Dinwiddie has been the subject of several "Pioneer Stories" in the Lowell Tribune since 1980, but now the Old Timer has decided that with the renewed interest in real estate and business sites, lots of publicity (and notoriety), it is time to retell some of the interesting stories about that pioneer Eagle Creek Township settlement.
About the year 1996, the Indian Trail Grange, whose building is in the community, was working on a project to have the "Dinwiddie" signs replaced along the highway. Their pleas were answered by the State, and signs were erected. Indiana never stopped printing the name on its road maps.
Several decades after pioneer Thomas Dinwiddie and his family came to Lake County in the 1830's, the family estate grew to 3000 acres in Eagle Creek Township, and in 1870 the Dinwiddie mansion was built, at the cost of $2500, near the present right-of-way for the Interstate Highway I-65. Moved to another location, the well-built home still stands proudly amid tall pine trees west of the Plum Grove Cemetery.
John, son of pioneer Dinwiddie, became a highly successful farmer and was prominent in community and political circles until his death at age 47, in 1861. Mary, his wife, who took over the management of the large family estate, was aided by her sons Jerome and Oscar. Son Oscar, barely hampered by the loss of one leg, was very progressive in his ideas and helped to organize the Indian Trail Grange and was an officer in the National Grange. He also aided in the organization of the "Old Settler's Association" of Lake County, which is now the "Lake County Historical Society."
The large truck stops, restaurants, motel, trailer park, etc. were not the first of the busy enterprises at the pioneer community of Dinwiddie, for before 1900 the Dinwiddie family donated land for a railroad right-of-way to Benjamin J. Gifford, founder of the Chicago and Wabash Valley Railroad.
Benjamin J. Gifford, born in Plano, Illinois, in 1840, served in the Union Army during the Civil War, and later founded the Havana, Rantoul and Eastern Railway in 1873. He sold out to Jay Gould in 1880 and soon began clearing and draining Indiana swampland with the intention of starting another railroad. The Chicago & Wabash Valley Railroad began in 1898.
Gifford acquired nearly 36,000 acres of swampland in Lake and Jasper counties, cleared and drained them, and began the right-of-way at the little village of Zadoc, Indiana, through McCoysburg and Kersey and crossed the Kankakee near the Porter County line on the way to Dinwiddie, a total length of 40 miles. In Jasper County the wetland he purchased included the Pinkamink Marsh, most of it for $4.50 per acre. He had nearly 1000 tenant farmers (most from Ohio) growing produce along the way, with the intention of extending the line into Chicago where the vegetables and fruit would have a good market each day. In the late 1890's the annual harvest from these tenant farms was nearly one million bushels of corn, oats, onions and potatoes, with prospects for even better yields.
In the summer of 1901 Mr. Gifford invited a group of Lowell businessmen to take a tour on his new rail line as he was promoting the expansion of his railroad. The group left Lowell in a large horse-drawn livery bus on their way to Shelby for dinner at Dick Fuller's Hotel and soon boarded the eastbound train on the 3-I line on their way to DeMotte and Kersey, where they boarded a Gifford passenger car and were greeted by Mr. Gifford. The tour rolled from Kersey to McCoysburg and was enjoyed by all as they viewed cultivated land as far as they could see on both sides of the right-of-way. There was deep discussion about the business interests of the Lowell area and the coming of the new railroad, and Mr. Gifford was promised a "rousing good time and lots of encouragement" if he would come to Lowell for a conference. About 1900 one of the tenant farmers was digging a well, struck oil and soon more than 100 wells were producing 400 barrels of oil daily near a town near Gifford, Ind., called Asphlatum. The oil fields gave some business to the railroad until 1904 when the wells dried up, but agricultural and passenger traffic was the main business on the often nicknamed "Onion Belt Line." As time went by, some of the old weighing stations were replaced by stockyards and elevators. Two of those elevators were built in the Dinwiddie area: the O.G. Fifield elevator on Range Line Road (it is still standing as a home) and the Lowell Grain and Hay elevator within the village of Dinwiddie. A part of the old right-of-way can still be seen on the south side of Indiana 2 where two rows of trees can be seen near a small A-frame home.
Gifford planned to extend his line south to the City of Lafayette and to connect with a railroad to the north at Gary, but the tracks stopped at Dinwiddie, and all the dreams and planned progress halted with the death of Benjamin J. Gifford in 1913. Gifford's will mandated that the railway be sold, and it was purchased by the Monon Line that operated it separate from its own tracks for about twenty years until declining traffic, the rise of the trucking industry and a depression forced the line to be shut down forever. In 1936 the Monon received permission from the Interstate Commerce Commission to have the tracks of the "Onion Line" removed, and a salvage firm began removing the rails at Dinwiddie and worked southward. In 1974 the only rails left were part of a spur to service the grain elevator at the town of Kersey near Demotte.
Gifford's dream of shipping produce daily to Chicago from Lake and Jasper Counties almost became a reality.
In 1944, during World War Two, after returning to Oahu, Hawaii, from a one-year Task Force in the area of the Gilbert Islands (South Pacific), the Old Timer had a very pleasant surprise one evening while answering his outfit's phone. The caller said, "This is Captain Dinwiddie!" It was Dr. Abbott Dinwiddie, who with his father, Dr. John Dinwiddie, had placed braces on the Old Timer's teeth a decade or so earlier. Their dental offices were above the present Portobello Shop at 422 East Commercial Ave. (Lowell), now occupied by Old Town Appraisers, Ltd. The Captain, who was soon promoted to the rank of Major, was quartered a few blocks away at Schofield Barracks in the mountains of Oahu, Hawaii.
Dozens of descendants of the pioneer Dinwiddie Clan are still residents of South Lake County, but only four with the Dinwiddie surname are now listed in the Northwest Indiana phone book, none now living near the old pioneer community of Dinwiddie.
Return to Lowell History
Return to the "Pioneer History" A to Z Index Page