Construction of the Town
US Steel needed laborers to build its steel mill and the city of Gary. A subsidiary of the steel mills, the Gary Land Company was tasked with constructing the town as well as housing for its workers. The Gary Land Company hired engineers such as A.P. Melton, who at that time, was working at the Illinois Steel plant in South Chicago, to lay out the town site and to oversee the planning, development, and building of what would be the First Subdivision of the town of Gary. Others like Ralph E. Rowley and Thomas H. Cutler were also brought in to help layout and construct the new town. Known as “company men,” these were individuals whose loyalty to their employer was more important than their personal beliefs or the welfare of their fellow workers. These “company men” and others would later become leaders in the community.
While 9,000 acres were purchased for the mills and town, about 800 acres south of the mills were set aside for the First Subdivision that would include houses for permanent workers.
On April 18, 1906, the first stake was driven into the sand at 5th and Broadway for what was to become the city of Gary. The first building constructed was a wood framed, two-story building to house the Gary Land Company offices. From there the company would oversee the selling of plotted lots and land. The Land Company’s plan was to create a system of streets and plots for houses in a grid pattern with a main street and prime business area that ran north and south. The main street, Broadway, would run south to 9th Avenue. Favoring an east and west expansion, 5th Avenue ran to Fillmore Street. The eastern border of the First Subdivision was Tennessee Street. Construction of buildings then began on Broadway and included several businesses while churches, the city municipal building, and the first school were constructed nearby.
As Gary expanded, it incorporated several of the towns located to the east and west, a move favored by mill officials. The town’s president favored expansion to the south, past the First Subdivision. This would include lands not planned or developed by the Gary Land Company. This area, known as the Patch, was ripe for unscrupulous builders and landlords who constructed poorly built houses that soon became overcrowded. The area was also home to more than 100 bars. Crime and violence were frequent in the Patch. In comparison, the north side that was built by US Steel only had four liquor licenses. Gary basically operated as one city in name but with two different and distinct parts.
The success of the mill’s construction, the building of the planned town, parks and schools provided an opportunity for some to help market Gary to outside investors, businesses, and people who continued to arrive with hopes of leaving their mark on the “City of the Century.” One such businessman employed the photographs of a local photographer, Thomas Crose, to create a “show” of Gary’s finest areas, buildings and parks. Shown in the local theater, the “photo show” was designed to travel to other theaters outside of Gary. Gary’s progress was also documented in handbills, brochures, and booklets such as “The Story of Gary As Told by the Camera,” a booklet created by real estate agent H.H. Harries in 1908. Harries touted the unrivaled opportunities available in real estate and other investments available in the young town with many photographs of its meteoric rise in its eighteen months of existence.