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

Thursday, August 16, 2018

A couple of unexpected meetings

The Rensselaer City Council held a special meeting on Wednesday at 4:00 to discuss budget items. The amount of money that they can expect in taxes has been given to the City by the State and it is less than it was last year. (Perhaps this decrease reflects the effects on the local economy of the closing of Saint Joseph's College.) After reworking the budget a number of times, the Mayor the Clerk/Treasurer came up with a budget that has a deficit of about $130,000. The Mayor thinks that at the end of the year there will be enough unspent money in this year's budget to cover that deficit. Health insurance is rising by 8.5%, which is less than expected.

As part of the budget, the mayor proposed a 3% across-the-board increase in wages for full-time employees. Rick Odle wanted to know what the dollar amount of that increase was and that information was not available. He expressed frustration at being asked to approve a budget when the numbers needed for him to make a sound decision were not available. George Cover moved that instead of a 3% raise, the raise be 2.5%. Eventually that proposal was passed with one nay vote even though no one knew how much of an impact that would have on the $130,000 shortfall.

As they were ready to adjourn, Claude Grow, superintendent of the power plant, mentioned a letter he had sent to the Council arguing that his workers were being paid about $5 less than workers doing similar work at other municipalities and private companies. He also said that they were below what City linemen were making. The Council discussed the wages but declined to act on his concerns at this meeting.

As the Council was again getting ready to adjourn, someone pointed out that they had not voted on the cuts in the proposed budget. They did so and then adjourned.

This is not the end of budgeting. The budget now goes to the State where it will be approved or more likely changed.

The Board of Public Works was scheduled to meet on Monday before the City Council meeting but did not because it lacked a quorum. Instead it met on Thursday afternoon. It approved payments to Commonwealth Engineering for its work on recent paving and the water-well project. It also approved a promotion of Police Corporal White to Sergeant. It briefly discussed a proposed contract revision between the City Fire Department and the Marion Township Trustee. The current contract dates from 1997. Some of the equipment was purchased and is owned by the City and some (most) was purchased and owned by the Township. The two entities have worked together to provide fire protection not just to Rensselaer and Marion Township but several other townships as well. The biggest change in the proposed contract would be that the Township Trustee would move his office to the Fire Station. The Fire Chief said that the advantage of this to the City is that the Station would have a human presence two days a week and also that the Trustee's secretary could do some of the paper work for the Fire Department. There was some question about what would happen to a small payment that the Trustee makes to the City and that needs to addressed before the Board gives the contract approval.
The spray-paint artist who did the mural on the Embers building is back in Indiana working in Lafayette. He paid a visit to Rensselaer in the last day or two and left a small painting on the old carriage house on the alley behind Fenwick Farms Brewery. When I stopped to snap a picture, there were three young people there and they were posing a young girl in front of the butterfly. It makes for a wonderful backdrop and gives the person posing butterfly wings.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

City Council meeting and other items of interest

August's first City Council meeting took place Monday evening. There were a lot of little items discussed.

The Council approved four street closings, including Van Rensselaer for OktoberFest on September 22. Two closings were for weddings and another was for St. Augustine's on the 26th. The Council also gave the SJC Alumni Association permission to serve alcohol at Brookside Park for the Homecoming celebration.

The gas tracker for August is a two cent decrease. Weston Cemetery was given permission to hire someone part time to digitized records. The Council agreed to a demonstration at its next meeting of recording software that would, among other things, allow its meetings to be broadcast on the Internet.

The Council agreed to release funds that were obtained by the sale of the old Admin Building at what was the Monnett school to be used for construction of park projects. The Parks for People campaign would like to start some construction this fall on soccer fields, a walking trail, and new basketball courts.

There followed a long discussion of how to re-imburse an employee who paid for an airline ticket with a personal credit card rather than a city credit card. I could not follow some of the discussion, but there was frequent mention of the State Board of Accounts and their regulations.

Approval was given to replace the furnace/air conditioner that sits on the roof of City Hall above the Mayor's office. The Council also approved August 31 as a City Holiday. In superintendents' reports there were several mentions of how City employees enjoyed the City Employee Picnic held on Saturday. Kevin Cochran, Superintendent of Weston Cemetery, announced that tickets were now on sale for the cemetery walk to be held September 22. Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for children and are available at Jordans, Willow Switch, and Browns Garden Shop. The event is sponsored by the Jasper County Historical Society.

The City has finished re-routing the drainage tile that previously went under the land on which the new solar parks sits. Construction of the solar panels and related equipment should be completed about the middle of September. The new well house for the Sparling Avenue well has been delayed and also should be installed about the middle of  September. The Police Department moved into its newly-remodeled building last Tuesday. There are a few issues still being worked out. There are no plans yet of what to do with the old space they occupied next to City Hall. There may be an open house for the new space sometime in the future.

In other news, work on the US 231/Mt Calvary Rd intersection continues. The road has been shifted to the east but there is still some paving to do and it is not yet clear what the west side of the road will look like. Below are pictures from Monday.
 Above, looking to the north from south of the intersection. Below, looking to the south from north of the intersection.
There was an insightful update on what is happening at SJC on Facebook. Read it here. It appears that there is no future for Halleck Center.

The swimming pool held its last public opening on Sunday. The White House B&B plans to close as of September 1. Unique Finds is reopening Wednesday in its old Van Rensselaer Street location.

Rensselaer had a heavy but short downpour on Friday. My rain gauge said we got more than an inch. I saw the dark clouds approaching as I drove west on Friday and when I got back to Rensselaer a few hours later, the rain had moved to the east.

Finally, I found an observation from the Pulaski County Community Development Commission interesting. Rural counties have to work to keep from eroding away and declining.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Meetings 8-6-2018

The Commissioners met for their August meeting on Monday. After the usual preliminaries, they heard a presentation from their voting machine vendor about an electronic replacement for the paper poll book, the book that precinct workers use to check in voters for elections. Besides making the process easier for the Clerk's office, the device would make audits of contested elections easier to handle. 43 Indiana counties already use the device, which is based on iPad hardware.

They next took up UDO changes. The Commissioners had sent a proposal for changes to the Plan Commission several months ago. The Plan Commission had made changes to that and sent it back to the Commissioners for approval. The Commissioners had suggested changes to what the Plan Commission had sent them, and at its last meeting, the Plan Commission had rejected those changes. After some discussion about what the Plan Commission had done and what the options were for the Commissioners, the Commissioners decided to start the process anew by sending a slightly revised version of what the Plan Commission had recommended back to the Commission for its review. Two rezone requests that had been recommended by the Plan Commission at its last meeting were then approved.

The Recorder's Office wants to purchase services from a company that will allow the public to search, view, and print Recorder documents. There is a charge for using the services that is borne by the searcher, not by the Recorder's office and the software should reduce the support work for the staff of the office. The Commissioners approved the request. The next step will be to have a contract drawn up and have that approved. The Commissioners also approved a separate contract with the same company for a product that watermarks digital copies.

The Sheriff received permission to replace a Court House security officer. He expressed concern about the way that Trane, contracted to insulate the jail, wanted to do their work. The new squad cars that had been ordered some time ago have arrived and the sheriff wanted to know if the County Highway Department could use one of the vehicles that they were replacing. It can. Two or three old squad cars will be available at the next County auction.

Animal control wanted approval of use of donation funds to purchase a used van. The truck that they are using does not have enough space for equipment and cages. That was approved.

A variety of conference requests were approved. It was mentioned that the County IT guy will be leaving in September.

Before they went into executive session (to discuss insurance??) a boy thanked the Commissioners for buying his 4H goat at the County Fair.

The executive session lasted for more than an hour and fifteen minutes. There were still county highway issues to be discussed and I do not know when they got to that discussion. The State collects money from an increase in the gas tax and a fee on license plates to fund county roads, but it does not simply return that money to the counties for them to use as they see fit. Rather it is returned in a complex and ever-changing process of grants. The County and the Commissioners spend a lot of time making sure they get everything right so they can get those funds, but listening to the discussion is boring beyond belief.

I skipped the Drainage Board meeting. The most interesting item on its agenda seemed to be the drainage plans for a new Wheatfield Township Fire Station. Instead I want to a planning meeting for the upcoming Weston Cemetery Walking Tour to be held on September 22. (I am on the committee—the meetings are not open to the public.) Tickets have been printed ($10 for adults and $5 for 12 & under.) If you are interested, I advise you to purchase quickly. The announcement that the Historical Society posted on Facebook last week went viral, with close to 11,000 views. There are a limited number of people the tour can handle and it is possible that the event will sell out.

In the evening the Rensselaer Park Board met. The Parks for People campaign has receipts and pledges of $1.2 million and would like to start some of the proposed projects this fall. Included in the list are the dog park and improvements to the Staddon/Monnett property. Those improvement include new soccer fields, an entry way off College, and basketball courts. Ball fields at Brookside will wait until next spring.

Larue Pool will close Thursday and Friday, then be open for the weekend, and then close for the season for swimming. Lifeguards are returning to school and are not available to staff even on weekends.

Heather Hall, who was in charge of park programs this summer, gave a report on four programs she led this past spring and summer. Spring Fling (replacing Earth Day) had bad weather and very few people attending. Park Pop or Hop in honor of National Trails Day had only a few walkers. The STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) Camp met on several Thursdays and had 103 kids participating. Kids Camp, a four-day day camp, had 21 kids. Still to come is a walking club and the Harvest Fest (October 18, Thursday evening before Fall Break). Harvest Fest is an expanded Riley Read and last year had an huge number of people attending.

The next Park Board meeting will be Tuesday, September 4 at 6:00 pm.

Workers are now paving at the US 231/Mt Calvary Road intersection.

NITCO had a customer-appreciation day on Tuesday. They devoted a lot of manpower to it.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Annie Get Your Gun

The 41st production of the Carnegie Players, which finished its run on Saturday, was Annie Get Your Gun. They had previously done that play in 1995; it was their third production. I probably went to it but I do not remember it.
This was another solid performance from the Carnegie Players. The actors had a lot of energy, the music has several recognizable songs, and the play itself is very funny. It made for a thoroughly enjoyable evening.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Odds and ends, 8-3-2018


There is a new big bird in town. The sculpture shown below was given to the City of Rensselaer at Embers Whiskey and Whiskers event. Where the City will put it has not yet been determined, so it might sit at Embers for while. It makes and interesting companion to the painting on the wall.
The sculpture is made of bits and pieces of junk.
Also downtown, Moonshiners is now smoke free and family friendly. Those who want to smoke will still be able to do so, but only on the patio in the back.
The owner of the Country Bumpkin gift shop is opening a flea market in some of the space that was recently occupied by Endless Treasure. She said that the closing of the Antique Mall that was behind Greene's Furniture prompted her to make the move. The various vendors that were there are scattering to many different places, but perhaps a few will come to downtown Rensselaer.
I have noticed some sidewalk construction lately. There is a new sidewalk that is almost finished that runs along Lincoln from College to the High Rate Treatment plant. It will connect with a walking path that continues on to Weston Cemetery.
Saint Joseph's College is in the news again, and not in a good way. Sodexo, which ran food service at the College, is suing for $1.3 million, the amount they spent on remodeling in the month immediately before the College announced it was closing. Their suit argues that the College hid its bad financial state from them and if they had known how bad the finances were, they never would have agreed to fund the remodeling.

I did not see any work at the solar farm when I stopped by earlier this week, but outside the fence City crews were installing utility poles.
I had not been to an Airport Authority Committee meeting for about a year and decided that August might be the last chance I get while the days are still fairly long. The meeting covered fairly routine items. They discussed a new five-year lease for Excel Air. Fuel sales for July were good but not nearly as good as last July. This year there was less traffic from crop dusters and less traffic traveling to a big air show in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Excel Air is now offering flight instruction at the airport. They discussed bids to provide security camera backup. There will be another Tunes on the Tarmac concert on August 25 from 5-7 pm CST. The event will benefit the Safe Halloween Event. They ended the meeting by voting on a budget to present to the County Council. The budget is flat, that is, has the same total amount as the current budget, but does shift some money around among categories.

Rensselaer received some much needed rain Thursday afternoon. The clouds at sunset were very pretty.
The Spaw is or soon will be under new management and ownership.

Fair Oaks Farms made NBC-5 news.

On Friday morning the Tourism Commission met and approved grants for Oktoberfest and Memories Alive at Weston Cemetery. Both events are scheduled for September 22. JCEDO has a new director of Tourism, Shelby Carroll. She started work on July 30.

The Tourism Commission heard reports on both Oktoberfest and the Parks for People Campaign. Last year Oktoberfest had about 600 people pay. That total was aided by the SJC Homecoming event held the same day. This year the SJC Homecoming event will be later. Oktoberfest is the only fundraiser for Main Street Rensselaer. They use the funds for various project. The most recent was the trailhead in Potawatomie Park. Bands are the biggest cost of the event.

Parks for People is at the $1.2 million mark of its $1.5 million goal.

Today dirt is being moved in Remington for the new Holiday Inn Express that will be at the intersection of I-65 and US 24.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

More notes on the Dwiggins family

The March post about Zimri Dwiggins noted that many newspapers found his name odd. The name Zimri is Biblical and occurs in several places, most frequently in 1 Kings chapter 16 where Zimri is a short reigning and very bad king of Israel. Findagrave has two Zimri Dwiggins in its records, the Rensselaer Zimri and his uncle who is buried in Ohio. Along with uncle Zimri Dwiggins, many other Dwiggins are buried in Clinton County, Ohio.

A grandson of uncle Zimri Dwiggins achieved fame as a designer and typographer. His name was William Addison Dwiggins and he has a Wikipedia entry, and if that is not enough, much more about him is available here. I encountered his name 15-20 years ago when typography was my passion, but did not connect it to the local Dwiggins until a chance discovery in a google search.

 Zimri Dwiggins also had a nephew with the name Zimri, Zimri Paris. He left Jasper County for New York where he died after being struck by a street car and is either buried in Argos, Marshall County, Indiana or Kewanna, Fulton County, Indiana, USA. The post about Zimri mentioned his nephew John Paris who also was organizing banks using his uncle's methods. He and several of his siblings left Indiana for New York. In the 1900 and 1910 Censuses he is in the real estate business.

Zimri's sister-in-law married Abraham Long who owed and operated Longs Drugstore in Rensselaer. More about Long can be found here.

Elmer Dwiggins was the subject of a post in early February. In March I found his name mentioned in the Indianapolis Journal, 12/25/1890 p.3. The article begins with a statement by Dwiggins and then goes on to describe plans for an airship, a model of which was destined for the Columbian Exposition. The proposed airship would be 120 feet long and made from aluminum. It would use hydrogen gas for buoyancy. It is unclear from the article what connection Dwiggins had with this project, though one can guess he was a promoter because promotion was what he was good at. The story of what happened next can be found here. (Ten years later Zeppelin showed how it could be done.) What struck me as I read the article were the similarities between these plans and the spaceship that Dwiggins imagined for his sci-fi novel, Pharoah's Broker.

Below is a picture of Elmer Dwiggins found in a book that the Jasper County Historical Society has in its collection. The book was called Pioneers of Jasper County and was assembled from various portraits by Simon Parr Thompson and given to the Rensselaer Library in 1901. They apparently discarded it because someone found it on the sidewalk and put it back together, eventually donating it to the Historical Society.

Members of the Dwiggins family lost a lot from the 1893 failure of the Columbia National Bank and its allied banks. Four years later Jay and Elmer Dwiggins finished paying depositors of the failed Hebron bank:



Robert Starbuck Dwiggins, father of Elmer and Jay Dwiggins and brother of Zimri Dwiggins, was a lawyer. In one of his adventures he was a candidate for the Indiana governorship, running on the Prohibition Party ticket in 1884. He did not win, as the vote totals show.


The low vote for Dwiggins was expected because the prohibitionists had split on the desirability of running on a separate ticket. Many and perhaps most wanted to work in the existing parties, trying to bring them around to prohibitionist views and thought that running a separate ticket would weaken their ability to influence policy. There were two prohibitionist conventions held at the same time in July, 1884, one forming the ticket and the other condemning the other for forming the ticket.

What is especially odd in R.S. Dwiggins' run for governor is that only a few weeks before he accepted the nomination to run on the Prohibitionist Party he had taken an active role in the Republican state convention that had nominated Calkins.

When reading about the financial exploits of the Dwiggins, one repeatedly sees mention of partners by the name of Starbuck. I have not seen anything in any of the articles explaining family ties between these Starbucks and the Dwiggins, but almost certainly there were some. Zimri's mother's maiden name was Mary Ann Starbuck and, tying the families even closer, Mary Ann Starbuck's mother was Sarah Dwiggins.

The Starbucks connected back to a Starbuck who bought Nantucket Island, which became a whaling center. It is plausible that Herman Melville got the name for the first mate of the Pequod from the Starbucks of Nantucket. As for Starbucks Coffee, the founders took the name from Melville.

Finally, the Handbook of Chicago Biography published in 1893 after the collapse of the Commercial National Bank has a very favorable biography of Zimri Dwiggins along with a picture. Both are reproduced below.



One of the Dwiggins is scheduled to be portrayed for the event, Memories Alive at Weston Cemetery, to be held on September 22.