Why is the name Orr familiar in LP County history? It all started with this guy.

General Joseph Orr’s farm at the Summit near Johnson Road in 1840. (Click to enlarge)

By La Porte County Historian Bruce Johnson

One of the most fascinating and important individuals in the history of La Porte County was General Joseph Orr. He was born at Mount Rock in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania, on July 28, 1794. At the age of 5, he moved with his family in 1799 to Cincinnati in the Northwest Territory. When he was 18, the War of 1812 had begun and he volunteered his service. However, after being examined, he was considered too slim and was rejected.

General Joseph Orr

Following his marriage to Harriet Foster on Sept. 17, 1818, Joseph made several trips to settlements of Indiana in search of a location to move that would promise health and opportunity. He secured land near the present town of Greencastle, cleared the land, built a cabin, and returned for his wife and children. During this time, he trained the local militia and was honored with a brigadier general’s commission by Indiana Gov. James B. Ray.

In 1830, Orr was promoted and elected major general of the Eighth Division of the Indiana Militia. He also served for a time in the Indiana House of Representatives and the Indiana Senate.

In the fall of 1831, General Orr accompanied some friends on a trip north to Door Prairie, an area in La Porte County, where Major Isaac Elston had just purchased the site for Michigan City. Orr was struck by the beauty of the area and its lakes. The following week, he went to the agent in Logansport to reserve a tract of 1,100 acres. Then, in May 1832, he learned of the Black Hawk War in Illinois and the threats of possible attacks along the Sauk Trail at Door Prairie. Orr left for Chicago and on the way stopped at Door Prairie, where settlers had already begun building a stockade fort in Door Village.

When he reached Chicago, Orr received instructions from Gov. Noble of Indiana to organize volunteers to protect settlements in the Chicago area for 3 months. Orr raised a company of 88 men and went to Fort Dearborn, where it was planned that they would accompany General Winfield Scott on expedition against Black Hawk. However, in August, Black Hawk was captured and the threats were over.

La Porte County Historian Bruce Johnson

Finally, on Feb. 26, 1833, Orr left Greencastle to head to La Porte County with his wife, five children, three laborers, two wagons, seven yoke of cattle, one horse, four cows, sixty hogs, and household furniture. It was so cold that the Kankakee marsh was frozen, and they crossed it on the ice. He built his home on the Summit by Johnson Road, where his course of farming was a success and in time covered 4,000 acres. He furnished each of his 3 sons, William, Henry and Gilbert M.L. Orr, with their own farms.

General Joseph Orr was a lover of horticulture, floriculture and agriculture, and was the originator and first president of the La Porte County Fair in 1841. He also served several years as president of the state fair.

In 1867, Joseph was appointed by Gov. Morton to help establish a house of refuge for delinquent boys. After visiting several institutions, he drew plans that were adopted and land was purchased near Plainfield for the Indiana Reform School for Boys.

When he turned 70, Orr sold his large farm at the Summit and retired to a smaller La Porte County residence. Following an incredible life as a pioneer, farmer and dedicated servant to La Porte County and the State of Indiana, General Joseph Orr died March 1, 1878, at the age of 83. He is buried in Pine Lake Cemetery.

Bruce R. Johnson is an educator, historian, genealogist, lecturer, musician, photographer, and world traveler. He serves on numerous boards of directors, including the La Porte County Historical Society. Email him at mrjsc@csinet.net.

12 Responses to “Why is the name Orr familiar in LP County history? It all started with this guy.”

  1. jim ellinger

    Sep 22. 2021

    Thanks Mr. Johnson great story .

    Reply to this comment
  2. Rick Henderson

    Sep 22. 2021

    Excellent article and information!

    Reply to this comment
    • ILUVLP

      Sep 22. 2021

      Isn’t that the same property that the huge amount of Indian artifacts in the LP Museum came from?
      To anyone that hasn’t seen this collection, I would highly recommend it.
      Thanks for the great story Bruce.

      Reply to this comment
  3. Suzanne McKay

    Sep 22. 2021

    Bruce! This was a really enjoyable read!! What an incredible man!! I used to have a DR. ORR, on The Mojave Desert.

    I look forward to reading more of your writings!!

    Sincerely,

    Suzanne

    Reply to this comment
  4. Raymond Kalita

    Sep 22. 2021

    So, is the smaller farm that Orr moved to the one on Orr road currently owned by the Perchke’s?

    Reply to this comment
  5. Helenann

    Sep 22. 2021

    Enjoyable read. Thanks.

    Reply to this comment
  6. Kipp Bell

    Sep 22. 2021

    Great story! I’ve lived in La Porte county my entire life and have never heard this.

    Reply to this comment
  7. James Schweizer

    Sep 22. 2021

    Great read!

    Reply to this comment
  8. Doug

    Sep 22. 2021

    Fascinating to read about the pioneers and early settlers of our county. It must have been a rough life in many ways, but imagine being among the first to arrive, settle and farm the land!

    Reply to this comment
  9. P.D. Harwood

    Sep 22. 2021

    Great history lesson a usual Bruce I always look forward to your next golden nugget of history. Again thank You for all your hard work.

    Reply to this comment
  10. Nicole Thode

    Sep 22. 2021

    Great read….thank you so very much in sharing

    Reply to this comment

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