Stepping into the Porter County Museum of History, you may feel like you are
stepping into an old barn but really it’s a visual lesson on how tools such
as handsaws, wrenches, pitchforks, washboards, pans, hair curling irons, and
more recently iPads have aided in the quality of life throughout the years.
The Tools of the Trade officially opened as the museum’s spring exhibit on
March 13 and has been extended through July, said Museum Director Kevin
Pazour. It is the museum’s second entry in the county museum’s temporary
exhibit program which kicked off last fall with “Masks.”
The new display is chock full of curious items which have been collected
over the years by the Historical Society of Porter County, which celebrated
its 100th birthday this year on May 3.
“They’ve been great ambassadors for the museum collecting stories and
artifacts,” said Pazour.
“Tools of the Trade” is another feast for the eyes. In one corner is a
spinning wheel from Ireland from 1851 sitting adjacent to a wool carding
stand that would break up and align fibers. Along the museum walls, visitors
can find a 19th century wooden water yoke; 1880s woodworking bench used in
the John D. Stoner’s Valparaiso furniture store to assemble and repair
furniture; and cast iron blacksmith tools including hammers, tongs, and an
In the museum’s parlor, WWII enthusiasts can get an up-close look at “the
army’s greatest invention” – a P-38 can opener. Pazour explained the tiny
pocket device, the blade is just about 1.5 inches, was introduced in the
early 1940s and earned the name “the John Wayne” by the United States Marine
Corps due to its “toughness and dependability.” It is rumored that Wayne
acted in a training video but footage of the movie is not known to exist.
The P-38 was used to open K-rations and the model was frequently used until
it became obsolete in the 1980s.
Also in the parlor are several photographs of inventions by Dr. Noah Amstutz
who lived in Yellowstone Trail not far from Valparaiso. Not many county
residents know but Amstutz’s invention of the “Audible, Visible Telegraph”
around 1895 served as the origins of the cathode ray which gave birth to
television about 50 years later.
Amstutz’s inventions predicted that images could be transmitted through
space. Pazour said Amstutz’s original inventions are now owned by the
Smithsonian Institution where they are stored. Besides television, Pazour
said Amstutz was also responsible for designing a “highway of the future”
which would become the basis for the nation’s modern toll roads. He is also
the founder of the half-tone machine which created imagery similar to the
way newspapers and magazines are now printed.
Visitors can also get a feeling of what a trip to the dentist was like in
the early 20th century with a dental chair and apparatus collected from
Garrett Conover who donated the items in the 1960s after running a dental
practice in Valparaiso. Music to help residents relax in the 1910s and 1920s
came from an upright Gramophone. A Crystola model used from 1919 to 1923 is
part of the display.
The exhibit pays great respect to the first tool that ever was: the human
hand. On display in rotation is a direct cast taken from an original study
by Michelangelo who carved a “larger-than-life” sculpture of the human hand
to help explore its bone and muscle structure.
The Porter County Heritage Corporation, which is separate from the
Historical Society, was in charge of bringing together “Tools of the Trade.”
The purpose of the corporation when it was formed in 2010 was to provide
preservation and display of historical items and demonstrate how their
legacy still influences Porter County’s culture today.
Designers for the display were Garth A. Conrad of LaPorte and Zachary
Gipson, a 2006 graduate of Chesterton High School who also worked on the
While the “Tools of the Trade” is still going on, the museum will reopen its
Civil War exhibit the week of Memorial Day with new insights added from
local historians. And for something else new, the exhibit will feature a few
bits on the American Revolutionary War. Pazour said two veterans of the
Revolutionary War moved to the area before Porter County was established.
“We’re trying to tell the stories of the veterans in all military
conflicts,” said Pazour.
Opening June 13 in the old jail area of the museum will be “Prehistoric
Porter County” where residents can follow the timeline of Porter County
millions of years ago. On display will be the mastodon bones that were
unearthed in a marsh east of Hebron. In addition will be the skull of a
“giant short-faced bear” that went extinct more than 12,000 years ago.
More exhibits in the pipeline include Disasters in Porter County and a
special exhibit for paranormal enthusiasts that will open in the fall.