved to have their pictures made. Pop had an old tintype outfit he had used in Chicago, so they built a little studio on the lakefront, near where a Mr. Brown had a sort of second-hand store ...the lake is down low from the road there and that's where they put up a fragile, little frame building ...they just set it up on some cement blocks. In the summertime my dad would go out there and stay all summer photographing the bathing girls, and babies, too. Father didn't have very good health and he  thought that air was better for him. Mother was busy in Knox, but on Saturday, the day for North Judson, we closed the studio and Mother took me and the old suitcase and we walked down Lake Street to what was called the Three-I depot and took the train at seven in the morning to North Judson. We had about six or seven blocks to walk from the depot to our little studio. Mother minded the shop all day and I played with the neighbor kids. I even went across the tracks to watch a dear lady do her Saturday baking, with my chin over the edge of the table.
Come five o'clock, Mother locked up the studio and we walked down to the Union Station in North Judson. We had come in on the Three-I and now we waited for the five o'clock train on the Erie which came out of Chicago. It was gay, full of excursionists, you see. There were weekend excursions from Chicago to Bass Lake. People dressed up to go on the train then ...the city girls had newer clothes than we country girls did - it was really quite a fashion show on the train.
The Erie ran down to Bass Station and then there was a spur that extended along where the highway now is - all the way from Bass Station to the very edge of Bass Lake. There was a huge pier at the end of the railroad spur and one of those big express wagons was there, and the festive crowd got off the train, and their trunks were unloaded. You needed a trunk even for a weekend in those days, and a lot of people wanted to stay. So, the baggage was put on the old express wagon and trundled down to the pier where the steam boat was waiting. Sometimes a band would be playing on the boat. "All Aboard" on the boat and away we went around the lake.
It usually went to the west side first and there was the elegant Brabrook Hotel with its beautiful two-story porch all the way around, and the Taggert  Hotel and on around to what is now the Shore Club, that was the Bestview Hotel. Oh, and before we got to that was the Chiddick Hotel - it was considered quite aristocratic. And, all around until we got to the Odessa Nook, which was the hotel on the bank back of where my father's studio was. That was where we disembarked from the steamboat, and on the pier Daddy would greet us. We spent the night and Sunday, usually finding some children to go swimming with on Sunday.
Monday morning old Mr. Scott, the driver of the hack, would come around (it was a surrey with a fringe on top but the fringe had worn off). We would get aboard and had our ride back to Knox on Monday morning and that was our typical weekend at Bass Lake in 1904".


Jim Shilling
Starke County Historical Society

Shooting - Starke County Tidbit #52

posted Aug 26, 2013, 9:13 AM by North Judson Public Library   [ updated Sep 9, 2014, 9:48 AM ]

Sometimes in looking up history of Starke County, I find information about my own family.

Knox - 1927 -------------------------------

Rum crazed Convict Shoots Knox Farmer—---Elmer Shilling, 39, a Knox farmer, lies seriously wounded in the Holy Family Hospital at LaPorte, a victim of a drunken prisoner‘s wrath. He is fighting for his life with a shotgun wound the size of a man‘s fist in his right side, just above the hip, and four inches of muscle torn from his right arm.

Meade Barr, age 42, drink crazed, paroled convict was found sleeping in a drunken stupor on the bank of the Yellow River. He was placed under guard and returned to the State Prison.  An exchange of words lead to the shooting when Shilling warned Barr to stop drinking, as this violated the terms of his parole and he would have to go back to prison. The argument started as Barr was lying in bed.  Shilling, it is said, threatened to call John Moorman, a State Prison Trustee, who lives in Knox.

Yes, Elmer Shilling was my uncle who farmed by the Yellow River on 500 east.  (Photo attached)   More details about the shooting were told to me by Gordon Byer when we interviewed him a few years ago.  He said that quite often parolees were allowed to be farm hands and live with the farm family in a spare bedroom, but with tight restrictions on how to behave.  Example - no alcohol.

This was the time of the Horse Thief Detective Association, a national organization that had a local organization in Starke County.  It was a Sheriff-sanctioned vigilante group that helped the Sheriff to keep law and order in the county.   

According to Gordon, after shooting my uncle, Barr must have regretted his actions.  He told Elmer that he would call the doctor, if Elmer would promise to tell the doctor that it was an accident.  Elmer agreed.  However, when the doctor came and took Elmer to his office, Elmer related the true story.  The Sheriff was called and the Horse Thief Detective Association members went to work.  They found Barr hiding along the Yellow River bank.  Before the Sheriff arrived to take Meade Barr into custody, the Association members had "worked on"  him considerably, so the doctor had another patient. 

Elmer survived.  

Jim Shilling
Starke County Historical Society  

  Elmer & Oakie Shilling

Muck - Starke County Tidbit #51

posted Jun 12, 2013, 11:59 AM by North Judson Public Library   [ updated Sep 9, 2014, 9:47 AM ]

Attached are photos from a program book for the 1944 Muck Crop Show in North Judson.  (The whole book is on our website.)  The one photo shows the school gymnasium with tables full of produce from the farms in the area.  The photo with the "after harvest" arch is of the 1914 Jubilee in North Judson.  The folks in North Judson enjoy celebrating.

I bring this up now, because the Muck Crop Show was a precursor to today's Mint Festival in North Judson.  Starke County has a lot of Muck soils, and they are more prevalent in the southwestern part of the county.  Mint grows well in muck soils, and the Mint Festival offers a tour of mint farms on Saturday, June 15, at 2:00 p.m. during the Festival.  You will see how they cook the mint and extract the oil from the plant.

Over the years, we have farmed some Muck fields, and following are some of the things that I have learned about Muck:

1.  Muck is highly organic.  It has been formed from lake beds or other depressions and has taken hundreds of years to form - as much as 500 years to form 12 inches of Muck.  Normal mineral soils may have 1 to 4 % of organic matter, but Muck soils will have from 20 to 80 % of organic matter.  Muck will hold one inch of water per foot of soil, almost double the amount that mineral soils can hold.  This allows the crop to go without rain a lot longer.  Muck soils can be shallow (less than one foot deep) or deep (maybe five or six feet deep in Starke County).

2.  Muck can be warm or cold.  When the sun comes out on the black Muck soil, the seeds that have just been planted will germinate quickly.  However, the Kankakee Valley area (from South Bend to Momence, IL) is the coldest area in the State.  Starke County farm crops will freeze sooner in the spring or fall than the crops South of us or North of us.  Obviously, as one gets closer to the south part of the state, the temperatures will be warmer.  But the lands North of us are warmer than the Kankakee Valley because of the Lake Michigan effect.  Plus, Muck soils are usually in the lower elevations of our area than the mineral soils (cold air settles).  So it is not uncommon for corn growing on Muck soils to have a late spring frost in May.

3.  Muck oxidizes.  As Muck is drained, the combination of air and sunlight oxidizes the Muck and the soil will settle.  An engineer friend of mine, fresh out of Purdue, started to work for William Gehring (advertized on the attachment).  The first thing he did was to establish bench marks around one of the Muck farms.  Over the years, he kept track of these elevations.  When he retired 45 years later, he again checked the elevations.  In those 45 years, the Muck had settled 45 inches because of the drainage and tillage of the soil.

4.  Muck burns.  The soil is so organic that it can catch on fire.  Lightning, a farmer burning a brush pile near or on Muck, or a cigarette thrown from a car near a dry ditch bank, all can cause a fire in Muck.  Once Muck starts to burn, it is very difficult to stop it.  Usually, a fire department can't supply enough water to extinguish the fire.  It may burn for weeks.  Sometimes the only way to stop a Muck fire is to flood the field or at least raise the water table.

Jim Shilling, President
Starke County Historical Society  


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