Chesterton Tribune

Photos: 100th anniversary of Morgan Park, Chesterton's first planned subdivision

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Early Morgan Park: This Morgan Park scene is looking east on Morgan Avenue from Wilson Street. The large brick house on the left was built in 1916 for H. F. Carlson and the next house east for Claus Isaacson in 1914. The Schwedler maple trees were quite small and there was only one utility pole in sight in accordance with the original plans which stated that telephone and telegraph poles must be in the alleys.

Road to Morgan Park: Sidewalks were in but the road was not paved when this photo was taken soon after the establishment of Morgan Park. The view is from just east of Calumet Road on Morgan Avenue with early Morgan Park houses in the distance. The brick house on the left still exists. The little house to the east is gone but the steps remain.

 

By BETTY CANRIGHT

Editor’s note: Assistance with research for this article was generously provided by local historians Nancy Vaillancourt and Eva Hopkins.

One hundred years ago in 1907 enthusiasm and optimism were in the air in Chesterton and Porter. Week after week there was talk in the Chesterton Tribune about the need to build more houses. Sall Mountain Asbestos works and the Hydraulic Pressed Brick plant were going strong along with many small businesses and stores. The organ factory was still operating but with reduced production.

The Home Water Company was forming and suburban train service from Chesterton to the new steel city of Gary and beyond had begun. The Lake Shore Railroad was making improvements to its property. Automobiles and telephones were beginning to be popular.

The Chesterton Tribune installed its first linotype.

A home was constructed for the Sisters who taught at St. Patrick School. The town of Porter incorporated. Sidewalks were being paved and the road from Chesterton to Valparaiso was made a macadam road.

The May 30 issue of the paper told of the formation of the Chesterton Realty Company whose purpose was to develop Chesterton. The same article said the company had closed a contract for the purchase of the Young tract adjoining the business center of Chesterton on the east.

Two weeks later the company announced that the tract had been laid out in lots and it would be called Morgan Park.

Chesterton’s first subdivision was named after early settler John G. Morgan, platted by the Chesterton Realty Company and officially announced in the Chesterton Tribune June 13, 1907. The property was laid out in 259 lots 33 ft. by 132 ft. with prices ranging from $100 to $150 each.

Members of Chesterton Realty were A. J. Bowser, editor of the Chesterton Tribune, Edward L. Morgan and Charles L. Jeffrey, of the Chesterton Bank, F. H.Wilson, superintendent of the Lake Shore Railroad and L. W. Landman, Western Passenger agent of the Lake Shore Railroad.

They named north-south streets Wilson, Landman, Jeffrey and Roosevelt and east-west streets Indiana, Morgan, Bowser and Porter. The town was asked to change the name of Little Street (it ran from what is now Calumet Road to Coffee Creek) to Morgan Ave. to avoid confusion.

The company members stated that they would not make promises to the public and would only announce what had been done and not what they were going to do. At the same time that they were developing Morgan Park they announced that they had taken title to all the platted lands of the Porter Land Company in Chesterton.

It was obvious that plans for Morgan Park had been progressing for some time. Rules for the subdivision were many. It was intended to make Morgan Park an ideal residence district. No house could cost less than $1,200. No liquors could be sold in the subdivision.

The building line was 30 feet from the lot line. Sidewalks were to be 5 feet wide and made of cement. Grass and tree line was 13 feet wide on Morgan Ave. and ten feet wide on all other streets. It was specified that all telegraph and telephone poles would be put in the alleys and not on the streets.

Response was immediate and within two weeks of the June 13, 1907 article the company reported that the sale of lots had passed the eighty mark. Buyers needed at least two lots to consruct a house. Contractors were busy with customers wanting houses built. Joseph Ameling, A. J. Knapp, Charles Bradley, John Carlson and Theodore Ameling are all mentioned in early articles as builders of homes in the subdivision.

First houses

Early homeowners mentioned were E. N. Hyde, August Harbrecht, William Ameling, Frank Bedenkop, Herman Sabinski, Mrs. Olive Bourell, Charles Melin, Sanford Culbertson, A. O. J. Kreiger, Mrs. Phenia Shultz, Charles Hoeckelberg and Ben Vogler.

Many, but not all, of these people are listed in the 1910 census for Chesterton. Perhaps property had changed hands or houses were built on speculation and promptly sold. Banker Edward L. Morgan and his family lived at 319 East Morgan by 1910. They moved to their new brick home at 229 East Morgan in 1915.

The Tribune reported in the September 26, 1907 issue that August Harbrecht moved into his new home (324 East Morgan) and was the first NEW resident of Morgan Park. Ed Hyde’s home (303 Bowser) was almost ready and the paper said that Ed had lived on the property when it was a farm. One reference said streets would be graded as soon as the grain crop was disposed of.

The Frank Bedenkop house (303 East Porter) was built in 1897 in New Burdick and was moved to Morgan Park in August, 1907. The Tribune reported on August 22 that the contractor got stuck somewhere near the Burdick school. Bedenkop had already constructed a barn on his lots at Porter and Wilson Street and was anxious to get the house moved. By the next issue the house was in place.

Also reported in August was that Contractor Lindall was working on a viaduct for Coffee Creek on Morgan Ave. and Contractor Gustafson was working on grading streets.

People were coming from Gary and Chicago to see the development. The new city of Gary was the talk of the area. The Gary Tribune on August 8, 1907 carried an article describing Chesterton as an ideal suburb for Gary because of the location and the trains. The Tribune on September 12, 1907 reported: “In early June the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern railroad company began giving Chesterton suburban service, recognizing the fact that the construction of the great steel city of Gary placed this point within its legitimate suburban district, owing to its location and natural advantages. The public has not been slow to take advantage.”

The first child born in the “new and beautiful Morgan Park addition” was the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Theodore Ameling whose arrival was reported in the Tribune issue of January 23, 1908.

The late Sylvan Cook, whose father Frank built his house at 503 East Morgan in 1910, said that there were 12 houses in Morgan Park in 1909. He remembered many of the names and in some cases their occupations. Sanford Culbertson (402 East Indiana) dealt in horses and buggies. Benjamin Freeland (311 East Indiana) was in charge of the pump station for the railroad. Ralph Andrus (324 East Indiana) worked for Standard Oil. A.O.J. Krieger (329 East Morgan) and August Harbrecht (324 East Morgan) were saloon keepers.

That things slowed down is evidenced by an item dated May 8, 1913 saying “The Chesterton Realty Company has rented its fenced land in Morgan Park for pasture purposes and kindly asks the boys who have been in the habit of going there to play baseball to find another place.”

A sales office for the Chesterton Realty Company was erected at Wilson and Morgan Ave. and the building remained for many years.

City directories from early years show about 19 houses in 1921, 24 in 1924, 58 in 1931, 61 in 1939 and 104 in 1954. The Sanborn map from 1935 has 58 dwellings, many of them on Bowser and Morgan Avenues. This progression shows growth in the 1920s, the dropoff during the depression and the need for housing after World War II. The number of housing units (including duplexes) had grown to about 132 by 1990 and 149 in 2007.

Several early households had telephones. A Chesterton and Porter directory for the Northwestern Indiana Telephone Company - Bell System dated 1911 listed names without addresses. Names recognized as Morgan Park residents include A.O.J. Kreiger phone number 581, R. M. Andrus 582, S. Culbertson 583 and E. L. Morgan 584.

Two houses on Bowser Avenue were dubbed “House Beautiful” homes. The first at 408 Bowser was built in 1926 and the second at 516 Bowser in 1927.The second house was described as having architecture of an “Old English Cottage” with many built-ins such as kitchen cabinets, bath tub, refrigerator and ironing board.

Abstracts

Abstracts for Morgan Park property all begin with “United States to Robert Starkweather” with a date of October 3, 1835. The heading is “Examination of Title” with a legal description of real estate “platted into lots and blocks as MORGAN PARK ADDITION TO THE TOWN OF CHESTERTON in Porter County, Indiana. Prepared for CHESTERTON REALTY COMPANY.”

Many names appear on the abstracts between Starkweather and the Chesterton Realty Company. Some of them are Susan Starkweather, Isaac Vanderpool, William Ogden, Tanner and Susanah Switzer, George Bliss, Almon Hayes, Elizabeth Hayes, Mary A. Hayes, John and Minerva Jane Collins and Cornelia Woods.

Cornelia Woods’s deed was dated March 6, 1872 and she was listed as of Cass County, Michigan. She was first married to Thomas White and had three children. With her second husband George Woods she had two children. Apparently her heirs fought over the estate and in October, 1891 a settlement was reached and Commissioner George Morgan was authorized to sell the property to Martin Young for a consideration of $5,400.

Young bought two parcels, one of 42.52 acres and the other of 14 acres. In 1895, a mortgage agreement described the property and concluded with “except one acre conveyed by grantors April 30, 1894 to the Chesterton Paint Manufacturing company.”

The property description for the 1907 sale to the Realty Company excepted two parcels. One was a 25 foot strip 1252.8 feet in length adjoining the Southerly line of the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railway Company land. The other was one acre, probably the site of the paint company, south of the railroad and at the west end of what was to become Morgan Park. The total sold was 54.8 acres.

Articles of Incorporation for the Chesterton Realty Company and a plat of Morgan Park are included with the title examination. Guy Stinchfield, county surveyor, surveyed the property and laid out the plat. The deed from Martin Young to the Chesterton Realty Company is dated June 27, 1907 with a consideration of $8,220. Myron Drapier, Abstractor of Titles, signed the title examination and George R. Williams notarized it.

Edgar and Emma Hyde bought lots 21 and 22 in block 10 in 1907. Connie Johnson, owner of the house on those lots (303 Bowser), has donated abstracts to the Westchester Township History Museum. A continuation was done for Robert Hyde in 1948 when the house was sold to Connie’s parents Homer and Marcella Johnson.

Paint Factory

Officers for the paint factory which was mentioned in the abstract were Frank M. Wolfe, Elmer E. Wolfe, Martin Young and Ray Young. The December 25, 1891 issue of the Tribune said the Chesterton Paint Factory was an assured fact. Frank Wolfe the president died suddenly about two weeks after that announcement but plans went ahead and the first batch of paint was turned out by the end of January, 1892.

The company operated out of the Young and Wolfe block in Chesterton (later Chesterton Bank location) and advertised house, barn and roof paint. By March, 1892 they reported that they were receiving all the orders they could fill. By the end of that year they had let a contract to N. Demass for a factory on land donated by Martin Young.

By March, 1893 Sam Harper bought the building which was the retail store for the paint company and was moving his drug stock. Apparently the paint factory was settled in a corner of what was to become Morgan Park. The company incorporated that April and by August the paper reported “The Chesterton Paint Company is the only concern in the township that did not shut down this month although orders are mighty few.”

Perhaps the final newspaper reference to the paint factory was in August of 1902, still five years before the platting of Morgan Park. “Chesterton has a good paint factory that is idle and only waiting for a good man to take hold of it.”

A different subdivsion

Morgan Park differs from modern subdivisions in several ways. There are no cul-du-sacs or curving streets. The homes were not built all at once and have a wide variety of styles. There are bungalows, large 2-story homes, Sears catalog houses, ranch style, Cape Cod, prefabs (such as National or Gunnison Homes), a Lustron house and duplexes. Houses are of brick, frame, stone and modern siding. Some older homes were made into 2-family homes and have been turned back into single family homes. Many have been remodeled or added onto, even adding a second story.

The plat shows the boundaries to be Wilson Street on the west, Porter Avenue on the south, Roosevelt Street on the east and the railroad on the north. This means that, technically, the area between Wilson and Coffee Creek and the area between Roosevelt and the Indiana 49 Bypass were not included. For the purposes of this history the commonly noted boundaries of Coffee Creek, the railroad, the Chesterton Cemetery and the 49-Bypass are used.

An item in the newspaper on June 7, 1928 reported that the town board approved the plat of the Annie E. Smith property adjoining the corporate limits on the east. The property was designated as the First Addition to Morgan Park and contained nine blocks of platted lots and three blocks of acreage. Some of this addition was donated to the YMCA in 1970 by the Smith heirs.

Trees

More than 500 Schwedler maple trees were planted in the new subdivision. They were imported from Holland and at the time it was said to be the largest single planting of such trees in the United States. Schwedler maple trees have red leaves in the spring which turn green by summer. Lining all of the Morgan Park streets at regular intervals, the trees are still an attraction and curiosity. They are planted on the parkways between the streets and the sidewalks. This was only possible because utilities were put in the alleys.

A 1916 report said some trees were damaged by a fire set by Lake Shore engines and in 1927 a bug infestation was a problem. More recently wind storms have taken many branches down.

After nearly a century the Schwedlers are showing their age and many have been replaced by the town. Chesterton tree expert Gina Darnell says the replacements are Deborah Norway maples, an improved cultivar of the Schwedler maples and the closest variety available. Mary Henry of the Chesterton Street Department checked the records and found that 65 trees have been replaced since 1995 including 23 planted in April, 2007.

Pumping station

Trains on the Lake Shore Railroad beginning in December, 1906 used a pumping station north of what became Morgan Park and were able to take water on the fly. This system was in use until 1954. The construction of the pumping station brought in a large contingent of workers who were housed on land east of Coffee Creek. The Tribune on August 6, 1906 said “The Lake Shore Company is building several shanties across Coffee Creek to be occupied by about two hundred Italians who are coming here to put in the water troughs and build the pumping station.”

A month later someone from the paper visited the camp and reported that “Work on the Lake Shore Railway is being done principally by the Austrians in camp east of the bridge. A visit to the camp finds the culinary department in charge of Louis Zlapirh, head chef. The kitchen and dining room are as clean and neat as any in town.”

In December of 1906, the pumping station was described as a handsome brick building and the total cost of improvements estimated at $80,000.

The town water works was being constructed in 1907 and in September the town trustees were asked to annex the new subdivision. The newspaper said that people had built substantial houses fitted up with bath rooms. The water company could not go into the Park unless it was a part of the town under the terms of the company’ s franchise. For some reason annexation was rejected in 1907 and finally approved in September, 1908.

The Morgan Park Improvement Association in 1927 was concerned about the need to have streets paved. Through the years other issues brought the residents together such as the need for storm sewers, a protest against proposed apartment buildings and traffic concerns, The most recent organization was called Morgan Park Citizens Association. That group helped with the development of Coffee Creek Park and promoted a neighborhood watch.

Earnkirk School

For about two years, 1936-1938, the Earnkirk School for boys operated in the brick house at 303 East Morgan. The house was built for H. F. Carlson, well known Swedish grocer, in 1916. The school was organized to provide a stable, homey environment for city boys. It first located in the old Ballard house about a mile east of Chesterton on what is now Indian Boundary Road and moved to Morgan Park when forced out by a fire. Sometime in 1938 the school moved to Wisconsin.

Many early events were described in the newspaper as taking place in Morgan Park. In 1908 the event was a general public picnic for the 4th of July held in Morgan Park along Coffee Creek. The crowd was estimated at between three and four thousand people--many from Gary. The 1909 celebration for the Fourth of July was marred by rain and came up $500 short of expenses. The dancing pavilion was left on the Morgan Park grounds and a dance scheduled to make up the difference.

In the September 10, 1910 issue of the Tribune is the story of the big I.O.F. of A (Foresters) Labor Day picnic in Morgan Park. This event also took place in 1911 and 1912. In 1915 the Chesterton Business and Professional Men gave a picnic with a roasted ox barbecue at Morgan Park followed by a talent show and dance in Moroney’s Hall. In 1922 a dancing pavilion was constructed on the banks of Coffee Creek for a Mid-Summer Festival.

In 1923 hundreds of Westchester citizens gathered in Morgan Park for a memorial tribute to President Warren Harding who died in office.

Sporting events also took place in Morgan Park. A baseball game was reported in June, 1914 when the Chesterton Nationals beat the Chesterton Cubs 10-9 in Morgan Park. Tennis tournaments were played on courts at the Edward L. Morgan home at Wilson and Morgan Ave. in the 1930s and in 1932 the Bethlehem Lutheran Brotherhood sponsored a horseshoe tournament on Verne Vedell’s courts in Morgan Park.

For several years in the 1970s a large Block Party for all Morgan Park residents took place in one block of Landman Street. With permission from the town the street was blocked off and the party included games for all ages as well as lots of food.

The construction of the Indiana 49-Bypass in 1971 brought businesses to the edge of Morgan Park. The ambulance garage at the intersection of 49 and Porter Ave. was built in 1981.

And so, Chesterton’s first subdivision begins its second century. In a few cases third or fourth generation members of early families live in Morgan Park and enjoy being close to downtown, close to Coffee Creek Park and close to the highway but in a residential area as planned by the Chesterton Realty Company.

 

 

Posted 5/31/2007