Michigan City Public Library Michigan City, Indiana Indiana Room/Genealogy The Portable LaPorte County (Indiana) Historic Sites of LaPorte County
An early view of Franklin Street (facing south) preserves the plank pavement and hitching posts of the era; lost are the smells of open sewers and the ever-present horse manure.
Michigan City probably got its name from the Michigan Road, the great thoroughfare which had its northern terminus at the mouth of Trail Creek. Farsighted people envisioned a great lake port and city arising there which would serve the whole Midwest.
[image] Franklin Street Churches, North from 10th St., late 1880’s
Until WWI, 5th Street continued to divide the business center from the tree-lined residential area. Three Franklin Street churches are pictured in this late 1800’s photo, taken north from 10th Street: St. John’s (l), St. Paul’s (r) and the Methodist Church (7th Street.)
One of these visionaries was Major Isaac C. Elston of Crawfordsville, who bought the land containing the creek mouth in 1831. Laid out one year later, the town site was low and swampy. Two huge sand dunes (Yankee Slide and Hoosier Slide) dominated the lakefront and the creek mouth was almost silted shut with sand.
Undeterred by these gloomy prospects, the first settlers began to arrive from the East in 1833. Sailing vessels soon began to stop at the “Michigan City” to unload goods needed by settlers in northern Indiana and to take on the cargoes of grain, pork, and beef raised by them.
The early citizens were characterized as “pushing, enterprising, intelligent, and active” people. Because of their efforts, Michigan City was a major grain port for farmers as far south as Indianapolis during the 1840’s. But soon Chicago would overshadow it, due in part to the efforts of Chicago landowner, Stephan A. Douglas.
In 1852, the Michigan Central Railroad reached here, putting Michigan City on a direct rail line with Eastern markets. Industries began to locate in Michigan City, drawn by the easy access to markets and raw materials.
The Germans, Irish and the Poles were coming to the area, working in the many factories and contributing to a boom which increased the population 85% between 1870 and 1880. Services such as hospitals, police and fire protection, public schools, street lights and streetcars were introduced as the community expanded. Lumber boats and excursion ships made up the majority of harbor traffic.
Culturally, the city was dominated by the “Inner Circle” of wealthy people associated with the Haskell-Barker Car Co. Some of the nation’s finest drama companies, speakers, musicians, and vaudeville acts stopped in Michigan City on their way to Chicago. The physical environment was improved by the development of Washington Park in 1891.
By the early 1900’s, though, Michigan City was in the midst of an industrial slump. In 1917 the Michigan Central repair shops were moved to Niles, Michigan, and by 1918, six hundred families had followed.
To combat this problem, a Chamber of Commerce was formed. During the next six years they succeeded in bringing 22 new factories to the area as well as building a new sewer system and the Spaulding Hotel. Michigan City was then advertised by the Chamber as a tourist resort and convention center.
Tourists and summer vacationers flocked to city beaches, coming by car and electric interurban. Soon, Sheridan Beach and Long Beach were filled with the summer cottages of wealthy Chicagoans. Partly as a result of the Chamber’s efforts, population rose 37% by 1930. The Depression put many of the new factories out of business, but no banks closed in Michigan City and WPA projects kept many men employed.