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


This township, one of the western tier, was created by order of the board of county commissioners on April 12, 1836. In extent it is five miles from east to west and six miles from north to south, and contains thirty square miles. It was named Union to commemorate the federation of states in the American Republic, and has been called the "Peaceful Township," on account of its natural beauty. Being located chiefly in the morainic belt of the county, the surface is rolling, and, next to Jackson township, presents a greater diversity of physical features than any other township in Porter county. The entire area, however, can be cultivated, and agriculture is the principal occupation of the inhabitants. Salt creek crosses the northeast corner, and a branch of that stream flows northward through the eastern tier of sections, uniting with the main stream about half a mile south of the northern boundary. Taylor creek rises in Hollister's lake, in the southern part, and flows northwesterly course into Lake county. Hollister's lake is about six or seven acres in extent and is the only lake in the township worthy of the name. Originally there was some marsh land, but the greater portion of this has been drained and brought under cultivation. Twenty mile prairie extends into the northern part. Charles S. Hyde says: "This was so named because, as an old settler facetiously said, it was 'twenty miles from anywhere, 'meaning of course, that it was twenty miles (or some multiple of twenty) from the nearest trading post, being twenty miles from Michigan City and Laporte, and forty miles from Chicago."

In the central portion the soil is generally sandy, though there is some loam. The hard clay found in all parts of the township makes it unprofitable to try corn growing, but wheat, oats and rye are raised in large quantities, and the township is well adapted to grazing. The hills, ravines and forests combined to render this part of the county an ideal haunt for game animals, when the first white men located there they found plenty of deer, a few bear, the lynx, the badger, the otter and other fur bearing animals, and a horde of prairie and gray wolves, the latter species being by far the most numerous.

There is some question as to who was the first settler. William B. Blachly, Benjamin McCarty, James Walton, John G. Forbes, Sylvester Forbes, Andrew and Joseph Wilson, Joseph Willey, George W. Turner, E. W. and Noah Fowts, Lewis Walton and a few others had settled in the township by the spring of 1836. At the election for justice of the peace on April 30, of that year, James Walton was inspector; George W. Turner and B Bunnell, judges; E. W. Fowls and Joseph Willey, clerks. Fifteen votes were cast, Joseph Willey receiving the unanimous vote for the office of justice of the peace. The election was held at the residence of George W. Turner. "Squire" Willey was evidently not a highly educated individual, as may be seen by the grammar and orthography in the following entry from his docket in December after his election:
"State of Indiana,
Union Township.
Porter county,

"John Burge, James Burge and Orson Strong was brought before me, Joseph Willey, a Justice of the Peace, for trial for killen sum hogs, on or about the first day of December, 1836, and I proceeded on the 8th day aforesaid to hear the proofs and allegations, and the defendants was acquitted for the above offense. Nicholas Mount, tried for profane swearing, committed, and paid his fine.

In the pioneer days Union township was farther from the institutions of civilization than the settlements farther north and east. It was thirty miles to the nearest grist mill, and it was a custom for one of the settlers to make up a wagon load of grain among the neighbors and make the three day trip with an ox team, distributing the flour or corn meal among the owners of the grain upon his return. When this supply ran out another man would take his turn in going to the mill. The miller's toll was heavy, and some of the settlers overcame the difficulty by burning a hollow in the top of a large stump for a mortar, and pounding their corn therein with a hard wood pestle. The meal produced by this method was coarse, but it was wholesome, and frequently the only supper served was a bowl of mush made of this meal and a generous portion of fresh milk. The implements used by the pioneer farmers were of the most primitive character. The first plow used in the township was of the old "bull tongue" pattern, and harrows were made by selecting a V shaped fork of a tree, boring holes at regular distances through each branch of the fork and driving into them hard wood pegs for teeth. Wheat was cut with the cradle and bound by hand. In some cases the sickle, or "reap hook," was used, especially if the grain was rank and tangled by the wind. The grain was threshed with the flail, tramped out by driving horses or cattle over it on a piece of ground smoothed off for the prpose, or in some instances the "ground hog" threshing machine was used. This would loosen the grain from the chaff, but did not separate them. The farmer must accomplish that by winnowing the grain - that is by tossing it into the air - the wind blowing the chaff away and the grain falling upon a sheet. Occasionally there was a farmer who was the proud possessor of a "fanning mill;" in which the wheat and chaff were poured into a hopper at the top, and by turning a crank were shaken down through the mill, a revolving fan blowing the chaff out at the rear end while the wheat poured out of a spout at the bottom of the machine. Many a boy has blistered his hands while turning one of these fans, no doubt muttering meanwhile mental maledictions upon the inventor. Now, the farmer frequently rides as he plows, his grain is harvested with the twine binder, the hum of the steam thresher is heard instead of the "thud, thud" of the old fashioned flail, and the fanning mill has gone, never to return.

Not far from the western boundary, on the old Sauk trail, James or Thomas Snow (authorities differ as to the name), in 1833, erected the first frame house in the township. The lumber was hauled from Laporte, and when the building was completed Mr. Snow put in a small stock of goods, thus becoming Union township's first merchant. Two years later he sold out to Oliver Shepard, a Yankee, who put up a sign bearing the legend "The Hoosier's Nest," and in a short time the place became known far and wide. The fame of this place has been perpetuated in verse by John Finley, and as his poem is really a part of Porter county's history, it is here reproduced.

I'm told, in riding somewhere West,
A stranger found a Hoosier's Nest;
In other words, a Buckeye cabin
Just big enough to hold Queen Mab in.
Its situation low, but airy,
Was on the borders of a prairie;
And fearing he might be benighted,
He hailed the house, and then alighted.

The Hoosier met him at the door;
Their salutations soon were o'er.
He took the stranger's horse aside,
And to a sturdy sapling tied;
Then, having stripped the saddle off,
He fed him in a sugar trough.

The stranger stooped to enter in,
The entrance closing with a pin;
And manifested strong desire
To sit down by the log-heap fire,
Where half a dozen Hoosieroons,
With mush and milk, tin-cups and spoons,
White heads, bare feet, and dirty faces,
Seemed much inclined to keep their places;
But madam, anxious to display
Her rough but undisputed sway,
Her offspring to the ladder led
And cuffed the youngsters up to bed.

Invited shortly to partake
Of venison, milk and Johnny-cake,
The stranger made a hearty meal,
And glances round the room would steal.
One side was lined with divers garments,
The other spread with skins of varmints;
Dried pumpkins overhead were strung,
Where venison hams in plenty hung.

Two rifles hung above the door,
Three dogs lay stretched upon the floor-
In short, the domicile was rife
With specimens of Hoosier life.
The host, who centered his affections
On game, and range and quarter sections,
Discoursed his weary guest for hours
'Till Somnus' all composing powers,
Of sublunary cares bereft 'em,
An then I came away and left 'em.

It is claimed by some that this poem first called attention to the use of the word "Hoosier" to designate an inhabitant of the state of Indiana. The first school house in Union township was a log structure, 18 by 20 feet, located near the "Hoosier's Nest," but the date of its erection is uncertain, and the name of the first teacher cannot be learned. In October, 1883, when the cornerstone of the court house was laid, Isaiah B. McGinley, at that time trustee of the township, prepared a historical sketch, in which he stated that there were 447 children of school age and ten school districts in the township. Since then a commissioned high school has been established at Wheeler, and the number of districts has been reduced to seven. The teachers in the Wheeler high school for the year 1911-12 were: Thurman B. Rice, Helen Whitlock, Ruth R. Matthews, Vera S. Bradley, Flora Cobb, Ethel O. Ruth and Irene Paddock. The teachers in the district schools were as follows: No. 2 (the Blachly school), Frank Peregrine; No. 4 (the Peck school), Mary Conrick; No. 5 (Graves), Martha 1VIarquart; No. 6 (Foster), Mary Cronacan; No. 7 (Gordon), Elsie Ditlow; No. 8 (Cherry Glen), Lura Conrick; No. 10 (Spafford), Anna Ehlers.

A Sunday school was started in Portage township, just across the line, in 1838, Benson and Ira G. Harris, two residents of Union, being active participants in its organization, and a majority of the attendants came from Union township. Alpheus French, a Baptist minister, held services in a grove at Blachly's Corners in the spring of 1836, and this was probably the first sermon preached in the township. Rev. Jacob Colciasier, a Methodist missionary, also held services in the township at an early date, and conducted the first quarterly meeting in January, 1840. (See the chapter on Religious History.)

In the matter of public highways Union township is among the most progressive in the county, having nearly thirty miles of fine, macadamized road. Several lines of railroad cross the township in various directions. The Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne & Chicago crosses the northeast corner, passing through Wheeler; the Grand Trunk runs east and west through the central portion, and the Chesapeake & Ohio touches the southwest corner. Wheeler is the only village of importance in the township. It was laid out in 1858, when the railroad went through, by Thomas A. E. Campbell, who owned the land upon which the village is situated. The first business building was that afterward occupied by Siglar Bros. with a stock of goods, the second was the hotel Sled the Wheeler House, and the third was used as a saloon by Carroll and Harner. George Longshore was the first postmaster. At the present time Wheeler has a population of about 200, three general stores, a telephone exchange, a Methodist church, lodges of Odd Fellows and Foresters, a feed mill, and a money order postoffice, the only postoffiee in the township. On the Grand Trunk is a small station called Smedley, which was formerly a postoffice, but which was discontinued upon the introduction of the free rural delivery system. Some of the maps show a place called Spriggsboro on the line between Union and Center townships, but the name does not appear on the railroad time tables nor in the United States postoffice guide, and no official plat of the town was ever recorded.

The population of Union has had its "ups and downs" almost from the organization of the township. In 1860 it was 867; in 1870 it had increased to 1,057; ten years later it was 1,054; in 1890 it had decreased to 985; a further decrease followed during the next decade, the population in 1900 being only 938; then came a substantial gain, and in 1910 it was 1,069, the highest in its history.

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