Just bricks and mortar? Hardly. Fern reveals downtown structure’s century-plus service to LaPorteans

This 1874 drawing shows the building at the southeast corner of Lincoln Way and Michigan Avenue in its early days. The structure, now being renovated to reveal its original facade, has served LaPorteans well over the decades by housing many businesses. This drawing is from the 1874 Higgins & Belden Company Atlas of LaPorte County. (Photo provided; click to enlarge)

Here’s a photo of the building now, after bland, beige 1960s panels were removed from its exterior in February 2017. (WNLP photo by Beth Boardman; click to enlarge)

By Fern Eddy Schultz, LaPorte County Historian   

Recently, we have seen what lies beneath the layer of material that had been placed on the building on the southeast corner of Lincoln Way and Michigan Avenue several

Fern Eddy Schultz

decades ago when it was “uncovered” Feb. 16, 2017. The building was among others, such as the Kessler’s Furniture and Low Brothers buildings that had the same exterior material affixed on the buildings and recently has been removed.

Going back to the 1940s and 1950s, the building at Lincoln Way and Michigan housed Meyer’s Drug Store. It had previously been the home of Selby & Wade’s Red Cross Pharmacy. In the rear, facing Michigan Avenue, were Betz Cleaners and the Western Union Telegraph.

It seems its original purpose was that of a drug store, as Dr. Eliel’s Sons had a wholesale and retail druggist business there in 1874, which appears to have been shortly after the building was constructed. The drawing of the building at top may be found in the 1874 Higgins & Belden Company Atlas of LaPorte County on page 58. The building was known as the Guggenhime & Wile building. A storefront to the east was occupied by Guggenhime, Wile & Fox, Wholesale and Retail Dealers in Dry Goods, Ready-Made Clothing and Furnishing Goods. Dr. John S. Fosdick, local dentist, was located in Room 1. In the corner portion facing Lincoln Way was Dr. Eliel’s Sons, who were described as Wholesale and Retail Druggists, and Manufacturing Pharmaceutists. Dr. R. O. Crandall, Physician and Surgeon, was located in Room 4. Higgins, Belden & Co., Atlas Pubs., were in Room 2. Weir & Biddle, Attorneys at Law, had an office in Room 6. James Bradley & Son, who were also Attorneys at Law, were located in Room 3. Jno. H. Bradley, a Notary Public and City Clerk, had an office in Room 3. In the basement was the Citizens Bank with Jacob Wile as the Proprietor. Other occupants in the basement were Wile & Weir, Abstract & Real Estate Agency; Wile & Shannon, General Insurance Agency; and Edward Hawkins Real Estate Agency.

Mr. Joseph Guggenhime was born December 27, 1830, in Garlingen, north bank of the Rhine, in the Grand Duchy of Bolen. In the fall of 1849, having saved from his earnings as a clerk in his uncles’ employ, a sufficient sum to bring his parents and only sister to the U.S., he was joined by them and in 1852 with them and his brother-in-law and business partner, Jacob Wile, came to LaPorte and engaged in the mercantile business under the name and firm of Guggenhime & Wile. He was largely instrumental in the erection of the LaPorte Woolen Mills, later owned by Fox Brothers and the Guggenhime & Wile Block, of which he was one-half owner at the time of his death, 18 January 1877. The name is sometimes found spelled Guggenheim.

Mr. Jacob Wile was born October 24, 1828, in Binswaugen near Augsburg, Germany. At the age of 19, he emigrated to America. Five years later, he came to LaPorte. He entered the mercantile business, in which he was very successful. In 1857 he established the Citizens’ Bank, of which he subsequently became the sole proprietor. He was president of the Hebrew Congregational Society of LaPorte and a member of the Synagogue. He married Henrietta Guggenheim (sp). He died January 22, 1896, in Chicago.  She preceded him in death January 12, 1893.

Dr. Louis Eliel was a prominent physician in LaPorte. As early as 1862-63 he was advertised as a seller in drugs, medicines, perfumery, coal oil and lamps, etc., and was located on the south side of South Main between Monroe and Clay streets. In the 1871-72 LaPorte City Directory, Dr. Eliel and Sons are recorded as being on the “s e cor S & E Main,” which would be the location of the building shown. That could possibly mean that building had been erected even before 1874.

Land records would verify more distinctly when the property was purchased by Jacob Wile and/or Joseph Guggenhime. It is going to be a very interesting period, watching the restoration of this structure and, of course, the end “product.”

FERN EDDY SCHULTZ is LaPorte County’s official Historian.

6 Responses to “Just bricks and mortar? Hardly. Fern reveals downtown structure’s century-plus service to LaPorteans”

  1. Bill

    Mar 15. 2017

    Did they remove a story from the original building? The old picture shows three stories but the latest one shows two stories –

    Reply to this comment
  2. Sharon

    Mar 15. 2017

    As one who undertook a downtown restoration project myself (Kessler Lofts), I loved reading this story! I feel that our downtown is one of the more beautiful in the state and just needs to find brave souls to uncover the treasures that lie beneath outdated facades. I’m watching with excitement as the above building returns to its’ former glory..

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  3. Jerra Barnes

    Mar 15. 2017

    Do you know what happened to the 3rd floor?

    Reply to this comment
  4. JoeD

    Mar 16. 2017

    Geez did someone lop off the 3rd floor of that building or what?

    Reply to this comment
  5. mokey

    Mar 16. 2017

    The top image is just a drawing. Probably what it was to be but money or other issues changed the final outcome I’ll guess.

    Reply to this comment
  6. Barbara Conrad

    Mar 18. 2017

    Fascinating!

    Reply to this comment

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