Pioneer History by Richard C. Schmal

Changes and Growth in Our Town

(from the Sept. 30, 1997, Lowell Tribune, page 12)

Plat of Lowell, 1852

When the area that was to become Lowell was surveyed in 1834, it represented a big change for the pioneers, for it allowed them to settle on the land as squatters. Soon another change took place, as Lake County was founded in 1837. Those pioneers soon made many changes of their own by clearing the land for farming and building their homes.

Years have changed most of the relics of the past, including the homes of those early settlers, changed by the growth of the area and by the elements. Their lives were changed greatly when the first industries came -- a saw mill and grist mill, both water powered, made lumber available, and people changed from log houses to frame. With the mill close by, their trips to the mill were shortened when they hauled their corn to be ground.

Cedar Creek, the stream which furnished the water power for the mills, also saw changes along with growth, as it was changed from a divided stream near the old mills to the "Lowell Ditch," which took away the curves that meandered through what is now Liberty Park. The ditch was dug about the time the railroad came in the early 1880's.

The railroad was another change, indeed, for along with it came growth, a healthy economy, and many new business ventures, including hotels, a stock yard, grain elevators, livery stables and many other types of stores.

Growth has made many changes and many of those early buildings are long gone, with a few exceptions. A hotel building built in 1860 is still standing on the west side of town, and a building erected for a livery stable is now a furniture store in the downtown shopping area. The original depot was destroyed by a big train wreck in 1952, and one elevator building survived until a few years ago, while another was demolished in 1927.

Commercial Ave., once known as "the County Road," also has seen many changes caused by growth. It changed from a dusty dirt road bordered by wooden sidewalks to stone, and soon that was wet down with an application of tar. The big change came in the late 1920's when a wider concrete road was built, and the thoroughfare was changed from the "county road" to Indiana Rt. 2, with the honorary name of the "Harding Highway" (named after President Harding). Years and wear made changes, and the road is now blacktopped.

In the early days of that dirt road, the streets were lit with kerosene street lights, and the old lamp lighter would be at work, but these were changed when Lowell had its first steam-powered light plant (1897), and electric lights hung across the roadway. These were replaced by cast iron ornamental lamp posts with huge white glass globes, changed again when the present lights were installed to brighten up the street.

After many years of using water from wells dug and drilled, a big change took place for the people of Lowell when the town's first deep well was put into operation just before 1900. Townspeople began to drink "Nature's Tonic, Lowell's sulphur water," the area becoming a plumber's paradise due to the corrosive quality of that soft water. But with growth came the need for a larger supply of water, and another source had to be found. Wells were finally drilled south of Lowell after efforts to pipe Lake Michigan water in were thwarted.

Big changes took place through the years when fire destroyed downtown businesses and homes. The big fire of 1898 destroyed several blocks of frame business buildings, but also caused a new growth as the buildings were almost all replaced with brick structures.

Town government experienced changes along with growth, as the early "town dads" were a Town Board of three persons, with one treasurer and one clerk, as compared to the change to the present Town Council of five council members, a clerk-treasurer, and a town manager. Law enforcement was taken care of by a Marshall, who was backed up by a Justice of the Peace, and a night watchman was also employed to specifically watch for fires on the wooden shingled roofs. The present Police Dept. has seen many changes with the growth of the community, and now is comprised of a chief, ranking officers, radio operators and a three-member Police Commission to set policy.

Can you imagine children roller skating on that new cement road of the 1920's? Growth has made a mighty change in Lowell's traffic, compared to those early days when only an occasional vehicle would come along. With growth, the town now even has "rush hours" along the avenue where four stop lights now control the traffic on the one main thoroughfare.

The Lowell parks system began years ago when the railroad allowed clubs in town to decorate the little triangle plot near the depot.

In the early 1900's, Oakland Park was purchased from the Lowell Gun Club and was used for a town park until the land was sold for school purposes. Then Evergreen Park brought a big change, as it turned a swamp that the old timer remembers (also an evergreen nursery) into a very pretty playground park and fishing lake. More changes came when Liberty Park, once a part of the town dump, was developed and landscaped. Like Reservation Park in Indian Heights, other small parks have been installed in new neighborhoods. The newly-acquired Bonnie Lake Park in the eastern part of town has recently been added to the list as a nature preserve.

One of the few pioneer homes still standing is the Halsted House, built by Lowell's founder Melvin Halsted in 1850, while many of the old Victorian homes have been restored or are in the process of being updated. Action has begun for further preservation of the Halsted House, with a goal of opening it to the public.

Transportation services seem to have taken a backward turn, not that we would want to ride a model T bus to Crown Point and a trolley further north. That was possible in the 1920's, but for years we had a choice of at least two passenger trains to Chicago on the Monon, a well-known bus line that had regular stops here, or a taxi service. There have been changes in transportation, but not growth.

Cultural growth also backed up somewhat when the last movie theatre closed its doors in the 1980's. The Palo was the last of at least four movie houses, which also included the Lyric, the Grand and the Ritz.

Our growth has made huge changes, as the old timber groves and the pastures of the pioneers became subdivisions, with single-family homes, duplexes, town houses and condos. But a few of those old fields are still growing grain in the vicinity of shopping centers and fast food restaurants, while approximately 500 acres of an 1849 Irish family farm now forms nearby Buckley Homestead County Park, a true link to the past.

Last updated on March 16, 2002.

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