Pioneer History by Richard C. Schmal

The Solon Robinson Story

(from the Jan. 25, 2000, Lowell Tribune, page 10)

[NOTE: Solon Robinson was born in Tolland, Connecticut, Oct. 21, 1803. As a young man he moved to Ohio where he was married to Mariah Evans in 1830. The newlyweds soon moved to the southeast corner of Indiana.]

"It was the last day of October, 1834, when I first entered this 'arm of the Grand Prairie;' for miles around stretched forth one broad expanse of clear open land. I stood alone, wrapt up in that peculiar sensation that man only feels when beholding a prairie for the first time -- it is an indescribable, delightful feeling. What could exceed the beauty of this spot? Why should we seek farther?"

These were the words of pioneer Solon Robinson as he talked about the day that he and his party emerged from the woods near Deep River, looking west toward the present site of Crown Point.

Solon Robinson was born in Connecticut. In 1803 he moved to Ohio, where he was married in 1830, but soon moved to the southeast corner of Indiana.

His trek to Lake County began at Jennings County in 1834. Traveling with several wagons pulled by oxen, the group included Robinson and his bride, their two small children, and two young men with the last name Curtis. They traveled northwest, no doubt taking advantage of the new "Michigan Road" from Madison by the way of Indianapolis and Logansport, then barely a trail.

Robinson bought land and became the founder of Crown Point, where he was in business and where he became very interested in writing and preserving the history and customs of the pioneers. In 1847 he wrote notes for a long speech which he gave at a meeting of the early settlers, urging all present to preserve the memories of the past.

His notes for History of Lake County, 1834 to 1847 were found in the effects of 1843 pioneer Amos Allman. They were published in a Lake County newspaper as a serial in 1916 and as a feature story in the History of Lake County, Volume X, published by the Lake County Historical Association in 1929 (available at the Lowell Public Library).

The following interesting stories about south Lake County were included in Robinson's oration of 1847:

"Cedar Lake (1834) was then the center of attraction for land lookers -- many came just to speculate with hopes of selling at a profit later."

Many travelers were aided in their journeys by crude signs placed along the trails -- signs such as "5 miles north to Solon Robinson's" were a welcome sight for early pioneers.

Some settlers made the mistake of arriving in the fall without sufficient supplies to survive the cold winter, especially during the severe winter of 1834-35.

The Bryant settlement at Pleasant Grove (Hendricks St. and 161st Ave.) commenced in the spring of 1835, when pioneer Agnew, spouse of one of the Bryant daughters, lost his way in an April 4 snowstorm and died on the prairie.

"Considerable quantity of corn, oats, buckwheat, turnips and potatoes were raised in the spring of 1835. Wheat sold for $1.50 per bushel."

"Lake County was attached to Porter County in 1836" (until Lake County was founded in 1837).

"Lots sold in the town of Liverpool (northwest of Hobart) in 1836 for a total of $18,000 -- which is 18,000 times as much as the whole town is worth now [1847]."

The crude signboards erected by Solon Robinson helped in a great way to sell merchandise at his Crown Point store, especially during the winter of 1836-37. He wrote that his best customers were the Potawatomi Indians, who dwelt nearby in great numbers and who traded furs and cranberries for goods.

Robinson wrote that one of the early saw mills began operation in 1837, with lumber selling from $15 to $35 for a thousand feet. Nails were 15¢ per pound, glass $4.50 a box, and shingles were selling for $3 a thousand. Food prices that year: flour by the barrel was $10, pork by the barrel was $25, bacon averaged 15¢ per pound, butter was 27¢ a pound, fresh pork was 8¢ per pound, and cows sold for an average of $30.

One of the first three bridges in Lake County was built over West Creek on 85th Avenue by 1837 pioneer Nehemiah Hayden for the sum of $400.

"The summers of 1836 and 1837 were most excessive wet ones, but there was a severe drought and great sickness during the summer of 1838, with probably more deaths than any year up to this time. Muskrats were found wandering about in search of water and one even came into my house to drink from the old oaken bucket. Many wells went dry that year, and the springs dried up," wrote Robinson.

"In regard to Cedar Lake, that beautiful sheet of water was so affected [by the drought] that all around the edge it was covered with a thick scum so offensive that no one could use the water without being disgusted."

Robinson wrote that when pioneer storekeeper Dr. Lilley of Cedar Lake died in 1839, the population of that area had diminished to include only two or three of the original 20 families.

He noted that during the summer of 1840 the wheat crop was completely lost to blight, disease and rust. In 1841 the early settlers benefitted from the first grist mill -- the Wood's Mill at Deep River -- operated that year by Charles Wilson. Robinson predicted that the time would soon come when centrifugal wind mills would appear "all over the county."

A larger bounty on prairie wolves proved to be an aid to farmers who were in the sheep growing business. Work in the fields slowed almost to a stand still during the hot summer of 1846, because most of the farmers were too sick to work.

Robinson listed the population of Lake County in 1847 at 3,000. He noted that the county counted the heads of families and multiplied by five to arrive at that figure.

Robinson also wrote about the mail route, established in 1847 from Valparaiso to West Creek Township (weekly), as well as one from City West, an 1836 village about ten miles west of Michigan City, occupied for only a few years.

"There have also been other beginnings of saw mills [1847], one on Plum Creek, and one on Cedar Creek." The last one could be the saw mill which Melvin Halsted rebuilt in 1848, near Main Street bridge in Lowell.

Robinson wrote that two brick houses were built in the year 1847 -- the Melvin Halsted house on Main Street in Lowell, built in 1850, was another one of the first brick dwellings in the country.

One of Solon Robinson's last paragraphs: "I will ask for no prouder monument to my fame than to be assured that the members of this society will stand as mourners around my grave and shall truly say 'There lies a brother who in his life had an ardent desire to promote the happiness of his fellow creatures.'"

It is doubtful that many of those members were at his funeral, for he died in Florida in 1880 at the age of 77 and was buried in a local churchyard. But in October 1993 the Crown Point Founder's Committee brought his remains back to Crown Point, and the words of his request were repeated over the new tomb of Solon Robinson, pioneer, founder, builder, writer and historian.


Last updated on October 15, 2005.

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