The Birth of LaPorte
LaPorte's modern history begins in the winter of 1679 with a band of men led by Robert Cavelier La Salle, the French explorer and fur trader. During that winter, the morale of La Salle's group was low. After trekking from Canada, they made it as far as Illinois but were ready to make a retreat back north (La Salle and his men had just built Ft. Crevecoeur in Illinois; 'Crevecoeur' means 'heartbreak').
While leading his expedition back to Canada, La Salle used the trails cut by the Indian tribes of the region - the Pottawatomie, Sac, and Ottowa. With this in mind, La Salle referred to the trail's clearing as 'LaPorte,' or 'The Door.' This door, shared between the Indian nations and the French explorers, is hidden from modern LaPorte, but its spirit persists: portions of State Street overlap the old trail. It would be more than one-hundred-and-fifty years before Europeans built permanent settlements in LaPorte.
In 1835, the city of LaPorte officially incorporated and was opened for business. The following decade saw the construction of the Midwest's first medical school, LaPorte University (later called LaPorte Medical School). Slowly, the town transformed from an outpost in the Middle West to a governed town of 5,000 people.
The town's big break came in 1852: work completed on a railroad that connected LaPorte to the largest cities in the region. Before long, people were filling the trains and stopping by LaPorte, many of whom stayed and planted roots in the area. The new population influx - including European immigrants from Ireland, Germany, and Poland - gave LaPorte the manpower to start their industrial economy. One business that especially prospered was the Advance-Rumley Company, which created a tractor engine helping to revolutionize wheat farming in the Great Plains.
Another railroad passed through LaPorte, but unbeknownst to most of the citizens: the Underground Railroad. More than 3,000 former slaves passed through various clandestine spaces in LaPorte in route to freedom.