The City of La Porte, Indiana was founded in 1832 and is located in the geographic center of La Porte County. Today with a population of about 22,000 residents, it is LaPorte County’s second largest city. Being the county seat, the county offices are located in the historic 1894 Courthouse on Lincolnway Avenue.
In the 1670′s, French explorers came to the area that was to later become La Porte County, from the north along the shores of Lake Michigan. This area had long been part of the Pottawatomie Nation which covered the distance from the Wabash River on the south to Lake Michigan on the north. The French explorers and fur traders that passed this way as well as the many settlers that came after them made use of a wide Indian trail that passed through the forest to the next prairie. This opening from forest to prairie was a legendary kind of passageway or door for these early pioneers and the French called this place “La Porte” which is French for “the Door.”
Indiana became a state officially in 1816, but much of the state was under the control of the Indian tribes. The Congress and the President processed a treaty with several Indian tribes of Northern and Central Indiana. This allowed the opening up of the land from the Ohio River to Lake Michigan. The tribes agreed to turn over a 100 foot wide strip of land through their territories for the building of a road from the Wabash River to Lake Michigan. The land along the roadway was also was gained by the government for Federal distribution to land seekers and much of this land was contained in La Porte County. This land was sold in November of 1831 at a public auction. The site of the future city was purchased by investors John Walker, Dr. Hiram Todd, Walter Wilson, Abraham P. Andrew, James Andrew and Chamberlain Andrew. Their express purpose was to create a new city around a group of beautiful lakes and along side fertile prairies. The town was officially founded in 1832 in July even though no one lived there yet. That year A.P. Andrew built La Porte’s first sawmill. In October of the same year a settler built the first cabin and for the Centennial celebration in 1932, a replica of that first cabin was also built in the same location just north of the Courthouse.
By 1835 the population of La Porte grew to such an extent that a formal incorporation of the town was deemed necessary and took place on November 4th of that year. Elections for trustees were held shortly thereafter and an orderly government was established providing the town with direction as it continued to grow. The La Porte Herald Argus published its first paper on November 5, 1836. Six years later, in 1842, the first medical school in the Midwest was founded by three doctors and La Porte’s first attorney, John B. Niles. The school was initially called La Porte University then later changed to the La Porte Medical College. One of the former students was Dr. Mayo the founder of the acclaimed Mayo Clinic of Rochester, Minnesota.
By 1852, La Porte grew to size of 5,000 people which was a city of considerable size. Indiana had adopted a new charter that year and the General assembly granted a city charter to the citizens of La Porte in recognition of their size. An election was held and the first Mayor, William J. Walker was elected. The railroad came to La Porte that same year and with this latest means of transportation the business community began to prosper like never before. German immigrant, Meinrad Rumley, played a significant role in the history and shaping of La Porte. He, along with his brother, John, established a foundry business which was largely possible due to the abundance of sand and water in the immediate area. Together they created a shop to assist the railroad shops that existed in the city. As time went on, their small company grew into the huge Advance-Rumley Company, builder of the legendary Rumely Oil-Pull Tractor Engine. This tractor was largely responsible for the agricultural development of the Great Plains particularly for the cultivation of wheat. By 1869, the company was the largest employer in the city. A wide variety of other businesses flourished from the area, from the processing of food to the production of a variety of bicycles, baby carriages and the automobile.
Approaching the turn of the century, perhaps La Porte’s most famous structure was built, the La Porte County Courthouse. The structure was completed in 1894 at a cost of about $300,000. It was built of Lake Superior Red Sand- stone which was shipped by boat to the harbor in Michigan City then trans- ported to La Porte by rail. In the 1850s, local resident Sebastian Lay planted maple trees along Indiana and Michigan Aves. which subsequently led to the nicknaming of La Porte as “The Maple City.” The city had its beginning along these two streets as evidenced by the numerous historic structures that are still maintained to this day and are available to the viewing public by way of a self-guided walking tour known as “A Stroll Along the Avenues.” A popular attraction just south of town is a symbol of La Porte’s pioneer past. The historic 1878 Door Prairie Barn is a unique nine-sided structure, the only remaining barn of its kind in the country. La Porte is rich in history and much of its past can be explored at the La Porte Historical Society Museum where there are over 80,000 items on display and tell of the colorful history of this dynamic city. La Porte today is a blend of a unique past with a vibrant future, where there is always something old for reminiscing and something new to discover.