An odd twist of La Porte history: how an early shorthand school and “The Island” are directly linked

An early plat of Holmes Island (above), and a photo of the resort building (below). (Photos submitted)

By Fern Eddy Schultz, La Porte County Historian

In 1878, Holmes’ Shorthand Business College was established in La Porte. As near as can be determined, it was initially located on the southeast corner of the public square. By 1887, it had been relocated to the

Prof. John B. Holmes. (Photo provided)

Guggenhime & Wile building on the southeast corner of Main (today’s Lincoln Way) and Michigan avenues. Entrance to the school was between 703 and 705 Michigan. It was established by Prof. John B. Holmes and reportedly “won a prominent place among the educational institutions of Northern Indiana.”  

Prof. Holmes had earned an honorary Master of Arts Degree while at Williams College. It was while teaching there that he met and married Miss Sappho L. Morgan. Eight children were born to them and six were living in 1888. He became acquainted with phonography while attending Gouvernear Wesleyan Seminary in St. Lawrence County, NY. His recollection of this was that it occurred in 1850 when a teacher came to the seminary and proposed organizing a class at that institution. Holmes had for some time been in search of a good system of shorthand. He was impressed with the idea of using the simplest geometrical figures of the alphabet in this new system. In 1857, he entered the law school at Albany, where he received the degree of Bachelor of Law. While attending law lectures, he took notes in phonography.

After the skillful teaching direction of Prof. Holmes at The Phonographic Department of Ames’ National Business College in Syracuse, NY, he moved to Chicago. There he was involved in newspaper work, being editor of “The Chicago,” a literary venture which became the victim of its proprietor.

Besides his duties as a teacher, Prof. Holmes was greatly interested in the growth and progress of La Porte and opened an entirely new business for the city. In 1886, he established the pioneer summer resort on what was to become known as Holmes’ Island. This was located on Pine Lake, north of the city (now simply known as “The Island”). This action on the part of Prof. Holmes added much to the business of La Porte during the summer months.

Holmes was described as a “tireless worker” and he was aided in his work by his wife, to whom a great measure of credit for the success of the summer resort was given. She was also responsible for the establishment of The Students’ Library for improvement in history and literature. This was largely attended by students of the college. The only record found of students attending the school lists Samuel Stewart McCollum, Amenzo Mann, Kent Marvin Andrew and Norman Dakin, son of Dr. George M. Dakin.  One entry regarding the school stated the students were primarily from the more well-to-do families.

La Porte County Historian Fern Eddy Schultz

There were seven or eight miles of beach on Holmes Island as of 1890 and it covered about 10 acres. It was oblong in shape and was covered with oak, basswood, maple and beech trees. The resort building was described as “very commodious, including office, dining room, kitchen, store room and eighteen bedrooms.” Each bedroom had a large window and door opening onto the porch. From every window on the building, one could get a view of the lake. A porch extended around the entire building, which was over 100 feet in length.

The business college was carried on by Holmes for 15 years. It then went into the hands of J.N. Poole and W. Whitmer, who conducted it until about 1890. George Farnum reopened it, but after about three months, H.E. Noe took over its management. The school was discontinued about 1901.

Prof. Holmes died December 25, 1888. He had had some medical problems throughout his life. His wife, Sappho Lamoille (Morgan) Holmes, died July 8, 1898. Both are buried in Pine Lake Cemetery, Lot 110 of the Maple Hill section.

FERN EDDY SCHULTZ is La Porte County’s official Historian.

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