Perfection Musical String Co.
Perfection Musical String Co. in Brunswick, near Cedar Lake, manufactured a million violin, viola, cello and bass strings a year.
George N. Einsele’s small factory used the intestines of sheep and hogs from the Chicago Stockyards to make an estimated 95 percent of the musical strings used in symphony orchestras, schools and other areas in the United States.
Lake County Historian Bruce Woods shared information from the Lake County Museum about the company. Einsele was born in Brunswick and served as a a locomotive engineer for about 20 years, working for the C.&E.I. Railroad, between Danville to Chicago.
Perfection Musical String Co. was the only string manufacturing establishment in this part of the country; there were several "string winders" on the East Coast. The company employed 15 people, producing an average of 3,000 strings a day.
After the plant closed, its machines were sold to companies elsewhere that continue to use them.
In 1909, the Cobe Trophy Race was held on the Crown Point Road Race Circuit, a course made up of rural highways running through Crown Point, Lowell and Cedar Lake. Many people consider this the precursor to the Indy 500 as we know it today.
Swiss driver Louis Chevrolet, who founded the Chevrolet car company just two years later, won that first year’s race in a Buick, with the winning speed clocking in at just over 49 miles per hour.
In the spirit of this historic race, many classic car owners participate in the Cobe Cup classic car cruise that uses the same course as the original event.
Wilbur and Orville Wright get credit for the first successful powered flight, at Kitty Hawk, N.C., but Octave Chanute earned accolades, too, for helping the Wrights get it right.
Chanute, a self-taught engineer who built the Union Stockyards in Chicago and Kansas City, was so obsessed with flight he wrote the book on it.
The Chicagoan's 1894 book, "Progress in Flying Machine," summed up progress to date, but he soon made his own book out of date.
In 1896, he began experimenting with "gliding machines" at Miller Beach and Dune Park. Being too old to fly, Chanute enlisted August Herring to be his test pilot.
Soaring above the exhibit space at the Indiana Welcome Center in Hammond, just off Kennedy Avenue, is a replica of one of Chanute's gliders.
Old Lake County Courthouse
The region's most recognizable architectural icon is a homegrown historical collage of a who's who marriage mill, post-Civil War development and the early Northwest Indiana court system.
The Old Lake County Courthouse on Crown Point's downtown square was built with the earth and sweat of early region settlers.
The original central structure of the courthouse, dedicated in 1880, was constructed with bricks from the Henry Wise Brickyard. The brick facility was located just a couple of blocks away from where the courthouse now stands – on the site of what is now a parking lot at Col. John Wheeler Middle School.
It grew into the moniker of "marriage mill."
From 1915 to 1940, an estimated 175,000 couples were married at the historic courthouse, including era celebrities like silent film star Rudolph Valentino and future president Ronald Reagan.
Today, the courthouse remains a popular wedding spot and is home to boutique shops on the first level. It houses the John Dillinger Museum.
Cedar Lake church camp
In the very early 20th century, Cedar Lake was a rowdy place. Prostitution and drunkenness were rampant at some of the rougher resorts. Then a Chicago preacher stepped off the train and looked around.
Moody Church Associate Pastor Erving Yale Wooley – E.Y. to his congregation – got off the Monon train in early summer 1914 in Cedar Lake. He looked around and asked, “What is this place?” It was Monon Park.
Wooley envisioned a place where Moody Church could enjoy the beauty of the lake and countryside and hold summer camp meetings and Chautauquas, which were becoming popular. Railroad officials loved the idea, as long as they continued to get paying passengers traveling to the site. They struck a deal – if Moody Church would operate the grounds for five years, paying all the bills, the Monon would turn over the land to the church in five years.
That laid the groundwork for what is now Cedar Lake Ministries.
Circus train wreck
Author Richard M. Lytle is surprised by how many Northwest Indiana residents have never heard of "the great circus train wreck of 1918" in Hammond.
Lytle, who retired last year from the Hammond Public Library, wrote "The Great Circus Train Wreck of 1918: Tragedy on the Indiana Lakeshore" (2013 History Press $19.99), a 109-page archive-photo filled paperback to chronicle the freak accident of the local railways.
"First of all, there were no animals, exotic or otherwise, involved in the wreck," he said in a 2014 interview.
In the cool, predawn hours on that June night in 1918, a train engineer closed his cab window as he chugged toward Hammond. He drifted to sleep, and his train bore down on the idle Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus Train. Soon after, the sleeping engineer's locomotive plowed into the circus train.
In the subsequent wreckage and blaze, more than 200 circus performers were injured and 86 were killed, most of whom were interred in a mass grave in the Showmen's Rest Section of Chicago's Woodlawn Cemetery.
If you haven’t heard of the Ideal Section in Dyer, you’re missing an important piece of transportation history.
On Sept. 12, 1910, Carl Fisher, an Indiana entrepreneur, first shared his idea for a coast-to-coast highway across the United States. Exactly one year later, the Lincoln Highway Association published the route of the Lincoln Highway.
Last September, the Lincoln Highway Association dedicated the Ideal Section and Henry Ostermann monuments on U.S. 30 and near Meyer Castle in Dyer.
That 1.3-mile stretch of road was built to the same width and depth of modern interstate highways.
Whiting Refinery dates back to 1889, when it was constructed by Standard Oil Co. to refine smelly crude oil from Lima, Ohio.
Except for the Hammond meatpacking plant, which was much smaller, the refinery was the first big industrial operation in Northwest Indiana.
The plant was built by a large number of immigrants before Congress put limits on immigrants from Europe in the 1920s. But the plant needed highly educated chemists, too.
The refinery was originally built to produce kerosene, needed at the time for illumination, before electric streetlights became ubiquitous.
Production began quickly, not long after the construction started. The auto fad, however, demanded gasoline, and the availability of additional electricity generated from coal spelled kerosene’s doom.
William Burton and Robert Humphreys
Two of the brilliant minds at the Whiting Refinery, William Burton and Robert Humphreys, “basically saved the auto industry, at least at that time,” according to local historian John Hmurovic. They developed a cracking process that essentially doubled the gasoline yield per barrel of oil. Without that process, there wouldn’t have been enough gasoline to meet the fledgling auto industry’s demand.
In January 1913, Standard Oil of Indiana put 12 pressure stills into operation at Whiting. By 1922, there were nearly 900 pressure stills in use there.
These stills are no longer in use, but modern refining process are resulted from the thermal cracking principles developed by Burton and Humphreys.
The original still used in 1913 is now at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.
John Dillinger’s escape
No recounting of Lake County’s role in history would be complete without mention of gangster John Dillinger’s escape from the Lake County Jail in Crown Point.
Dillinger robbed the First National Bank in East Chicago on Jan. 15, 1934. East Chicago Police Officer William O'Malley was killed during the heist. Dillinger and his then-girlfriend Billie Frechette fled to Tucson, Arizona, to lay low afterward.
But a firefighter put out a fire at the hotel where Dillinger was staying and recognized him. Dillinger was arrested in Tucson on Jan. 25, 1934, and arrived at the Lake County Jail in Crown Point on Jan. 30, 1934.”
On March 3, 1934, a prison guard pointed at and gave the keys to Dillinger. Dillinger and a fellow prisoner stole two Thompson submachine guns and the keys to the sheriff’s car. It’s believed Dillinger used a wooden gun to fool the guard.
A few months later, on July 22, 1934, Dillinger was killed outside the Biograph Theater in Chicago.
The Hammond Distillery, which once stood at Calumet Avenue along the Grand Calumet River, was the largest in the United States in the early years of the 20th century.
The distillery had a capacity of 50,000 gallons of whiskey a day, according to Hammond historian Richard Barnes.
The distillery was forced to close in 1918 because of Prohibition. The whiskey it had produced before Prohibition was still legal hooch. Barnes said he believes gangster Al Capone purchased much of the legal stock and sneaked it across the state line into Illinois – which would have been illegal – to sell illegally there.
Cedar Lake was a popular rail destination a century ago, but that wasn’t its only industry. The town was known for its supply of ice harvested in the days before refrigeration.
The Lassen Resort, a popular spot for visitors, was assembled from an "ice barn" and boarding house for workers who had harvested ice from the lake for Armour Bros.
Today, it’s the Cedar Lake Historical Association's Lake of the Red Cedars Museum.
John Shedd, who later helped finance construction of the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, ran another of the ice-harvesting companies.
The other Deep River park
The first industry to dot the landscape in Lake County wasn’t a refinery, steel mill or even meatpacking plant. Rather, it was built next to the stream that gives Deep River County Park in Hobart its name.
Massachusetts transplant John Wood built a saw mill in 1838 and a grist mill a year later on the banks of Deep River and settled with his family to provide wood for new settlers' homes and corn meal and flour to feed them.
Acquired in the 1960s by the Lake County Parks and Recreation Department and listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975, today's Wood's Historic Grist Mill was restored in 1976. Authentic equipment was restored and installed in the four-floor brick building in 1991 after its purchase from a mill in Virginia.
Hammond’s meaty history
Lake County was barren but for a few scattered families, farms and an inn when George H. Hammond eyed the area for development of a meat-packing plant in 1869.
Hammond, a Massachusetts native, first built his livelihood in Detroit as a butcher-meatpacker but saw unincorporated Lake County as a potentially profitable business venture, according to a historical account of Hammond written by Lance Trusty, professor of history at Purdue-Calumet.
Railroads snaked through the area, offering transport of western beef to the East, and the great quantities of ice in the surrounding lakes could cool the refrigerated freight cars needed to transport the beef. Recognizing the possibilities, Hammond and several partners, including Marcus Towle who later became the first mayor of Hammond, invested a reported $6,000 in the meat packing plant.
Long before the discussion of the West Lake Corridor commuter rail project, there were electric trains linking communities in Northwest Indiana.
The Chicago & Indiana Air Line Railway, later known as the Chicago Lake Shore and South Bend Railway and today simply as the South Shore Line, was proposed in 1903. The founding of Gary in 1906 prompted construction to connect Chicago, South Bend and points in between.
The first train reached Hammond from South Bend in 1908 amid great fanfare.
But even before the South Shore Line, there was a Hammond-based electric railway operating at the turn of the century.
Another interurban line connected Gary and Valparaiso.
Gary and U.S. Steel
It’s difficult to speak of the founding of Gary in 1906 without including U.S. Steel in the same sentence.
Gary City Hall sits in the shadow of the nation’s largest integrated steel mill. On the northwest corner of the City Hall lawn is a statue to Elbert H. Gary, for whom the city is named – and for good reason. Gary was chairman of U.S. Steel when the company decided to form a town to support the new steel mill.
The town was incorporated as a city in 1909.
According to the book "Steel Giants" by Stephen G. McShane and Gary S. Wilk, the site attracted Elbert Gary's attention for the same reasons other heavy industries moved to the Region: "plentiful, cheap land for industrial expansion, low taxes; a rail network comprising five major lines; abundant water supplies for production and transportation; and proximity to Midwest markets and the Chicago labor supply."
The "company town" of Gary first extended south from the plant to about Ninth Avenue, according to McShane and Wilk.
The creation of the newborn city was seen as a marvel and was referred to as “The Magic City.” The new Gary Works along with other industry in the area attracted thousands of European immigrants. By 1909 it had 12,000 residents, with about half foreign-born.