Hammond now Northwest Indiana's largest city

February 11, 2011

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In 1960 the population of Gary, Indiana, stood at 178,000. But after that zenith, the count was on the downslide. It started out as a trickle, but with each ten-year census, it was clear the number of people leaving the city was mounting.

Over the next five decades, Gary, the city once known as “The City of The Century,” took its knocks. It experienced racial strife, industrial layoffs and, at times, rampant crime. But even through all that, Gary had remained the largest city in Northwest Indiana.

Now, it’s lost that claim to fame.

U.S. Census Bureau data released Thursday show Gary lost more than 21 percent of its population during the last 10 years. The official count now stands at 80,294, less than half of the city’s population in 1960.

Gary’s neighbor to the West, Hammond, couldn’t help but notice the latest census numbers.

Despite the fact that Hammond saw a two percent decline in its own population, Gary lost population much more quickly between 2000 and today. So, Hammond can now boast being Lake County’s largest city, having edged out Gary by a mere 536 residents.

It’s the first time Hammond has recorded more residents than Gary since the 1910 census. Back then, Hammond had 20,000 residents to Gary’s 15,000. But Gary was a fledgling town; after all, it had only been established as a city in 1906. Hammond, meanwhile, had a running start; it was founded in 1884.

But none of this  history matters to Hammond Mayor Tom McDermott, Jr.

He’s only concerned that Hammond has claimed the top spot in 2010.

“As mayor, I am thrilled beyond words,” McDermott said Thursday. “I have always felt that Hammond was going to be bigger than Gary by the 2020 census. But the fact that it came out bigger now, I was flabbergasted to be honest with you.”

McDermott said some predicted Hammond would lose far more than the 2,000 residents indicated in census data.

He said the attrition could be attributed to the city’s removal of a troublesome housing development on the city’s south side off the Borman Expressway.

Meanwhile, Rudy Clay, the mayor of Gary, was livid over the census data, and stated he believes the numbers are inaccurate.

“Gary has thousands of more residents than what’s on paper,” Clay said.

Clay said some residents simply refused to fill out census forms, with the consequence that Gary could lose eligibility for some federal funds.

Clay said the city plans to appeal the census bureau figures, all in the hope they do another count. He says Gary had such a recount 10 years ago, and that effort boosted the city’s official population figure by thousands.