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Enjoy a Historic Tram Tour of Bass Lake This Weekend

The popular song "Let Me Call You Sweetheart" was written at the Center View Hotel at Bass Lake.

The popular song “Let Me Call You Sweetheart” was written at the Center View Hotel at Bass Lake.

Take a slow ride around Bass Lake this weekend on a historic tram and learn about the colorful history of the popular Starke County attraction. Jim Nierman says the tours only take place during the Bass Lake Festival. He and the other guides point out 40 or so attractions on the 90 minute rides. Nierman has been studying the history of Bass Lake for the past 60 years. He says parts of “The Wizard of Oz” and the book “Ben Hur” were written at the lake. So was the song “Let Me Call You Sweetheart.” It was composed at the Center View Hotel.  Bass Lake was also a favorite vacation spot for Chicago mobster Diamond Joe Esposito in the 1920s. The Starke County Historical Society is a co-sponsor of this year’s tours.

They leave from the Bass Lake Property Owners Association building Saturday, July 26 at 9 a.m., 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. Sunday tours depart at 9 and 11 a.m. Tickets are $4 for adults and $3 for children ages 12 and under.

Starke County Historical Society Loans Horse to Library

Starke County Library HorseA special piece from the Starke County Historical Society is on loan to a local library. Fred and Judy Parker of Boca Raton, Fla., formerly of Starke County, donated a 1920s antique carousel horse to the museum a few years ago. Until recently it’s been on display at the Starke County Museum. Space there is limited, so the historical society board wanted to find a special spot to display the piece for public enjoyment. Continue reading

Starke County Community Foundation Gives Generously to Local Organizations

A number of charitable organizations are on the receiving end of more than $40,000 in grants from the Starke County Community Foundation. The gifts are made possible through the foundation’s endowment fund, which is supported by gifts to the SCCF. The money is invested. Each year some of the interest goes back into the fund to help it grow, while some is given locally in the form of scholarships and grants. Continue reading

Volunteers Needed to Spearhead Bicentennial Celebration Pillars

Indiana BicentennialStarke County’s participation in Indiana’s upcoming bicentennial celebration may be limited unless organizations or individuals step up and volunteer to help with event planning.

Commissioner Kathy Norem says the county’s only commitment right now is to be part of the 92 county torch relay in 2016. According to the bicentennial website, it’s “designed to promote and unify the state by connecting people, communities and regions. Hoosiers will also symbolically “pass the torch,” connecting past and current generations to future ones to IGNITE our future.”

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Knox Council Once Again Tables Museum Relocation Discussion

Knox City Council

Knox City Council

The Starke County Historical Society has hit another roadblock as they seek to relocate their museum. The Knox City Council this week refused to give the Historical Society permission to lease the city’s railroad right-of-way on U.S. 35, across from the visitor’s center, but Marvin McLaughlin with the Historical Society said this won’t necessarily stop them from establishing the new building.

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Knox City Council to Discuss Several Items in Tuesday Meeting

Knox City Council

Knox City Council

The Knox City Council will meet Tuesday night with a full agenda.

Prior to the 7 p.m. regular meeting, the council members will hold an executive session to discuss the fireman’s insurance benefits.

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Possible Relocation in the Future for the Starke County Museum

Knox City Council

Knox City Council

The Starke County Historical Society is looking to relocate their museum to the area across from the visitor’s center in Knox on U.S. 35, but they’ll need the city’s cooperation in order to do so. Marvin McLaughlin with the Historical Society approached the city council at their meeting Tuesday night with a proposal for a new building to house the museum, but he wasn’t asking for money; rather, McLaughlin said the Historical Society would like to lease the railroad right-of-way.

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Starke County Historical Society’s Annual Dinner to Feature Makers of Belle Gunness Documentary

Historian Bruce Johnson  and Film Producer Stephen Ruminski

Historian Bruce Johnson and Film Producer Stephen Ruminski

The Starke County Historical Society’s annual meeting is Thursday, Nov. 21 at 6 p.m. at the Knox High School Cafeteria.

A special presentation by Bruce Johnson and Stephen Ruminski from LaPorte will be featured. They have researched the material and written the script for the award winning documentary, The Gunness Mystery. This is a portrayal of the life of Belle Gunness of LaPorte who lured wealthy men into her farm home. After a time, she would take all of their possessions and eventually kill them. She was often known as Lady Bluebeard.

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Starke County Historical Society Christmas Open House This Weekend

Kaylee Krom brought in 65 of her collection of 200 "Beanie Babies" for the display.

The Annual Starke County Historical Society Christmas Open House is scheduled for this Sunday, Dec. 2 from 1–3 p.m. CT at the Starke County Historical Society Museum, located 401 S. Main St. in Knox.

A new exhibit is on display just in time for this year’s Open House. Kaylee Krom brought in 65 Beanie Babies from her collection, including three of her favorites.

The Knox Community High School Showstoppers will performing Christmas favorites from 2–3 p.m. to help us get into the mood for the season.

You are invited to tour the museum, listen to great music and enjoy cookies and hot cider.

Story of the Marsh

I have mentioned the Grand Kankakee Marsh before. My father was born north of Hamlet in 1893 on an “island”. Any little sand knoll or rise out of the water of the marsh was called an “island”. All of the islands were named. There was Crab Island, Coon Ridge, White Woman’s Island and on and on. These names are often mentioned in the old history books, but very seldom identified as to where they are.

Before 1900, the only way my father and his family could get to Hamlet (the nearest trading area) was by boat. Or perhaps in a real dry season, by horseback. Or walking in the winter time on top of the ice. Grandma didn’t really like this type of pioneer living, so eventually she and Grandpa sold the land and moved to Knox in 1897. Grandma liked a little more social life. Remember, no cell phones, not even a land phone, no TV’s, no radios, no mail service out in this location. They were on their own.

That was before the area was drained.

A new documentary has just been produced about this marsh, which included much of Starke County. It is called Everglades of the North – the story of the Grand Kankakee Marsh. A promo of this great video can be seen at –

The full one-hour program has just been released and can be viewed:

Monday, November 5 on WYIN, Lakeshore Public Television in Merrillville, IN – 8 p.m. CST.
Thursday, November 8 on WNIT Public Television in South Bend at 8 p.m. EST (7 p.m. CST).

Former Starke County Historian, Marvin Allen, was interviewed at our museum by the production crew, and will appear in the film. This story is part of Starke County history. I hope you enjoy it.

Jim Shilling
Starke County Historical Society

Songs from Starke County

I received the following note from Marty Lucas the other day about a composer of music with connections to Starke County. He said, “Just learned a tidbit of Starke Co. history I’d never heard before. And it’s pretty cool, in my opinion…it requires some explanation, so bear with me..”.

You’re no doubt familiar with the American Songbook classic “Georgia On My Mind”. Everybody knows Ray Charles’ 1960 rendition, and probably lots of people assume he wrote the song. But no, the music was composed by Hoagy Carmichael (who also wrote Stardust, Buttermilk Sky, Heart and Soul, the list goes on), well suffice it to say he was one of America’s greatest songwriters of the first half of the 20th century.

Carmichael was a native of Bloomington, received his undergraduate degree from IU in 1925 and his law degree there too, in 1926. At a party in Bloomington in 1930, Carmichael came up with a melody, and then stayed up all night with his friend Stuart Gorrell, working on it.

Stuart ended up writing the lyrics for the song, which became ‘Georgia on My Mind’. Here’s the local connection. According to Wikipedia, Stuart Gorrell was born in Knox, Indiana, in 1901. [Ed Hasnerl says that Stuart's father, Samuel M. Gorrell was the publisher of North Judson and Knox newspapers. The Knox paper was later sold to Henry F. Schricker.] He (Stuart Gorrell) went on to become a banker and never wrote another song lyric.

Stuart said the lyric was about Hoagy’s sister, Georgia Carmichael. Nevertheless, it’s the Georgia state song.

Actually, the song was a mostly forgotten oldie when Ray Charles recorded it. I’ve heard his producer didn’t want to do some tired old song from 30 years earlier, but Ray Charles generally did what he wanted to do. And he did it well.”

Some of you may not have heard of the song writer, Leo Friedman. He was born in Elgin, Illinois in 1869 and died in Chicago in 1927. I would say that his and your age difference would be a reason for not knowing him. However, you might have heard of some of his songs. He is best remembered for composing and publishing the sentimental waltz, “Let Me Call You Sweetheart”, with lyrics by Beth Slater Whitson in 1910. Another one of his popular compositions was “Meet Me Tonight in Dreamland.”

The local connection of “Let Me Call You Sweetheart”, is where is was composed. It was composed on the east side of Bass Lake at the Center View Hotel, (see the attachment) which is now the home of Bill and Nancy Sonnemaker, and they are proud to tell the story about Leo Friedman.

Another song writer that I am sure you haven’t heard about is Alice Prettyman Shilling. Prettyman Street in Knox is named after her father. She wrote the words to “Yellow River” with music by Leo Friedman. Yes, it is our Yellow River in Starke County. And yes, it is the same Leo Friedman. And yes, she was my great aunt. You can access this song by clicking on our website —

If you know of other Starke County composers, let me know.

Jim Shilling
Starke County Historical Society

Endangered Heritage Exhibit at North Judson-Wayne Township Public Library

A popular exhibit is being presented through April 30th at the North Judson-Wayne Township Public Library. It’s called Endangered Heritage and it is being sponsored by the Starke County Historical Society and is on loan from the Indiana Historical Society.

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Starke County Historical Society’s Annual Meeting Scheduled for Thursday

Susan Ruth Brown

The Starke County Historical Society’s annual meeting is this Thursday, November 17th at the Knox High School Cafeteria.

The carry-in meal begins at 6:00 p.m. You bring a covered dish, and the Historical Society will furnish the meat, beverage, cups, silverware and plates. A short business meeting will be held at 6:50 p.m. with the election of officers and various reports.

The entertainment for the evening will be from Susan Ruth Brown. Susan will bring back many songs from the era of the Civil War. As multi-instrumentalist and songstress, Susan often performs on fretted dulcimer, guitar, zither, autoharp, piano, penny whistle, recorder and various rhythm instruments. She is known for expressive vocals; from Celtic tunes to hard-hitting country songs.

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Whoa — what is velocipede? Generally it was an old term for a bicycle or a vehicle on wheels propelled by a human being. It also describes a vehicle used by the railroad industry for rail inspectors – see attachment.  It was a light enough vehicle that the operator could easily pull it off the tracks if a train approached him.

In his book, McCormick’s Guide to Starke County (1902), Chester McCormick talks about the different factories in Starke County. North Judson had two pickle factories, an artificial stone factory, a wholesale frog and turtle industry, a cigar manufacturer. Knox also had two pickle factories, a handle factory, a lumber mill, two grain elevators, a tomb stone factory and a velocipede factory. His little book is online and you can read about some of these items on pages 18. The attachment can be found here.

A velocipede factory ????? You know factories and other businesses come and go. One sees this all of the time on the Radio, TV or in the newspaper. Well, apparently, Marion McCormick’s Velocipede factory came and went, also. I can’t find any reference to a velocipede factory in any of the the other history books. So, what does one do when looking for a velocipede factory in Starke County? You Google it, of course. And finally, there it was – the U.S. Government patent for Mr. McCormick’s Velocipede. What he was making was a kit that you could put on your bicycle to be able to travel the railroads. Think about this. Some of the towns in the county had stone roads – some may have had brick streets in the downtown area. But most of the county didn’t have solid roads – most country roads were still sand roads. Did you ever try to peddle a bicycle through loose sand? So, if you had Mr. McCormick’s bicycle attachment and wanted to go from North Judson to Knox, you could hop on the railroad track and start peddling. Ah, a nice, smooth ride. But, watch out for trains!

In finding his patent, we also now have all of the other government patents in our files for Starke County. See attachment for the velocipede patent’s front page.

Jim Shilling
Starke County Historical Society

Special Exhibits will be Featured Sunday at Starke County Museum

1937 Cox Brothers truck

One of the exhibitors at Sunday’s Starke County Historical Society’s Ice Cream Social will be Wayne and Marilyn Alberding, showing their 1937 Chevrolet truck. It was originally owned by Cox Brothers as a gas delivery truck and has been converted to a flat bed truck.

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Lois J. Swanson

Lois J. Swanson, 85, of West Lafayette, Indiana, formerly of Knox, Indiana, passed away Saturday, March 5th, 2011.  Funeral services will be Wednesday, March 9th, 2011 at 12:00 p.m. CT at the Rannells Funeral Home, Hamlet Chapel.  Visitation is after 10:00 a.m. CT until the time of services Wednesday at the Funeral Home.  Memorials may be made to the American Heart Association or to the Starke County Historical Society.

Marvin Allen Wins Hubert Hawkins History Award

IHS Board of Trustees Chair Thomas Hoback and Marvin Allen

Marvin Allen of Knox is this year’s recipient of the Indiana Historical Society’s Hubert Hawkins History Award. The presentation will be made during the Society’s annual Founders Day Dinner at the Eugene and Marilyn Glick Indiana History Center, located at 450 W. Ohio St. in downtown Indianapolis. The Hubert Hawkins History Award is made annually to a local historian for his or her distinguished service and career in local history.

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