Photos and Bits from Whiting’s First 50 Years
By John Hmurovic
Whiting recognizes 1889 as its year of birth, which means it is 130 years old in 2019. In 1939, on its 50th birthday, the city had a huge celebration. That anniversary was also celebrated with a special edition of the Whiting Times newspaper. The 46-page Whiting Times Historical Edition, as it was called, was the kind of newspaper that people held onto. Fortunately, some left their copy for the Whiting-Robertsdale Historical Society so that generations to come could look back at the city’s first 50 years.
Below are some of the photos that appeared in that special edition, a few short snippets from the paper, as well as what the newspaper called “Just Bits From the Old Timers.” Those bits are short quotes from some of Whiting’s earliest settlers, talking about what it was like here in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. With each photo, we’ve included the original captions which appeared in the newspaper. So take a look back at Whiting’s first 50 years, with some of the images and quotes seen by Whiting Times readers in 1939.
“In 1870 you couldn’t scare up more than 10 or 12 houses from the state line to Indiana Harbor. Our house on 119th Street was really the first house Whiting ever had.” - - - Mrs. Robert Klose
“My father had a farm across the tracks…We had all kinds of fruit trees and berries. Where the Filtration plant is now, that is where we cut our hay. [Note: In 1939, when this quote was recorded, the city’s water filtration plant was on 119th Street, roughly in the area where Oil City Stadium is in 2019.] We pastured our cows on the lot where the Central banks building stands. [The Central Bank Building she refers to was on the southwest corner of Indianapolis Boulevard and 119th Street, where People’s Bank is now located.] There were no streets and only a few families lived here.” - - - Mrs. B.S. Place
“In 1889, I could have bought a whole block from New York Street to White Oak Avenue for $600. It was nothing but sand and woods then.” - - - George Fedorka
“There was always a lot of snakes around here. One time I was in the garden and there, rearing its head in one of my flower beds, was a copper-head. I ran down to the basement and got a piece of rail and killed it. You could always see snakes slithering through the berry patches.” - - - “Mutter” Thamm
“I met the train at the Lake Shore depot and moved the first Standard Oil employees and their possessions with my father’s oxen team. They were Jack Harris, Thomas Dennom, Joe Bohenski, and Tom Delacy. They started building the Standard in June of 1889. They put in sewers and cinder roads as the sand was so deep the oxen could hardly pull the empty wagons.” - - - George Wonnacott
“Memorial Day was the big day for the school children. The day before we would gather flowers and make wreaths and keep them in tubs of water until the next day. Then all the Civil War veterans and the school children would parade from the Old Whiting High School to the little cemetery which stood where the Standard Oil barrel house is now and place the flowers on the graves of soldiers.” [Note: The barrel house, and the cemetery before that, were roughly located just to the east of today’s BP Burton Center on 121st Street, where a BP parking lot is now located.] - - - Mrs. William Brown
“People made a good living selling frogs and fish and wild game. John Kint, the bridge keeper at 106th Street Bridge used to walk up and down the bridge with a gun. By the time I passed there on my way to work early in the morning, he would already have bagged 15 or 20 ducks.” - - - Henry Theobold
“In the early days of Whiting, there were a lot of floaters who came in looking for jobs. Bosses used to walk up to a gang of men and pick out the ones that looked good to them and hire them. Often he would have to buy the men a drink before they would work for him.” - - - Michael Kozacik
“There was no hospital in Whiting, but my husband, Dr. Putnam, made one of his own in the back yard. The roof was an apple tree in full bloom. The patients would lay out there in the quiet shade and have their meals brought to them.” - - - Mrs. W.E. Putnam
“The original jail used to be a corrugated iron shanty at 119th Street at the railroad tracks. [Note: This was probably on 119th Street just east of the Schrage Avenue intersection, where there was once a set of railroad tracks crossing 119th Street.] It wasn’t lined inside with plaster or anything and it had no floor, just cinders. It had three cages and would hold eight or nine prisoners. We had it filled up occasionally, generally when there would be a big celebration of some kind going on.” - - - Clay C. Collins
A notable attempt to solve the transportation problem was made by Jacob Forsythe about the year of 1870, when he placed a small, but efficient, steamboat on the waters of Wolf Lake. Mr. Forsythe was at that time doing a large amount of fencing and this steamboat was of great value in transporting the posts. Traffic was not sufficient to warrant a regular service and the boat was soon taken off.
One of the distinctive features of the Whiting landscape was the line of sand bluffs that boardered the shore of Lake Michigan.
In politics, Whiting was strongly Republican after the Civil War. The returned soldiers, under the leadership of Henry Schrage, took a great interest in the election of Gen. Grant in 1868.
The Whiting Public Library at one time circulated player piano rolls in the same manner as books are circulated.
“Nineteen coaches of baseball fans followed the old Whiting Grays to Elkhart and South Bend and Chicago. They were champs - - Marquette, Daly, Jack Hughes, Petey Gorman, Fred Brett, Gomez Griffith, Francis Kelly and Jim Grady. The Doghouse Quartet, which included August Krebs, Bill Dickey, and Bill Stewart, used to accompany the team.” - - - E.C. Grady
An earthquake awakened the villagers Oct. 31, 1895. No damage was done but the severity of the shock almost approached the danger line. Rocking chairs were set in motion and clocks thrown from the shelves. The vibration continued for 45 minutes.