Chesterton Tribune

Photos: Longtime Woodville store burned for firefighter training

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Woodville, then and now: The Woodville General Store in Liberty Township served as a shipping center, depot, blacksmith shop and post office. The top left photo was taken around 1890, with John Cole, the founder of Woodville, the likely person shown. At top right is a modern view of the store taken by Cole’s great-great grandson, Tim Cole. On Sunday, the Liberty Township Volunteer Fire Department ignited its first fire in the building for training purposes (bottom). (Top photos provided by Tim Cole; Tribune photo by Dana Gilbertson)



Once a hub of commerce and social activity, the old Woodville General Store in Liberty Township is facing its demise.

For the past month or so, the 1880-built structure has been used by the Liberty Township Volunteer Fire Department for training exercises. On Sunday, the LTVFD lit its first fire in the building.

“Eventually it’s going to be burned down,” said firefighter and department spokesperson Ray Wesley.

The building, located on County Road 900 North just a short distance west of Old 49 (North Calumet Avenue), is owned by a neighbor to the west who asked the fire department to take it down, Wesley said.

The firefighters have used the building for ventilation, rescue and other training exercises.

“We’re trying to keep it one room at a time,” Wesley said, adding that there are three more rooms to go before the building comes down.

The building is now just a shell of its former glory.

According to information provided by Tim Cole of Liberty Township, the community of Woodville was founded in 1880 by his great-great grandfather, John Cole, who built the store the same year.

Woodville never had more than a handful of homes, Cole said, but it was a large shipping center for the B&0 Railroad. The general store shipped milk, beef, sassafras roots, lumber and other supplies to Chicago as well as serving as a depot, blacksmith shop, post office and “general gossip center.”

Some excerpts from the Chesterton Tribune at the time speak of the store’s activity.

“Mr. E.M. Davis, traveling freight agent of the B&0 (Railroad) was here Friday, looking after the grain shipping interest and brick making, giving full assurance that the B&O will give fair rates and ample facilities to any parties that will engage in the manufacture of brick but the company (does) not wish to commit themselves until there is some evidence of acceptance,” the Tribune reported on August 13, 1884. “He in company with Mr. Cole went to Valparaiso to interview some parties who have been talking of starting brick yards here, and report very favorably.

“Mr. J.C. Dole has been repairing his elevator and is now prepared to buy and receive grain, paying the highest shipping market price.”

The August 20, 1884 edition of the Tribune reported: “Business has been a little more active for the past week. Wheat and oats begin to come in. Mr. Cole reports 1,000 bushels of the former, and 1,200 bushels of the latter as being marketed here this week. Shipments have been two cars of wheat and one car of oats to Baltimore, and one car of wood, 200 dozen eggs and 100 pounds of butter to Chicago.

“J.C. Cole is paying the highest shipping price for good clean wheat and oats. He ships to Baltimore, which has been a better market so far this season than New York.”

Cole said John Cole’s son-in-law, Alex Freer, was the first of several postmasters who worked out of the store. John Cole operated the depot, grain elevator and built “cracky wagons” until a Civil War injury forced him to retire.

In the late 1890s, Freer developed what was called creeping paralysis, and he died in 1904. John Cole died in late 1905, and his widow and heirs sold his holds and store to David Linderman.

Cole said Linderman soon afterwards wanted to concentrate on his nursery business, so H.W. “Windy” Johnson, who had helped Cole manage the grocery and hardware sections of the store, opened another store north and across the tracks. That store is no longer standing, Cole said.

When asked how he feels about a piece of Liberty Township heritage about to disappear, Cole said because the old general store is now helping to train firefighters, at least the building is being put to good use.

Wesley said he anticipates that the building will be burned down in early November.


Posted 10/24/2003