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Dyer: Small town links east to west
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Dyer: Small town links east to west

DYER — Westward travelers on their way to the burgeoning city of Chicago encountered a new boarding house along the Old Sauk Trail in 1838.

The State Line House offered them a place to spend the night before entering the city. Later, it would serve as a stopover for Union soldiers during the Civil War.

That point on the map, now Dyer, would prove its convenience again and again over the years, with the coming of the railroads, the paving of the cross-country Lincoln Highway, and the extension and growth of bedroom communities around Chicago.

Dyer: Small town links east to west

Dyer United Protestant Church, or Dyer Union Church, dates from 1880. In 1966, the church body voted to become Presbyterian and moved. The church building still stands on Hart Street and is now home to Antonio Michael's Salon and Day Spa.

The first settlers arrived in the area in the 1830s. They were mainly Prussian farmers, along with practitioners of the trades that accompanied settlement: carpenters, millers, masons, shoemakers, doctors and saloon-keepers.

The community that would become Dyer started to take real form in the 1850s: An original plat recorded streets named Illinois, Indiana, Matteson, Calumet, Ross, Lake, East and West; a plat several years later showed streets bearing the names Hart and Joliet.

Prominent early residents would come to include the Bernen, Hilbrich, Hoffman, Miller, Nondorf, Peschel, Scheidt and Schulte families.

The year 1857 was perhaps the most important in Dyer's history.

That year, Aaron Norton Hart and his wife, Martha, whose maiden name was Dyer, moved to the area from Philadelphia, and committed themselves personally and financially to its development with the purchase of about 15,000 acres of wetlands.

Hart's network of ditches would drain portions of Cady Marsh and Lake George to create arable land.

Also that year, the Michigan Central Railroad established a station, with a grain elevator nearby.

Other railroads followed, including the Monon, with a north-south route through town, and the Elgin, Joliet and Eastern Railway with its east-west route.

Hart's swampy property became a farm after the digging of a ditch — Hart Ditch, appropriately — in 1880. The Hartsdale community, though, never took hold, and was incorporated into Schererville.

Dyer: Small town links east to west

A look down Joliet Street, east of Hart Street, in Dyer. Joliet Street was part of the original Lincoln Highway.

The early years of the 20th century saw many communities incorporate as municipalities, and in 1910 Dyer's citizens voted to establish their community as a town, by a vote of 57-35. In the following years, a municipal water utility and volunteer fire department would be established.

The new town's downtown boasted a hotel, a creamery and a sauerkraut and pickle factory, along with saloons and stores. The buildings housing those businesses are largely lost to history, a victim of the widening of U.S. 30.

Also in those years, the leaders of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Goodyear Tire & Rubber and Packard Motor Co. established a Lincoln Highway Association to lobby the federal government for a highway that would cross the country — and promote the purchase of automobiles.

They were successful, and as that 3,400-mile road made its way from New York to San Francisco, it crossed northern Indiana, where it included an "Ideal Section," constructed in 1922 and 1923 in Dyer and Schererville.

The section used the latest advances in engineering and materials to create a four-lane lighted highway. Monuments to its construction still stand along the highway, now U.S. 30, in Dyer.

Meanwhile, Dyer's population grew steadily through the first half of the 20th century before booming in the post-World War II years. In the 1950s, the town grew from 1,556 to 3,993, according to the United States Census.

Dyer would join surrounding communities in another surge in the 1970s, growing by 1980 from 4,906 to 9,555.

Today, the town, nearly built-out in terms of residential area, has an estimated population of 16,169.

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