Chesterton Tribune

From hands to iPads: Museum looks at history of tools in Porter County

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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 anvil.

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 “Masks” exhibit.

iPad giveaway

While it has only been around for two years, the iPad created by Apple Inc. has already changed the way we look at tools and technology. As stated in the exhibit, it serves as a symbol for our “advancement into the digital realm” and our constant progress to in evolving tools.

The iPad 2 device seen in the exhibit was donated by the Valparaiso Wal-Mart and visitors have a chance to win the tablet after the exhibit wraps up by entering their name and e-mail address on a contest form.

Coming Attractions

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.


Posted 5/11/2012