I-65 Changed All That

“You know, it was a national trend back then for people to leave urban areas and move to the suburbs.”

Transcript for I-65 Changed All That

Merrillville back, I guess, in the 1800s was called Wiggins Point—its claim to fame was that part of the old Sauk Trail went through Merrillville. In fact, there’s still a marker that indicates that location. Merrillville wasn’t very big then, you know, there were other areas that are Merrillville today that were known by a different name. That’s why, for awhile, all of the Merrillville fire department fire trucks were different. One station, their trucks were painted red. One station, their trucks were painted white. The other one was painted orange. It was like everybody was separate, but one. And it took awhile before everything was combined together.

Pre-incorporation, I can remember coming into Merrillville with my parents so they can go to the farm stands. All that area, even going across 30 was nothing but a two-lane bumpy road with farms on each side. There was a place called Kiddieland and, you know, to come from 8th and Adams to 61st and Broadway where this was located was, like, you thought it was, like, an all-day excursion. But I-65 changed all that.

I think a great deal of credit has to go to Dean White with all of the development that he put at Route 30 and I-65. I think what he did there had a lot to do with spurring, like, the mall to decide to build where they were at. If Dean White had decided to locate his businesses let’s say a little further south on I-65, that that would’ve—we would have a different Merrillville today.

Merrillville was incorporated for racial reasons. They did not want to be annexed by the city of Gary. And that was their biggest fear, I believe. You know, they had a bank account that didn’t amount to but a couple, three thousand dollars in their treasury, but they made a substantial push to incorporate the town of Merrillville. They were able to successfully get that approved with legislation in Indianapolis because the way the law read, in order for a community to incorporate that was adjacent to a city—and that city being Gary—they would pretty much have to get permission from that city. Gary wasn’t about to do that because that was land that I’m sure at some point they wanted to bring into their territory, so they had to get special legislation. And technically, any type of special legislation is supposed to be illegal, but it’s done downstate every year on a lot of different issues. I do know that Chet Dobis had a lot of clout back then. And you didn’t have no Republican supermajorities or anything like that. They had no problem in going along with what he wanted.

You know, it was a national trend back then for people to leave urban areas and move to the suburbs. And then, of course, you had some pretty good salesmen that were selling, you know, these properties in Merrillville at good rates, and good prices, and people were just moving to the suburbs. I’ll be honest with you. Most of the subdivisions were white. But I do remember—we didn’t—my family didn’t move out of Gary until 1976, so we were kind of one of the last few families to move south. And I remember at that time, the Crescent Lake subdivision which was just west of where I live had already had at least one black family in it. So, yeah, there was a transition, but it was very light at first and then eventually, as the city itself changed in Gary, there were more black residents that wanted to move into Merrillville.

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