Before 1830, all of LaPorte County was a part of the Pottawatomie Indian Nation. In 1826, the Carey Mission was built. This was a school for the Indians run by Isaac McCoy. Although the Pottawatomie were peaceful, in 1838 the United States Government removed them to the Osage County of Kansas. Many of these Indians were old, could not stand the long trip, and died on the way, so it was called the "March of Death."
Miriam Benedict came to LaPorte County in 1829. Her's was the first white family to settle in what is now LaPorte County. There is a marker on her grave in what was Union Chapel Cemetery and is now Miriam Benedict Cemetery. Her house was located near Westville on what is now SR #421. To the left is Miriam's bedroom (historically preserved). Miriam's portrait is located just above the bed.
Aaron Stanton led the move to make LaPorte a separate county. As a result, LaPorte, consisting then of 462 square miles, was incorporated and became an official county on May 28, 1832.
The city of LaPorte began as a town in 1831 with the purchase at auction of land. The buyers were John Walker, Dr. Hiram Todd, Walter Wilson, Abraham P. Andrew, James Andrew, and Chamberlain Andrew. The town was laid out in 1832 and three cabins were built along the south shore of Clear Lake.
Several businesses, a hotel and tavern and a livery stable and blacksmith among them soon followed the cabins. In 1833, a courthouse was built on the public square; the same spot occupied today by the courthouse built in 1892. LaPorte was incorporated in 1835, its first mayor, William J. Walker.
The town soon developed into a trading center for the numerous farms that surrounded it. The lakes of LaPorte provided one of the first industries. In winter, ice companies cut ice from the lakes and shipped it to Chicago.
The city's industrial history was created around the early-day woolen mill industry and farm equipment manufacturing, founded in the 1840's and 1850's, and followed by the railroad, which entered LaPorte in 1852. When the railroads arrived in 1852, LaPorte was already a large town of 5,000 residents. The railroads prompted a period of rapid new growth for the community. Companies moved in and new ones were created, drawn by accessibility of raw materials and a large labor force.
At the same time, German, Irish, and Polish immigrants were arriving daily, seeking work. Among them was the German immigrant Meinrad Rumely, who, with his brother John, established the M. & J. Rumely Company in 1853, producing threshing machines and grain separators. Realizing the booming market for agricultural machinery, the Rumely brothers produced their first portable steam engine in 1872. In 1882, this firm developed into Advance-Rumely, maker of the famed Rumely Oil Pull tractor. By the 1890, the firm was a major player in the agricultural world. Their products were shipped out internationally by the trainload. Meinrad took great pains to watch over his employees and made many donations to the city of LaPorte, including the building of the city hall and fire station. In addition, Meinrad and his wife, Theresa, often visited employee's that were sick or injured in the hospital. Meinrad passed away in 1904 and his company was sold to Allis Chalmers in 1933. Allis-Chalmers was LaPorte's biggest employer until the 1983, when it closed.
The first public school opened in 1833. J.C. Reed taught a class of 30 students. In 1864, the first LaPorte High School building was erected on Harrison Street, between Clay and Jackson. The present Lincoln Elementary School is on the same spot. LaPorte was the second community in the U.S. to inaugurate a publicly funded kindergarten program. The program was established by Dr. William Nicholas Hailmann, Superintendent of LaPorte Schools from 1883 - 1894. The kindergarten school building (pictured below) was located at the North East corner of Indiana and Osborn.
LaPorte City's current total population is approximately 22,000. The county's current population is approximately 113,000.
After years of declining population, the 1990's recorded positive growth for the county. Since 1990, the population has increased by 2.18 percent. Male population is slightly more than female.
From 1960's into the 80's, LaPorte's schools were greatly affected by migrant workers and their children. The families would arrive in the spring, register their children for school, and then after the fall harvest remove their children from school. The problem was minimized when one of the major employers, Bernacchi's Produce Stores, went out of business in the late 80's. However, according to the Assistant Superintendent of LaPorte Schools, Mr. John Adams, the county is starting to experience an influx of immigrants from Poland, Russia, and the Ukraine primarily due to both the state's and local area's family support programs. In turn, to educate and provide bilingual services is costing the county an additional 60,000 to 65,000 dollars annually. LaPorte's ethnic distribution prior to the influx of Eastern Europe immigrants is charted below.
Over the decades, a myriad of products has originated from LaPorte factories and LaPorte hands. They have included baby carriages, bicycles, wagons, wool, bread, slicing machines for the food industry, pianos, radiators, office furniture, picture frames, doors and windows, air ventilating machinery, machine tools, castings for jet engines, boxes, industrial film, plastic materials, rollers for printing presses, plastic containers, cans, and airplane wings and tanks during the years of World War II.
Today, LaPorte is home to nearly 100 manufacturing firms, including such well-known names as Whirlpool, Howmet, Teledyne and Modine. No single company or industry is dominant and of all of the LaPorte's industry, only 17 employ more than 100 persons. Area agriculture plays a significant role in LaPorte's economy. The county has more than 800 farms with 267,000 acres in production. These farms pump more than $1,000,000,000 into the county's economy annually.
The retail and services industries make up about 44.7 percent of all employment in LaPorte. LaPorte County shows employment conditions worsening with no end in sight. Currently LaPorte's unemployment is at 7.2 percent (3,950 workers) versus the states at 5.5 percent.
To make matters worse, Indiana Governor O'Bannon made 115 million cut in education because of the states 1.3-billion budget deficit. To offset the cuts, House Bill 1196 was passed to allow school corporations to transfer from various funds to the general fund. This means schools will not have as much funds to repair, expand and rehabilitate schools buildings and classrooms.
Laporte's has three main patriotic groups. They are, the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), American Legion (AL), and The Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR).
LaPorte's VFW auxiliary sponsors the Voice of Democracy competition in which high school sophomores, juniors, and seniors compete oratorically for a 300-dollar grant given out to two students per semester for one year. Local winners then go on to compete at the state level, and those winners compete at the National level for scholarships totaling 60,000 dollars. The VFW also provides transportation, food and speakers in the annual Veteran's Day ceremony at the Civic Auditorium and they are actively involved with the Boy Scouts and 4-H groups. They also provide flags for classrooms.
LaPorte's AL sponsors three competitions for LaPorte High School students. The first competition is an oratorical contest for seniors. Up to four winners are selected and given 300 dollars to study government/politics at Boy's or Girl's State for a week. The second competition is for any student, they compete in a written essay contest about our government. Winners are awarded a 100-dollar savings bond. The third is an annual competition for any AL member's son or daughter. The winner receives 800 dollar a year scholarship for four years. The AL also makes several donations that have helped pay for preschooler's tuition and LaPorte's High School Marching Band uniforms.
LaPorte's DAR, called the Miriam Benedict Chapter, and named after the first white settler in LaPorte County. They sponsor scholarships and two written essay contest. The first essay contest is for seniors in public, private, and parochial schools, called the DAR Good Citizen. The topic is the American Revolution. Teachers and the student body select the winner, whom then competes at the state to national level for a 5,000-dollar scholarship. The second essay contest topic is American History and only eighth graders from Boston and Keesling Middle schools can compete. Winners of both essay contests receive saving bonds from the local chapter; the amount is determined by their treasury funds. The scholarship fund is at the national level for 8,000 dollars and is awarded to a qualifying senior in a high school graduating class. Pictured to the left is Lural Smyryl. She lives here in LaPorte and has been a DAR member for 50 years. She has held local, regional and state level DAR office positions.
Amongst the first denomination to arrive in LaPorte was the Society of Friends or Quakers in 1831. Ten Quaker families set up residence just north of the present City of LaPorte, and built a district school house in 1839. However, the majority of the Quakers left by 1925 with no historical record as to why. A year later, in 1832, three other denominations arrived these include; Presbyterians, Methodist with 15 chartered members, and the Hamilton church, named after their reverend. The Baptist established a church in Kingsbury in 1834 and in 1884 built the Grace Baptist church still standing on Monroe Street in LaPorte. Another LaPorte City church that was built in 1867 and is still standing is the St. Paul United Church of Christ on Lincolnway.
Today, LaPorte City has 33 churches with nineteen different denominations and two non-denominational listed in the phone directory. Majority of the churches are limitedly involved with the public school system; however, the majority do sponsor youth programs, food banks, and encourage their adults to be actively involved with the public school system through the PTA or other groups like Mom's in Touch. The Bethel Chapel has several members that home school and the St. Peters Catholic Church and Salem Chapel Methodist Church have preschools. The United Methodist Church is the most actively involved church with programs like Clothes Line. This program anonymously buys new clothing for any student in need. The United Methodist Church also sponsors the Samaritan Counseling Program for families/students and a preschool program.
"Education Places of Excellence." Indiana LaPorte Magazine. 2002
Josette Kubaszyk. Area Industrialists the Barker & Fox Legacies
. The LaPorte County
John W. Adams. Personal interview. 26 Mar. 2002
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Clarance Hunkee. Personal interview. 30 Mar. 2002.
Lucelle Snider Zellmer. Personal interview. 30 Mar. 2002.
Lural Smyryl. Personal interview. 1 Apr. 2002.
Getting to Know the DAR. Washington: National Society Daughters of the American
John W. Adams. Personal interview. 26 Mar. 2002.
Church & Education Questionnaire. Personal survey. 27 Mar. 2002.
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LaPorte. May 26, 1968.
150 Years of Methodist in LaPorte County. LaPorte: First United Methodist Church, 1982.
Our Church History. LaPorte: Baptist Grace Notes, 1994.
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The First 100 years--A Brief History with Pictures of St. Paul United Church of Christ. LaPorte:
St. Paul United Church of Christ, 1962.
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LaPorte, Indiana: History of the First Hundred Years. 1832-1932 Vol. 1
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A Pictorial Report of Pupil Activities in the LaPorte Public Schools
. Boston, Paul F. The Board