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Newly discovered writings put Culver tourism past into context

February 2, 2013

Before I delve into the main topic at hand, I should clarify a statement in last week's "If these walls could talk" column, which focused on the Jefferson Street ice houses. I wrote that "millions of tons" of ice was harvested annually from the operation, which reader Gary Shaffer good-naturedly called into question thus:

"A million tons would be two billion pounds, and if a guy was to sell a 100 pound block of ice for 10c, that would be sales of $2 million dollars, right? Plus there is approximately 239 gallons of water in a ton of ice, so that would mean a minimum of 239 million gallons removed from the lake every year. Let's assume that 'millions' is more than 1 million, say at least two million -- then double my numbers. Please let me know where my Culver Community math went wrong."

Gary's Culver Community math sounds spot on to me. As it turns out, your editor was conflating a Marmont Herald headline "Ice for millions!" with the tonnage of ice harvested. The 1897 Culver City Herald, as one example, actually says they harvested 26,000 tons in 15 days, which is still amazing, as far as I'm concerned, but I expect that's a much closer number to the norm. So there you have it; for those contemplating re-igniting the ice harvesting industry here, better plan on some smaller numbers than last week's article suggests.

Departing this week from our "If these walls" history series, some interesting historical tidbits have come to light recently, which I thought were worth a look.

One probably needn't look far, here in Culver, to find someone willing to complain that too many "out of towners" are coming to this community (though likely most of those wouldn't be business owners). Some interesting old articles might put some perspective on that notion.

As readers may or may not be aware, I've been part of a move to digitize vintage editions of the Culver newspaper, and to date, in addition to already-uploaded 1960s Culver Citizens, early editions of the Culver City Herald have been added from the 1890s and early 1900s. These can be accessed online at culverahs.com.

Meanwhile, Judi Burns, over at her website at maxinkuckee.history.pasttracker.com, has been uncovering some Culver-Lake Maxinkuckee related content in the archives of the Logansport newspapers of the 1880s and `90s. Students of local history know this is pretty significant, since the first ongoing Culver newspaper (then the Marmont Herald) didn't launch until 1894 (though Judi also uncovered mention that a newspaper, The Maxinkuckee Monitor, was briefly published in the summer of 1887). That means we have scant information (except what's in county historian Daniel McDonald's writings about the settling of the area) on Culver prior to 1894.

When work began to extend the Vandalia Railroad line north to Lake Maxinkuckee in 1883, it meant folks in Logansport -- and various points along the line (Peru, Rochester, and so on) could hop on the train for excursions to the cool, beautiful waters of Indiana's second largest natural lake, and hop they did.

In one of the earliest mentions of the glories of the lake, well before the railroad was here, in fact, the Logansport Pharos Tribune described experiencing "some difficulty" in getting here in August, 1882, but went on to praise the lake: "Within the last five years, Maxinkuckee has become the favorite summer resort of Indiana and has properly been termed the Long Branch of the State."

The specific details didn't quite measure up to the author's enthusiasm (for example, he noted “the lake proper is three miles wide and six miles long" -- which is quite a stretch!), but that can be forgiven.

"We were told that Maxenknckee is a finer body of water than Europe affords," he gushes.

What's even more interesting, though, is the attitude of the cottagers regarding the possibility of extending the railroad from Lake Maxinkuckee to South Bend.

"The question of building the extension of the Vandalia to South Bend, touching the lake, is at present causing not a little comment. Parties who have bought property and built fine cottages express themselves as not being in favor of having closer railroad conveniences—claiming that it would be a source of cheap transportation and would carry rough excursionists to the lake."

That is, please keep the riff-raff out!

And then there were those crowds. Take, for example, this article from the summer of 1885, "The Largest Excursion of the Season."

"Three coaches from Winamac brought some 500 people. Excursionists from Peru and other towns on the Wabash were on the train. When the excursion train pulled out it consisted of sixteen cars and two engines, hauling between 1,000 and 1,200 people. Nearly a hundred people who had bought tickets could not get on the train and were forced to wait until the regular train came through.

"Such a crowd has never visited Lake Maxinkuckee from this city in one day before.."

There would, however, be future weekends where 3,000 people and up disembarked from trains at what is today the town park.

The May 20, 1890 Logansport Pharos Tribune, after describing the growing influx of cottagers and building of cottages and hotels, noted, "The residents of Marmont (Culver today) have been greatly excited of late over the post office. The postmaster, who is the owner of a general store at Marmont, decided to move his store and post office to a new brick building near the railway station.

"Residents of the village got up a petition against the office being removed,” said the paper, though the new locale “will be a great convenience during the summer to visitors. Heretofore it was necessary to go to Marmont to obtain mail...the storekeepers at Marmont are much incensed over the removal of the office."

So there you have it: the post office itself was moved to accommodate those nervy tourists! Residents and shop keepers (the downtown ones, we can only assume) were clearly outraged.

Those cottagers -- and no doubt local townsfolk as well -- concerned that the railroad might bring "rough excursionists" might have had a point, as is evidenced by the dramatic saga of the mystery of who killed Abraham Leslie near the Marmont depot in August, 1886.
Leslie, a young man of Mexico, Indiana, in Miami County, had come here to furnish music for an excursion party.

"While at the lake," wrote the Logansport paper, in one of many articles excitedly covering the incident, "he and several of his friends from Mexico became engaged in a fight over a rival matter with three or four Vandalia trainmen."

The Logansport paper wrote that the Mexico band crowd "were slightly under the influence of liquor which made them very disagreeable and quarrelsome. No less than a dozen men took part in the fight. It was a regular old fashioned knock-down, in which clubs and stones were freely used."

After the smoke cleared, Leslie was found lying dead on the depot platform with a broken neck, and George Harris, an employee of the Vandalia Railroad, was fingered as deliverer of the blow. After a lengthy manhunt, Harris eventually turned himself in, and was eventually acquitted due to lack of evidence.

In a letter to the paper, Vandalia railroad conductor E.W. Dean branded a lie the notion that Harris and the Vandalia employees could have been drunk at the time.

"See if the Vandalia boys don't come out on top, just as gentlemen should," wrote Dean.

If the Pharos Tribute agreed, it didn't stay that way. In May, 1887, Harris was accused of a "cowardly attack" on an innocent Logansport resident and his sister. Harris' accquittal of the murder here earlier that year, wrote the newspaper, "should have taught him a lesson," but obviously didn't.

As was the case with the Culver papers of the day, writers in the Pharos Tribune made none of the modern claims of objectivity. The article describes Harris as "a blood-thirsty individual of the late Jesse James order," and "mean and depraved, and when he dies he will probably go straight to the devil with his boots on and a rope around his neck."

Subtlety clearly wasn't the order of the day, at least for that writer!
Murder mysteries aside, the tourist trade of the 1880s through the late 'teens' in Culver was obviously a huge boon to the area, both in terms of widespread acclaim and business success.

One interesting remark in the Logansport newspaper in 1882 is worth noting: "It does not require a young fortune to spend a few weeks at this resort (Lake Maxinkuckee) as usualy is the case at watering places, but a most enjoyable and profitable time can be had for comparatively nothing."

The Culver area is apparently attractive to some visitors for much the same reason today, though some full-time residents of this and the surrounding area have the opposite view. I guess these things are relative, after all.

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