Early in 1904 Melvin Halsted, founder of Lowell, wrote a brief but graphic history of our railroad for The Lowell Tribune. The editor of the Tribune wrote: "Below will be found a well-written article from the pen of our venerable townsman, M.A. Halsted, who is now 83 years old, but with the mind as vigorous as most men at 50.
His interest has never lagged since he laid out the first 16 lots and built the first mill, which is one of the most prominent factors, next to the railroad, in making our town what it is today, and to him belongs all the credit for the mill and much for our railroad."
Here is Halsted's original article:
About the year 1869 the Indianapolis, Delphi & Chicago railroad was started and preliminary survey was made after three or four years. The Chicago and South Atlantic Railroad arranged with the former company to build the road. I saw the officers of the latter named company on my way to Utah in 1873, and talked the matter over with them. Early in the spring of 1873, I received a letter saying that they were ready to build the railroad, so I left a six dollar-a-day position and came to Chicago and entered into a contract to construct the road.
I came home to Lowell and lone-handed took several thousand dollars worth of notes, obtained the right-of-way for proposed road, took a great number of deeds, helped survey and select the route, vote Cedar Creek and West Creek townships, and had work on the road under way by the middle of August, 1874. By the end of 1875 most of the grading was completed.
About the year 1877, Yeoman, Hegler & Co., of Ohio, made arrangements to put a narrow gauge track on the line. After 40 miles of track had been built from Delphi to Rensselaer, and cars were running, the road was bought by Henry Crawford and it was called the Indianapolis, Delphi & Chicago Air Line. The road has changed names several times. Crawford finished and ironed the road and ran the first mail train to Lowell in April, 1881. The road is now called the Monon Route.
I did grading and bridging to the amount of $85,000; received $65,000 and was kept out of $20,000 nearly thirty years. The principle and interest would bring this sum up to $50,000. I was compelled to law the company for twenty-five years, winning all the first suits. The company appealed many times, and offered us 50 percent, which we refused to accept. The lawsuit went against us and we lost all. There were many of our friends who also lost money.
During my endeavor to build the railroad many good men repeatedly told me that I would never get the road as it was too much to expect, and otherwise good men put many obstacles in the way. When I condemned farms, the appraisers, being from the middle of the county, would set the price two or three times as high as I had bought adjoining land for, but their schemes failed to defeat us. The very men who were largely benefitted voted against the tax, with the hope of defeating the great enterprise. The few dollars they would keep in their pockets was better than a railroad. How is it now, with land so much higher.
South of Cedar Lake, the people were generally very willing to give the right of way. Lake Meyers and Van Holland [Hollen?] were friendly. Peter Teland [Thielen?] (God bless him) gave right-of-way across his large farm; he also gave cash across two farms south of his and gave four acres for depot purposes at St. John. F. Keilman and Gerlach treated us well. L. Keilman and DuBrueill rendered us every assistance in their power. It cost us from $100 to $500 cash to cross several farms, and that was thirty years ago.
When you stop and think of the vast benefit to the people of our community today, it seems strange that there should have been anyone who would have opposed the enterprise. I realized what it meant for our community and I am glad it is here.
Two years after Mr. Halsted wrote the story about the railroad, away he went to Nebraska with his grandson, Clifford Halsted. He became a pioneer again at the age of 85, homesteading hundreds of acres near Harrison, Nebraska.
In 1906, at the age of 85, Halsted married the 67-year-old widow of Palmer Cross, who did not share his love for the pioneer life in a sod house, decided to stay in Lowell, and the holdings in Nebraska were sold.
This second wife was Sarah Drennen Cross. Her granddaughter, Leota Klein Swanson, then 19 years of age, was her ward, went on the honeymoon with the Halsteds, and lived with them for a short time.
Years back, Leota visited the Halsted home and presented the Three Creeks Historical Association with the whale oil lamp currently displayed on the fireplace mantle in the house.
Sarah Drennen Cross Halsted died in 1909 at the age of 70, only three years after her marriage, and was buried in the Lowell Cemetery beside her first husband, Palmer Cross, who had died in 1900. [NOTE: The Lowell Cemetery Index at the public library indicated that she died in 1909, but Melvin Halsted's obituary put the year as 1911.]
During his long and exciting career, Halsted spent many years in the real estate business in the Town of Lowell, with his name on many subdivisions and additions. The first part of Lowell was in the area of Main, Clark, Mill and Jefferson Streets, 16 same-sized lots.
He made even more trips in 1913, by railroad, to Boston to visit relatives and to California to visit old friends and to see some old familiar places that he had visited during his past adventures.
About the year 1914 Melvin Halsted suffered a bad fall and was injured to such an extent that he lost the use of his lower limbs. At that time he was living with his oldest son, William, at Auburn, Kansas.
Melvin Amos Halsted died at his son's home in Kansas, at nearly 95 years of age, William brought his father's remains back to Lowell for burial at West Creek Cemetery, not far from his former 1845 farm in that township. The services were in charge of Colfax Masonic Lodge No. 378, where Melvin was a charter member and one of the oldest.
Schuyler Colfax Dwyer, prominent Lowell attorney and grandson of pioneer Jabez Clark, had this to say in August 1925, as he was giving an oration at the dedication of the memorial plaques at the old 1896 school on Main Street: "If any big undertaking was suggested it was: 'See Halsted.'" (Dwyer was talking as if Mr. Halsted was in the big crowd.) "There wasn't anything you wouldn't tackle, and keep at it until it was worked out, regardless of financial returns to yourself. Your equal in morality and abstemiousness is not to be found. Your longevity of [nearly] 95 years helps confirm the statement."
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