Donna Allen, MS
ISDH Field Epidemiologist, District 1

On January 7, 2008, the Hammond Health Department closed its doors after 118 years of service to public health in Indiana. The services the Department provided have been transferred to the Lake County Health Department. As a way of saying thank you for the many years of dedicated service, a brief synopsis of the Department’s public health history has been written. This article provides an excerpt from the Department’s early history (1850-1930). The boxed information adds some interesting facts about the city, which may have had an impact on the public health ordinances and actions that followed. The pictures used came from the Department’s annual reports.

New Horizons today! The clean man, in the clean home, in the clean

In 1850, the population was estimated at 97. A stagecoach stop opened and that site later became one of the nation’s largest railroad freight yards. The city of Hammond became incorporated in 1884. By 1890, the population had grown to 5,248. Fifty daily passenger trains via eight railroads made stops in the city.

In 1869, a group of businessmen opened the State Line Slaughter House, located on 42 acres along the Grand Calumet River. Rumors state this slaughterhouse might have been one of the reasons public health actions were necessary. By 1885, the slaughterhouse had grown to process a reported 3,000 head of cattle and the company had over 800 refrigerated freight cars. The Hammond Dairy, which was later purchased by Borden, opened in 1898.

In 1885, Alvah Curtis Roebuck opened a watch repair and jewelry shop. He later left the city answering an ad by Richard Sears, who needed a watch repairman. They formed Sears, Roebuck and Company.

On June 10,1889, Ordinance Two of the Common Council of the City of Hammond established a Board of Health. The ordinance required the establishment of a three-member board including at least one practicing physician. “The duty of said board and members thereof is to take most prompt and efficient measures to prevent the introduction and spread of contagious, malignant, dangerous or infectious disease in said city…The board of health shall take such measures as they may from time to time deem necessary, to prevent the spread of smallpox…requiring all persons within the city or any part thereof to be vaccinated within such time as they shall prescribe. All persons refusing or neglecting to obey such requirement shall upon conviction be fined and forfeit to said city any sum not less than $2 and no more than $10.”

A large number of ordinances dealt with the control of smallpox and other infectious diseases of the time. One ordinance addressed the issue of quarantine and stated that, during a smallpox outbreak, the Marshal was required to close the building and put up notices to warn all persons approaching the house. Those violating this ordinance were fined a sum not exceeding $100. Another ordinance detailed how the quarantine flag or card looked. For smallpox, it had to be red; for scarlet fever, measles, and diphtheria, it was yellow; and for cholera, a black flag or card was used. Each flag or card had the disease written on it in white letters.

Ordinance 593 stated it was the duty of the Board of Health to examine “…all slaughter houses, soap factories, hide and rag houses and all other buildings…that may become offensive to the public.”

Ordinance 598 required the establishment of two books, one called Record of Deaths and the other Record of Births. All physicians, accoucheurs, and midwives were ordered to report all births within five days.

In 1897, an ordinance made it unlawful to bathe in the Grand Calumet River or other public beaches without a swimsuit. Early ordinances passed in 1898 addressed other public health and safety issues. Some of these included:

1) It was unlawful to allow any cow, calf, steer, horse, colt, hog, sheep, goose, duck, or chicken to run at large within corporate limits.

2) It was unlawful to sell food after exposed to dust or unsanitary conditions which render food unwholesome or dangerous.

3) It was unlawful to expectorate or spit any substance, saliva, mucus, or tobacco juice upon any sidewalk, crosswalk, or floor of any public conveyances of travel.

4) It was unlawful for persons afflicted with any contagious or venereal disease to work in or about a fruit store, grocery store, ice cream factory, ice cream parlor, hotel restaurant, eating house, milk wagon, milk dept., saloon, tobacco store, or peddler wagon. Penalty will be no less than $5

5) Every peddler in a wagon, push cart, or those carrying baskets had to keep such articles of food properly covered. Fine was not less than $5.

6) It was unlawful for any teacher or superintendent to admit any person in a public or private school who was infected with any contagious disease or who may have recently been afflicted with smallpox, scarlet fever, whooping cough, diphtheria, membranous croup, measles, cholera, or other diseases.



In 1908,the South Shore Railroad service began and the population of Hammond grew to 20,925 by 1910. Besides the flu pandemic in 1918, the Hagenbeck-Wallace circus train crashed, killing 86 passengers. This was one of the worst circus train accidents in U.S. history.

On a more positive note, in 1924, a group of businessmen formed the “Hammond Professionals,” a National Football League franchise that later moved and was renamed “Chicago Bears”. By 1928, there were an estimated 115 different industries located in Hammond.

Several new ordinances were passed in 1909. They included:

1) No person shall sell or deliver in the city any ice for domestic use which shall have been taken or gathered from the Little Calumet or the Grand Calumet Rivers…or from any body of water within said city which is stagnant.

2) It is unlawful to sell any fruit or vegetables that may be decayed or partially rotten.

3) Manure, offal, garbage, or any accumulation of any offensive or nauseous substance anywhere within city without written permit is unlawful.

1918 Spanish Influenza

Information from the local newspaper, The Lake County Times, detailed some of the events associated with the 1918 flu pandemic. They are listed chronologically.

Sept 30: “Spanish influenza claimed its first Hammond victim today. He had taken sick with the dread disease en route on a train from Phoenix where he had been bidding his relatives goodbye. He was in good shape and had passed his physical for service abroad.”

Oct 2: A serum was discovered by Dr. William H. Parke which showed promise to help prevent Spanish influenza. Vaccine was promised in limited supply within a few days.

Oct 5: 100,000 cases of influenza are reported in army camps. The military has already issued to the Red Cross emergency supplies of cots, blankets, medicines, and influenza masks.

Oct 7: “Flu blighted romance of a Hammond couple. A Hammond man filed for divorce because he was ill for three weeks with the Spanish flu and she refused to get his meals for him, and in addition threw a dish at him and told him if he didn’t leave her she would hurl his clothes out on the porch.”

On the same day, Dr. J. N. Hurty, the State Health Commissioner, sent a telegram requiring the closing of all schools, churches, and places of public amusement. He forbade all public meetings until further notice. Physicians were required to report all cases to the local health officer. However, despite this telegram and public health concerns, a large parade and breakfast were held—just what public health did not want to happen. A Chicago newspaper had falsely stated that Germany had surrendered. So, between 4 and 9 a.m., whistles blew, bells rang continuously, and a parade was organized. Celebration ended when a bulletin on the local newspaper office stated there was no truth to the report.

Oct 8: “It is estimated about 500 people have the flu in Hammond and West Hammond but many have not called a doctor. Two more deaths were reported today. Schools, billiard parlors, theatres, lodges, were closed yesterday for an indefinite period to stop the spread and the town was never as quiet as last night.”

Oct 12: 2000 flu cases are reported in Lake Co. (five days following the parade). Each person was encouraged to bathe in warm water to keep the pores open, spray the throat and nose, and see to their personal hygiene. The public was warned not to visit the sick. Stores and streetcars were to be kept well ventilated. A shortage of doctors was also noted.

Oct 14: Hammond had 1,281 cases and 101 deaths. The Board of Health reminded us that, in connection with these figures, it must be remembered that a good many cases have occurred and passed through to their final stages without the assistance of a physician and consequently are not on record. Practically every physician in the county was working 18- to 24-hour shifts.”

Oct 21: Police were asked to assist in enforcing a new funeral order. Attendance at church funerals was limited to immediate family of the deceased.

Oct 22: “Mayor Brown called upon the people of Hammond today to aid in the fight of the epidemic of Spanish influenza. The mayor wants the people to aid in administering to the unfortunate. Nurses are needed and needed very badly. There are many families destitute, with the wage earners ill and unable to work. They are in need of food, clothes and fuel.”

Dr. Hurty from the State Board of Health put in a request for volunteer physicians throughout the state of Indiana, offering them the Red Cross pay of $200 per month, traveling expenses, and $4 a day for subsistence. Hammond quickly responded they needed every physician they had available for local patients. The local physicians met and adopted a schedule to assure they could be as efficient as possible in treating patients.

The Hammond Health Department survived the 1918 influenza pandemic and adopted new ordinances in the 1930s. The history of the Hammond Health Department is probably very similar to many of our local health departments in Indiana. The early history demonstrates the concerns of public health at that time and the many challenges, e.g., smallpox, diphtheria, and cholera, which were overcome. A review of the 1918 influenza pandemic helps us as we prepare for the next pandemic.

Thank you to the Department’s employees (listed below) for their combined 149 years of service and for always making whomever walked through the door at 649 Conkey Street feel welcome. Thank you for sharing your history and experiences with us.

Current Employee Division Years of Service
Rodrigo Panares, M.D. Health Officer/Administrator 4
Sue Pyrzynski Secretarial Supervisor 21
Louella Finch Secretarial 18
Maria Hernandez Secretarial 4
Rita J. Landers Vital Records 35
Joanna C. Holland Vital Records 21
Muriel F. Lennstrum Vital Records 7
Karen Siegfried, R.N. Nursing Supervisor 8
Celeste Rapchak, R.N. Nursing 2
Sandra Rincon, R.N. Nursing 1/2
Gloria Esquivel, R.N. Nursing 1 1/2
Camille Medina, B.S. Environmental Health, Chief 9
Sarah B. Anderson, B.S. Environmental Health 6 1/2
John Weidner, B.A. Environmental Health 14
Margaretrose Hlinsky, B.S. Health Coordinator 3/4
Marilyn Kozak, R.N. Part-time Tuberculosis Nurse 7


1. http://www.u-s-history.com/pages/h2275.html
2. Hammond City Directories, published by Polk
3. Hammond Health Department Annual Reports
4. 1889 and 1909 Hammond City Ordinances
5. Lake County Times, October 1918
6. Hammond Health Dept. personnel