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Trone, one architect of Culver planning, part of long legacy of Culver service

January 21, 2011

Pete Trone hold his copy of Culver’s first planning and zoning ordinance from 1960, at a Town Council meeting last month. PHOTO: JEFF KENNEY

It's well-known around Culver that if one has a question about the history of the community -- and that includes the town of Culver, Lake Maxinkuckee, and Culver Academies communities -- Pete Trone very likely has the answer. Besides an encyclopedic memory, there’s the fact that Trone has not only longevity here, but has been deeply involved in the community in a variety of capacities. He's also had a foot in each of those "sub-communities" of Culver well before he began the 34 years of service on Culver's planning and zoning boards for which he was recognized by both the Culver Board of Zoning Appeals (in late November), and the Town Council (in December).
Trone's father, Donaldson, arrived at Lake Maxinkuckee around 1904 when Donaldson's parents rented the old Norris farm on the east shore of the lake. That first summer, the family came by train and rented a horse and wagon, says Pete Trone, though they felt they were cheated by whomever rented them the horse and wagon, so the following summer they drove an Indianapolis neighbor's horse and buggy all the way here, by way of the Michigan Road to Logansport. The absence of road signs in those days suggests to Pete that the family likely followed the Vandalia Railroad line up to Culver. Don Trone was 11 or 12.
"My dad's goal after World War I -- he was in the service in the war -- was to save enough money to buy a place on the lake. So in 1923 he had that opportunity when Mr. (William) Osborn, who was in real estate even then, told him about a place on the east shore on the market for immediate sale."
It seems, according to Trone, that Vandalia railroad agent W.T. Parrish and railway express agent Shively had purchased a little shack on the east shore to use as a fishing base.
"It turned out, on damp and rainy days, they didn't do any fishing but probably drank some moonshine and played poker," smiles Trone. "Their wives found out, so the boys were instructed to get rid of the property immediately! So Will Osborn called my dad. He wasn't married yet -- he married my mother, Almeda, in 1927 -- so for the next 22 years the family used it as a summer cottage, and then my folks moved here from Indianapolis (year-round) in 1949."
Many in Culver will recall the presence of Trone's store on the corner of Main and Washington Streets (the site of the Maxinkuckee Environmental Council today), long known as the Menser Building.
Don Trone, says son Pete, felt the need for more fashionable clothing than was available at the time in Culver, and opened Trone’s at the site in 1949, where it operated until 1978.
"Retailers always had to serve the town, the lake cottagers, the Academy, and rural interests," points out Pete Trone. "More recently, the areas of interest have melded together more."
Don Trone passed away in 1970, and his wife operated the store for its remaining eight years in his stead.
Young Pete was away at school before entering the military in 1951. He returned to Culver in 1953 and began a long full-time association with the Woodcraft Camp at Culver Academy. A graduate of Culver's summer Naval School, Trone actually began at Woodcraft as a counselor in the summer of 1949. Working year-round in summer admissions, Trone left the school in 1977.
He and his family had watched as the south shore of Lake Maxinkuckee began to develop into "a nice residential area," says Trone, following World War II. In conversation with area entities such as the Culver Lions Club, Chamber of Commerce, and Academy, the notion of comprehensive planning in the area began to be explored. A group of individuals representing those organizations was appointed to serve on a planning committee, and on June 15, 1959, a comprehensive plan was adopted by the town of Culver, going into effect in January, 1960.
"At the time there wasn't much commercial development on the lake," recalls Trone. "We were concerned there might be development that might become overbearing or unwieldy for the community. The only commercial development then was two small groceries and a general store on the east shore and two marinas, one on the south and one on the west shore. Plus there was commercial development around since the founding of the railroad: the lumber yard, bulk oil, and before that, ice houses. So we proposed to the town that districts be created to contain the various commercial enterprises, and we put restrictions on residential constructions around the lake and in the incorporated town."
At the time, says Trone, Academy Road didn't exist west of Lake Shore Drive, though a subdivision had been proposed there, in addition to other rumored developments some felt should be permitted, but controlled.
In those days, there was no comprehensive plan in place in all of Marshall County, notes Trone, with the possible exception of Plymouth. Similar Indiana communities such as Lakes Wawasee James, and Tippecanoe were pursuing comprehensive plans, with a concerted effort by lake associations in various communities to incorporate lakes into local comprehensive planning.
"My dad and Mr. Lilly from Wawasee lobbied the state legislature to create an act that would permit planning to incorporate adjacent communities such as Culver and Syracuse, but recognize the unique features of the lake communities. So they were successful in doing that, and I believe it's helped orderly development of these lakes. Eventually there might have been better planning without any legislative action, but I think that was key."
There were a few roadblocks to comprehensive planning in the Culver area, says Trone, mostly from those concerned the plan would deny them the opportunity to continue to use their land or real estate as they had been, including some farmers who worried agricultural use opportunities would be hampered, and developers who might wish to create more subdivisions than allowed.
"Many didn't understand the concept of comprehensive planning," Trone says, though he recalls that, "generally members of the community were supportive."
State legislation gave municipalities on or near a lake the power to enact planning and zoning ordinances to affect their incorporated entities as well as a lake that abutted their corporate limits, Trone explains.
Thus, the town of Culver's zoning ordinances apply to the town and an area within a two-mile radius, plus all of a body of water that abuts the town limits, and a buffer area beyond that. Therefore, if Lake Maxinkuckee extended south beyond the two mile limits, the land could still be included. Since then, he adds, Culver is "pretty close to having the two-mile radius encompass the lake because of annexations along the west shore and Long Point."
One concern for some involved in the original plan was an interest in orderly development on the lake and opportunities for recreational use, "which some of us felt would be limited if there was much commercial development on the lake," Trone says.
Pete Trone was an original member and President of Culver's first Plan Commission. His involvement with the Board of Zoning Appeals began when a member of the Plan Commission was called for to serve on the BZA.
"There was a supposed quirk in the state law that didn't permit a resident of the jurisdictional area outside town limits to serve, except as an appointee of that district. Our attorneys later decided otherwise, so now theoretically all members of the BZA could be outside of town. I was on the Plan Commission around eight years, then BZA a total of 17 years. Then I was off 17 years, and then back on for 17 until I retired."
The first members of the Plan Commission, in 1960, were most active in the original development of the comprehensive plan for Culver, says Trone. These included community members Rev. Kendall Sands, Hampton Boswell, Jean (Mrs. Warner) Williams, and Jean Dugan; jurisdictional area members Pete Trone (President) and Admiral John Bays (Secretary); and town board appointees Don Mikesell, Charles Cook, and A.R. McKesson. The 1960 (first) Board of Zoning Appeals, which acts as the "enforcement arm" of the Plan Commission, included citizen members Robert Berger (Chairman), Wilfred Craft, Robert Osborn; Plan Commission members Hampton Boswell (Vice Chairman), Mrs. Warner Williams (Secretary); jurisdictional area representative Harry Edgington.
"We tried to have the town board and other entities who appointed members of the Plan Commission and BZA to have a broad representation of the various facets of the local community," says Trone, thumbing through what may be the only remaining copy of that first zoning ordinances, printed in April of 1960 by the Lake Maxinkuckee Association.
So, with 34 years under his belt, what kept Pete Trone serving on planning and zoning boards in Culver?
"My desire to have development," he replies, "but that it be orderly and logical development."
He recalls serving from the old town board chambers, in the cramped basement of the old fire station on Plymouth and Cass Streets, the site of today's Grace Church parking lot. In those early years, he says, "the town hall was actually in Will Easterday's funeral parlor on Main Street, when he was town clerk!"
Looking back over the years, Trone says some major moments stick out, including the development of Venetian Village on the lake, which took place in fall, 1959, before Culver's zoning ordinances had taken place.
"If that had occurred in 1960," Trone explains, "the lot sizes would have been much larger. Lots not served by sewer systems without a public water supply are much larger in square footage, for the health and safety of the lake's water."
Probably the largest development in the area, he says, would have been the 1963 relocation of the Woodcraft Camp. Other major item affecting lake properties included the so-called "anti-funneling ordinance" of the early 1990s, which doesn't permit "piggy-backing" several homes on one lot, or giving access to the lake to lots off of the lake. That move also pertained to the health of the water and how much use it can withstand, though Trone notes the Culver area has largely avoided problems with funneling "except places we already had, like 18B Road and other public access sites," he says.
When the railroad was discontinued, recalls Trone, Culver was faced with redevelopment of west shore properties.
"In front of the cemetery on the west shore, you could probably pick up a lot for $150 if you had the cash," he says. "There were squatters there who used the land. So the elimination of the railroad (in the late 1970s) opened up more development opportunities."
Trone says the best development has been the onset of what he calls "a professional approach to enforcement of the ordinances, with (Culver Building Inspector) Russ Mason. Russ and the present members of BZA understand the ordinance, and we believe we've applied it correctly and judiciously. There's a greater acceptance of the need for planning by all segments of our society...in most cases we've proven to people that our efforts are worthwhile."
A major future challenges in Culver's planning and zoning life, he adds, is in the area of lake water quality and preservation of opportunities for use of that resource by all segments of the Culver community.
The future, however, is no longer Pete Trone's specific concern, as he bids farewell to more than three decades of service in those areas and more. Besides his involvement in planning and zoning, Trone is remembered as an active member (and secretary) of Culver's Chamber of Commerce for many years. He was involved with the Lake Maxinkuckee Association for many years (his father was involved for a quarter-century as secretary of that organization, from its inception). He's served actively on boards with the Antiquarian and Historical Society of Culver and the county-wide Wythougan Valley Preservation Council.
Trone plans to "take it easy" from here on out -- and that's a luxury he's more than earned.

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