History of Center Township, Porter County, Indiana
From: History of Porter County, Indiana
The Lewis Publishing Company
Chicago-New York 1912


This township, one of the original ten organized on April 12, 1836, was so named because it occupies the central portion of the county. Several changes have been made in the original boundaries, and at the present time the dimensions of the township are five miles east and west and six miles north and south, giving it an area of thirty square miles. It is bounded on the north by the township of Liberty; east by Washington; south by Morgan and Porter, and west by Union. Being situated upon the high ridge or moraine that separates the valley of the Calumet river on the north from the valley of the Kankakee on the south, the surface is undulating and the soil is generally of clay, or of clay and sand alternately. Marl beds and peat bogs are found in the Salt creek valley, and iron ore exists in small quantities near the city of Valparaiso, but none of these deposits has been developed. Flint Lake lies near the northwest corner, Bull's Eye or Round Lake is just west of the Chesterton road, about two miles northwest of Valparaiso, and Sager's Lake is situated in the southeastern suburbs of that city. When the first white men came to the township, they found considerable forests of hard and soft maple, black and white walnut, hickory, elm, basswood and several varieties of oak, but most of the native timber has been cleared off to make way for the fields of the husbandmen. Agriculture is the chief occupation of the inhabitants, and the crops grown are of the same general character as those of the other townships in the central and southern parts of the county.

During the Indian occupancy of the region now comprising Porter county, there was in the western part of Laporte county an opening between two tracts of timbered land. To this opening the early French traders gave the name of La Porte" The Gate." Over the prairie thus named ran the trail leading from the Kankakee river in Illinois to the Great Lakes. Later the English conferred upon it the name Door Prairie, and the little town which grew up there took the name of Door Village. Some of the early settlers, as they worked their way westward into Porter county, passed through the "Door" and established their frontier homes, some of them locating in Center township. At that time there was a small Indian village of some dozen lodges located on the west side of section 19, township 35, range 5, between the present Laporte pike and the Grand Trunk railway, less than one mile east of Valparaiso. This village was known as Chiqua's Town, from an old Pottawatomie Indian bearing that name. Chiqua had at one time been an influential chief in his tribe, but a few years before the treaty of 1832 his love for "firewater" had led him to indulge in a protracted drunk, and while intoxicated his but was destroyed by fire, his squaw losing her life in the flames. For his dissolute habits he was deprived of his chieftanship, but a few of his friends remained true to him, and these, seceding from the main body of the tribe, established the village under Chiqua's leadership.

Some time in the late summer or early fall of 1833 Seth Hull located a claim on or near the site of this village, thereby becoming the first white settler in Center township He remained but a short time, selling his claim to J. S. Wallace and going on farther west. Thomas A. E. Campbell took a claim east of Hull's, near the Washington township line, and built a cabin, but soon afterward went back to New York state, where he remained until 1835. Some of the settlers who came in the year 1834 were Benjamin McCarty, who settled on section 22 on the Joliet road; Ruel Starr, who located his claim in the eastern part of the township; Philander A. Paine, who built his cabin on the northeast quarter of section 23, and his father, who located east of the Salt creek bridge on the Joliet road and began the erection of a sawmill, which was never finished. The same year a man named Nise settled on the northwest quarter of section 24, about three quarters of a mile northeast of the public square in Valparaiso, but soon afterward sold out to a German by the name of Charles Minnick. In this year came also J. P. Ballard, who erected the first building within the present city limits of Valparaiso. Among those who came in 1835 may be mentioned C. A. Ballard, Alanson Finney and Samuel A. Shigley. The first settled on the northwest quarter of section 25, Mr. Finney located his claim west of Ruel Starr's, and Mr. Shigley built a sawmill on the site afterward occupied by William Sager 's flour mill, the first sawmill in the township. When Thomas A. E. Campbell returned to the county in 1835, instead of perfecting title to his claim in the eastern part of Center township, he bought out Philander A. Paine and settled on the northeast quarter of section 23, where he passed the remainder of his life.

In dividing the county into civil townships, the board of county commissioners ordered an election to be held on the last day of April, 1836, for justices of the peace. In Center township the election was held at the house of C. A. Ballard. Thirteen votes were polled, of which Ruel Starr received nine votes and was declared elected. His opponents were G. Z. Salyer and John McConnell. At the May meeting of the board it was decided to give Center township an additional justice of the peace, and an election was held at the same place on May 28, 1836, when G. Z. Salyer received eight out of fifteen votes. At the presidential election on November 8, 1836, General Harrison received fifty nine votes and Martin Van Buren received forty five. At the state election in August, 1837, there were 126 votes cast, of which David Wallace received 101. In 1840 the total number of votes cast at the presidential election was 287, General Harrison receiving 149. This increase in the voting strength during the first five years of the township's history will give the reader some idea of the growth in population during the same period.

The first birth and the first death in the township are uncertain. The first marriage was that of Richard Henthorne to Jane Spurlock, May 5, 1836, Rev. Cyrus Spurlock, who was also county recorder, officiating. About 1838 a man named Kinsey put up a wool carding mill about a mile and a half south of Valparaiso. It was operated by water power, the water being conveyed through a large hollow log to an overshot wheel. Mr. Kinsey also put in a small pair of burrs for grinding wheat and corn on certain days. A year or two later a second carding mill was erected by Jacob Axe on Salt creek, a short distance above Shigley's sawmill. The flour mill later owned by William Sager was built by William Cheney in 1841. Eleven years later Mr. Cheney and Truman Freeman built a small flour mill in the southern part of Valparaiso, though at that time the mill site was outside the corporate limits of the town. Another pioneer mill was a steam sawmill at Flint Lake, erected by a man named Allen, though the exact date cannot be learned. It was supplied with two boilers, each twenty eight feet long and forty four inches in diameter. In 1863 one of the boilers blew up, the boiler being thrown some 500 feet and landing in the marsh at the lower end of the lake. The remaining boiler was subsequently removed to Valparaiso to be used in the paper mill. The first tan yard in the township, and probably the first in the county, was established by a Mr. Hatch just south of Valparaiso in 1843. A steam tannery was started by a man named Gerber on a lot south of the Pittsburg, Fort Wayne & Chicago railroad about a year before the beginning of the Civil war. The entire plant was destroyed by fire in 1874, and since that date there has been no tanning done in the city.

When the cornerstone of the court house was laid in October, 1883, Aaron Parks was township trustee; Temple Windle, John Dunning and Morris Robinson, justices of the peace, and David C. Herr, assessor. These officers were elected in April, 1882, before the spring elections were abolished by law. At that time there were eight school districts in the township outside of the city of Valparaiso. In the school year of 1911-12 there were six districts in the township, the schools being taught by the following teachers: District No. 1 (Flint Lake), Grace Banta; No. 2 (Cook's Corners), Mabel Laforce; No. 3 (St. Clair), Rebecca Bartholomew; No. 4 (Clifford), Hazel McNay; No. 6 (Hayes), Stella Bennett; No. 7 (Leonard), Kathryn Anderson.

More than three quarters of a century have elapsed since the first white man settled in Center township, but there are still left a few old persons who can remember the conditions, the labors and the amusements of those early days. Game was abundant and the trusty rifle of the frontiersman was depended upon to furnish a goodly portion of the family's meat supply. The log rolling, the house raising and the holiday shooting match afforded opportunities for the settlers to get together, and on such occasions there were wrestling or boxing matches and other tests of physical strength. The few Indians who remained in the country were generally peaceful, and there were no hair raising experiences of savage raids, accompanied by burning cabins, murdered women and children, or stolen live stock. Upon the whole the life of the Center township pioneers was uneventful. Through the spring and summer they toiled amid their crops: When the wheat was threshed with the flail or the old "ground hog" it was hauled to Michigan City, where it was rarely sold for more than fifty cents per bushel.

Now, all is changed. The market is at the farmer's door. The Pittsburg, Fort Wayne & Chicago, the New York, Chicago & St. Louis, and the Grand Trunk railways traverse the county, all passing through Valparaiso, and in the township there are more than forty miles of excellent macadamized highway, most of the roads centering at the county seat. Where the farmer formerly hauled twenty bushels of wheat thirty or forty miles to Michigan City, he can now take sixty bushels over an improved, modern highway a distance of from two to four miles, and in a few hours that wheat is in the great grain mart of Chicago, where it commands the highest market price. The log cabin has given way to the brick or frame dwelling house; the tallow candle has been supplanted by the kerosene lamp, acetylene gas or the electric light, and the automobile now skims across the country where the ox team was wont to plod its weary way. Such has been the march of civilization and progress in Center township. Including the city of Valparaiso, the population of the township in 1850 was 1,012; in 1860 it was 2,745; by 1870 it had increased to 4,159; in 1880 it was 5,957; in 1890 it was 6,062; in 1900 it had reached 7,222, and in 1910 it was 7,971.

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