A Stroll Down LaPorte Avenue in the Early 1900s
By John Hmurovic
Betty (Long) Gehrke was born in 1911 and grew up on the 1600 block of LaPorte Avenue, which is the northernmost block of LaPorte. Years later, she could still remember the people who lived on her block, and on the next block down. Fortunately, for us, she wrote down her memories of the people who made up her neighborhood.
“I could name the people on other streets,” she wrote. “I sometimes think I could have put together the City Directory! As I look back, I realize that I lived only twenty of my (almost) 85 years in the LaPorte Avenue house, but I sure knew all my neighbors!”
In the interest of brevity, we’ve only included below what she wrote about her side (the west side) of the 1600 block. Here is a walk down that street, starting from the north end and going south.
On LaPorte, beginning at the lake end , lived John Hows, and my home was next. Then Wesley Tharp, Thomas Hopkins, Roland “Sandy” Greenburg and wife, the former Helen Marie Green, Roy’s sister.
Arthur Vernon, wife Grace and daughter Dorothy.
Robert E. Humphreys, and wife, parents of Claude. S.O. Co.
The Gallaghers, whose grandsons Carl and Pat lived with them. Their own children were “Spud” and Marguerite.
Robert Denham with wife, Blanche, sons Francis and Robert and daughter Florence. Mrs. Denham’s folks, the Scotts, also lived there.
Hoyt Wright and wife in the two-flat, and their tenants the Couples, later Craswells, then Robertsons (Isabelle Lawson).
Mr.Whiteman, the school principal had Florence, Claude and Jimmy in the two-flat. Later the Police Chief, Clay Collins and family lived there. They were parents of Milton, Ruth, Clarence, Vivian, Virginia, and William.
On the corner, in the big purple brick house with the lovely porch, were the Daegling family: Mr. & Mrs. Alonzo and Laura and children, Donald, Harold, Lucille, and Kenneth. Mr. Daegling, a contractor, had built this house, as well as the one next to it where the Whitmans lived.
The U.S. Census reports for 1910 through 1930, which became public in the years after Betty Gehrke wrote this, help us fill in more details about this section of LaPorte Avenue. One of the more interesting details it provides is a look at the occupations of the people. As you might expect, a large number worked at the Standard Oil refinery. Frank Long, Betty’s father, was listed as the chief clerk at the refinery. His neighbor, John Hows, was a foreman. Thomas Hopkins was a night watchman. Roland Greenburg was an engineer. Arthur Vernon was a clerk at the refinery. Patrick Gallagher was a stillman, and Hoyt Wright also worked at the refinery. Robert Humphreys was the company’s chief chemist, and a legend in the world of oil refining.
There were also city employees on the block. Clay Collins was a long-time policeman in the city who served as chief of police. Robert Denham was Whiting’s city controller. And after he left the refinery, Thomas Hopkins worked as a gardener at Whiting Park.
And, there were small businessmen. Before becoming city controller, Denham was the owner of a news store, while Wesley Tharp was a long-time grocer. “My mother,” Betty Gehrke wrote, “ liked to shop for groceries, although she always had a charge account at Atkins-Tharp on 119th Street, where Wagner Insurance has recently vacated (1995). Mrs. Henry Davidson had an account there also, and her daughter Bonnie Jean would treat some of us kids to cookies – or dill pickles – at her mother’s expense – until her mother got the bill from the store!”
Although Whiting was heavily populated with immigrants in these early years of the 20th century, they did not live on this block. Most of those on this block were born in the United States. Even the two exceptions were not among the numerous Slovaks, Poles, Croatians and other eastern and southern Europeans who were settling here at the time. Patrick Gallagher was born in Ireland, and Robert Daegling, was born in Germany.
The Whiting-Robertsdale Historical Society collects memories. Feel free to share yours with us, so future generations can have some idea of what it was like to live here during your time.