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

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

The movie star in Weston Cemetery

The website findagrave.com is a useful resource for people doing genealogical research. The findagrave pages for Weston Cemetery say that 89% of its graves have been photographed. Some graves do not have photographs because they lack markers, some of the graves listed may not actually be there, and others are duplicate entries. 

Looking at the situation, I decided that there could not be more than a few hundred graves left to photograph so set out systematically to find them. Along the way, something unusual happened. I found a grave that was not listed on findagrave or in the publicly available directory. It has a tiny marker, not at all impressive. Doing a little research, I found that this unexpected grave belongs to one of the oddest and most interesting people to come out of Jasper County.

Jay Dwiggins was the son of Robert Dwiggins, who was mentioned in a recent post because he was a leader of the temperance movement in Indiana. As a state senator he was a key player in giving counties the local option to ban liquor. He also ran for governor on the Prohibition Party ticket. One of Jay's uncles died while in the Union Army during the Civil War and another achieved notoriety when his large Chicago bank went bankrupt during the Panic of 1893. Jay grew up in one of Milroy Avenue's most impressive residences, 821 Milroy. (It is one of the few buildings labeled "Outstanding" in the Jasper County Interim Report of 2002.) So even if he had done nothing much in his life, he still would be of some interest for the being part of an unusual and prominent family.
Jay did not stick around Rensselaer after he grew up. When he married in 1887, his occupation on the marriage register is listed as a bank clerk in Chicago. Almost certainly he was a clerk in his uncle's bank, a large bank that went bust in 1893 and took down dozens of small country banks in Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin, and maybe a few more states. He rebounded, and with his brother Elmer, bought the land that is now Griffith, Indiana, platted it, and then sold the lots, promising that with its three railroads it was destined to become a site for many factories. (It did not, at least not as quickly as the Dwiggins brothers promised.) Today all that is left to remember their contribution to Griffith's history are three parallel streets named Dwiggins, Jay, and Elmer.  (Does this make Griffith Rensselaer's daughter city?)
Apparently the lights of Chicago were not bright enough, because the next time I can find him is in 1897 when he and his brother are two of the three partners in the brokerage firm J.R. Willard and Company with offices in New York and a number of other cities. The firm was in the news because it got caught selling short when the market went up, and as a result it declared bankruptcy. 


I have not found him in the 1900 Census, but in the 1910 Census he is living in Berkeley, California and his occupation was listed as a real estate salesman. His only child, Jay Jr., was captain of the University of California football team in 1909.

By 1914 Jay was an actor and writer for movies and had parts in about four dozen films, playing the roles of older or mature males. The only movie I found on-line was one of his last but the first film of United Artists, His Majesty, The AmericanAccording the what I found on the Internet, his character was Emile Metz. I suffered though the whole thing and never saw a character named Metz. I think he might have been the character named Grotz.
Jay Dwiggins died unexpectedly in California on Sept 8, 1919. Calling him a movie star is probably an exaggeration, but he was important enough to get his name in the credits of most the movies he was in. Perhaps if he had lived to the end of the silent movie era, he would be recognized as an important actor. As it is, he seems to fall into the "almost famous" category.

When he died, there was a short piece in the Evening Republican but I could not find anything in the Jasper County Democrat. Why not more? Perhaps the Dwiggins had been gone long enough so that few people remembered much about them. Or perhaps the community was more embarrassed by the Dwiggins than proud of their achievements. Members of the family had been involved in a lot of lawsuits and financial defaults.
(Frank Dwiggins was a cousin of Jay, not an uncle. The paper's account of his life is sketchy and incomplete.)

(In researching this family, the site chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/newspapers/ is very helpful. Jay's brother Elmer, who is not buried in Weston Cemetery, had an equally odd and interesting life story. It will be the subject of another post. )

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Business changes

Another Chance Vintage Emporium is the latest business to rent the quarters at the back end of the Horton Building. It contains a mix of antiques, decorative items, and other odds and ends. For more pictures and more information, check out their Facebook page.
 Moving from the front of the Horton building to a site two blocks to the east is Balloons Galore and More. They are still in the process of moving and expect to open in early February.
 Also moving is Endless Treasure. They are moving to the old Max Prouty car dealer building north of Smith' Farm Store.
 The building is less of a maze than their old building, but like the old one, it has several rooms rather than the large display area that one expects in a building designed for retail. When I visited this week, the move was still in process and there was a lot of sorting and arranging that still needed to be done. Those empty shelves in the picture below will be full in a few weeks.
 I liked a display of green dishes. But not enough to want to buy it.
There will be a new store of home decor in the corner of the old Long's Building, across from R&M. The sign in the window says that Country Bumpkin will open in February. (It is next door to the Honey Comb salon, which replace the wonderfully named A Head of Style (or was it Ahead of Style?).

 A few hundred feet to the south of the new location of Endless Treasure, Superior Sales and Service is fitting into their new building. It still sells lawnmowers, shoes and bikes.
 There are areas of the store that are not put together yet, like this area of bike tires and supplies.
They are next door to Superior Auto Sales. I wonder if the similarity of names will cause any confusion.

The old Dodge dealership is looking for another tenant or a new owner.
 On Friday I noticed a new sign for the White Castle bakery.
 And because I like to take pictures of train stuff, here are a few of the derailment cleanup. First the "claw, which this past week turned two tank cars to a pile of scrap metal.
 On Thursday a truck was being filled with the wheel undercarriages.
 There were no workers on site when I passed by on Friday. Below is what remained of two tank cars.
 Something is missing in this picture--the wheels that you can see in a picture from the end of September. At least some of the wheels were still on the lot, but as a previous picture showed, most of the undercarriages had left Rensselaer.
 The south spur is still not fixed, but a lot of work was done this week.
Southern Jasper County has a new state senator, Brian Buchanan from Boone County. He was elected by the caucus after two hours and five rounds of voting. More here and here.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Not your typical pig farm

Both the Jasper County Board of Zoning Appeals and the Jasper County Plan Commission met on Monday evening. At 7:00 the BZA opened its meeting to an overflow crowd, with far more people than could be seated. It was hard to tell what brought them all out as there were three very interesting items on the agenda. But before they got into the agenda, they needed to elect a president or chairman for the coming year. They re-elected James Martin.

The aspects of the first item on the agenda have been discussed in the past at the Commissioners meeting, the drainage board, and the BZA. It was continued at the request of the petitioner until the next meeting.

The second item, the Recovery House proposal, was the subject of a long and contentious meeting last month. The BZA decided to postpone a decision then, but was ready to decide this month. They approved the variance to allow more than a single family home on the property, but put two restrictions on it. It will be for two years and then must be renewed, and no more than eight clients are to be in the facility. With the granting of the use variance a big group of people left, but there were still people standing around the edges of the room.

The last item was for a variance for a proposed hog farm, but because it has been customary to do the rezoning before the variance, the BZA meeting recessed and the Plan Commission convened. They also elected a chair. The previous chair, Sandra Putt, said she did not want the position again, the group elected Gerritt DeVries as chair.

The only item on the Plan Commission agenda was a rezone from A1 (general agriculture) to A3 (intensive agriculture), and this rezone is needed for a confined feeding operation. The proposed hog farm surprised me because the hogs that are to be raised there were not meant for the butcher, but for medical research.
The company that will own the farm already runs a hog raising operation in Ramona, California, and a picture of that facility is shown in the slide above. (The petitioners had an impressive slide presentation.) Ramona is on the outskirts of San Diego and there are many residences within a mile of the S&S Farm. The proposed site for this farm is on the south west corner of CR 400 N and 200W in Barkley Township. It is a 220 acre plot a couple miles west of Gifford.
A typical hog farm raises hogs until they are full grown or nearly full grown and then sells them. Medical researchers do not usually want really large pigs. They prefer them much smaller. As a result, almost all of the pigs are sold before they reach 150 pounds, and some at much smaller sizes. One breed of pigs that the farm will raise is Yucatan pigs, which are pigmy pigs that weigh less than 200 pounds at maturity and seem to be raised primarily for medical research.

Another difference with this proposed farm is that it will hire more people than a typical hog farm would. The manager of the project projects that if the facility is fully built out, it would hire 21 people. The project is planned in four stages, largely to test the market. The first stage is shown in red in the picture below and stage two in green.
The presenters went into great detail explaining why this farm would not have the odors that a typical hog farm has. It would not have the typical fans but rather would filter air coming in and going out. The average size of the pigs will be smaller than in a typical farm, reducing manure. The manure troughs under the floor will be shallow and flushed every week or two, reducing the build up of smell. The whole building is sealed and will have a positive air pressure, in large part for biosecurity. (If you have ever toured the Pig Adventure at Fair Oaks farms, you know that keeping the pigs away from sources of disease is very important, but it is far more important in pigs raised for medical research.)

The owner of S&S Farms showed two letters he had obtained about his Ramora facility to demonstrate that this farm would have minimal impact on neighbors. One was from the owners of a paint ball park that is adjacent to his property and they said that they had never had any problems with having his hogs next door. The other was from a county supervisor saying that there were no records of complaints filed about the farm.

Then the meeting opened for public comments and most of them were from people living near the site who said they did not want the smell of a pig farm. A couple said that the farm would reduce the value of their property to zero. There were concerns raised about water quality and water level. A couple comments went so far as to suggest that the letters were faked or that someone should go to California to check the claims made. (This is a wonderful example of the problem of cognitive dissonance: a prior belief, evidence the belief is wrong, and the need to reconcile the two.) A couple people connected to Belstra Milling spoke up in defense of the farm but they were dismissed by the people opposed. Also in favor of the project were the two people who represent Jasper County Economic Development Organization. Their job is to bring new business to the county that hires people and that adds to the tax rolls, and the tax revenue from farm operations exceeds the added cost of services (which is not true of residences.) They indicated that they had searched the four neighboring counties for properties that would be more appropriate for the project and found none. Our whole area has been divided into many small parcels of land, almost all less than 200 acres in size and there are residences scattered throughout the countryside because many people want to live in the country.

At about 10:10 (the meeting started at 7:00) the Plan Commission finally voted on the rezone. I could see one vote negative and I think there was one person who did not vote, but the motion passed. It is a recommendation to the County Commissioners, who will have final say at their Feb 5 meeting.

Then the BZA reconvened to consider the proposal for a variance. The Code says that the foundation of a CFO must be 1320 feet from a residence and 1000 feet from A1-zoned land. The site of the proposed facility met the 1320-foot requirement, but it was only 425 feet from a farm field to the north (someone else owns a narrow, 8-acre wedge that goes deep into 220 acre lot that was the subject of rezoning) and it was about 600 feet from fields to the south. After spending some time questioning if the facility could be positioned in a different way on the plot, the Board approved the variance subject to the Commissioners approving the rezone.

The meeting adjourned at about 10:30.

(The Rensselaer Republican account of the meeting is here.)

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Small and short

The City Council meeting on January 22 was both small and short. The mayor was absent, so Council President George Cover presided. Two of the Council members were also absent, leaving three to conduct business. Fortunately, there was not much.
The Council re-elected George Cover as President of the Council, which gives him the task of conducting meetings when the Mayor is absent. It then discussed and approved an environmental consultant for the electric department. The person who has been doing the environmental reviews had left the previous company and had set up her own, and the Electric Utility wanted to continue using her. In addition, her bid for services was lower than that of the company that she had left. The Council approved the recommendation of the Electric Department.

The Council approved a retainer for a computer consultant. The person or company has been providing services in the past, but not on a retainer. I do not understand what is changed with this approval.

The Police Chief reported that framing and hanging dry wall has begun in the future police station. The utility office requested permission to spend $6000 for a new copier. The Watts substation on Bunkum road went on-line on January 18 and is now serving the Interstate area. The Powerhouse requested approval to also replace old electrical wiring when the new derrick is installed. And Grimmer has been working on the water line extension at the Mount Calvary Road intersection. It should finish this week. The meeting adjourned at 6:25.
Balloons Galore and More is moving two blocks further east on SR 114 in a building that a few years ago had a different ballon store in it, Sue's Special Occasions. (It was most recently Fairmeadows Home Health Care Center.)

The melting snow and rain has raised the level of the river and cleared away the ice.

Work continues on the next batch of apartments on Elza Street.
On Tuesday a CSX crew was working on repairing the spur line south of the main line.
Another crew, probably not CSX, was starting to chop up the tank cars. They are using a machine that has a giant claw. I hope I will be able to get a better picture of it before they are finished.
Train day at the library was a big success, with lots of excited little boys and perhaps some equally excited little girls. This year they had a large train display in the story-time room.
Finally, there were other meetings on Monday night that took a lot longer than the City Council meeting and drew a lot more citizen interest. I will try to write about them before the end of the week.

Friday, January 19, 2018

First of four

The first of four area school art exhibits is on display at the Fendig Gallery of the Carnegie Center. In the previous 24 years these exhibits were displayed in the Core Building at Saint Joseph's College, but obviously that venue is not available this year.

This first exhibit is for primary schools and will end January 28th.
 The Gallery is open noon to 4:00 pm Tuesdays and Thursdays.
 I liked this portrait of grandpa, with descriptions such as old, gray hair, and wrinkly.
 Speaking of grandparents, we received a call from a grandson telling us that he had been in a serious car accident and had broken his nose. He also needed $3000 in bail money and could we send it to him? We are still trying to figure out which grandson called. Was it the ten-year old, the six-year old, or one of those precocious three-year olds? We could not tell from his voice because, as he said, he had broken his nose in the accident.

We are getting some warmer weather and the sun is melting the snow on rooftops, with the water sometimes refreezing.
A couple notes that I forgot to mention from Tuesday's meetings. The consultants planning the downtown revitalization liked the idea of what they called "blade signs", that is signs that are perpendicular to the front of the building, hanging out over the sidewalk. Most signage now is flush with the front of the building.

The County Council asked Kendall Culp for his opinion on the township consolidation bill that may pass the state legislature. He said that about half (6 or 7) of Jasper County's 13 townships would be affected and it would cause a variety of problems. Currently school districts are determined by township borders. Students from Gillam Township go to West Central. If Gillam must combine with another township, what does that do to school boundaries?

A couple business have moved or are moving. Superior Sales is now in its new location just south of the John Deere dealership. Endless Treasure will be moving this weekend to the building that was the Max Prouty car dealership north of Smith Hardware on North McKinley.

The tank cars north of the tacks now have holes cut in them. There are people working on them, but it is hard to see exactly what they are doing.



Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Downtown revitalization

There was a public open house to view proposed plans for downtown revitalization on Tuesday afternoon. The planning was largely financed with an OCRA grant that the City obtained. It is hoped that this planning grant would lead to a  much larger construction grant, and if it does not, it is unlikely that these plans will be realized.

The presentation did not begin until 5:00 and until then people enjoyed the appetizers and got a chance to examine the drawings that were on display. On the picture below you can see planters along the streets that are proposed in the plan. The alley behind Embers would be part of a bike path/trail that would come over the pedestrian bridge, go through the alley, and then use part of the sidewalk to continue on to Aydas. Most of the downtown sidewalks would be divided into two parts, one for walking and another that merchants could use for sidewalk sales or seating in the case of restaurants. The division would be indicated by different paving.

The alley that once hosted Art in the Alley would be revitalized so it could be used as a public space in the future. (Click on the pictures to see an enlarged view.)
 A lot of the big changes would involve County property. The architect proposed sheltered parking in the County parking lot that could be used by the farmers market. Halleck Park would be redesigned, perhaps with a fountain. The site of the former Johnny Rusk building would become a pocket park with some kind of water feature. (I hope that at least one of the fountains or water features survives if funding is found for this project. Downtown needs one.)
 One of the presenters (there were three) noted that Rensselaer has an unusually large Court House square, measuring 325 feet by 315 feet. The plan suggested landscaping close to the Court House, a permanent stage where the Little Cousin Jasper Festival puts up its stage, some oval planters on the two sides that do not have brick streets, and a cutout on the Washington Street/Van Rensselaer Street corner. This could be used for the Santa House during December and for benches the rest of the year.
 Wayfaring signs are a big deal for some people. Below are four proposed designs. The first two are inspired by the Court House and the last by the pedestrian bridge.
 The presenters emphasized that the project would not just make the downtown prettier, but would lead to economic development for both Rensselaer and the area. Companies want to be located in places that are inviting to live in and a distinctive and attractive downtown makes a community a more appealing.

Below is the timeline for this part of the project.
 A final tidbit from the meeting. The public parking lots, the private parking lots, and the street parking provide almost 1000 parking spaces downtown.

The presentation lasted until about 6:30. Half an hour later the Jasper County Council met for its monthly meeting. It had a couple of interesting items. The first was from NIPSCO, a Resolution for Series 1994C Bonds, Second Amendment to Financing Agreement. NIPSCO would like to change from a corporation to an LLC because the recently passed tax reform makes it advantageous for them to make the switch. In order to do that, they have to cross the Ts and dot the Is, and one of those little details is to have Jasper County approve a change in the Bond agreement for bonds issued in 1994, of which about $4 million are still held. Its all legal stuff, but the interesting bit is that a large corporation wants to change its form. People respond to incentives, one of the fundamental pillars of economics.

The other interesting bit was from Kendall Culp. He said that in the Commissioners'  executive session earlier this month, they decided to chose Honeywell for most of an energy savings project that will cost about $2 million, and Trane for the Community Corrections of the project. The Commissioners would prefer not to finance these projects with a bond issue because the fixed costs of issuing bonds becomes a significant part of the revenue when the issue is small in size. The Council moved some money around to help finance some of the project, but how the entire project will be funded has not yet been determined. The age and state of repair of some of the boilers was an important factor agreeing to this project. Modern boilers are smaller and more efficient than older boilers were, but they also have short lives.

One of the City employees at the downtown revitalization open house told me that he had heard that the tank cars from the derailment would be cut up and scrapped. The derailment is a very costly event for the railroad.

On Saturday I judged cakes for the Cub Scouts. Below are a few of them. The Leaning Tower of Pisa Cake won for tallest.
I had not realized that cake decorating was a Cub Scout activity.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Winter returns

The cold front passed through last night, and with it came some freezing rain and a little snow. Today (Friday) is cold and windy and the weather has caused numerous closings and cancelations. We may not see above freezing temperatures for the next week.

There was enough snow to cover the roads but not completely cover the grass. Below you can see what the College Avenue looked like in the late morning.
The wind was howling last night. I have not ventured out into the country to see what kind of drifting is taking place.

I meant to include a picture in the previous post showing work on the sewer lining that took place on Tuesday. The crew was working in the area of the library and when I passed by at 7:30 in the evening, they were still not finished.
The company doing the work is Insituform. The back of one of their trucks was open and it had a boiler in it, so my guess is that hot water is needed to install the liner. The purpose of the project, which began last summer, is to extend the life of the sewer. It is cheaper to reline than to replace.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

What a difference a day makes

Below is a picture of the old Monnett School building taken on Wednesday. (The white is fog, not snowfall.)
Below is a picture taken Thursday morning of the same scene. What a difference a night with temperatures in the 50s makes.
Tomorrow a cold front will pass and winter will return.

Below are two pictures of the river from the cemetery bridge taken a few minutes before each of the pictures above. The effect of the warm weather is less dramatic. The ice must have been pretty thick after the two weeks of very cold weather.

The construction crew at the old fire station took advantage of the warm weather to pour the new floor for the future police station.
 When I got there, most of the floor was already done.
 Mention was made in the last City Council meeting of problems with part of the floor in the office part of the building. I did not wait to see if they would pour this part as well.
 On Thursday the CSX crew was back at work, this time fixing the north rail spur. If you look carefully, you might see that the south spur has a gap to the west of the crossing. I had not noticed the road damage before. Perhaps it was there and covered with snow. They seem to be finished with work on the main line.
The Rensselaer Republican had an article about what is going on at SJC that will be of interest to those who are concerned about this topic. You can read it here even if you do not have a subscription. Their new model allows non-subscribers a limited (I think it is 5 or 6) articles a month. Choose your articles carefully (or subscribe).

The Park Board and the Park Corporation had their first meeting on Tuesday evening. (A brief explanation of the two is here.) The meeting had a confused start because there was no quorum for the Park Board, and the Park Board needed to approve the three members who are only members of the Park Corporation. About ten minutes into the meeting, the quorum was reached with the late arrival of a member and the routine business to start the year was quickly done.

The Board heard from a representative of the soccer program, which was happy with the arrangement from last year, though they had concerns about the need for an intermediate field. The Board approved continuing the contract on the same terms as last year.

Discussion then turned to what projects should be fast-tracked. Because a walking path in Bicentennial Park and the dog park are both fairly inexpensive and much of the work can be done without contractors, there was consensus that they should be started this spring or even before spring. The dog park currently is waiting for a big donation to earn naming rights, and if there is no such donation, it may be named the Eleanor Stackhouse Atkinson Dog Park. (As for why, see here.)

There was brief discussion of Pop Warner football, which last year used the north end of Brookside Park for practices. There was also concern about how future construction might impact the various uses of the parks.

The final discussion was about priorities, and the group decided that the first priority should be in the Monnett/Staddon Field area, in part because it is more visible than Brookside Park. There was a meeting on Wednesday of the Parks for People group that ultimately decides where money will be spent and I have not heard what happened there. Maybe I will hear at the next Park Board meeting on Feb 5th at City Hall (6:00 pm).

Finally, the Jasper/Newton Foundation is hosting a "speed dating" event, not for romantic purposes but for not-for-profit organizations and potential volunteers. It will be on Jan 30 at the Carnegie Center from 7 till 8 pm CST.