A traveling exhibit from the Indiana Historical Society titled Golden Age of Indiana Literature will be featured at the La Porte County Historical Society Museum.
One of the highlighted authors is James Whitcomb Riley. His 150th birthday was celebrated Oct. 7, 1999. A consortium of Indiana organizations was formed to honor that event. La Porte County was asked, through its county historian, to submit information about buildings, etc. that carry his name.
In Michigan City, a street approximately one block long, is named Riley Court and is located directly across from the newly-constructed Michigan City Police Station, north from Michigan Boulevard. A Riley School was located on South Carroll Avenue for many years in Michigan City but is no longer in existence. La Porte, too, has a Riley Court which runs south of Weller Avenue and east to Greenleaf Street. Riley School in La Porte is located on Weller Avenue.
In April 1920, the La Porte City Board of Education announced it would award a contract to Samuel Purcell of Rochester, Indiana as general contractor to build a new school in La Porte. George Wood Allen, local architect, was chosen to prepare the plans. The north side citizens of La Porte sought the privilege of naming the school building. The North Side Civic & Social Association came into being and one of the activities of this organization was to select a name. Suggested names were to be submitted to the Board of Education and the winning name would be announced. The name Riley was chosen based on the fact that he had a profound interest in children and was known as the children’s poet. The first day of school in the new building was Sept. 5, 1921.
In the early 1970s, the old school was levelled and a new school was built. The dedication of the new school was in 1972.
Another La Porte County connection to Riley was his scheduled appearance in La Porte at Hall’s Opera House which was announced Wednesday, May 2, 1894 by W. C. Miller, Manager of the opera house. He indicated the appearance was “at great expense in securing”. He guaranteed Riley $200 and expenses and there was hope the house would be packed. It was noted that the house “ought to be crowded and thus enable La Porte to maintain its splendid reputation as a literary as well as musical center”. The two front rows in dress circle, $1 each seat, the balance of downstairs, 75 cents. Four front rows in balcony, 75 cents and the balance of the gallery seats were 50 cents each.
The audience at the opera house was an “extremely fashionable one, the best people in the city being present”. For almost an hour the orchestra furnished music which entertained, yet no Riley or Douglas Sherley appeared. The audience grew restless and about 9 o’clock Rev. E. B. Widger stepped onto the stage and made the announcement that neither of the artists had made his appearance and as all trains had come in that they could arrive on, the management felt the only thing to do would be refund the money for seats purchased.
By May 4, Manager Miller indicated he had not yet heard from either Riley or Sherley. He, however, stated he had placed his case in the hands of an attorney and the “two above named gentlemen will be made to stand his loss and damage”. The attorney noted Mr. Miller had a strong case against the two who were to have given the entertainment and Miller would surely collect damages. No information was located about the outcome of the case.
La Porte County Historian FERN EDDY SCHULTZ can be contacted at email@example.com.