On Aug. 1, 1896, a large crowd of Lowell area residents gathered to witness the laying of the cornerstone of the first Lowell High School building. Many of the participants were members of the pioneer families of Lowell. Edward P. Ames of Colfax Masonic Lodge 378 of Lowell was appointed deputy grand master for the occasion, assisted by officers and members from Crown Point, Hebron, Hobart and Merrillville. Joseph Clark, the first master of the Colfax Lodge, was also serving as master in 1896.
Over fifty articles were proudly placed in a copper box and sealed within the granite stone during the ceremony.
Nearly ninety years later, on Jan. 18, 1986, this fine stone was carefully opened by the owner of the Main St. building, Edward Zunica. Richard Schmal, historian of the Three Creeks Historical Assn., was invited to attend as an observer.
Sadly, the two men looked upon the remnants of those articles so carefully sealed within the stone years ago. Many of the documents were heavy with moisture and decay, and some were only crumbled piles of brown paper. The well-sealed stone had somehow drawn moisture through the years.
The sadness turned to joy when some of the articles were found to be in fair condition, and able to be restored. Two newspapers, a Lowell Tribune of July 24, 1896, and a Crown Point Register, dated July 30, 1896, are still legible.
Also found was an 1881 one-cent coin with "Louis Berg, P.M. 1896" engraved on one side. Berg was the Lowell postmaster at the time.
There was a business plate engraved "E.J. Pixley, Jeweler." None of the business cards were saved, however.
Among several coins was a Columbian half-dollar, minted during the Chicago World's Fair of 1893. A metal match safe was in fair condition. One interesting item was the vial of black pills placed inside by George Waters, druggist. There was a bit of paper with the vial which read "Jaynes Sanative Pills," a laxative and cureall. Waters was the builder of the present Colfax Lodge building, and had his drug store there earlier before it was lost in the big fire of 1898. A lapel button placed by Will Nichols, a member of the Grand Army of the Republic, survived the years intact.
A very important manuscript was found, wrapped carefully with a colored ribbon, in a very delicate condition. This 17-page document is a history of Lowell from its beginning to 1896, composed by Lowell Tribune newspaperman H.H. Ragon. Proper care was given these pages; they were enlarged on a modern copier and are now legible for the most part. The manuscript is being prepared for publication soon.
The last decade of the 1800's was apparently an era when the citizens of Lowell banded together to form clubs and organizations, for many of the rosters which had deteriorated in the copper box were for groups founded in the 1890's. Many of those rosters, however, were also included in Ragon's story. Some of the rosters destroyed were from the Colfax Lodge Knights of Columbia, Fleur De Lis Temple Pythian, Odd Fellows, K of P, Grand Army of the Republic, Cedar Creek Trustees, and the Monon Time Table. The time table is also shown in one of the restored newspapers.
Also decayed was a program from the First Annual Commencement of Cedar Creek Township District Schools, a Duplicate School Bond, the H.H. Purdy Family Record, a Chicago World's Fair ticket from 1893, a note from the H. Dickinson Family, an application for Lake County Farmers Mutual Ins. Co., a builders contract for the. old schoolhouse, cards from the Jacob Baughman Family, and a muster out roll from J.A. Clark.
Two former campaign buttons for the McKinley presidential election were only rusted circles of metal when unearthed. A public display of the items is being planned for the month of April at the Lowell Public Library.
The following is a tidbit extracted from the story by Ragon: "In the year 1836, four persons built cabins within the present limits of Lowell. Of these early settlers who had no thought of a town being built hear (sp) at that time, all so far as we have any knowledge have passed to the great beyond, but Mr. Nichols, who little dreamed that he should, sixty years later, be present at the laying of the cornerstone of such a magnificent structure dedicated to the uses of education."
The 1896 building, used for both a high school and grade school, was completed at a cost of $14,000, and was first occupied in November 30, 1896. During the erection of the building, the following composed the School Board: W.L. Handley, president; E.R. Bacon, treasurer; and George Waters, secretary. William Sheets was one of the early superintendents, D.A. Norris served a principal, and Luella Fuller was the assistant principal. Among the early teachers were Winifred Deathe, Anna Sheets, Clifford Wiley and Elizabeth Grant.
The old school, remodeled over the years, has survived without its original steeple over the bell tower. Now privately owned, it has been used by antique dealers for more than a decade.
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