501 Academy Street, Valparaiso, Indiana

My trip to Indiana earlier this month for a family reunion was a great time to meet people, dig into old records, and see many of the places associated with Our Casbon Journey in America. It was the first time I had spent any significant time here since childhood.

The best part was being able to spend time with family and friends, visiting their old haunts, and listening to stories of days gone by. One of the most noteworthy places I saw was the house at 501 Academy Street in Valparaiso. 501 Academy was home to four generations of my Casbon ancestors.

The house at 501 Academy Street, located at corner of Haas (left) and Academy (right) Streets; photo taken August 5, 2017

The History of Porter County tells us that “in 1892 Mr. and Mrs. Casbon removed from their country estate to Valparaiso, and have since enjoyed the comforts of a pleasant city home on Academy street.”[1] “Mr. and Mrs. Casbon” were my second great-grandfather Sylvester (~1837–1927) and his third wife Mary (Mereness, 1851–1932) Casbon. They had been living at their farm near Deep River in adjacent Lake County for the previous 15+ years.

Sylvester was only 55 years old when he retired from farming and moved to “Valpo.” He did not sell his land in Lake County for a number of years, so I suspect he was letting someone else do the work and still getting income from the farm. The house was originally numbered as 21 Academy Street (and later renumbered in the early 1900s), as shown in this 1893 Valparaiso City Directory.[2]

Detail from 1893 Valparaiso directory (Click on image to enlarge)

I think Sylvester was the original owner of the home, although I don’t know for sure. The plot of land containing the lot, known as Pierce’s Addition, was added to the city plat in 1854.[3] I don’t think any homes were built on the addition for many years. Fire insurance maps of the city don’t show any buildings on the site until 1905, when the present structure can be seen.[4]

Detail of 1905 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map, showing Haas and Academy
Streets; 501 Academy Street is outlined in red (Click on image to enlarge)

You can see in the 1893 directory that Sylvester’s oldest son, Lawrence, was also living at 21 Academy Street. Lawrence (1865–1950), my great-grandfather, would have been 28 years old in 1893. I believe this portrait of him was taken in about the same time frame.

Lawrence L Casbon (undated photo)

I have no idea why he was living with his father or what he was doing for a living in 1893. This period of his life is a complete mystery to me. The 1890 U.S. census was lost in a fire, so it is of no help. By January of 1894 he was married to Katherine (“Kate”) Marquart; and somewhere along the line he took up farming in Porter township, in the southern part of the county.[5] So, his time at Academy Street must have been of short duration.

As the patriarch of a fairly large family, Sylvester would likely have used his house for family gatherings. This photo, which I’ve dated to 1905 or 1906, shows such a gathering.

Is this the  house on 501 Academy Street? Look closely at the detail of the double window casing—it looks identical to me; the siding is different (more about that in a bit) and the current house no longer has a front porch; if you look at the fire insurance map, however, you can see that the original house had a front porch in this location; I’m confident that they are the same house, with an entryway built out from the original porch (Click on image to enlarge)

Sylvester was still living in the house when he died in 1927.[6] His widow, Mary, continued to live there until her death in 1932.[7] Mary’s death heralded the arrival of two more generations of Casbons to the house on Academy Street. This article appeared in the April 26, 1932 Vidette-Messenger.[8]

Leslie Casbon (1894–1990) was my grandfather, the son of Lawrence. You can see him in the previous photograph seated on the ground, second from the left. The article says he would be commuting to work in Chicago. He must not have done so for very long. This was during the depression, and his business (jewelry, radios, musical instruments) was failing. Soon afterwards he gave up on the Chicago business and joined his two brothers in the new Casbon Brothers Electric Company, which was to become a well-known and successful Valparaiso business for another five decades or so.

The two children mentioned in the article were my father Lewis and his brother Don. They grew up in the house on Academy Street. During my visit, they shared their recollections of the house with me.

Both mentioned the fact that wakes or funerals were held in the house. Don remembers the death of his great uncle Ed Lewis, a wealthy businessman from Chicago. He remembers going down the stairs late at night & seeing Ed’s body in the coffin – the first dead person he had ever seen.

Don also remembers when his dad, Leslie, put asbestos shingle siding on the house – that’s right, asbestos! It was a popular material in home construction in those days. They would cut it to size and then attach it to the house. According to Don, this kind of asbestos wasn’t believed to be harmful. From what I’ve read, that’s true, unless the shingles are damaged (or cut!). Look closely at the picture of the house as it is today. Those asbestos shingles are still there – just painted yellow!

Lewis and Don walked to school, a block west and four blocks south of the house. The alley behind the house was a popular thoroughfare and probably the starting point for many adventures.

Dad remembers a time when a neighbor called his mother while she was working at the draft board, and told her,  “I just saw the back end of a jack ass in your front door. ” Don and his friend were bringing a pony into the house! He also recalls that his father dug a basement beneath the house and eventually installed a furnace there. At one point he had to crawl into the basement through a window to tend the furnace, because the house was quarantined due to scarlet fever.

My dad’s best friend was Jim (“Jimmy”) Brown, whose dad ran a grocery store on the first floor of their house, about four doors down the street on Academy. Dad & Jimmy have remained good friends for their entire lives. During our visit, we were able to surprise Jimmy on his birthday and share good memories of past times.

Jim Brown (left) & Lewis Casbon (right), Valparaiso, August 2017

My grandparents sold the house in the early 1940s, probably in the early years of the war. It had been in the family nearly fifty years. There must be many more stories, yet untold. I’m glad the house is still standing, a silent witness to the family’s history.

[1] History of Porter County, Indiana : a narrative account of its historical progress, its people and its principal interests (Chicago: Lewis Publishing Company, 1912), vol. 2, p. 484; online image, Hathi Trust Digital Library (https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=wu.89067919191;view=1up;seq=139;size=175 : accessed 14 August 2017).
[2] Valparaiso Porter County, Ind. City Directory 1893 (Chicago: Kraft & Radcliffe, 1893), unnumbered p. 59 of 130; PDF image, Internet Archive (https://archive.org/stream/valparaisoindian1893polk#page/n57/mode/2up : accessed 9 Aug 2017).
[3] History of Porter County,” vol. 1, p. 195; Hathi Trust Digital Library (https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=wu.89067919183;view=1up;seq=229 : accessed 14 August 2017).
[4] Insurance Maps of Valparaiso Indiana (New York: Sanborn Map Company, 1905), p. 17; PDF image, “Maps,” Porter County Indiana (http://www.inportercounty.org/maps.html : accessed 14 August 2014) >Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps >Valparaiso >1905.
[5] “Indiana Marriages, 1811-2007”, database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:KDHQ-H68 : accessed 10 March 2017), Lawrence L. Casbon & Kate E. Marquart, 31 Jan 1894; citing County Clerk, Porter, Indiana.
[6] “Death Calls S.V. Casbon; Reached 90,” The(Valparaiso, Indiana) Vidette Messenger, 10 Dec 1927, p. 1, col. 1, online image, Newspaper Archive (accessed through participating libraries: 16 June 2016).
[7] “Death Claims Mary Casbon.” The Vidette Messenger, 29 Feb 1932, p. 3, col. 8; online image, Newspaper Archive.
[8] “Local Brevities,” The Vidette-Messenger, 26 Apr 1932, p. 3, col. 1, para. 27; online image, Newspaper Archive.

1 thought on “501 Academy Street, Valparaiso, Indiana”

  1. I really enjoyed this post! The family reunion as you describe it was just as a family reunion should be. I love the picture of your dad and his best friend. I enjoyed reading about the house’s history as well. When I saw the picture, I thought the siding looked like asbestos shingles!

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