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home : considered comment : rochester, once the model small town of the midwest May 30, 2016

Fortune's chic reporter discovers the Lake Manitou scene

5th in a 9-part series

Two members of Fortune's reporting team that produced the magazine's 1936 article about Rochester were birds of a different plumage whose mode of dress shocked a few of the good burghers of this small town. Artist Maitland de Gogorza wore knickers, plaid stockings and a coat best suited, one local thought, for "mountain climbing or auto racing." The same observer considered writer Catherine Hamill's raiment a bit "too chic" while Station Agent Ed Sparks thought it "gaudy" when he saw her alight from the Erie train.

The fashionable Ms. Hamill probably paid little heed to her critics and in today's fifth installment of her article she introduces her readers to Lake Manitou's stylish country club and dance resort scenes. FYI: Arthur Clinton Bradley was the father of Robert Bradley of Lake Manitou, and, Mrs. Howard Shafer was the great-grandmother of Mike, Mark, Rob and Dan Shafer of Rochester.

Driving home from the movies and cafes and soda fountains in shiny sedans are these merchants, lawyers and doctors and bankers, their wives and sons and daughters.They drive slowly under the tree-shaded lights of the quiet streets, out South Main and along Jefferson and Pontiac and the numbered streets that connect them. They put the sedans in their garages and walk across smooth lawns to the wide porches of their homes. They go in through the unlocked doors, turn on the lights and the radios, and the children look to see what has been left in the electric refrigerator. A neighbor's son drops in and suggests that Bill and Mabel come on out to a dance at the lake with him, and they go out to his topless, wisecrack-painted car and drive noisily off, leaving mother and father to sit on the porch listening to the courthouse clock strike midnight.

Bill and Mabel and the neighbor's son, going out to Lake Manitou, drive east along Ninth Street, out past the federal fish hatchery and the airport, to the Colonial Hotel on the edge of the lake - just a mile from town. The dance is still going strong on the big outdoor floor, and the bar and lounges and open galleries are crowded. A lot of summer people, people from Indianapolis and Kokomo and Logansport who own cottages at the lake, are here, and tourists, and boys and girls over from Wabash and Winamac and Peru (pronounced Pee-ru). Most of the youngsters of Rochester, from high school age up, are either dancing or working at the bar and soda fountain. And the young married set has come in late after dinner and a few dances over at Fairview, Harry Page's hotel at the other end of the lake.

The Percy Smiths went back into town after leaving Fairview about midnight, but the rest of the crowd stopped in here. The Barrs, and Hugh Barnhart, the editor of the News-Sentinel, and his wife, who was Martha Anspaugh from Angola, and Lyman Brackett and his wife, the former Arwesta Personette from Argos, and Dr. Mark Piper, the city health officer, and his wife. They dance and some of them ease up to the bar and drink rye highballs; they play the slot machines and kid each other and sometimes listen to a couple of off-color stories; they keep one eye on their young sons and daughters on the dance floor, and they enjoy themselves.

In a corner of the upper balcony overlooking the lake is the owner of the Colonial, Arthur Clinton Bradley, who was once a Kansas rancher, once a sugar broker in Indianapolis. The citizens of Rochester, dancing on the floor below, know all about Brad. They know how he and his wife built the Colonial up from a cheap resort to a first-class hotel and dance pavilion, how he made Lake Manitou famous by importing Duke Ellington's orchestra and Wayne King's and Jan Garber's for one-night stands. They know that he owns 3,000 acres of farmland in Fulton County and that he started up the Farmers & Merchants Bank and is president of it. They give him credit for helping to get the fish hatchery and the airport located here, and for helping to persuade the Cole Bros.-Clyde Beatty circus, two years ago, to establish its winter quarters in the buildings leftvacant when the Rochester Bridge Co. failed in 1930.

They talk a lot about Bradley as they dance on his crowded floor or try to push up close enough to put in their orders at his bar. He's done a lot for Rochester, they say, and he's more progressive than most - interesting and different - and sometimes hard to get along with. He is friendly enough tonight as he comes down from the gallery and talks and laughs with his guests before they start for home.

Half a dozen fishermen's rowboats are anchored out in the deep spot in the middle of the lake before 6 o'clock on Sunday morning. An Evinrude motor sputters, put-puts for a minute, and is cut off when the propeller gets caught in weeds at the marshy south end of the lake. Children run from one cottage to another, tapping on the windows of their friends' rooms. "Hey, gang." Screen doors bang, bathings suits are snatched off lines strung from the back door to the privy, boat keels grate on the pebbles, the smell of coffee comes through the open kitchen windows.

Each cottage, whether it is a one-room shack or a two-story house with electricity and plumbing, has a pier, and a porch screened from mosquitoes, and a name: We-two, Twill-Dew, Laf-a-lot, B-Hap-E, Villa Nova, Skeeter-haven, Wigwam, Miramar, Yours 'n Mine, Constant Comfort, Linger Longer. In them, from Memorial Day to Labor Day, live the prosperous citizens of Rochester and summer people from all over northern Indiana.

Driving around the back road to the level, nine-hole golf course by the Rochester Country Club, rocking on the porches, wading and swimming out to the raft, are many of the members of the Rochester churches this Sunday morning. They would have gone into services if it hadn't been such a nice day, if they hadn't planned a steak fry for the children over on the Big Hills. The Catholics, most of them summer people, do go in to Mass, and some of the older Rochester people, trustees and presidents of the aid societies, drive in and take their accustomed places at the other churches.

Percy Smith didn't go fishing after all, but is at the Methodist Church, biggest in town. Mrs. Dawson is at the Baptist Church on South Main. The choirs sing to half-filled pews and benches, and the pastors, the Reverend Stovall and the Reverend Field, urge the members to make a greater effort to attend in the future. The smaller churches, to which the farmers and less fashionable people belong, are well attended even on pleasant summer Sunday mornings, and the members of their flocks do not rush for their cars after the service to hurry back out to the lake.

There are cars strung out along the road between the golf course and the Country Club at noon. Mrs. Henry Barnhart, stepmother of the editor, is giving a luncheon for her house guest, and 10 of the older women come, dressed in flowered silk and chiffon, wearing big summer hats and white gloves. They sit at a long table at one end of the porch and later will make up three tables of bridge for the afternoon. Dr. Wilson, the bachelor dentist who has cleaned and filled the teeth of two generations, eats alone as is his habit but will play golf after lunch with Dr. Piper and Dr. King and Hugh Barnhart. Mrs. Howard Shafer, widow of the surgeon, comes in with her two sons, John, down from Chicago for the weekend, and Dave, who is washing cars at the Pure Oil station during his summer vacation. Three or four other families come in for lunch.

After lunch some of the young women will play golf but most of the ladies play bridge at the club or take three friends home to their own cottages, turn on the radios, and settle down to an afternoon of contract. There is a relaxed easy feeling about Sunday afternoon, and a foursome may stay right on, talking and playing, helping their hostess prepare cold chicken and salad and coffee for supper, playing again in the evening, drifting home to their cottages about 10 o'clock, or taking a little drive around the lake, past the gay dance pavilions, the noisy tough joints along the west side - Punk Purcell's or Talbert's or Walt's Chili Parlor - and back along the crowded highway.

Published March 6, 2001

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