Chesterton Tribune

Local soldiers of the Union were the sons of the pioneers

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By DAVID CANRIGHT

There was a time when the War of the Rebellion was a living memory for millions of Americans, but this week, as we mark the 150th anniversary few traces remain in Porter County or Duneland of the people of that time. The buildings are mostly gone. No businesses survive. Even the names of the towns have changed.

Many of the wooden buildings from that time burned and were replaced by brick. Those that survive have been remodeled to add central heating, indoor plumbing, electricity and more rooms and they no longer reflect what life was like 150 years ago.

The Bailly Homestead predates the war, as does the Sheriff’s house section of the Old Jail Museum in Valparaiso. There are also a few remnants of old mills, but it is difficult to sort out the pre-civil war from later construction.

One thing hasn’t changed: Railroads still dominate the downtowns of Westchester Township.

While there are records of the war years in Indianapolis and Valparaiso, there are surprisingly few in Duneland. Perhaps this is why the Civil War years get short shrift in some local histories.

The records of Chesterton’s A.B. Wade Grand Army of the Republic post are believed to have burned in the great downtown fire of 1902.

Worst of all in 1861 Calumet (as unincorporated Chesterton was called then) had no newspaper.

Valparaiso did, which is one reason we know a lot more about what happened there during the war. The weekly Republic published regularly during the war’s first years. The few issues which survive on microfilm are one of the most important sources of information on Porter County in the Civil War.

Living in the Past

Try if you can to imagine Porter County in 1861. Instead of 160,000 people there are 10,295. County seat Valparaiso, population 1,690, is the only incorporated town, and even it is not yet a city.

The county is connected to the outside world by telegraph and the railroads. Three railroads cross the county, two of these intersect just west of Calumet at a place that would become known as Porter after the war. Valparaiso's railroad is almost brand new.

By 21st Century standards, 19th Century life is hard.

Porter County homes and businesses generally don't have central heating or indoor plumbing. There are no sewers.

Not only are there no computers, there are no typewriters.

Not only are there no automobiles, there are no paved roads.

Not only is there no velcro, there are no zippers.

Most people are farmers, or occupations that cater to farmers such as miller and blacksmith. There is roughly one horse for every two people and nearly as many cows. People outnumber pigs, but not by much. And by 1870 sheep will outnumber humans.

Almost everywhere there is a creek there is a sawmill or a gristmill. Power comes from water, horses and people. There are few fuel-burning engines. These would mostly come after the war. The smell of wood smoke is everywhere.

Statewide there are more schools than there are today, but most of them have only one room and one out of seven are log cabins.

Westchester Township has 890 people putting it third behind Center Township (2745) and Porter Township (1046). Jackson Township has 738, Liberty 459 and Pine only 240. Portage has no city and only 547 residents.

Fewer than half the residents are native Hoosiers. Up to one in five are foreign born, mostly from Germany, Sweden or Ireland.

Everybody over 30 is from somewhere else. Ohio, New York and Pennsylvania lead the list of U.S. birthplaces for the older generation which settled the land beginning in 1833. The young men who will fight to preserve the United States and end slavery are literally the sons of the pioneers.

 

Posted 4/15/2011