Calumet Roots

Nationalities helped settle communities in Calumet Region

2013-06-09T00:00:00Z Nationalities helped settle communities in Calumet RegionBy Archibald McKinlay Times Columnist nwitimes.com
June 09, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Most of the early communities of the Calumet Region derived from commonalities of interest. The most apparent of these was nationality.

The early days of the region saw domination by Germans, who came to this country in great hordes during the 1840s.

This domination itself broke down to subsets such as religion. For example, St. John was founded by John Hack, who was so Catholic he could have worn a red hat.

Towns also broke up based on clubs, like the Polish Eagles. Whiting was populated by Clevelanders, or people from Cleveland, who came first. Early settlers who were not Clevelanders were Slavic-speaking.

To this day, or at least a day before this day, the north side of Whiting is predominately Slovak and the beautiful cathedral in Robertsdale (technically Hammond), is so Slovak that, when it was begun, the congregation sent to the old country for a priest.

Next door, East Chicago’s far west side was settled by Slovaks who spilled over from Whiting and were actually Polish. The south side of East Chicago was entirely Polish.

These Slavic-speaking newcomers retained their homeland languages and that concept spread to other ethnic groups. As a result, residents of East Chicago and Indiana Harbor spoke 99 different languages or dialects.

Since it was inconvenient for these ethnic villages to exist on their own, they tended to become part of a system to which many languages subscribed. For example, Tolleston was named for George Tolle, a manufacturer of surgical instruments in Chicago.

He laid out Tolleston in 1857 at a crossing of the Michigan Central Railroad. He, along with Aaron N. Hart, a major landowner, recorded a plat of the town in July 1863. For a time, the railroad line ended in Hammond and was called West Point.

Passengers transferred there to a stage coach to go into Chicago. Joseph Hess, who had come from Alsace-Lorraine, opened a restaurant there in 1851. After doing business there for a while, he dropped down about a mile or so and opened a general store in what he called Hessville.

He also operated a cattle business. Politically, he became postmaster and served as such for some 40 years. He was also trustee of North Township for 22 years.

Most of the people in these early settlements were Germans. In Tolleston’s case, it was German Lutheran. The only connection these communities had with each other was by railroad. Indeed, most of the settlers worked as maintenance workers for the railroads.

They balanced their incomes by cultivating patches of sandy soil and grazing a few cows. The people in the neighborhood picked a huge crop of huckleberries, winter greens and strawberries. Other products were sand, ice, fish, lumber, game, and winged creatures. It was a paradise for sportsmen.

Opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.

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