Indian ladies stood near the chiefs during an important council fire to listen to the history being made so the important information could be passed on to future generations.
Most communication during the pioneer days was face to face and by the written word, and sometimes it took many weeks for the news to arrive at lonely outposts. Sometimes, when letters were mailed from 'back East,' on the envelope was written, "Put on the next wagon to Lowell, In." If properly delivered, the recipient would pay the postage. By 1836 one of the early mail routes through south Lake County was the "Peoria Route" which came from Michigan City, through Crown Point, then headed for the Illinois city, stopping at the West Creek Post Office on the way. The mail was carried by stagecoaches or by young riders on horseback. The West Creek Post Office was at the Joshua Spalding (postmaster) farm on what is now Calumet Ave., later called the "Ervie Brown place." Mail was delivered in later years to the Lanthus Post Office at the Bailey Homestead.
Another mail route followed a trail from Deep River to Orchard Grove, east of Lowell, then turned toward Illinois State. In 1838, just a few years after the first pioneers arrived, there was a short mail route from Crown Point to West Creek; by 1847 post offices in south Lake County had mail delivered twice weekly, and the "Outlet Post Office" began about 1843 at the present site of the newly remodeled Lowell High School near where the pioneers called "Sanger's Corner." Many of the post offices were in small general stores where members of the community would come to get their mail and "communicate" near the cracker barrel and the pot-bellied stove, the store owner being the Postmaster.
Faithful postal employees and transportation were two important elements in mail delivery. Mail was delivered by foot, horseback, stagecoach, steamboat, canal boat, railroad and all the modern types of transportation to follow. For a short time the Pony Express was used to carry the mail in Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, and California. An ad appeared in the papers in 1860: "Wanted, young, skinny, wiry fellow not over 18, must be expert rider willing to risk death daily. Orphans preferred." Those hired rode 75 to 100 miles a day, changing horses frequently. It was not a part of the U.S. Postal Service until July1, 1861, and was replaced by the telegraph on Oct. 24, 1861.
"For my part, I entertain a high idea of the utility of periodical publications; insomuch as I could heartily desire, copies of magazines, as well as common Gazettes, might be spread through every city, town, and village in the United States." -- George Washington, 1788. Our country's mail system was soon busy spreading the news, 346 newspapers were being printed by the year 1814; in the 1830's papers could be sold for a penny; and in 1850 over 2500 separate newspapers were printed, some on huge powerful presses that were able to print ten thousand complete newspapers per hour. By the year 1880 eleven thousand companies were in the newspaper business.
The early pioneers, often isolated, sometimes waited weeks to read the news, to find out who won an election, when a war was over, or other important information.
The long wait for news was shortened here in the Lowell area when the Lowell Star newspaper, a weekly, was circulated from May 1872 to May 1877. The Lowell Tribune had its start in 1885, a weekly newspaper serving the business needs and social activities of our community, owned by the Pilcher Publishing Company since 1967, keeping the area 'communicated.'
Smoke signals and reflecting mirrors could also be considered as an early form of the telegraph. An idea for a telegraph was first proposed as early as 1753, and one type was built in 1774, a very impractical system using 26 wires, one for each letter. In 1837 Samuel F. Morse (1791-1872) patented his more practical system, using dots and dashes on a single wire. He gained some government support by 1843, a cross-country line was established, and his system was used throughout the world by 1869. The undependable and easily damaged lines were used by both the North and the South during the Civil War and by all the railroad systems, where it sharply decreased the number of accidents and derailments. It was a popular type of communication and laid the groundwork for technology of the future, including wireless telegraph invented in 1891, used in navigation for decades.
The old frame Lowell Depot (demolished during the train wreck of 1952) was an exciting place for many young boys during the 1920's (including the Old Timer who lived nearby) as they stood in awe when Mr. Frank Maloy, the friendly Monon agent, explained the wonders of the dots and dashes.
The invention of the telephone made distant audio communication possible. The first telephone was invented by Alexander Graham Bell in 1875 to carry messages over a single wire. Mr. Bell's book of Mar. 10, 1876, described his experiment as he spoke to his assistant Thomas A. Watson: "Mr. Watson, come here, I want to see you."
According to a Lake County history book there were 150 telephones in the city of Crown Point in 1887, with the lines from there to Cedar Lake, Lowell and Plum Grove. The telephone system came to the Town of Lowell during the 1890's, before the electric lights were turned on in 1897, powered by a steam generator that was on Liberty Street near the present Post Office. The Lowell Tribune phone number was only two digits, 12; now the Pilcher Publishing Company number is 219-696-7711. The Old Timer's family phone number on West Commercial Avenue was 20, on a two party line with a neighbor.
Two telephone companies in Lowell were listed in a 1909 County Directory -- The Northwest Indiana Telephone Company was upstairs above the present Lowell Carpet Shop; the Lowell Telephone Exchange was over the present Horizon Mortgage Office. The Lowell Exchange became part of the Illinois Bell Telephone Company, with a brick warehouse on the alley in the rear.
The old battery-powered crank telephone lines were slowly being installed for the local farm when Fred Ewer and John Meyer fabricated their own phone system that served ten farm families in West Creek Township. Wires were hung from whatever was available, from trees, fences and buildings, and every family would answer when the bell rang! One of the roads in West Creek Township was sometimes called "Tattle Street" perhaps so-called because as many as 12 families were on a party line. (Most listened when the phone rang.)
Early in the 1900's when the Illinois Bell Telephone crews were busy installing poles and lines to the farming community, the workmen would stay all week at the Schmal Hotel west of the railroad on Commercial Ave. The men continued to stay when it became the Heiser Hotel in 1916.
The telegraph, telephone, electricity and many other inventions of the 1800's aided the inventors before the end of the 19th century in research for the coming of the radio. The invention of the radio made a terrific change in our ways of communication, when early in the 1900's townspeople were already involved with "crystal sets." Broadcasts began in 1910, and in the early 1920's radios were on sale in stores in downtown Lowell. Fred Schmal sold Atwater Kent and Spartan radios in his hardware. His personal radio had many large dials, a huge "horn" above, ran by storage battery and needed a very long copper outdoor aerial wire. With the invention of the transistor, radios became much more compact, and portable radios were made. "Walkie talkies," radios in automobiles -- and soon Citizen Band radios (CB's) -- were in use in automobiles and trucks all over the area. (The Old Timer's call number was "Adam2.")
And then television came to change our lives completely, when in 1950 four million television sets were already in use in the United States, and live news broadcasts were soon available by a click of the remote, a far cry from reading a month old newspaper in the early days of our nation. Good friends still communicate "face to face" or by written word, be it by 'snail mail' or by 'e-mail' in this computer age.
Return to Lowell History
Return to the "Pioneer History" A to Z Index Page