(from the Sept. 26, 1984, Lowell Tribune, page 19)
In September, 1981, the "Pioneer History" column told the story of Melvin Halsted's life as an early settler and farmer in West Creek Township. At the end of the column we wrote "The Pioneer History column will continue with the story of his later life and with the story of the early town of Lowell" -- but time passed quickly as more information about Halsted was being collected to make the story more complete. Now, three years later, we have many more facts and details of his life, although we are sure there are even more stories of his adventures not recorded.
Early Lake County historian Rev. Timothy Ball wrote the following in 1891: "Perfect history, including the events of many years, has not been written. Man does not, in anything, easily attain perfection." He explained that in his writings he had endeavored to record history as accurate and perfect as he possibly could. After careful research, we too, will tell the story of the founder of Lowell, Indiana as accurately as possible.
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Melvin Amos Halsted was born Mar, 29, 1821, the son of William and Patty (Haskin) Halsted, in Rensselaer County, New York, where his father farmed an estate on the Hudson River, It has been written that his family can be traced to William the Conqueror, King of England, who lived 1027-1087.
His grandparents were Joseph and Katie (Agan) Halsted and Enoch and Lydia (Ackly) Haskin. His great grandfather Halsted, also a large land owner in New York state, was a Baptist minister. Melvin lived on the farm in New York, attended the local primary school and high school in Bennington, Vermont. After the death of his father in 1837, Melvin moved with his mother to Dayton in Montgomery County, Ohio, where he engaged in farming.
In 1842, he married Martha C. Foster, daughter of Elijah D. and Ruth C. (Nichols) Foster of Troy, Pa. They continued to live in Ohio until 1845, when a decision was made to move to Lake County, Ind., where they purchased an 80-acre farm west of Lowell in West Creek Township, on what is now Belshaw Rd.
The following is from a story that Halsted wrote on Aug. 31, 1906: "In the early fall of 1844, I, M.A. Halsted, came, with my young family to Lake County, Indiana, on a visit, and was so well pleased with the new country that I lost no time after I had gone back to Dayton, Ohio, in selling my farm and stock and getting ready to move. I was compelled to move by team."
Melvin also told of a cabin on the land which was constructed without sawed lunber, glass, metal or brick. He farmed this land for three years, then moved to the area that was to become the Town of Lowell, living in a cabin near the present Monon Depot.
Before this time, a few claims had been made on the land. One of these, made in 1835, was entered for a mill site by pioneer Samuel Halstead, not believed to be a relative of Melvin's.
Melvin went into partnership with O.E. Haskin, and purchased the mill site land from pioneer Abram Nichols. This site was originally purchased from the government by the Wabash and Erie Canal Company. By January, 1849, the partners had a saw mill in operation near the present Halsted and Main Streets.
A kiln was soon in operation also, and it is claimed that they burned 400,000 brick, some of which were used for the well-built Halsted House, a mansion in its day and still standing at the corner of Halsted & Main Streets. The house is currently owned by the Three Creeks Historical Assn. and is on the National Register of Historical Places.
About 1950, historian Beulah Plummer Brannon wrote: "In connection with the Halsted-Foster families, a rather unusual happening took place. On Nov. 29, 1850, Mr. Halsted's mother-in-law, Mrs. Ruth Cornelia Foster, passed away. The following day, Nov. 30, his own mother, Mrs. Patty Halsted, died. These ladies had been good friends and neighbors and they were buried in a double grave at West Creek Township."
After his mother passed away, Mr. Halsted was lured by the discovery of gold in Californiam and he set out toward the dangerous and deadly plains for the first time. He started on horseback, then drove teams of oxen, and finished the trip of over 100 days with mule teams. He was able to acquire a fortune in the gold fields and returned to Lowell in 1852 to invest his money.
Melvin purchased the interest of his partner, O.E. Haskin, and erected a flour mill, completed in 1853. This mill is shown on the original plat of Lowell, dated 1853, on Mill St. at the west end of Jefferson St., with a map showing a flume of wood coming from the dam at Main St. to the mill, and a race returning the water to Cedar Creek. The machinery for the mill was hauled from Chicago in wagons.
About the same time, a small brick school house was built at what is now 408 E. Commercial Ave. Historian Ball wrote that this was the site of the first meeting of the Baptist Church of Lowell, organized Jan. 20, 1856. Their own building at the corner of Mill and Main Sts. was dedicated in June, 1857.
This church building, also of brick, was built under the supervision of Halsted at a cost of $2,000 and was torn down about 1905. The present building on he site was erected in 1907 by the Presbyterian Church, and was later used by several denominations.
Halsted served as Sunday School superintendent under the pastorate of Rev. John Bruce at the Baptist Church.
Melvin Halsted began platting the town of Lowell in 1852 and the plat is dated May 13, 1853, showing 16 lots, all the same size, which were given to his employees to start the new village.
Influenced again by the spirit of adventure, Melvin sold his property in Lowell in 1857 and moved to Kinmundy, a small village in southern Illinois just south of Effingham. Here he built a grist mill and a saw mill, staying in business there for two years.
He left Kinmundy in 1859, stirred by the spirit of the west, to travel again to California. There he built another flour mill thirty miles south of San Francisco, which he sold in 1861 for $12,000, and returned to his Illinois village. He stayed but four months when he had the urge to return to the west. He traveled back to the San Francisco area, where he mined at Gold Hill for three years, and also built four houses for rental purposes.
He evidently made a small fortune during those years, because in January, 1864, he was able to return to Lowell, where he found his original property for sale. He purchased his old property and also the McCarty Mill at Pleasant Grove (Lake Dalecarlia). He remodeled his mills, put them in excellent working condition, and stayed in the flour business while other busy projects crowded his mind.
After the close of the Civil War in 1865, he traveled to Mississippi to raise cotton, but this venture was a failure. It is probable that he made other trips to the southern states to investigate the lumber business.
Thru his influence a stagecoach route was established between Lowell and Crown Point. It carried mail and passengers, with an average travel time of two hours one way, depending on the roads. This route was operated by John Wilkinson, pioneer of West Township.
Halsted ran his mills in the Lowell area until 1869, when he sold out to make another trip to California. He settled at Valejo, near San Francisco, where he built 14 houses which he rented. He owned these until 1872. About that time he took part in a hunting expedition off the island of Santa Barbara. He captured four sea lions which he sold to showman John Robinson for $1,200.
Still in 1872, he returned to his Lowell home, where he supervised the building of a two-story brick school house. This schoolhouse was erected on the same land on Main St. near the present Lowell Library [which now, in 1997, is the Town Hall] where the larger school was built in 1896.
The cost of the earlier school was $8,000, about the same amount spent on a new, three-story mill building near the dam on Main St., which housed the Home Manufacturing Co. of which Halsted was a stockholder. The company manufactured farm equipment, including wagons, plows and cultivators. The business failed because they were not able to produce proper quantities.
Another trip took Halsted to Utah Territory, where he worked as superintendent of a silver mine until 1873. He returned to Lowell and took a special interest in secuting a railroad for the area. He worked hard for this cause and because of his influence, a 2% tax was voted for a railroad.
The road was opened thru Lowell in 1880 by the Louisville, New Albany and Chicago Co. Most of the grading had been done in 1874, before the trains were running, by a stock company organized by Halsted.
There was some freight and passenger business the first year, but regularly scheduled trains did not run until 1881. Halsted's work was valued at $85,000, but he received only $65,000 for his efforts. He was, however, proclaimed the 'Railroad King' of his day.
Halsted spent many years in the real estate business in Lowell, starting additions to his favorite town. But he still dreamed of new horizons.
At the age of 85, in 1906, he traveled with his grandson, Clifford Halsted, to Harrison, Neb., where he became a pioneer again, homesteading 320 acres. He later sold his holdings there.
Martha, his wife, passed away in 1899, and in 1906, Halsted married Mrs. Palmer Cross, mother of Rev. Ellis Cross. She passed away in 1911.* Two sons were born to Martha and Melvin. Son William lived in Kansas, and son Theron lived in Lowell and later in Boston, Mass. One daughter, Mary Theresa, died at the age of seven in 1857, and an infant daughter died in 1865.
In 1913, at the age of 92, Melvin Halsted made his seventh trip to the west, going alone to California again. The spirit of adventure played a great part in his life, and most of his travels were for business reasons.
Melvin died on Mar. 26, 1915, at the home of his son, William, in Auburn, Kan., at nearly 94 years of age. He was a charter member of the Masonic Lodge of Lowell and lodge members met the train bearing his remains. He was buried in the West Creek Cemetery beside his first wife, Martha Foster Halsted.
Melvin Halsted was truly a "Pioneer, Builder and Adventurer."
* NOTE -- Although this essay listed the date of death for Mr. Halsted's second wife as 1911, an unidentified newspaper obituary listed it as 1909. The Lowell Cemetery Index at the public library also indicated that she died in 1909, but Melvin Halsted's obituary put the year as 1911.