The county of La Porte comprises all that region of country which is bounded on the north by Lake Michigan and the State of Michigan; on the east by St. Joseph county; on the south by Starke county, the Kankakee river separating the two counties, ex­cept on the east end of the southern boundary, where the river is wholly within LaPorte county; and on the west by Porter county. It possesses a great variety of soil and external characteristics. The whole north side of the county is well timbered, the timber belt extending from St. Joseph county on the east to Porter on the west. The timber consists of oak, ash, sugar and soft maple, elm, walnut and many other species, the whole forming a source of wealth, of which far too little account is taken, and great wasteful­ness has been the result. Formerly the region bordering the lake was well covered with beautiful white pine; but this valuable tree has almost wholly disappeared, being cut off for lumber. This tim­ber country is from ten to fifteen miles in width, and much of the soil, especially on the eastern end, is deep and rich, rivaling the loam of the prairie in fertility. Approaching the lake, sand pre­dominates, and the country becomes more broken and hilly, consist­ing of sandy ridges, which on the lake shore are in many places almost wholly destitute of vegetation. The sandy soil of Spring­field, Michigan and Coolspring townships, though not so rich as that of the heavier timber land further to the east, in Galena and Hudson, is yet especially adapted to certain kinds of crops. Potatoes raised on it are of superior quality, and all kinds of fruit, even peaches, do well, the crop being more certain to endure the winter's cold than in the open prairie. The soil is warm, products come forward early and rapidly, and are easily cultivated. Through the centre of the county from east to west, the prairie belt extends.  This prairie is dotted with beautiful groves of valuable timber, some of them containing hundreds, even thousands of acres. The soil in prairie and grove is of excellent richness and fertility, and gives to this county its reputation of being one of the great wheat growing counties of the State. It is equally as well adapted to corn as to wheat, perhaps better, if the fact is considered that wheat is sometimes injured by the freezing of winter. This however seldom oc­curs, and the total destruction of many fields in the last rigorous winter, is almost wholly without precedent. Commencing on the northern border of the prairie, several notable examples lying in the immediate vicinity of LaPorte, there are many small lakes scatter­ed throughout the prairie belt, some of them of charming beauty. In all the elements of beauty and utility, this region is unsurpassed in the West. The soil is a black sandy loam resting on a subsoil of gravel and sand. It is easily cultivated, and has the capacity to withstand drought for weeks. No more attractive region for the farmer is anywhere to be found; and with a higher cultivation than they now receive, these lands would produce crops that would as­tonish those who have lived on them the longest.

Passing southward beyond the prairie belt, the Kankakee marsh­es are reached.  In the early times, these were largely covered with water, but they are gradually drying out, and the plow is each year making encroachments on these valuable lands, and the area of cul­tivation approaches the river more and more nearly. They form an extensive grazing field for cattle during the summer, and thou­sands of tons of hay are made upon them every season; but when through natural processes, aided perhaps by ditching, they have all become dry enough to cultivate, they will be among the most valua­ble lands in the State, especially for the raising of corn. To a great depth the soil is composed of decayed vegetable matter, and is, of course, of wonderful richness. Those portions of them which have become dry enough for the plow now produce crops of corn which the higher lands of the prairie seldom equal. Around the edges of the marshes there is an abundance of timber, White and Red oak, and hickory; and occasionally there is a tamarack swamp. There are indications of iron in many places, and speaking on the subject of the Kankakee marshes, the State geologist Prof. E. T. Cox, says in his report for 1873: "Bog iron ore occurs in considerable quan­tities in the marshes along the Kankakee, and when some plan has been devised for converting the peat, with which it is associated, into fuel adapted to use in a blast furnace, each may add to the val­ue of the other, and naturally tend to bring the much abused Kankakee marsh into more favorable notice."

The highest ridge of land in the county is two miles north of the city of LaPorte. The summit is, by barometric measurement, 270 feet above Lake Michigan, which is eleven miles distant. This ridge divides the waters which reach the Atlantic ocean by way of the great Lakes and the St. Lawrence river, from those which flow to the gulf of Mexico through the Kankakee, Illinois and Mississippi rivers. Northward of the summit, the land descends gradually to the lake, the surface being marked with elevations called "lake ridges," which are nearly parallel to the present lake shore. Ac­cording to Prof. Cox, "these ridges of sand mark the ancient shore lines of the lake, where its subsidence was arrested for a greater or less period of time." That this remark is true is made clear from the evident fact that the same process is going on at Michigan City, and elsewhere on the lake shore. The waves constantly bring up from the lake bottom, and land upon the beach, the countless parti­cles of sand. The water recedes and the sand is left to dry. Then the wind takes it and drives it like drifting snow to the first barrier of trees and bushes, where it is checked, and begins to accumulate, forming a ridge. The vegetation, well-rooted, reproduces itself, growing to the top as the sand rises, and finally a range of hills is the result of the combined action of wave and wind on the moving particles of sand. Thus the "lake ridges" are now being formed; and so were fashioned, ages ago, those which are now far inland. Here again we quote from Prof. Cox, who says:

"The first ridge, along the present shore line, rises above the water level from thirty to eighty-five feet, this is broken at irregu­lar intervals by valleys at oblique angles, and occasionally a tall peak rises many feet above its fellows, a space of half a mile succeeds this ridge, having an elevation of fifteen to twenty feet; on this is built the town of Michigan City. The top of the second beach or ridge is fifty feet, and the half mile of valley beyond is thirty-five feet above the water. The third beach is forty-five feet, the fourth is ninety-five and the fifth is two hundred and twenty-five feet above the lake. It may be remarked that the fourth beach line contains a considerable amount of gravel, perhaps indi­cating a fixed water level for a comparatively long period of time.

The shallow portions of the present lake, near the shore, are uni­formly floored with sand, but in the deep central areas the bottom is composed of stiff, tenacious clay, intercalating partings or pockets of sand, from whence, probably, comes the supply which is, con­stantly, being filled up and drifted about the shores by the wind. It may be inferred that the ancient lake was governed by a like law, as the railway cuts which traverse these wide, descending shore lines, frequently discover beds of clay, (the Erie clay of Canadian Geologists) and wherever this clay is pierced by wells, the supply of water is found in the sand partings.

No continuous sand ridges are found beyond the fifth from the lake, though for some distance further inland the valleys and hol­lows are, more or less, floored with this wave-washed material. The lakes in the vicinity of LaPorte are south of the water-shed and no evidences are traceable of their having been a part of ancient lake Michigan since the subsidence of the glacial sea."

Prior to the year 1829 the tract of country which is now the county of La Porte, was without a white inhabitant. In all the West, prolific in beauty, there was not a lovelier region; but it was in the sole possession of the red man, who roamed at will over the prairies, and encamped in the groves, living on the game and fish, which were abundant on the land and in the sparkling lakes. But in the year 1829, intruders began to arrive. First of all, came the widow Benedict and her family, and settled in what is now New Durham township, not far from the present town of Westville. Three or four others in the same year settled near the same locality; the widow Shirley and family settled in the present Scipio town­ship, and Joseph W. Perkins, a trapper, and Asa M. Warren, settled in the northeast corner of the county, in what is now Hud­son township. A more particular account of the settlers will be given in connection with the history of the townships wherein they founded their homes. The county was unorganized, and though more settlers came in 1830 and 1831; and at the beginning of 1832, there were more than one hundred families in the county, yet they were substantially a law unto themselves, for they were still without a county organization. On the 9th day of January, 1832, the State Legislature passed an act in which it was provided, " That from and after the first day of April next, all that tract of country included in the following boundaries shall form and constitute a new county, to be known and designated by the name and style of La-Porte county, to-wit: Beginning at the State line which divides the State of Indiana and Michigan territory, and at the Northwest cor­ner of township No. 38. North of Range No. 4, west of the second principal meridian, thence, running east with said State line to the centre of Range No. 1, west of said meridian; thence South twenty-two miles; thence west parallel with the said State line twenty-one miles; thence north to the place of beginning."

The act also named commissioners, one each from the counties of Allen, Fountain, Clinton, Tippecanoe and Ripley, to fix the seat of justice for the new county, and directed that they should meet at the house of David Pagin in said county, and "immediately proceed to the discharge of the duties assigned them by law."

Their duties were discharged as prescribed; and a writ of election having been issued from the executive department of the State, an election was held and a Board of county commissioners elected consisting of Chapel W. Brown, Elijah H. Brown, and Isaac Morgan. Thus the county was organized, and ready to take its place among the other counties of the State. It is related that when the act for the incorporation of the county was before the legislature, a repre­sentative from one of the older counties, arose to inquire what out­landish name it was they were about to give the new county, and he desired to know what it meant. He was told that the word was French for "Door" or "Gate," and took its origin from a natural opening through the timber of a grove leading from one part of the prairie to another. "Well then," said he, "why not call it Door county, at once, and let these high-flown, aristocratic French names alone?" But his advice was not followed; and the county, as sub­sequently the city, received the beautiful name. “LaPorte." instead of being forever heralded to the world as Door county, and Doorburg.

The first Board of commissioners of LaPorte county met on May 28th, 1832, at the house of Geo. Thomas; and Chapel W. Brown, Elijah H. Brown and Isaac Morgan presented their certificates of election. These certificates were signed by the sheriff of the county, and on the back of each certificate is endorsed the oath of office, the oath being administered by the sheriff.

Benjamin McCarty was the acting sheriff, and there being no clerk, the Board appointed Geo. Thomas the clerk elect of the cir­cuit court, "clerk of the Board for the time being."

The first act of this first session of the Board of commissioners, was to order the division of the county into three townships. All that part of the county lying east of the line which divides ranges two and three was named Kankakee township, and was designated as Commissioner's district No. 1. The whole of range three was constituted another township and named Scipio, and was designated as Commissioner's district No 2; and range four was constituted a third civil township, New Durham, and was designated as Commis­sioner's district No. 3.

This order establishing the townships was followed by orders directing that elections should take place on the 16th of June fol­lowing, that a justice of the peace should be elected in and for each township, and that elections should be held as follows: In Kankakee township at the house of N. B. Nichols, with John Wills for in­spector; in Scipio township at the house of Capt. A. P. Andrew, with A. P. Andrew for inspector; and in New Durham township at the house of Elisha Newhall, with Elisha Newhall for inspector. The Board also ordered that Benj. McCarty be appointed commissioner of the three per cent fund; William Clark, county surveyor; Jesse Morgan, lister of taxable property, and Aaron Stanton county treasurer.

Thus the county commenced business, forty-three years ago from the 28th day of the month of May, 1875. The settlers were yet few in number; most of the rich lands of the county were untouched by the plow; the ax had scarcely visited the beautiful groves that dotted the prairies; and though the pioneers were poor in purse, they were rich in energy, and were surrounded by a wonderful wealth of beauty in the luxuriant groves, the flower-clad prairies, and the lakes that here and there sparkled in the landscape.

The Board of commissioners met again on the 2d day of July in their second regular session. At this session Nathan B. Nichols was appointed "Collector of State and County taxes for the year 1832;" and it is curious to note this order among the acts of the Board at this session: "Ordered that all springed carriages are deemed by this Board as pleasure carriages and taxable under the law regulating and collecting the revenue." Rates of taxation were fixed on certain kinds of property, and among them horses were to be taxed at thirty-seven and a half cents per head, work cattle eighteen and three-fourths cents, gold watches fifty cents, silver and composition watches twenty-five cents, pleasure, or "springed" carriages, fifty cents, and brass clocks fifty cents. At this session John Barnet was appointed constable for New Durham township, and Joseph P. Osborn for Scipio township; and Andrew Burnside was appointed county treasurer. It is worthy of note also that at this session Jesse Morgan "was allowed the sum of eleven dollars for assessing the county of LaPorte for the year 1832."

At the November term following, Charles Ives was appointed county agent, and at the January term 1833, he was directed to sell at public or private sale, the lots donated for the use of public buildings; and at the March term 1833, the following appears among the proceedings of the Board of Commissioners: "Ordered that the elections of Scipio township which were formerly held at the house of A. P. Andrew, shall now be held at the town of LaPorte, where the courts of said county are usually held."

It has already been mentioned that Jesse Morgan was allowed eleven dollars for assessing the taxable property of the county for 1832. It is an indication that population was increasing, that an allowance was made to the same man for the same work, of twenty dollars, in 1833. A. G. Polke was at this time Sheriff of the county.

At this session of the Board, on the 7th day of May, 1833, an order was made directing the county agent to advertise the letting of the court house contract.

On the 21st of August, 1833, a special term of the commissioners' court was held, at which a contract was made between the Board of commissioners, consisting of Elijah H. Brown, Daniel Jessup and Alexander Blackburn, of the first part, and Simon G. Bunce of the second part, for the building of a court house. The building was to be forty feet square, of brick, to be located in the centre of the public square, and was to cost $3,975. It was to be crowned with a cupola three stories in height, the first to be nine feet high, twelve feet square, with a round window in each side and a fancy sash. The second story of the cupola was to be an octagon, ten feet in height, with a window on each side, closed by a Venetian blind, and the corners ornamented with turned columns, and a "suitable sized urn" to stand over each corner of the square first story. The third story was a dome, six feet six inches in height, to be covered with tin, and on this was to be a shaft six feet six inches high above the top of the round dome; and let into the top of the shaft, was to be an iron bar or spire holding at its connection with the shaft a cop­per ball, two feet in diameter, "laid with gold leaf;" halfway from there to the top another copper ball, one foot in diameter, and on top of the spire a wooden ball, painted black, and six inches in diameter.

The men who founded the county were not destitute of a desire to manifest a little pardonable pride in behalf of a county which they could then very well understand was to become one of the wealthiest in the State; they determined that the court house should be something more than four plain walls, and should be an attract­ive building, creditable to their taste as well as to the necessary spirit of economy that prevailed among them.

To illustrate the manner in which taxes were levied and revenue raised, specific taxes on various kinds of property have already been alluded to. There were also license taxes, as is shown by the record of the Board of Commissioners at the September term 1833. It was ordered that a license issue to Thomas M. Morrison to "vend merchandise in the county of LaPorte." J. F. & W. Allison were licensed at the same rate to "vend merchandise;" and also to "keep a tavern in the town of LaPorte." "Rates fifteen dollars." Sen­eca Ball was licensed to "vend merchandise" in the town of LaPorte; and Elijah Casteel was licensed to keep a grocery in Michi­gan City at a rate of ten dollars. Wm. Clements also, was licensed to "vend merchandise in the town of LaPorte."

At this session, on the 4th day of September, New Durham town­ship was divided so that "all that tract of country lying in towns 37 and 38" should constitute a new township, to be called Michi­gan. Up to this period there were but three townships in the county, each extending entirely across it from North to South. The order was now broken, and we shall see as we proceed, how other townships were carved out of the original three, until now there are nineteen.

It is said that roads are evidences of civilization, and promoters of it. The pioneers of this county early saw the necessity of having easy access to all parts of the county, and with contiguous counties. Among the first acts of the county commissioners was the estab­lishment of county roads, at the request of the inhabitants; and they did not hesitate to expend money on the Yellow river road, leading from Marshall county to Michigan City. They also authorized Matthias Redding to keep a ferry across the Kankakee, on the line of this road, no bridge having yet been built. This road and ferry did much to advance the county in population, as it made Michigan City the market for all the country as far south as Logansport.

These early pioneers were subjected to many hardships, incon­veniences and deprivations: but not more than are incident to all new countries. There were fewer circumstances of this nature to complain of than may be found in the early settlement of most new countries, for the rich prairies, covered only with grass and flowers, which seemed smilingly to invite the plow of the husbandman, and the groves furnishing abundance of timber for fencing, insured the cultivation of many acres, and abundant returns, the very first year of settlement. It is true that at first they had to travel to Berrien, Mich., to procure the grinding of their wheat and corn, but this state of things soon gave place to grist mills and saw mills, and other conveniences within the limits of the county: and as the region became better known it settled up very rapidly. It is proba­ble that no other county in the State received accessions to its population more rapidly in its first five years than did LaPorte. It was a veritable "land of promise." which, if not "flowing with milk and honey," yet possessed a soil of unsurpassed richness, and when "tickled with a hoe (or plow) would laugh with a harvest." The settler on lands exclusively timber must undergo years of wearisome toil, before he has subdued nature to his purposes. He who settles on the immense prairies of the farther west, finds himself embar­rassed for the want of fencing material, but here the open prairie required only fencing and plowing to ensure a crop; and the timber in abundance stood close at hand. Nature had brought into juxta­position the two elements of the farmer's need; and it was to him as it is to the iron manufacturer, when he finds the ore and the coal in adjoining veins. The consequence was that settlers poured in with great rapidity; and the hardships of pioneer life soon gave place to the facilities of agreeable intercourse, educational privileges, and all the advantages of an intelligent and hospitable society.

But with the advent of a mixed society, it could not be expected that all would render such strict obedience to law as to render penal institutions unnecessary; and accordingly at a special term of the commissioners' court held on the 16th day of November, 1833, it was ordered that Charles Ives, the county agent, make out plans and specifications; that he file the same in the clerk's office, and advertise for sealed proposals for the building of a county jail. On the 26th day of December the contract for building a jail was let to Warner Pierce for the sum of $460. Yet there are facts which would indicate that there could have been but little immediate use for the jail. Mr. Geo. Thomas, the clerk of the county, certified to the Board of commissioners that "the fines assessed by the circuit court of December, 1833, amount in all to $7.00; $5.00 against James Lockhart on an indictment for retailing liquor to an Indian, $2.00 against Calvin Lilly for retailing liquors without license;" and the docket of Elisha Newhall, a justice of the peace, shows that the only fine he assessed during the year was $1.00 against Willis Hughes for profane swearing; and Wm. O. Ross, justice of the peace, reports a fine of $1.00 assessed against George Buell for "profane swearing." It is hoped that this was all the "profane swearing" that took place in the county; but it is scarcely probable that such was the fact. If so, it would perhaps be taken as evidence that there has been progress in the wrong direction.

In the Spring of 1834 the county exhibited marked progress and prosperity. Roads had been laid out in all parts of the county, schools were opened, many broad acres were under cultivation, courts of justice were established, numerous houses were erected in LaPorte and Michigan City, modest farm-houses dotted the prairies in every direction, and the tide of immigration was rolling in un­checked. The comforts of life were fast being added to the mere necessaries; and contentment and happiness took up their abode in the dwelling of nearly every settler. Everything around them indicated a prosperous future, and they rejoiced that they had found so fair a region for the building up of homes for themselves and their children.

At the May term of the commissioners' court, 1834, the records show a document which seems to carry back the thought a hundred years beyond the time of its date. It is a relic of the "black laws'' that so long disgraced the statute books of Indiana, by which any person of color, coming into any county of the State was required to furnish bonds that he would not become a county charge. The disgraceful act has become a part of the history of Indiana, and LaPorte county contains at least one illustration of it. Here is the record:

"Now come Alexander Blackburn and Israel Markham, over­seers of the poor, and make report: We, the undersigned overseers of the poor for Kankakee township, La Porte county, respectfully report that we have taken bond and security of "Wm. Greenwood alias Randall, a free black man, immigrated into this county, as required by law, and that we have acted on no other business.

[Signed,]                                  A. Blackburn,    

Israel Markham,    O.P.

LaPorte, 5th May, 1834.

Having now followed the progress of the county to May 1834, and seen it organized, and presenting evidences of prosperity on every hand, the townships separately, and the cities and towns will next demand attention.

Transcriber’s Note:  February, 2006:  The History of Townships, Cities & Towns contained in the county history section of La Porte County Gen Web is based on Jasper Packard’s 1876 History of La Porte County, Indiana.  Those chapters, however, have been summarized by volunteers.

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