(La Porte, IN) - Every old house has a story, and a few secrets. This weekend’s Christmas Candlelight Tour in downtown La Porte featured six historic homes. They’re all dressed up for the holidays, and their owners were eager to tell the tales that otherwise vanish in the wrinkles of time.
One home, in particular, has a secret or three that had gone unnoticed until a local history buff did a little digging recently. Tim Stabosz is a member of Preserve Historic La Porte and a co-organizer of the Christmas Candlelight Tour. In preparing the event’s program, Stabosz uncovered some fascinating history behind the home of Tim and Hannah Schroll on 1502 Indiana Avenue.
For starters, the house, built in 1895, didn’t always reside at the corner of Indiana and Webber Street. It was moved there 32 years ago from 1504 Lincolnway.
On November 26, 1991, La Porteans might have rubbed their eyes and done a double-take to see a dilapidated two-story Queen-Anne-style house slowly creep east on Lincolnway Avenue like a Macy’s parade float. At that time, Tim and Kathy Neff were in the market for a historic home. “The Neffs were starting a family,” Stabosz said, “and they had originally looked at buying the house in the late 1980s, in situ. But that Lincolnway location was not ideal for family living, then, especially with the 1506 Lincolnway house next door operating as an adult bookstore,” Stabosz ruefully observed. "So, the Neffs decided to pass.”
When Horizon Bank bought various properties for its current location, Stabosz said, the Neffs agreed to buy the historic home on the cheap, as long as they agreed to move it. “People don’t realize what is involved in a house move,” said Stabosz. “Stoplights have to be unbolted and pivoted out of the way, various utility lines need to be lowered temporarily, and trees need to be trimmed, on the fly, en route.” According to Stabosz, the house moving company offered to allow the Neffs to ride inside the house during its trip, but they declined.
The house crawled up Lincolnway, then made a right turn down Indiana Avenue. After about seven hours, it came to rest at the 1502 lot which the Neffs had purchased from Hallie Fox (daughter-in-law of Samuel Fox, who donated land for the park named after him). The Samuel Fox mansion had been razed in 1971, and the spot was a prime location for another chapter in La Porte residential architecture.
However, the house’s origins intrigued Stabosz, who dug deeper into its past, uncovering something that seemingly no one else had. In researching property deed history, Stabosz found that the home was originally built by the Larson brothers, co-founders of Larson-Danielson Construction. No records indicate that any Larsons lived in the house, so it may have been built as a model home to showcase their craftsmanship. Their company would go on to leave its mark in La Porte with historic structures such as the New York Central Railroad Depot (1909), YMCA (1910), Rumely Hotel (1912), First United Methodist Church (1929), and the Civic Auditorium (1930).
The discovery came as a surprise to current-day family members. “Even when I called 4th generation Larson family patriarch, Tim Larson,” said Stabosz, “he was completely unaware that the 1504 and 1506 Main Street locations represented the first record of any property ownership in La Porte County by his great grandfather (Frank) and great uncle (Charles), respectively. In a very real sense, this is where it all started.”
But for Stabosz the history lesson wasn’t over. In the rabbit hole of local history, where way leads on to way, he researched the home’s subsequent residents. One of them stood out.
Ralph N. Smith probably won’t be featured in the next La Porte coloring book or on a La Porte-opoly game board, but in his day, Smith was a big deal. In 1907, while Smith was settling into the lovely Larson-built home, Belle Gunness, across town, was up to no good. A year later, Smith, as La Porte County’s Prosecutor, oversaw the sensational Gunness case that captured headlines nationwide. According to Smith’s 1935 obituary, he may have been the most widely known prosecutor in the country at the time.
But that was then. The present is just history in the making. Tim and Kathy Neff raised three daughters in the home on 1502 Indiana. In 2020 the Schrolls purchased it from Tim Neff’s estate and are raising their two small children there. According to Stabosz, Hannah Schroll had herself been raised in an 1890s-era Queen Anne house in Zeeland, Michigan, and finding something similar in La Porte was a dream come true.
On Saturday and Sunday, the Schrolls opened their home to visitors who stepped back in time to rediscover what Stabosz calls “lost history.” But the importance of it is not lost on Stabosz. “One of the reasons I decided to take on researching that specific house is because I knew it would be more involved,” he said.
Preserve Historic La Porte president Mark Kurth added, “The houses and structures on the tour tell a story of the people who built La Porte. I am proud of the hard work that all of our researchers have done, to permanently document that history. These written histories make the past relevant and more accessible, and are, in themselves, our gift to the city.”
The Christmas Candlelight Tour resumed in La Porte after a three-year-hiatus. Hopefully it will return next year with more beautiful homes and more stories to tell.