A Brief History of San Pierre

San Pierre is a small community in northwest Indiana with strong agricultural and railroad roots. Established in 1853, San Pierre was originally called Culvertown, but later took the name of the post office Pierre, named after a nearby French-Canadian saloon owner. Before the downturn of the railroad industry, San Pierre had a train station at the intersection of the Monon and New York Central railways, boasted three grocery stores, a pickle factory, and a grain elevator. San Pierre was a stop on the route of Abraham Lincoln's funeral train, and a whistle stop on the Presidential campaign of Harry S Truman.

San Pierre's history has witnessed many unique events over the past 155 years. It has also produced several historically significant structures along the way, many of which still survive today. The Historic Landmark Foundation of Indiana's Starke County, Interim Report, Historic Sites and Structures Inventory lists 23 historically notable sites in San Pierre, and another 30 historic sites scattered throughout Railroad Township. Despite the fact that San Pierre, Railroad Township, and Starke County all have numerous historically significant buildings and properties, only two structures in Starke County are listed on the National Register of Historic Places: the Starke County Courthouse, built in 1897, and a former Pennsylvania Railroad bridge built in 1915, near Main Street and Water Street in Knox, referred to simply as "Starke County Bridge #39."

Activity in San Pierre historically took place primarily in three places: in the downtown business district centered at the intersection of Eliza Street and Broadway, around the San Pierre depot where the Monon Railroad tracks crossed the New York Central line, and around the San Pierre Schools.

The following brief history of San Pierre comes from the Historic Landmark Foundation of Indiana's Starke County, Interim Report, Historic Sites and Structures Inventory:

Located in southwestern Starke County, some accounts claim that San Pierre was the county's first settlement.
The stories that connect San Pierre to the French heritage of the old Kankakee Marsh, claiming that a French
trader established a post and tavern north of the present town. Seeking a better location, he moved south and
attracted other inhabitants, establishing San Pierre.

It is known that the federal government established a post office at the settlement in 1853, calling it "River."
Another early name cited is Culvertown. San Pierre (French for Saint Peter) became the town's official name
in 1855. In 1858, the Reverend Joseph Andrew Stephan established the parish of All Saint's Catholic Church,
perhaps to accommodate a French population.

During that time, several important things happened in San Pierre involving transportation. The county's first
railroad arrived there in 1853, linking San Pierre to the rest of the state and eventually Chicago. The Louisville,
New Albany and Chicago Railroad, commonly known as the Monon, became Indiana's most distinguished line.
In 1886, the Three-I Railroad formed a junction with the Monon, transforming San Pierre into a busy hub of
activity for several decades. Not surprisingly, San Pierre was a center of market and civic life for the marsh region.

In the early 20th century, San Pierre's economy further increased with the construction of U.S. Highway 421,
running parallel to the Monon tracks through the town. Wood-frame commercial buildings of the railroad period
slowly gave way to one-story masonry structures. The last significant commercial building dating to before World
War II is the Bank of San Pierre Building. Local lore claims that it fell victim to the notorious Hoosier outlaw
John Dillinger, but the legendary exploits of his Depression-Era banditry are difficult to verify or dispute.

Across the street from the bank is its post-war replacement. Built in the 1960s, the new Bank of San Pierre
features some Contemporary-style elements, including a shallow-opitched roof, extended wood beams, and
high ribbon-set windows. Most distinctive is the drive-up teller bay. The structure remains virtually unchanged
and is a significant recent-past resource. The local elementary school is also a strong representative of that period.

The most historically significant resource in San Pierre dates to the Depression Era. The ball field that was once
part of the now-demolished high school complex was built by the Works Progress Administration (WPA), the
federal government's remedy to provide employment during the economic hardships of the 1930s. The rustic
stone material and skilled craftsmanship employed in its construction are typical of the work done by the WPA.
The field exists today as part of the town's central park.


Below (left to right) are photographs of the Rennewanz General Store (c.1910); the interior and exterior of the Kingman General Store. [photos from the Starke County Historical Society]

The San Pierre Municipal Band preparing for a concert downtown; the Bank of San Pierre, built in 1917, which still stands today at the corner of Eliza and Broadway. [photos from the Starke County Historical Society]

The Monon railroad depot. Date of photo unknown. [photo from the Starke County Historical Society]; and Abraham Lincoln's Funeral Train, which stopped in San Pierre on its way to Springfield, Illinois in April, 1865. [photo from en.wikipedia.org]

A photograph of the San Pierre Grain Elevator [taken by Tom Rankin in 1977, www.monon.org]; two views of the San Pierre railroad crossing showing the various passenger and freight facilities in the area. [top photo from John Orem/HVRM collection, hvrm.railfan.net, bottom photo from the Starke County Historical Society]

San Pierre High School's 1920-21 basketball team [photo courtesy of Dona Richardson Rinehart]; a postcard of the San Pierre Public School (built in 1912);

A picture of the San Pierre High School (which replaced the former school after a fire) from the 1954 Echo yearbook; and the plaque which stands today on the site of these former school buildings.


History of Education in Railroad Township
Composed by Herrette Daly, San Pierre, Indiana, May 14, 1929

About 1865 there was one school in the township located in San Pierre. The first teacher being George Furback; the second, O.B. (Capt) Rockwell; the third Lulu Glazebrook; the fourth, George Rockwell. In later years, the school was called "Union". Later, there was a school east of San Pierre called "Hard Scrabble"; its name derived from the un-disciplined pupils. The first teacher that undertook the position was Henry Roney. A school northwest of San Pierre called "Knowledge Box" was so named because of its noted reputation as having studious and brilliant pupils. Scott Biggs happened to be one of the first teachers. All of these schools were ungraded. While George Netherland was County Superintendent, the schools became systematized or graded. This was in 1880.

There came change in school locations and more of them were erected. District No. 1 was still in the same place in San Pierre; No. 2 was the "Buckeye", named because of the settlers from Ohio. This was located northeast of San Pierre with Belle Selock as its first teacher; No. 3 was the "Knowledge Box" as mentioned above, located Northwest of San Pierre; No. 4 was the "English Lake" school, having Pete Roney for its first teacher. This school was located in the very small village of English Lake in the north eastern part of the township along the Kankakee River; No. 5 was located South east of San Pierre in a district called "Blue Sea"; No. 6 was the "Prairie Queen" South-west of San Pierre, situated on and surrounded by prairie land, therefore deriving its significance; No. 7 was the "Lomax" school also located in a district called Lomax, four miles north of San Pierre. LeDora Stouffeur was an early teacher; No. 8 was located east of San Pierre.

The school in San Pierre burned and another was rebuilt, which they nicknamed "Two rooms and a kitchen". Frank Delaney held the position as first teacher. This school was used for public meetings, church gatherings, and every kind of entertainment. There was much agitation against this and a petition was started by Dr. Glazebrook to buy new land to erect a larger and better building. The land was bought at the west end of town. In the meantime, the District school (which was a frame structure) burned. A temporary building was erected on the new land. It was soon destroyed by fire compelling the town pupils to attend the "Prarie Queen" school two and one-half miles west of San Pierre.

Finally a new two story brick building was built in 1902, while Adam Smith was Trustee. The Advisory Board assisted him, for their power came into effect in 1898. A little later the state condemned the school. Ventilation and lighting being the main causes. In 1912, while Owen Daly was Trustee and Carroll Cannon, County Superintendent, the school was rebuilt according to state requirements.

In January 1914, Dr. W.J. Solt became Trustee and the small district schools were done away with. The township supplied busses drawn by horses and all the county children were brought to Lomax and English Lake districts. The "Lomax" school was rebuilt according to state requirements and "English Lake" school was remodeled. "Lomax" had two teachers and all grades. "English Lake" had one teacher and all grades. San Pierre had seven teachers, four in the grades and three in high school.

In 1917, when J. Allen Barr was County Superintendent; Dr. W.J. Solt, Trustee; and Guy W. Johnson, Principal; the school had four years of High School for the first time. Before this, San Pierre had three years of High School. Students wishing to complete their course had to attend a Commissioned High School which was North Judson, Medaryville, Wheatfield or Knox. Time went on very successfully and things were progressing when fate hit hard again. The school burned January 29, 1923. The term of school was completed in the three churches and a private home. Leonard Rennewanz took the office of Trustee on January 1, 1923. Plans were made immediately to rebuild, The new school was erected on a hill, directly across the road from the old location. School the following term was held in the same manner as the previous year. About the middle of March, the building was completed. The teachers and pupils took their respective places.

After having waited patiently for a number of years, San Pierre secured its four year Commission being recognized by the state as a school fulfilling all requirements. Our County Superintendent, Mr. Barr and Trustee, Mr. Rennewanz were responsible for this great deed and many compliments and thanks of appreciation were given in their honor. The members of the State Board of Education at this time were as follows: Henry Noble Sherwood, President; E.N. Graff, Secretary; John Bettinger, Inspector. Our school is again progressing. This year the faculty increased, making a total of eight teachers instead of seven. The enrollment of the school has also increased, greatly. Lomax and English Lake are continuing as mentioned above. In the future, we hope for more and better progress.

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© 2008 The Institute for Small Town Studies