Old Building Had Interesting Builder
by Gayle Faulkner Kosalko
There was an old building on 119th Street, east of where most of the action was as we came into the 21st century. But in its heyday, it was in the heart of the downtown business section. I probably first noticed it about 20 years ago when I looked up and saw in the stonework at the peak of the building the word “Soltwedel.” The building was right across the street from Very Fine Wash. Granted, it was an ugly old thing in its later years, covered in Tyvek wrapping, but it looked like it must have been a lively place about 100 years ago.
I had never heard of the name Soltwedel before. Then one day I received a wonderful old photo from a woman in Colorado, a descendant of the original builder, George B. Soltwedel. He was her great-grandfather and she said that it was in 1901 that George and his brother John bought the land on 119th Street and built this large building that housed many stores. In the 1906 photo she sent, the words “Office Block of Soltwedel Bros.” were painted on the front. She said her great-grandfather George had bought a lot of properties in Whiting. I think the building itself had been abandoned for many years and the great granddaughter wrote that there had been nine different owners since her great-grandfather’s day. One reason I never noticed the name Soltwedel at the top of the building was because it had been covered over with ugly siding for years.
So who was George B. Soltwedel? Like many of the early businessmen in Whiting, he was of German descent. This Whiting entrepreneur was born in 1863 in Walstein, Germany, to Hans Henry and Margaretha Elizabeth Soltwedel. In 1880 the family immigrated to the United States and ended up in Valparaiso. There they joined the Immanuel Lutheran Church and today there are still a number of Soltwedels in that area. Records show that George married Augusta Nolte in 1892 in Porter County. Later George moved to Hammond where he joined the Volunteer Fire Department. In 1901, he and his brother purchased the land on 119th Street that would become known as the Soltwedel block.
Now living in Whiting, the couple were members of St. John’s Lutheran Church. Soltwedel was considered quite a family man, being the father of seven children. The family’s residence was on Sheridan Avenue.
The Soltwedel building became home to many merchants through the years. Originally, the sidewalk in front was wooden and the building itself had a double storefront with good advertising windows. In 1902, the Soltwedel Brothers was a place to purchase the “best brands of whiskies, brandy and cigars…and liquor for medicinal purposes in the city” according to an ad in the paper. The brothers also ran a Billiard Room. By 1906, the rest of the building became home to a number of burgeoning businesses such as a jewelers, a real estate agency and a tavern as well.
George did well in Whiting. He was appointed the town’s Deputy Sheriff and later he went into the insurance business, a business in which he was highly successful. After a while, he became the wholesaler for Seips Brewing Company’s goods in all the territory from Whiting to the middle of Porter County. A popular man, he had also been nominated for treasurer of Lake County and in 1902 he was president of Whiting’s Town Board right before it was incorporated as a city, serving as acting mayor.
Later in 1930, we find Augusta and George had moved to Monrovia, California, just outside of L.A. His granddaughter wrote that later George was able to just live off the rents from his many properties in Whiting.
In the flowery descriptions that were often used to write about important citizens back in “The Whiting Sun,” it was written that Mr. Soltwedel is “blest with a genial disposition and his affable manner combined with his integrity has made him a general favorite with all.”
Augusta passed away in 1939. Then at the age of 82, George followed in 1945 and both are buried at Oak Hill Cemetery in Hammond.
I always hate to see old buildings torn down and especially this one since I have now learned about the man and his family and somehow feel connected. I only wish that the Soltwedel sign at the top of the building had been preserved. It would have made a touching tribute to a man who served this town well.