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

Thursday, June 27, 2019

City Council meeting, 6-24-2019

The Rensselaer City Council met for its second June meeting Monday evening. It approved an update to an old ordinance that goes far beyond the old ordinance. It establishes an ordinance violation bureau that can collect fines for various offenses. Seven pages long, it is hard to summarize. It includes a schedule of fines for violations of traffic ordinances, health and sanitation ordinances, animal violations, and other violations. It also lists a variety of nuisance violations that apply to the exterior premises of a property. Although at the meeting there was an opinion that the ordinance does not have to be published, I expect that it will soon appear in the legal section of the Rensselaer Republican.

The Council approved an electric tracker that is a $6.31 decrease per 1000 kilowatt hours and then approved four bids for road work. Three had been opened at the last Council meeting and given to the City's engineering consultant. The Council approved a paving bid of $1,136,103.45 from Town and Country, a crack seal bid of $7,466.50 from Pavement Solutions, and a preservation seal amount of $23,708.48 from RejuvTec. A fourth bid, for microsurfacing, was opened and because there was only one bid, Pavement Solutions for $33,404.23, it was approved by the Council pending approval of the engineering consultant.

Mr Lockridge asked for and was given approval to seek bids to replace two one-ton trucks. They are 2003 and 2005 models with more than $100,000 miles and are beginning to have increased repair costs. One is for the water department and the other for the street department.

Two requests for public relations funds were approved, one for the retirement of an employee of the electric department and the other for an employee picnic in August.

Carpet is scheduled to be installed this week in the remodel of the old police department into an office for the Clerk-Treasurer. The Fire Department will be budgeting for cancer insurance for its volunteers who lack a cancer policy.

The Mayor said that about 100 communities with combined sewer overflows are lobbying IDEM to adopt the EPA standards of 2012. He said that he would like a relaxed schedule. These are unfunded mandates that have already cost the City millions of dollars and will cost it more millions in the future.

Last weekend the Rock the Arts festival had good weather and sizable crowds. Below is a picture of one of the inflatables that was set up for the event.
 Tonight (Thursday) is the first of three performances of the Carnegie Players' The Drowsy Chaperone. On Saturday the Fair Association has a fish or chicken dinner from 5:00 till 7:30 and fireworks when it gets dark. The new dog park will have its grand opening and ribbon cutting on Monday at 1:00. This past week the park got last-minute landscaping.
 The new bakery will open on Monday.

Severe storms passed through Jasper County late Wednesday and early Thursday, affecting the area north of Rensselaer much more than Rensselaer. REMC reported about 1500 members had power outages and there was some hail damage.

From the legal notices in the Rensselaer Republican, it appears that Wheatfield Township is seeking a fourth round of bids for a new fire station.

Finally, on Thursday morning the Rensselaer Redevelopment Commission met and approved merging the Drexel and Fair Grounds TIF districts. This action was suggested by one of the City's financial advisors. The advantage is that it would allow the City to sell a considerably bigger bond issue if it needs to finance future improvements. (The new fire station, the renovation of the old fire station into the police station, and the Melville Street project are past examples of projects funded by TIF bonds.) The TIF merger still needs Plan Commission and City Council approval. A possible use for bond funding is downtown renovation. The City and the County seem ready to cooperate on the project. 

Friday, June 21, 2019

Summer Solstice 2019

Today, Friday June 21, 2019, is the summer solstice, the longest day of the year. Days will now start getting shorter.

On Wednesday the LaRue Pool celebrated its 70th birthday. The celebration was delayed a week because of weather. The actual 70th anniversary of the opening of the pool, on the 12th, had storms. The 19th had decent weather and the rain held off until about 4:00 when people were leaving. The pool had over 130 people signed in on their ledger and there were about 40 more checked in with passes, but some people may have been counted twice. Still, the number of people in the pool on Wednesday may have been larger than any attendance in several years.
The baby pool was open and full of little kids having fun.
 The day featured an admission rate of only $1.00, free cupcakes to celebrate the birthday, ice-cream sandwiches provided by Alliance Bank, popcorn from ConAgra, and a piƱata. During the first break the people attending sang "Happy Birthday" to the pool.
 There are a lot more pictures on the Rensselaer Parks Facebook page.

On Friday Healthy Haven, a smoothie and protean drink bar, had its ribbon cutting.
 A sign in the door offered a $1.00 discount.
 Leaving Healthy Haven, I peeked inside the Horton Building to see what was happening and received a tour. Below is the current state of the back end of the building. The old walls have been torn out and new partitions are being put up. This part of the building should be finished in August.
 Below you can see the front part of the building. the ceiling has been removed but the old floor is still in place. It will be removed and replaced with a new wooden floor.
 Below is a picture of the rafters.
 There are three apartments upstairs. This is a picture of the current state of the back apartment. It is being renovated so that it can be used as either a one or two bedroom apartment. The middle apartment is bigger and the work on it is much further along.
 This week one lane of the highway was closed as the City installed new water lines. Each apartment and both the front and back of the downstairs will have its own water supply and pay a separate water bill. The water pressure for each unit should be much improved.

On July 1 the dog park on Bunkum Road will have its grand opening. The park has two sections, one for small dogs and one for large dogs. The plan is that eventually people who use it will pay a fee and there are combination locks on the gates, which can now be bypassed.
 Below is a picture looking from the shelter to the road. Notice the two water fountains. The running water is near ground level. I suppose some little kids would like that design.
 Work on cleaning one of the City's water wells is underway. In April the City Council approved cleaning this well.
 The old WRIN building on McKinley is being renovated into apartments. Since I have been blogging, it has been a church, a Mexican grocery, something called the Bargain Bin, and a business selling carpeting.

Further south on McKinley is the new location for the coin operated laundry that had been on Gasper Drive. It opens on the 22nd.
Now that we have passed the solstice, maybe we will get some warmer weather.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Miscellany, mid June 2019

On Saturday I visited the construction site for the bridge replacement on SR 114. The concrete structure of the bridge is now in place.
 Below is a view from the top. It appears that the concrete structure came in eleven sections and that they have been joined. To finish, fill must be placed over them to get the grade up to the level of the road and then it must be paved.
Also on Saturday I found that there were fields with corn sprouting. There are still some fields that do not appear to have been planted.
This has been a busy week for meetings. On Monday the Airport Authority Board had a special meeting and because I have not attended any of their meetings for a year or more, I decided to go. The Board has been negotiating the purchase of about 73 acres to the west of the airport. The land is owned by the Phegley estate and I believe it is the last bit of the land that John Makeever owned that is still owned by his descendants. The purpose of the meeting was to approve a request for an additional appropriation from the County Council, which should be on the July agenda of that body. If the Council approves the request, the item still needs approval from the State's Department of Local Government Finance (DLGF).

The land will allow an extension of the east-west runway, which is currently a grass runway. Part of the purchase price will be paid by an FAA grant, which is being processed. The additional appropriation will take money from other airport accounts.

The airport has several events planned in July. The annual Fly-In, Drive-in will be on July 6 from 10:00 to 2:00. There will be bi-plane rides on July 26 and 27. I do not know what the price of those will be. And on July 21, 22, 27, and 28 Busy Bee will be selling ice cream at the airport. I think the Busy Bee event is designed to cater to people traveling to and from a big airshow in Wisconsin who stop to refuel. Jasper County Airport has some of the lowest fuel prices in the area and pilots take advantage of them.

The airport meeting lasted eight minutes. The Jasper County Planning Commission meeting later in the evening took much longer, about an hour, even though the only item on the agenda was a request for a two-lot subdivision in Barkley Township. The person making the request wants to build a house on one of the lots. This sort of request often is quickly passed, but there was opposition. A former owner of the land said that the drainage was bad and it should not be built. A neighbor complained about the storage of materials that are currently on the site. After discussion, the Commission decided that because it could not approve the request with conditions, it would continue the matter until the July 15th meeting to give the owner time to clean up the lot.

The Commission finished the meeting by discussing two items that will be on the agenda of a future meeting, a review of their rules and procedures and an update to the UDO to make sure that developers and others actually follow through with what they say they will do.

On Tuesday evening the last Walk with a Doc took place. There will be another series of Walks beginning in August. The Jasper County Historical Society had a meeting with a presentation on the Fountain Park Chautauqua. The Society has been remodeling the bathroom in the museum and for the meeting had a working toilet. The new bathroom will be much bigger. It is the only spot in the museum that has running water.
The final meeting on Tuesday night was a short meeting of the County Council. They approved a memorandum of understanding with Soil & Water Conservation District in which the County supplements the salary of the manager of the district. (The manager is new to the job.) It also approved three additional appropriations for CASA that are funded by matching grant funds and also a transfer for the Motor Vehicle Highway Department (from chip and seal to stone).

With the agenda items out of the way, there were brief discussions of the Fairgrounds and development in northern Jasper County. The Fair Board will have its annual 4th of July fireworks on June 29th at dusk. A new carnival will provide rides this year. The company is east-coast based and will provide a limited number of rides this year and a larger selection in 2020. The Fairgrounds has a new office building, is installing a new sound system, and new electrical lines are being put in place.

The Council members from the northern part of the County remarked that there is very rapid turnover of houses for sale and that the number of houses under construction seems to be the most since 2008. Some of the increase may reflect, directly or indirectly, the emigration of people from Illinois, which has been losing population for several years.

After the Airport Authority Board meeting, I got an update on what is happening to the old Horton Building from its owner, Sean Yallaly. The first part of the building that will be finished is the back part, which will be the new office of Shelter Insurance. Next the three upstairs apartments will be finished. Finally the front half of the building will be finished and will become the office of Edward Jones for Mr Yallaly. The current office of Edward Jones, a couple blocks further north, will remain an Edward Jones office and will serve the clients of Kenneth VanHouten.

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.