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

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Names in Milroy park

If you have looked closely at the statue of General Milroy in Milroy Park, you probably have noticed that there are names around the base and on the bench behind. Who are they? They are the names of all the Indiana volunteers who served under Milroy in the Civil War. And to save you the trouble of copying down all those names, you can find them here.

Friday, February 27, 2009

An e-mail question

I received the following in the mail today:
I found your blog and have enjoyed reading it. I am a graduate of Rensselaer High School. I am currently wondering where the Mascot "Bob the Bomber" originated from. I have not been able to find any information on it. Do you know when it began and if there is any local tie-in to the name "Bomber".
Thank you for any information you can provide.
My response was:
I have never heard the mascot "Bob the Bomber." I do know that the Bomber name came from World War II when people in Rensselaer (or was it people connected to the school?) bought enough war bonds to buy a bomber. I have always thought it was a horrible name.
Does anyone have more to add?

Plaques: School House Memorial

Attached to the gazebo at Hal Gray Park, hidden behind the garbage can, is the plaque below.
This School House Memorial is dedicated to all Rensselaer students. It represents the memories we all have of the school buildings which at one time stood on these corners. This cornerstone and the bricks surrounding it came from the primary building.
Lincoln Grammar School 1882-1991
Primary Building 1892-1979
Grammar Building 1882-1939
High School 1912-1980

The buildings were still being used as schools when I moved to Rensselaer. The current high school was constructed before the middle school, and I remember these buildings being used as the middle school. Since my kids were too young to be there, I did not pay a great deal of attention to what was happening.

I recall them being empty, I recall an auction in which I think I bought a few desks, and I remember them being destroyed (and picking up some bricks).

If you have special memories of these old schools, feel free to share in the comments.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Sap's rising

I have been noticing early signs of spring. For example, some of the maples are dripping sap onto the streets, sandhill cranes are flying overhead, the days are getting long, the setting sun is moving north, and Walgreens was setting out garden seeds. Today the local schools had a fog delay, another sign of change of seasons. I still have not seen any croci (or crocuses) and in some past years they had already bloomed and disappeared by the end of February.

In an unrelated thread, there has been activity--big machines being set up--in the old Von Tobel building on Vine Street. A person I know said that a machine shop from the city (Chicago, Gary, Hammond???) is moving down to avoid high taxes and utilities.

One of the empty slots in the Town Mall is now filled with a hair salon, the Cutting Room. I have thought of writing about the various beauty shops around town, but there are so many and they are so scattered I do not know where to begin.

I ate with a resident of Newton County the other night and heard Newton County news. He confirmed that the Marina trucks that are constantly going through Rensselaer are heading to Buffalo, not to the Newton County Landfill, which gets about 500 trucks a day, but they not Marina Trucks. I have been noticing that when they are heading west through Rensselaer, they are empty. He also said that the Landfill has been clearing ground north of their current pile, so they may be planning another mountain or an extension of the existing mountain. There is also a small plant being built that will produce egg carton and other things from recycled paper. It will be powered by methane from the landfill. In the past this person had been hostile to the landfill, but has reconciled. The landfill people go out of the way to be nice to him, as do the people running a 12000-head pig farm that is also one of his neighbors.

He also mentioned plans for a Grand Prix racetrack and a gated community north of the North Newton high school. If I had ever heard of this project, I do not remember it. I wonder if it will be our version of Coyote Springs.

Bicentennial Park

One of Rensselaer's lesser known parks is Bicentennial Park, which lies south of the Iroquois River and north of West Washington.

View Larger Map
Bicentennial Park has very little in it. There is a canoe ramp, which, however, is not in good shape. Efforts to repair it have been hampered by the fact that the park sits on an old garbage dump.
What is the point of a canoe ramp? If you launch a canoe from Laird's Landing east of Rensselaer, this would be a good place to take it out of the river, except that for quite a while there has been a tree across the river, making any canoe trip from ramp to ramp rather iffy.
Sometime in the future a footbridge will link Bicentennial Park with Weston Cemetery. The bridge should increase the traffic in and use of the park, especially by those who walk for exercise. Right now there is nothing there but an empty field. The park has potential. It will be interesting to see if it is developed in the future.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Mardi Gras cake walk

Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. The day before Ash Wednesday is Fat Tuesday, which in French is Mardi Gras. Traditionally in Lent Christians fasted, so the day before the fast began, people would pig out. Hence, Mardi Gras, the last big party until Easter.

St. Augustine Grade School celebrated Mardi Gras this year with a cake walk. The children brought cookies, cakes, and other goodies to school, and then they paid for a chance to win them. What a terrific fundraiser! And they had fun doing it.

Below they are lining up to pay the fee to play. The school has uniforms, and either red or white shirts are acceptable. There seems to a marked preference for red--kids and white are not a good mix.
There were twenty five numbers, and the kids (or adults, for some of the rounds were done with adults) stood on the numbers to make sure the right number were in each round. Then the music started and they danced merrily around the circle. Or walked--whatever worked. When the music stopped, the principal read out several numbers, and those standing on those numbers got to run over and get some sweets.
There were so many choices. Do you want cookies or cupcakes or brownies? Store-bought cookies or homemade cookies? The winners got to pick their favorites, so they went home happy.
And now Lent, the season in which we try to practice that very un-American virtue of self control.

Still more elevator pictures

As I have been spending some time with this blog, I have come to realize that I enjoy taking pictures more than I enjoy writing. I find interesting things to photograph in many places, but I have also discovered that I especially enjoy taking pictures of machines. (I guess that makes me a capitalist.) Almost every time I walk by the grain elevators, I am tempted to snap a pictures. In December I gave into the temptation when there was a truck filling with grain. The truck is a big machine, but the elevator is an even bigger one. There was also a contrast of horizontals and verticals, and the red of the truck provides an interesting highlight to the otherwise grays and whites of the elevator, sky, and snow.
Here is a close up of the corn pouring into the truck.
Then I noticed the name of the elevator up on a metal bin, and had to take that as well.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Shopping at Walgreens

Because I wrote about shopping at CVS only three weeks ago, you may be wondering why I am now writing about shopping at Walgreens. Do we really want to read about shopping in another large chain store when there are so many local business that are still untapped?
However, Saint Valentine's Day makes me think of Walgreens. No, it is not some kind of love. Or maybe it is. It is the candy. Walgreens celebrates the major candy holidays better than anyone else in Rensselaer. (The major candy holidays, if you are unsure, are Halloween, Christmas, Saint Valentine's Day, and Easter.)

Below is a picture taken on February 6. It shows one side of the aisle, completely filled with candy. The other side may also have had some candy, but was primarily filled with stuffed animals and other Valentine stuff.
Saint Valentine's Day came and went. Some people did buy the $19.99 boxes of chocolates for their sweethearts. And some of us waited, because on Sunday, February 15, all the Valentine merchandise was marked down 50%. Notice that the bottom row is already empty. The store staff is already consolidating.
If your sweetheart is diabetic, you can still buy something. Why not a stuffed animal? Everyone needs more stuffed animals, right?
On February 17th all the candy had been moved to the other side of the aisle and the staff was busy putting out Easter candy.
Here is a completely redundant photograph to illustrate the putting out of Easter candy.
Finally, on February 18 I find what I have been waiting for. Valentine merchandise is now 75% off.
The selection, of course, is rather limited. There are no M&Ms left. But there are still a few Hersey kisses and lots of Palmer chocolate. I am always happy when I find decent chocolate reduced by 75%. (Palmer is not decent chocolate.) Surprisingly, I am also happy when others beat me to the treasures because I know that this candy is really not good for me. (Discounted candy can also have educational uses.)
At 75% off there were still plenty of stuffed animals.
All the Valentine merchandise is on one side of the aisle, and the other side is now stocked with Easter candy. Hey--it is less than two months until Easter. (These stocking decisions seem to be dictated by headquarters. They make no sense to me. Do people really start buying Easter candy a month and a half before Easter?)On February 19, the staff is trying to consolidate more. They move the candy to the end of the aisle and put away the non-perishable items for next year. They also begin to wonder why a strange man keeps coming in to take pictures. I am happy to explain this blog.
On February 20 only the candy is left, and it is on the far end of the aisle. The front end is now being stocked with Easter merchandise.
There are still plenty of people buying candy at 75% off.It is February 21, one week after Saint Valentine's Day and the remaining candy has been moved to a tiny bit of an aisle at the back of the store. Some of this may go to 90% off before it sells--it has in past years. (How do I know this? I have been watching the candy cycle at Walgreens for years.)
Meanwhile, both sides of the aisle in the front of the store are now completely devoted to Easter.
The Valentine stuffed animals have been replaced with Easter stuffed animals. Do you think they are all different, or are some of them the same?After Easter the candy will go to 50% off, but it will stay at that discount much longer than it does after Saint Valentine's Day. Halloween is the next candy holiday, so there is not the same urgency to restock the shelves.

Walgreens built and moved into this building less than ten years ago. It had been for many years in the space that is now occupied by Family Dollar. As a big chain, the merchandise that it carries is very similar to what CVS carries, with the exception of liquor, which CVS carries and Walgreens does not.

Monday, February 23, 2009


In January I wrote about commercial buildings that were for rent here and here. Since then I have found a few more, plus some buildings that are either for sale or just sitting empty.

Across McKinley from Saint Augustine's Church is this large house that once had a beauty salon in the porch. The space is for rent and the whole building is for sale.
Further along the block to the north is an old gas station that is for sale. It has been a long time since this was a gas station. I know that it has been used by one of the car dealerships to park cars and trucks, but I do not recall what else has been in here.
Further north and a couple blocks off the highway is a huge industrial building that was renovated last summer. I saw some "for lease" signs then, but there is nothing there now, and it seems to be empty. What was in here in the past? Was this part of the Northway complex?
Getting back on the highway and going north, there is an empty store for rent with the sign Dance Magic on it. I do not remember ever hearing of Dance Magic. I think this used to be Shanley's. I recall that Shanley's sold lawn and garden stuff, and then dabbled in pool service. I think there was a tattoo business in there not too long ago. The business next door is Shelley's Heating and Cooling.Returning to downtown Rensselare, there are two empty spots in the building behind Hoover House Furniture.
In addition to office 3, shown below, the spot that Meridian Title Corporation used to occupy is for rent, and the price on the window says that the going rate is $550 per month. The same name is on a spot for rent in College Square, and I cannot find anything that says it is still alive. Did it start here and move to College Square, or did it start in College Square and move here?
Downtown on the bricks along Van Rensselaer are two empty spots, but I do not see any for rent signs on them. Any one remember what has occupied these stores in the past?
The area north of the railroad tracks is a mystery to me. On the east end there are a number of city buildings for recycling and utilities. But to the west of that are strange and unknown buildings. North of Walnut there is half a block with a building and an assortment of equipment that is for rent or for sale. I have no idea what this space has been used for.
Here is the lot from the north side.
A bit further to the west is half a block on the south side of Walnut that is for sale. I have seen people in here doing something. I assume that at one time this whole area was kept alive by the railroad, but now that the railroad only hauls long distance, much of the economic activity that used to be supported is gone. If you know what all the buildings are used for in this area, or what they were used for in the past, feel free to comment.
I am sorry that I have mostly questions and very few answers today. However, I will close with an update. The old Schumacher building has a new tenant, How About That. How About That is the name of a trucking company owned by Ron Kasparian, who is a very recent graduate of SJC. He was unusual as an undergraduate because he already was running a business. Now that he does not have to bother with classes, his business seems to be rapidly growing despite the tough economy. Good luck, Ron.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Going to church the United Pentecostal way

(I thought it would be interesting to use Sundays to focus on Rensselaer's churches and to see how many Sundays I can go before I run out of material. Indiana is richly endowed with religious denominations, with influences from North and South, East and West. This is part of that series of posts.)

The Apostolic Bible Church on 220 N. Franklin Street is the part of the United Pentecostal organization of churches. They have their worship service at 6PM and the local pastor is Robert Villes.
The local church does not have a website, but the United Pentecostal Church International does.
From the website:
The UPCI emerged out of the Pentecostal movement that began in Topeka, Kansas in 1901. It traces its organizational roots to October 1916, when a large group of ministers withdrew from the Assemblies of God over the doctrinal issues of the oneness of God and water baptism in the name of Jesus Christ.
There followed some divisions, which were finally healed in 1945:
The United Pentecostal Church International (UPCI) has been among the fastest growing church organizations in North America since it was formed in 1945 by the merger of the Pentecostal Church, Incorporated, and the Pentecostal Assemblies of Jesus Christ. From 617 churches listed in 1946, the UPCI in North America (United States and Canada) today lists 4,358 churches (which includes 4099 autonomous and 258 daughter works), 9,085 ministers, and reports a Sunday School attendance of 646,304. Moreover, it is also located in 175 other nations with 22,881 licensed ministers, 28,351 churches and meeting places, 652 missionaries, and a foreign constituency of over 3 million, making a total worldwide constituency of more than 4,036,945.

The doctrinal views of the UPCI reflect most of the beliefs of the Holiness-Pentecostal movement, with the exception of the "second work of grace," the historic doctrine of the Trinity, and the traditional Trinitarian formula in water baptism. It embraces the Pentecostal view that speaking in tongues is the initial sign of receiving the Holy Spirit.

The UPCI holds a fundamental view of the Bible: "The Bible is the only God-given authority which man possesses; therefore all doctrine, faith, hope, and all instructions for the church must be based upon and harmonize with the Bible" (Manual of the United Pentecostal Church, 19).
Wikipedia has a bit more information, though much of the entry seems to be taken from the church's web pages.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Updates, hitching posts and more

On February 5 I wrote about old hitching posts in Rensselaer. A comment noted that there was one on East Washington Street, in front of the old Huntington/Halleck House, which is next to one of our old gasoline stations that now has a new use. Of course, I had to go out and take a photograph.

Many years ago this house was on a tour of homes. I am not sure who sponsored it, but it might have been the Jasper County Historical Society. I remember that the house is divided into apartments, but I do not remember anything of its history.

The house has some old stonework in the front that looks like it may have one time been a decorative pond. It reminded me of the stonework in the grottos at Saint Joes and in Beaverville. Does anyone know more about it?
On another note, the annual Science Olympiad was held at Saint Joseph's College last weekend (Valentine's Day). I saw no announcements at all about it, or I would have mentioned it and maybe even gone out to take some pictures. The Rensselaer Central Middle School did very well, advancing to state competition, while the high school team did well enough to advance to a wildcard competition that they need to win in order to make it to state. Congratulations to the coaches and the students.

Here is a picture from several years ago of the trebuchet competition. The goal here was to get a trebuchet that was accurate and could fling a projective a long distance. Some teams used kits, and others experienced the joy of designing and making their own.
For more recent and much better pictures, go here.

There are two art-exhibit receptions on Sunday, the 22nd, the high school show at SJC and the Special Creations show at the Carnegie Center. I am not sure why they did not plan that right.

Finally, from Tod Samra:
Next Tuesday, February 24th at 7:00 PM central time in the College Chapel, The SJC Concert Choir and the SJC Chamber Singers present the Winter Choral Concert. Admission is free and open to all.

The Chamber Singers will present three works by Russian composers, including Rachmaninoff; and three works by American composers, including Samuel Barber. The Concert Choir will sing two movements from the Andrew Lloyd Webber "Requiem," and three students will be featured as soloists: Renee Rybolt, Paige Popravak, and Michael Booth.
The choir is very good. You can see a sample of a past concert here, and of Renee Rybold here.

(If you have any announcements that you want to get to the very limited but select audience of this blog, feel free to send them to the e-mail address given in the contact information. It is best if you send them a couple weeks before the event. I do not guarenteee publication.)

A tree quiz

Look carefully at these leaves. What kind of tree do you think this is? The leaves are very plain, with no lobes or notches on them. The leaves also tend to stay on the trees throughout the winter.
Below is a picture of the whole tree. This particular tree is about a mile outside of Rensselaer on Bunkum Road. There are also a number of these trees on the SJC campus northeast of the Science Building.
If you said that this is an oak tree, you were right. It is (probably) a shingle oak. The shingle oak is the only oak tree with unlobed leaves that is native to Indiana. There are several other species of oaks with similar leaves, but they are usually found in the deep south. The name shingle oak was given these trees because their wood was often used for shingles by the early settlers.

So next time you see a tree in the winter full of brown leaves, check it out. It may be a shingle oak.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Shopping at Fastenal

Have you ever been in the Fastenal store in College Square? Although it is part of a national chain of stores, it is not very visible and it has virtually no signage. It is not even listed on the larage College Square sign next to the highway.
If you do not know where it is, it is next to the License Branch.
I had wandered in once a long time ago and thought it was just another hardware store. So when I asked about what they did and what market they served, I was surprised to hear that they were primarily a business-to-business operation that would also sell to retail customers. They classified themselves as industrial supply.
I had a hard time finding much that was interesting to photograph. The store does sell some tools, but mostly it has nuts and bolts and other things that qualify as fasteners.
I asked who had been in the space prior to Fastenal, and the clerk said that at one time it had been a dollar store. It took a while for the memory banks to process that information, but eventually I did recall that the dollar store that is currently next to Save-A-Lot had once been at the far end of the strip mall, and it had move up in the world when Walgreens, which had for many years been in the large store near what is now Save-A-Lot, had built its current building. There may have been some other stores that had occupied that space. When I came to Rensselaer in the mid 1970s, this part of the strip mall had not yet been constructed.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Stones for authors

On the west edge of Milroy Park, three boulders with metal plaques commemorate writers who were born in Rensselaer.
Eleanor (Stackhouse) Atkinson (1863-1942) was a reporter for the Chicago Tribune from 1888 to 1891 writing under the pen name of Nora Marks. She married in 1891 and wrote several books between 1903 and 1918, the most famous of which was Greyfriars Bobby in 1912. She divorced her husband in 1920 and died in Long Island in 1942. There is a website devoted to her at, and Greyfriars Bobby is sold on

Edison Marshall was born in Rensselaer and lived here until he was 13 when his father sold the newspaper he published and moved to Oregon to raise fruit. Marshall wrote a number of novels in the 1920s, 1940s, and 1950s, some of which were turned into movies. It does not appear that any of his novels are currently in print, but used copies of Yankee pasha: The adventures of Jason Starbuck, the book mentioned on his plaque, are sold at

In addition to this commemorative marker in Milroy Park, there is a historical marker for James Hanley (1892-1942) at the corner of Front and Washington. A composer, he is listed in the Song Writers Hall of Fame, where you can hear a clip of his song "Second Hand Rose" and see the complete list of his works. A list of movies that have used his songs is here.

Feel free to add any other information you think interesting in the comments.