By Fern Eddy Schultz, LaPorte County Historian
With all of the renovation that has taken place in the main LaPorte County Public
Library, it might be interesting to note that the LaPorte County Historical Society Museum was located in the basement area of that Carnegie Library structure after its original construction.
The historical society became incorporated Oct. 27, 1921, and one of its first acts was to secure the relics left by the late W.A. Jones, consisting largely of rare firearms secured by Jones while traveling throughout the world. One of the bequests of the Jones will was that all of Jones’ famous collection of firearms and antiques were to go to the City of LaPorte. The bequest was made, however, on the condition that the City prepare a suitable room in the Carnegie library building for the housing of the collection and the proper caring for them. The LaPorte County Historical Society became the caring entity and has remained so to this date.
In addition to the weapons collection, the historical society received numerous donations to add a vast variety of other items to its collection. It contained more items of interest than most could imagine. Regularly a report was published in the newspaper about additions to the collection. An early news item about new donations reported two dolls were received that had been made in Washington, D.C., in 1840 and sent here to the grandmother of Mrs. J.B. Johnson, together with many other items. It was noted that the dolls “look prettier than most dolls do nowadays.” One was a boy and the other a girl, each dressed with taste and showing almost human expression.
Also contained in the society’s early collection was a horn that was found by Samuel Lambert when he was making over a house at 908 Michigan Avenue. Engraved on the side of the horn was the name of Alpheus Johnson and the date Dec. 15, 1826. It was believed to have been brought here from New York. Along with the name was an engraving of a hunter, a hound, a forest and a few deer.
Membership in the society continued to grow, reaching the 100 mark in 1924. This was incentive enough to plan for the purchase and erection of the “proposed historical building.” This, however, did not materialize. After a hiatus of meeting activity of seven years, there was renewed interest and there appeared to be little doubt that the time had come for a rejuvenation of the society in the cultural life of LaPorte.
With the offer of a new location in the basement of the LaPorte County Courthouse, the incentive brought about considerable interest and the museum was formally opened April 3, 1938. This allowed more space and additional interest in building the collection. With a replica of a pioneer cabin sponsored by the Miriam Benedict Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution and a number of utensils that were in daily use such as a bootjack, a brass warming pan, fire tongs and a number of other items, interest was greatly increased and many items were donated from LaPorte County families.
The interest continued to increase, as did the growth of the collections. The society and its museum were offered space in the new LaPorte County Complex and opened to the public there Sept. 17, 1978. There, the facility resided and grew until the great day, Saturday, Sept. 30, 2006, when the grand opening of the museum took place in the former Door Prairie Auto Museum, 2405 Indiana Avenue — the finest county museum in the State of Indiana and a collection that is still growing and can continue to do so.
POSTSCRIPT: In response to last month’s article and those who posed the question — What happened to the 3rd floor of the Guggenheim & Wile building at Lincoln Way and Indiana Avenue? Beginning April 21, 1953, workmen were erecting a scaffold on the building in preparation for removal of the top floor of the three-story building. The floor had not been occupied for some time and was no longer needed. Removal would eliminate chance of parts of the roof falling. The work was done by the Schumacher Construction Company of Michigan City.
FERN EDDY SCHULTZ is LaPorte County’s official Historian. Learn more about the county’s fascinating history by visiting the LaPorte County Historical Society Museum and its website, www.laportecountyhistory.org.