John Wilkinson was the son of Robert Wilkinson who came to West Creek Township in 1834. Robert staked his claim in 1835 at what is now 185th Avenue and Calumet Avenue, near Hadder's Road. The land, owned first by pioneer Charles Marvin, was known in later decades as the Dr. George Stuppy Farm. Robert Wilkinson was elected the first Probate Judge of Lake County in 1837 and held that position until the family moved to Missouri in 1849. Son John went west with his father but returned to Lake County at the time of the Civil War (1861-1865). His home was on the south side of Main Street near the Halsted residence.
Attorney Schuyler C. Dwyer, one of Lowell's early lawyers, wrote the following long ago: "I came to know John Wilkinson to be father-like, friendly and good natured, as I had occasions with my wife's parents (Dr. and Mrs. E.R. Bacon) to be passengers in his horse drawn, comfortable and well-fitted public stage running between Crown Point and Lowell, by way of the village of Tinkerville. The stage run took an average of two hours each way, owing to the early dirt roads and bad weather. We can thus understand how and why the stage owner earned a substantial living and competence by his steady government salary for carrying the mail and from the passenger fares for their riding the stage."
Like all drivers who carried the mail, Wilkinson was required by law to swear the Oath of Mail Contractors and Carriers. When a costly shipment was aboard the stage a shotgun guard was required to sit with the driver. Popular firearm of the guard was a sawed-off double-barrel shotgun.
With reins entangled in their fingers, the drivers controlled the horses with gentle but firm control. The reins were called ribbons by the drivers through which they could "talk" to any of the horses. The left hand held the reins while the right hand handled the friction brake or the whip as necessity dictated.
The design of the average stagecoach was high and wide to handle the rough, rutted roads of the country. The curved frame of the body gave it strength as well as a little more body room.
The perfectly formed wheels, properly fitted and balanced, stood up to decades of storms and the heat of the roads. The suspension was unique, with no steel springs, as the coach body rested on "through braces" made of thick bull hide that spared horses from jarring and gave a gentle, rocking motion. In his publication "Roughing It, 1870" author Mark Twain called the stage coach "an imposing cradle on wheels." But many riders described coach riding as "a cruel and unusual punishment!" Some stages weighed 2500 pounds, had thick leather and durable damask interior, and had a price tag of $1100.
Stage drivers enforced many rules when riding the stagecoach: 1. Abstinence from liquor is requested, but if you must drink, share the bottle. Do not be selfish or unneighborly. 2. If ladies are present, gentlemen are urged to forego smoking cigars and pipes. Chewing tobacco is permitted, but spit WITH the wind, not against it. 3. Do not "hog" the buffalo robes provided, the offender will be made to ride up with the driver. 4. Firearms may be kept on your person. Do not fire them for pleasure. 5. Gents guilty of unchivalrous behavior toward lady passengers will be put off the stage. It's a long walk back. A word to the wise is sufficient. 6. Don't snore loudly or use your neighbor's shoulder for a pillow. Friction may result. 7. No rough language will be allowed. 8. In the event of runaway horses, remain calm. Leaping from the coach in panic will leave you injured and at the mercy of the elements or hungry wolves. 9. Forbidden topics of discussion are stagecoach robberies and Indian uprisings.
Because Morse Street, the present route directly north from Lowell, is not completely shown on an old 1876 map of Lake County, Wilkinson might have used Cline Ave. north to what is now 155th Ave. on his way to the little village of Tinkerville (east of Creston) that was on the corner of 155th Ave. and Morse St. He would stop to see Postmaster Adelbert Palmer, then he would travel north on Morse to Reeder Road to go northeast to the intersection of the present 133rd Ave., once the site of the notorious Half Way House Tavern. He would guide his horses around the S curves on the way to Crown Point via Court Street. With the twice-daily round trip taking over four hours in all kinds of weather, it was a long day for men and beasts. The Tinkerville store, also the first Cedar Lake Post office, was moved to the village of Creston just before the Monon Railroad was built in the early 1880's. Floyd "Swede" Vinnedge was the owner and Postmaster at that same store decades later.
Stagecoach operator John B. Wilkinson, who was Master of Colfax Lodge in 1887, left the Lowell area in 1901 to join his sons in Oregon.
About the era of World War One, a more modern vehicle was used to take passengers and mail from Lowell to Crown Point. The Model T Ford motor bus with seats for about 15 passengers was called the "Jitney Bus" and stopped at the local hotels and railroad stations for passengers and mail for the twice daily round trip to Crown Point.
Passengers could ride the "Jitney" to Crown Point and then board the streetcar at Crown Point for the trip into downtown Gary. The first streetcar left Crown Point with 50 passengers and one bulldog (High School Mascot?) on July 31, 1912. The Gary and Southern Traction Company tracks were in the center of Main Street in Crown Point and on the west side of the highway right-of-way into the City of Gary, where many large department stores were then in operation on Broadway Ave. The "Crown Point-Gary Trolley" made 4 trips daily.
With the stagecoach, the little bus, local taxi service, four passenger trains to Chicago each day, and the later Greyhound bus service, the Town of Lowell had better transportation in the 'good old days' than we have now!
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