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

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

A Newton County ghost town

Can you call a town a ghost town if none of the structures are still standing, if all that is left are foundations? If you can, then Newton County has a ghost town in Conrad, which is now on the property owned by the Nature Conservancy. It lies about two miles south of Lake Village in the Conrad Station nature preserve.  Maps showing the old Beaver Lake and the town of Conrad can be found here (you have to scroll down a bit.)

To get to the Conrad Station nature preserve, find Newton County Road 725, which is a gravel road going east from U.S. 41. Follow it about half a mile until the road turns south. At the bend in the road is a tiny parking area big enough for two cars. Next to the parking lot is the sign shown above.

The Conrad Trail is a loop trail. If you want the short way to the ruins of Conrad, take the western trail that heads into the woods, not the eastern part that shirts the woods. The trail is marked but is sometimes hard to follow, and it is sometimes cut by old roads that are easier to follow than the trail. If you successfully follow the trail for about half a mile, you will find a foundation with a interpretive sign next to it.
The interpretive sign tells the story of Jennie Conrad and the town she founded in 1908. Much of what is on the sign seems to be information very similar to what you can read here. The town never was very big, but did eventually contain a train depot, hotel, post office and general store, church, cement block factory, blacksmith shop, stockyards, and some houses. The plat map shown below can be seen better here if you click to magnify the right map.
I did not read the selection shown above when I was there, or else I would have realized that half the town was west of the railroad tracks. Highway 41 lies on the western edge of the town.

My guess is that the building next to the historical information sign was the depot, but it is only a guess.
The railroad tracks are still there, but no longer used and are not currently usable because the roads that cross them completely cover the tracks.
This railroad was originally the Chicago, Indiana & Southern Railroad, which had a short life. It then became part of the New York Central. I do not know what happened after that, but the New York Central is long gone, having merged with the Pennsylvania Railroad to become the Penn Central. From what I can find on the Internet, it appears that all the tracks in Newton County, from south of Kentland to north of Lake Village, are abandoned. Does anyone know why the tracks have not been pulled up for scrap? The right-away would make a wonderful hiking/biking trail. 

There may be more ruins west of the tracks. There are some occupied buildings next to the highway that are part of a go-kart track.

It would be nice if the Nature Conservancy folks would mark out the existing ruins, but since their main interest is preservation of plants and animals, not the preservation of human structures, we should probably be thankful that they have done as much as they have done.
Returning to the parking lot, I noticed a couple of ruins east of the information sign. Below you can see a few cement blocks that might have been part of an old foundation.
Much more impressive were these stairs. Again a guess, but they may have been part of the hotel.
There were parts of the foundation visible for this building, and there were some bricks that had a white enamel-like surface lying about.  
This town was in its infancy a century ago. Jennie Conrad died a bit before 1940. The town seems to have been abandoned by the early 1930s, or maybe 80 years ago. There is almost nothing left to say that people once lived here in a small town. The house I live in was built about the time Conrad was built, and it is still in good condition. It probably was no better than the best of the buildings at Conrad.

The location of Conrad was poor--it was two miles south of an existing town. Perhaps the lesson is that things constructed by eccentric and disagreeable women for personal reasons should not be expected to last.

If you want a nature walk or a historical walk, give the Conrad Trail at Conrad Station a try some day. You can also stop by Conrad Bridge, built in the early years of Conrad and about half a mile away,


Anonymous said...

I love this story. We are losing so many old structures, outbuildings, barns, and homes. They need to be recorded. Thank you for making a record of the leftovers.

Anonymous said...

Great article on Conrad. I used to hunt the area in and around the remains of Conrad in the mid to late 1970's. The railroad tracks were in use then, and continued to be used at least into the early 1980's.

Anonymous said...

can we metal detect there?

Anonymous said...

I grew up in Lake Village and remember poking around in the woods exploring the ruins of Conrad. That was in the 1970's. What happened to the town that there were already trees growing through the foundations only 50 years later?? There are buildings in Lake Village that were built around the same time and are still standing and inhabited.

Anonymous said...

By the way, someone posted a photo of the stone Conrad Station on Facebook. That photo must be rare!

Anonymous said...

I have played on many of those old building remains and the railroad tracks as a little kid growing up in Lake Village. Interesting stuff as an adult as a kid I had no clue what they were.

Anonymous said...

If any of you's have a facebook account, search for Lake Village Indiana OLD PHOTOS PAGE and click on photos, look thru the pics of conrad in the Conrad Indiana folder. Some very cool pics of Conrad in its prime!

Jim Barber said...

I visited this location 3-29-13. I was able to find five very clear foundations. They all appear to be close to major structures that appear on the old plat map for Conrad. Two of these would correspond to the Church (the tallest foundation with at least a partial basement) west of the tracks, and the Post Office directly east of the Church and still west of the tracks. The other three are east of the tracks. They are all a little farther to the north, which would seem to place these near Hugh St. that the Church and Post Office are on. There is a structure just east of and very near the tracks which I would guess to be the Depot. The next structure to the east is the one with the historical marker. Again, based on the plat map, this would seem to be the Hotel (assuming the structure nearer the tracks is the Depot). The fifth structure is yet further east. This is where the stair steps sit near the hiking trail. One article I read seemed to indicate that the steps might be from the former school (although it is shown much further north on the map).

Jim Barber said...

I just found this bit of information about the location of the school from the Kankakee Valley Historical Society web page, written by Dick Schmal in 1990. "The first school, which originally stood on the Graves farm east of Conrad, was moved to the north part of town and used until a brick school was erected east of the hotel in 1927." I think this confirms the location of the hotel and that the steps along the path are of the school (the one built in 1927).