Rensselaer Adventures

This blog reports events and interesting tidbits from Rensselaer, Indiana and the surrounding area.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Changes downtown

On Friday the Little Coffeeshop on 231 celebrated its one-year anniversary with a ribbon cutting. It will be offering specials over the weekend to celebrate.
 There are several businesses that have recently opened in the downtown. Only a few weeks old is Healthy Haven, which features smoothies, protein shakes, and teas. It occupies the space that was most recently the annex room for the Clauss Bakery.
 Not all of the seating has been installed.
The bar was built by the owner who started this business in January from her home. She was able to blow it up using social media and now has enough business to move to a downtown location.
 Below is the menu.

Next door the bakery is closed but will soon open under different management.
 I mentioned Healthy Haven and another business that recently opened downtown in a May post. That second business, New Millennium Mortgage, is a branch of the DeMotte office. The branch manager is a Rensselaer native who has worked in banking and real estate, so a move to mortgage origination seemed to be a logical move. The office is open Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays and by appointment on Tuesdays and Thursdays. It is located on Van Rensselaer behind the Beaver law office.
 PartyTown Rentals, which has its warehouse on Melville, now has a storefront on Front Street.
 I was surprised when I went inside and found that most of the display was for Gatherings. So it too now has a storefront.
 In the same building is the expanded Unwind Massage. It now has three massage rooms, each with its own licensed and certified massage therapist, plus a tanning room and a room for facials. Each of the massage rooms has its own decor.
 Unwind Massage has been in this location for some time, but until recently was only using the very back of the building. The owner recently purchased the building and expanded into the front where the Birthright offices used to be. In addition to the massage rooms, there is a large room that is used for yoga.
Below is their menu of services with prices. Just as with the Healthy Haven menu, I have little idea of what the various items consist.

In addition to these business changes, there are two more changes coming to the downtown. Renovations of the old Horton building and the old PNC building continue.

During the two weeks I was out of town, work was done to the exterior of the Autumn Trace complex. The company also posted pictures on Facebook showing the current state of the interior.
While I was taking the picture above, I noticed that the vacant lots nearby were having hay harvested and that reminded me that I need to answer the question I posed in the last post.  The machine is a hay steamer that adds moisture to the hay while it is being baled. In the arid west, the hay often does not have enough moisture to make good bales and this machine fixes that problem. If you want to know more, go to the website of the manufacturer, here.
Finally, the walking trail in Monnett-Staddon now has crushed rock on it.
I joked in May that it was Rensselaer's first roundabout. On my trip west I found an even more confusing traffic pattern, the Diverging Diamond Interchange. It is explained here.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Planes, trains, and buses

I spent most of the last two weeks traveling and as a result have not written about things that I normally write about, things such as meetings of the Commissioners, Park Board, and City Council. I missed the Taste of Jasper County and expected to miss the Birthday Bash for the Pool, but weather has delayed that by a week. Also the concrete structure for the SR 114 bridge replacement was set in place while I was gone.

My travel adventures were with my son and his family on a visit to relatives in Arizona and Nevada. The plan was to take Amtrak from Chicago to Flagstaff, Arizona, spend some time there before traveling to eastern Nevada, spending more time there, then flying from Las Vegas back to Chicago. They invited me to go along to help herd the cats kids. I was surprised to see that the train tickets cost more the the plane tickets.

Our Amtrak adventures got off to an usual start. Flooding had closed a railroad bridge at Fort Madison, Iowa, so Amtrak chartered five busses to take the passengers from Chicago to Kansas City, Missouri where we would board the train. The five busses did not travel as a group but each went its own way. Below is a picture of our bus at its one stop for food on the route.
 We arrived in Kansas City a couple hours later than the schedule and boarded a train. We were in the last car so as the sun rose over Kansas in the morning, I took a picture through the window at the end of the train.
 If the train had been on schedule, we would have passed through most of Kansas at night. But it was behind schedule and we saw much of the state. It seemed that flooding and water had delayed planting there as it had in Indiana.
 We were supposed to arrive in Flagstaff a between 8:00 pm and 9:00 pm. Instead we arrived between 2:00 am and 3:00 am. We got a ride to a second son's house and settled in for a few days. We took some day trips. One trip took us to Sunset Crater National Monument and Wupatki National Monument. The latter is shown below. The monument features ruins of ancient Indian dwellings.
Another excursion took us to Sedona. Sedona is much lower in elevation than Flagstaff and as a result is much warmer. One of the tourist attractions there is the Chapel of the Holy Cross, shown below
 Another tourist attraction is a hiking trail at Cathedral Rock.

Sedona relies heavily on tourism and it features some very expensive homes.

 When time came to leave Flagstaff, we headed north to Page, Arizona. Page is about the size of Rensselaer but with a much shorter history. It sprang up as a result of construction of Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado River. The Dam has tours and we took one. The tour led down to the generating room.
 There is a bridge over the canyon that carries the highway traffic. It looks small from the bottom of the dam.
 Of course we had to stop by the Grand Canyon. We visited the North Rim. The kids were not overly impressed with it. Perhaps if we had spent a few hours of hiking down into the canyon they would have better appreciated just how enormous it really is. Note the people on the unfenced overlook in the picture below. We did not visit that overlook.
 The toilets at the visitors center were out of order so visitors had to rely on a row of port-a-potties. I could not resist a picture.
 From the Canyon we headed north into Utah on the way to Cedar City. We made a quick stop at Cedar Breaks National Monument, which is located about 10,000 feet above sea level. There was still a lot of snow on the ground. This past winter was a very snowy one for the western peaks.
 The kids thought the view below was more impressive than what they saw at the Grand Canyon.
 After Cedar City the next stop was Baker, Nevada, gateway to Great Basin National Park. We were in Baker during its annual Snake Valley Festival, which has a small parade. Below is an unusual piece of farm equipment. The second section is a hay baler. Does any reader know what the piece of equipment that is in front of the baler does? I doubt if there are any in use in Indiana. (Hay is to Nevada as corn is to Indiana.)
 Great Basin National Park is home to Lehman Cave, a small cave that is very rich in cave formations.
On the road to Las Vegas, we stopped by Cathedral Gorge State Park between Pioche and Caliente Nevada. Its badland formations have some fascinating narrow slot canyons that are almost cave-like.
The rest of the trip was fairly uneventful. The kids all said that they preferred the train ride to the airplane ride, which I did not expect. I know my grandkids a lot better than I did two weeks ago.

It will take me a while to catch up now that I am back in town. One interesting item I noticed is that SJC is trying to find a tenant for its Drexel Hall quarters. I am guessing that means that they plan to move their offices onto the campus.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Downtown Rensselaer as it once was

In the late 19th and early 20th Century the Sanborn Company published fire insurance maps. Some of those for Rensselaer can be found on-line here. They offer a look of what downtown Rensselaer once contained.

Below is part of one of the maps from 1886.  Buildings in yellow are wooden structures, red indicates brick, and green concrete block. Almost all of these buildings are gone. The brick building at the top was DuVal's Livery, which was later converted to auto repair and a gas station when horses were no longer used for transportation. It was torn down in 2002 to make way for the Cooper Tire Building. The brick building below it was the Nowel's House, a three story building with hotel rooms on its second and third floors. It burned and was demolished in the 1980s. The wooden buildings across the street must date from the very earliest years of Rensselaer because on the 1899 map there is a notation, "These buildings are very old."
 There are three drug stores but two of them do more than sell medicines. One is groceries and drugs and another is drugs and jewelry. There are a couple of harness shops, a tiny cigar factory, a small shop for agricultural implements, plus barbers, restaurants, and dry goods. The second floors house doctors, dentists, and sellers of insurance. There is a millinery shop for women, so I assume the hats and B&S is for men, perhaps hats, boots, and shoes.

There are insurance maps for 1893 and 1899 that you can find online with the link above. Below is what the map of the part of the downtown looks like for 1904. Most of the wooden buildings are gone and many of the buildings still stand in the downtown. The Nowel's House is still serving as a hotel. Along the east side are four jewelers, the post office, and on the second floor the telephone office. On the west side of the street, the large three story building that became Wrights Furniture has been built and next to it Warner's Hardware, which is currently eMbers. There is a bicycle repair shop and a bakery (maybe two) in the old wooden buildings that remain. Several of the buildings constructed by Abraham Leopold are at the north end of the street and I think his dry-goods business occupies the space now used by Merchants Bank.
 There is another map from 1909 that you can find on-line but we will jump to the 1921 map. Notable are two movie theaters, the Star Theater and the Princess Theater. Murray's Department Store, currently a fitness center, was built in 1906, replacing most of the remaining wooden structures along Washington.  The Post Office has moved. There continue to be several small grocery stores. The building that currently houses the Beaver Law office now has a cement-block facing.
Below are pictures of the east side of Washington between Front and Van Rensselaer as it appears today. The building on the right is the oldest building in the downtown. It was built in 1868 and housed the McCoy Bank, which failed due to fraud in 1904. The next two buildings may have been built together because they are listed as having been built in 1898. The beige building was originally a two-story structure with the Ellis Opera House on the second floor. When I moved to Rensselaer the Penney's store was here. Among the many other businesses that have been at this location was the Ben Fendig Shoe Store.
The building at the edge of the picture above and fully shown below was built in 1895 and housed the Larsh and Hopkins Drug Store. The building next to it, today Willow Switch, was built in 1890 as John Eger' grocery store. Next to it is a building from 1899 that was Eigelsbaugh butcher stop. The Brewery building dates from 1899 and was originally the hardware store of William Eger. The building on the far right was built around 1910.
In addition to the Nowel's House, two other buildings stood where the parking lot is today.

There is also a 1942 Sanborn map that is not on-line. The Jasper County Library has a copy. It was made by taking the 1921 map and pasting changes on it.

Some of the information above was taken from the Walking Tour of the Rensselaer/Jasper County Courthouse Square Historic District. I believe the Jasper County Historical Society helped prepare it.

Monday, June 10, 2019


Recently I was looking for a couple items in the microfilm rolls of The Rensselaer Republican. As I scrolled through the roll for 1908, I found a couple of items unrelated to what I was searching for but which I thought interesting.

Rensselaer has had quite a number of newspapers in its history. In 1908 two of them merged.

On the same page as the article above was a report of a basketball game. (There was no separate sports section back then. ) The way that the play was described was a lot different from how games are reported today.

Rensselaer once had two bus companies. It is unclear from the article if the vehicles were horse drawn or motorized; the early 20th Century saw the transition from animal to machine. My guess is that these were still horse drawn. The readers must have known where the route was. I assume the guests were traveling from the train depot and the hotels.

I do not know if the sale described below went through. Various sites say that the Gifford railroad was sold to the Monon after Gifford's death in 1913. The track was abandoned in 1935 and few traces of it remain. Note the comment at the end saying that the railroad would have made more sense if it had started from Rensselaer rather than McCoysburg. However, the railroad mostly was built on land that Benjamin Gifford owned and he did not own the land directly north of Rensselaer.

Every few years the Iroquois River has a serious flood. What is interesting in this account is how hard it is to make sense of the landmarks that the people of the day all knew.
Between 1900 and 1910 many people from Rensselaer moved west. Most were farmers looking for land and there was still cheap land available in Plains of Kansas, Nebraska, and the Dakotas. Below are two accounts a people who moved to South Dakota that were published on the same page of the Rensselaer Republican.

Many of these people wanted to keep in touch with what was happening back in Rensselaer so they subscribed to one of the Rensselaer papers and they often sent accounts back of how things were going.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Rensselaer authors

Three stones with plaques commemorate three authors born in Rensselaer who wrote books or music that were widely recognized. They are Eleanor Stackhouse Atkinson, Edison Marshall, and James F. Hanley. (Click on the name for more information about each.) There are quite a few other people associated with Rensselaer who wrote books that did not achieve the fame that the works of these three did and some of these obscure old books that were largely forgotten are now back in print.
Last year I wrote about Elmer Dwiggins (here and here) and mentioned his sci-fi book, Pharaoh's Broker, which was published under the pen name Ellsworth Douglas.  There seem to be five offerings of this book on Amazon. There are two reasons that obscure and forgotten books like this are back in print: books published in 1923 and earlier have lost copyright protection and the cost of publishing using on-demand printing is extremely low.

Searching Amazon books for the name Elmer Dwiggins reveals another book, White dragons wild, and how to win at ma jong: An advanced study of the world's most wonderful game as adapted to American playing. It was published in 1924 so far no one has yet reprinted it.

This blog has linked to a virtual tour of Weston Cemetery that mentions two authors of books about local history. John Alter wrote stories of Newton and Jasper County in Hoosier Hunting Ground under the pen name Bill Bat. His book was published in 1904 and it has been republished, but not on Amazon.

John S Blue, who wrote tales of pioneer days and about Hoosier wit and wisdom and is the third generation of Blues buried in Weston Cemetery. His books were self-published in the 1980s through the  Jasper County Abstract Company and are available on Amazon. His History and Tales of a Pioneer tells his family's story, which is similar to that of many other early Jasper County families. Many Jasper County families moved here from Pennsylvania and Ohio and some of the next generation moved further West to Kansas (and Nebraska and the Dakotas).

Another person mentioned in the virtual tour (which by the way is in serious need of being updated and maybe someday I will find the time do that) is Isaac Lewis, a professor at the University of Texas who wrote a guide to the trees of Texas. This book is from 1915 so the copyright has expired and there are reprinted copies on Amazon.

I recently found two more people with Rensselaer connections that have recently had books revived via on-demand printing or Kindle. Samuel Sparling grew up just west of Bennett Hall of Saint Joseph's College. (Some people may remember the old White House that burned in 1980.) His grandfather was the first settler on the land that starts at the Banet electrical substation and ends at the softball field. After graduating from the Rensselaer High School, Samuel earned a degree from Indiana University and then became the first person to earn a Ph.D. in the political science department at the University of Wisconsin. He published his Ph.D. dissertation and a bit later a book about business. After a few years teaching at the University of Wisconsin, he returned briefly to Rensselaer and then moved to Alabama, where he spent the rest of his life. (Sparling Avenue is named for this family who lived on that road.)

My other recent discovery is a person who seems never to have lived in Rensselaer but is buried in Weston Cemetery, James Henry Honan. He was born in Delphi, was employed on the Monon Railroad working his way up to being a conductor, then went to veterinary school and became a vet, practiced a couple years, then became a livestock or meat inspector earning good pay, took courses to become an MD, moved to Germany and practiced medicine there for several years, and with the outbreak of WWI, moved to Georgia where be taught at the University of Georgia's medical school. Several of his books have been brought back to life, including A Handbook to Medical Europe and Heart Disease: Its Care, Cure and Prevention. I not sure what audience there would be for century-old medical books. (He seems to be buried in Weston Cemetery because his brother, Edward Honan, was a prominent Rensselaer lawyer in the first two decades of the Twentieth Century.)

Over the years people associated with Saint Joseph's College wrote a variety of books including study guides, test banks, and parts of textbooks. I do not know of any complete list. Here is a link to one of the best,  David Osterfeld's  Prosperity Versus Planning. I mention it because it was published by the Oxford University Press and also because I am mentioned in the book's preface.

There are dozens of fairly recent books by people associated with Rensselear. Examples are here, here, and here.