Our story this month tells of the progress and perils of the pioneers and their families about sixty years after they came to the south Lake County area. Lake County had grown from a small group of settlers to a population of 33,000 by then.
One of the perils of the time was fire -- for in 1895 much of the Kankakee Marsh burned, and the farmers were busy trying to save the crops and their buildings. Another peril happened at 5 a.m. on Oct. 31, 1895, when an earthquake shook the village of Crown Point, although no damage was reported.
As for progress, vegetation in the spring of 1896 was unusually forward, the condition continuing throughout the summer, with a very fine harvest in the fall.
On Mon., Oct. 21, 1895, the town trustees of Crown Point accepted a contract for the digging of a water system on Grant St. Water was found on Dec. 24 at a depth of 180 feet. Two more wells were dug at depths of 60 and 70 feet, and plenty of water was there to fill the new water tower, 100 feet high and 12 feet in diameter.
In the year 1896 there were several banks in Lake County: two in Crown Point, one in Lowell (State Bank), one in Hobart, one in East Chicago and one in Whiting.
Much construction began in 1895, and in Lowell a $12,000 school was erected (finished in 1896) on Main St., and a large commercial building was built, along with many homes.
In August of 1896 the Crown Point Telephone Co. was busy erecting poles and hanging wires over most of the town.
In February 1897 the 60th anniversary of the establishment of Lake County was celebrated. The election in November of that year brought out over 8,000 voters for the presidential balloting. Willliam Jennings Bryan garnered 3,384, and the winner, McKinley, received 4,883 votes. In Lowell the total number of voters was 300.
In 1897 there were 254 children in the Eagle Creek Schools; 328 in Cedar Creek Schools; West Creek had 411; and Lowell boasted 356. In all of Lake County, there were nearly 10,000 students.
On a Wed., Oct. 20, 1897, the second St. Edward Catholic Church building was dedicated on Castle St. in Lowell (this building burned in 1914). A large crowd attended, with six churches from the surrounding area represented.
In 1897 at Lowell, a fine bell was installed on a 40-foot high tower, with the bell and fixtures weighing 460 pounds. The tower was placed on the town square, now Senior Citizens Park. [2001 note: What was once known as 'Senior Citizens Park' has changed back to the name it had in early days. It is once again known as 'Olde Towne Square.']
More perils: In December 1897 fire destroyed a large building known as the first hotel in the village of Shelby, owned for a time by the Agricultural Co.
Lowell had its share of problems in 1897. On June 6 a fire destroyed an elevator, a warehouse, hay barns, and coal sheds all along the old railroad siding just north of Washington St. and stopped at Liberty St. Business owners suffering losses were Nichols, Dinwiddie, McNay, Baughman, and Ackerman. It was believed to have been caused by lightning.
Lowell was just recovering from this disaster when, on Oct. 4, 1898, fire burned nearly all of the businesses on the north side of Commercial Ave. in downtown Lowell, a fire that was believed to have been set by an arsonist. But soon the burned out wooden buildings were replaced by more sturdy brick structures.
That same year the Spanish-American War began on Apr. 21, lasting 16 weeks until Fri., Aug. 12. Eight men from the Three Creek townships went off to this war.
Also in 1898, the number of families in Lowell was about 300, for historian (Rev.) Timothy H. Ball wrote that he rode into town on his horse and actually counted the homes.
In the 1850 census there were 715 families in Lake County, while that number had grown to over 10,000 families by 1889.
The year 1899 was a busy year for road building all over Lake County, and more money was spent than in any previous year on that project.
Many of the descendents of the pioneers, with a renewed adventurous spirit inherited from the earlier settlers, rode off to Alaska in search of gold in 1900.
As Rev. Ball wrote in 1884, after 50 years of pioneer progress and perils: "We have been making history, we have taken from the wilds what we expect to leave as heritages to our children; we have laid the foundation for homes and burial places, monuments and churches."
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