Preserving the Past for Future Generations

Preserving the Past for Future Generations
2012-09-11T18:02:00Z 2012-09-18T13:16:41Z Preserving the Past for Future GenerationsBy Michelle Krueger
September 11, 2012 6:02 pm  • 

Through the years, historical societies have been formed in various geographic areas to collect, research, organize, interpret and preserve information or items of historical significance. Some focus on a specific subject such as aviation while others focus on a specific county or town. Many publish journals or maintain museums to showcase their historical studies.

In Indiana there are approximately 240 historical societies.

You’ll find the Town of St. John’s Historical Society based in the Municipal Office building at 10955 W. 93rd. Here, a dedicated group of volunteers have painstakingly preserved the past, a task near and dear to several members who are descendents of St. John’s founding families.

“My family moved to St. John 1937 and established Pierce Ironworks after purchasing the blacksmith shop where Walgreens now stands at the corner of 41, 93rd and Patterson in 1946,” Marion Thiel, longtime treasurer of the St. John Historical Society, said. “My husband Jim’s family came to St. John from Germany in 1842. His grandfather John was the village blacksmith, and his son Eberhard (Jim’s father) learned the trade and also worked at the Thiel Blacksmith Shop.”

{3x photos – Corner of US 41, 93rd Ave and Patterson St. – Thiel Blacksmith Shop, 19th Century; Pierce Ironworks, 20th Century; Walgreen’s 21st Century}

Similarly, Helen Wein, longtime secretary of the St. John Historical Society, can trace her family’s roots back to St. John’s first settler, John Hack who arrived in 1837.

“John Hack’s daughter married a Seberger and their daughter is my grandmother who I am proud to say was also named Helen,” Wein explained. “John Wein left Germany in 1845, settled in the St. John area and married Maria Huppenthal. Their son, John M. Wein married my grandmother in 1873. My father, Joseph T. Wein, John Hack’s great grandson, married Margaret Hasse in 1930.”

{2x photos – John M. Wein and Helen Seberger; Joseph T. Wein and Margaret Hasse Wein}

After years of capturing historical vignettes about life in St. John, both Thiel and Wein agree that the settlers of what is now commonly referred to as the Tri-Town area (St. John, Dyer and Schererville) were all pretty much connected in one way or another.

For example, Mary Dorothy Scheidt Thiel was born in 1881 on a farm just west of St. John. She attended school in Dyer until she made her First Holy Communion (through the 5th grade) which was common then. Along with the fact that German was the language spoken at school, she recalled how all the children were required to pitch in with chores on the farm before and after school (and also how she felt sorry for the horses she helped care for because they also had to work hard). She recalled the thrill of electric lights being turned on for the first time in St. John, seeing the first automobile pass by on a mud road as well as other life-changing firsts such as city water, indoor toilets, radio and television.

{3x photos of Mary Thiel – Eberhard John Thiel and Mary Dorothy Scheidt Thiel; Frank, Hardy, Mary with baby Raymond and Clara in front of the Thiel homestead; Rita, Hardy, Mary and Jim, Eberhard Thiel is seated}

Wonderful stories like these and more are shared by members of the St. John Historical Society during their monthly meetings. You can also tour a meticulously displayed collection of historical photographs in the hallways of the St. John Municipal Office building.

Excerpts from St. John’s Historic Timeline

(compiled from the archives of the St. John Historical Society)

{sidebar – with reproduction of book cover}

“This book on the history of St. John is dedicated to the many pioneer families who came to this area, then called Western Prairie or Prairie West. They arrived when the area was truly a wilderness. Most of the first settlers came from Germany. They suffered and endured the primitive life, but they stayed, building homes, tilling the soil and building businesses. They married and raised families. They built churches and schools. They came here to fashion new lives for themselves, and they were successful, but probably most important to them, they owned their own land in a free country. They changed a wilderness area into the Town of St. John.”

--Dedication page from “St. John, Indiana, 1837-2001, History of St. John” 3rd edition compiled by the St. John Historical Society (Committee members: James J. Thiel, Marion R. Thiel, Helen Wein, Marie T. Dewes, Deborah Gorman, Joseph Payonk, Loraine Becker and Jim Stephens who acknowledge the contributions of William Tulley for researching and recording the town’s history in the 1st edition)

1800s – The Indiana Territory was organized in 1800 and admitted to the Union as a state in December of 1816. Part of the vast American wilderness, the United States agreed to purchase the northwestern part of the state from the Indians in 1832. The first government surveyors arrived in 1834. A handful of settlers had come into the area that is now Crown Point, and a few others settled at the mouth of the Calumet River in the Brunswick area. Native Americans, primarily Pottawatomie, inhabited the area of St. John and St. John Township.

1837 – It is generally agreed that the Town of St. John had its beginning when John Hack, a German immigrant farmer and his family (wife Johanna and 11 children) purchased 40 acres of land for about 50 cents an acre. When he sent word of his success as a land owner in America, other settlers from his native country came to the area as well.

1838 – The families of Joseph Schmal, Peter Orte, Michael Adler and Mathias Reeder developed home sites near the Hacks.

1842 – John Hack established St. John’s first business, a peach brandy distillery.

1839 – With a congregation of ten families, Hack constructed Lake County’s first Catholic Church, St. John the Evangelist. That original pioneer log church is now the first Perpetual Eucharistic Adoration Chapel in the diocese.

1844 – A second St. John the Evangelist church with a simple frame structure was built, and, during this same time period, farmers began using steam powered equipment.

Henry Keilman established a farm in St. John Township.

1846 – A Catholic Mission school was opened in St. John, taught by Sisters and Brothers of the Holy Cross from Notre Dame.

1849 – John Hack leased a “frame house” on Joliet St. to the St. John Township District for 99 years (it is believed this was probably the original church which was used for three months each year as an English school).

1856 – A third St. John the Evangelist church built with bricks over five years was dedicated with over 120 family members.

Francis Keilman, who joined his brother in the area, was named postmaster and held the position until 1885.

1857 – Children were taught in both English and German at a parochial school (Father Tusch recorded the following: 109 children in school and Sister Conception was paid $15).

1859 – Henry and Francis Keilman become partners in a general merchandise store, operated under the name of Henry and F.P. Keilman.

1861-1865 – Civil War years

When the Civil War began, St. John’s parochial school was closed in lieu of a public or district school. Sometime around the turn of the century, the Catholic parish re-established the parochial school which replaced the public school.

1865 – George Gerlach formed a partnership Francis Keilman and the two operated a general merchandise store for the next twenty years until Gerlach withdrew from the partnership to open his own store. Active in local affairs, Gerlach at one time was a Justice of the Peace in St. John. A shrewd investor, he owned an estimated 900 acres of land in various parts of the county.

1881 – With the arrival of the railroad, St. John experienced tremendous growth. People and products were able to move faster and farther. The Stark Hotel and Saloon prospered as well as other businesses like the general store, dairy farms, blacksmith shop, grain elevators and slaughter house.

1883 - August Koehle established Spring Hill Grove summer resort where St. John VFW Post 717 is now located on 93rd Ave. The resort encompassed a large picnic grove with a dance pavilion that attracted people from all over Lake County, as well as residents of Chicago who came to St. John by way of the Monon Railroad. The hotel, saloon and six lanes of bowling were added over time, while the dance hall was converted into a roller skating rink prior to the business closing decades later.

1887 – Andrew Kammer was appointed St. John postmaster. Kammer's Post

Office and Saloon was established in 1895 while he was still the Postmaster, and the building is still standing at the northeast corner of Thiel and 93rd across from the Municipal Office building.

1906-1917 – It is believed that St. John public school students went to the township school in Dyer.

1910 – St. John’s volunteer fire department was established with 12 men bringing their own bucket to the bucket brigade as needed.

1911 – St. John is incorporated in dramatic style as John Miller stole the thunder from Nicholas Scherer who wanted to include St. John in the town of Schererville. The legendary story has Miller arriving by car just ahead of Scherer who traveled on horseback in order to file separate papers for St. John with the County Commissioners.

With incorporation, the St. John Police Department was established with the appointment of Nicholas Boecker, the first Town Marshal who operated the one-man force out his home and also served as Street Commissioner with the responsibility of lighting the gas street lights each evening and turning them off each morning. The Fire Department began the process of acquiring equipment and modernizing.

1912 – Peter Thiel, who operated a successful barbershop from his home, brought telephone service to St. John by installing and maintaining a switchboard with 12 party lines.

The first class of seniors graduated from St. John Township School in Dyer.

1913 – With the property of an estimated 300 residents to protect, the town board purchased three extension ladders and six buckets to be placed in three separate locations for the Fire Department’s use.

1914 – St. John purchased a portable Obenshain-Boyer chemical fire engine for $550 (a horse-drawn cart with two 45-gallon water tanks mounted on it – the firemen had to provide their own horses).

1914-1918 – World War I

With the United States at war with Germany, the German language was forbidden in schools.

1918 – St. John’s Public School opened

1920s – Using picks and shovels plus the help of a mule or two, a team of men unearthed a one lane dirt and gravel road named US Route 41 that would eventually run the entire length of the United States from Michigan to Florida.

1921 – Electric street lights were installed.

1922-23 – A 27-hole golf course was first opened to moderate success – until the Great Depression.

1925 – A fourth St. John the Evangelist church was dedicated on the corner of US 41 & 93rd Ave. where membership grew from 115 families to over 1,000.

Attendance dropped drastically and St. John’s Public School closed. Students once again went to the St. John Township School in Dyer and the building became St. John’s Town Hall.

1930 – Investors purchased what would become Lake Hills Country Club with all the amenities of a private country club plus a ski slide where national competitions were held in the early years.

1939-1945 – World War II

1941 – The town’s water utility was constructed and the Marshal was put in charge of the Water Department as well.

1949 – The St. John Civic Club was established in order to create a dedicated space for children to play. They eventually developed a great space south of the Municipal Office building where countless community events were held and the community’s first Little League Baseball field was built.

1950 – The first St. John Police Department squad car was purchased.

1955 – Kolling Elementary School opened, with all St. John Township students in grades first-through-sixth attending.

1961 – The St. John Chamber of Commerce was established.

1965 – The Town Board removed the Street Commission and Water Department responsibilities from the Town Marshal.

1966 – The St. John Fire Department moved from a two-stall garage on the east side of the Municipal Office building into a state-of-the-art facility on the west side.

The St. John Hugh A. Kuhn Memorial Library opened giving the Lake County Public Library-St. John Branch its first permanent home after getting started in the home of Ethel Upchurch in the ‘30s, moving to the home of Art Stark in the ‘40s, traveling between Merrillville and St. John in a trailer in the ‘50s and landing in a few rented hotel rooms in the early ‘60s.

Lake Central High School, located near the center of St. John Township, opened.

1969 – The new parochial school located at 9400 Wicker Ave. opened to students pre-K through eighth grade.

Late 1960s/early 1970s – Woodland Park is developed thanks to the donation of a 4-acre parcel of land by the Muenich family, and a Park Board is created.

1971 – Tragedy struck St. John when Marshal James Larimer and Indiana State Trooper were shot to death near the entrance of Kolling Elementary School on US 41. Woodland Park was renamed Larimer Park and a monument now stands in Marshal Larimer’s honor there.

1972 – A metropolitan police force was established and a police commission appointed in order to achieve the goal of a completely full-time, seven-days-a-week Police Department.

1981 – The St. John Park Board took over operation of Civic Memorial Park.

2008 – With more than 1,400 family members, a fifth St. John the Evangelist church was dedicated at 11301 W 93rd Ave in May. The Shrine of Christ's Passion featuring life-size bronze statues depicting the Stations of the Cross and other religious scenes on a beautifully landscaped half-mile trail with audio narration by Bill Kurtis located along the west side of US 41 about a mile south of 93rd Ave opened in June.

2009 – St. John is ranked 48th among CNN/Money Magazine’s Top 100 Best Places to Live/America’s Best Small Towns.

Crown Point Christian School opens brand new campus in The Gates of St. John for students pre-K through eighth grade.

2010 – US census reports St. John population at 14,850 (5,201 households).

2012 – St. John celebrates 175 years!

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