Portland, another town on the Salamonie, also boomed during the “gas craze” as it came to be known. It was here that the first well was drilled.
To show how the supply of cheap gas impacted this area, the population of Portland increased from 500 to over 3,000 in just a few months.
It seems all good things must finally come to an end. When the gas began to run out, many of the factories that needed gas moved to other locations or went out of business.
Portland has several claims to fame other than the first gas well. It was the birthplace of Elwood Haynes, the designer of one of the first automobiles. Later in his life he moved to Kokomo and became a leader in the new automotive industry.
Another claim to fame, this one a rather tragic one, Portland was the home of John J. Williams. At the start of the Civil War he enlisted in the 34th Indiana Infantry Regiment and served with distinction during this terrible war. In the last battle of the war, a rather minor fight at Palmetto Ranch, Texas, on May 13, 1865, Williams was killed. He is listed as the last soldier that died in the Civil War.
South of Portland is College Corner, a small hamlet that was the location of Liber College, founded in 1853. All went well at Liber until a black student was accepted into the school. This caused a major uproar that led to the administration of the college becoming involved in a bitter dispute that led to the founding of a rival school that became known as the Farmers Academy.
Due to loss of funding, Liber was forced to close its doors. All over a black man wanting to get a proper education. Sad to say we have not learned from the mistakes of the past.
The Salamonie River is a pretty, rather tranquil stream that passes through a region that saw a period of boom and bust due to natural gas that has still not fully recovered from its reliance upon one source of energy. Perhaps this should be another lesson we should learn from the past. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.