The Vidette-Messenger Centennial EditionThe 1936 special edition celebrating Porter County's centennial year . . . .

The following article has been transcribed from the August 18, 1936, issue of The Vidette-Messenger, published in Valparaiso, Indiana. This particular special edition focuses on Porter County's centennial celebration and contains a 94-page compendium of Porter County history up to that time.

Return to the index of articles from The Vidette-Messenger's Porter County Centennial special edition.

Source: The Vidette-Messenger, Valparaiso, Porter County, Indiana; August 18, 1936; Volume 10, Section 1, Page 13.


Created By State Legislation In 1923 and Takes Over Larger Part of Lake Michigan Shore Line Front

Porter County's great dune region is the north part of the county was selected as the location of a state park by the passage of a bill in the Indiana state legislature in the session of 1923.

The bill, a compromise generally satisfactory to the citizens of Lake and Porter counties, was submitted to the state senate by Will Brown, of Hebron, senator of Lake and Porter counties, and in the House by William A. Hill, of Hammond, joint representative of Lake and Porter counties.

It contained a provision for a levy for the year 1923 and annually thereafter for a period of seven succeeding years, of the sum of two mills on each $100 of taxable property in the state for the purpose of raising a fund for the purchase of a tract of land three miles in extent along the southerly shore of Lake Michigan, to include a typical section of the Dunes and the total area of which should not exceed 2,000 acres. The right of condemnation for the park purposes and the right to accept bequests and donations were included in the bill.

As no funds were available until a levy was made and the tax paid, and as land prices were advancing rapidly as the tax was accumulating, gifts were sought. Judge Elbert H. Gary led the donors with a gift of $250,000, and other gifts were made, including a substantial donation by Julius Rosenwald.

The site selected as a typical section of Duneland, with three miles of lake frontage, lying directly north of Chesterton. William P. Gleason and Ingwald Moe, active friends of the park project, were interested in the establishment of a modest price for the initial purchase as a precedent for further purchases and secured from John O. Bowers, another active friend of the park, 120 acres of attractive land at $300 per acre, which was about half the price generally asked for lands included within the limits of the proposed park.

The delivery of the deed by Mr. Bowers to the Conservation committee and the purchasing board was an occasion for an appropriate ceremony. Governor Edward Jackson and his family were spending a vacation at Waverly Beach within the proposed limits of the park and on the morning of Sept. 2, 1925, a group composed of Governor Jackson, William P. Gleason, superintendent of the Illinois Steel company, Gary; William Guthrie, chairman of the Conservation commission; Col. Everett L. Gardner, of Monticello, and T. A. Gottschalk, of the purchasing board; Ingwald Moe and John O. Bowers, proceeded from the Governor's summer residence to the top of a towering dune called Tremont and having raised the state flag on its summit, the deed to the property which included this dune was delivered by Mr. Bowers to the Governor and in turn a check for the price was delivered to Mr. Bowers. In honor of Governor Jackson the name of the peak was changed to Mount Jackson as Governor Jackson rendered valuable and efficient service in hastening the attainment of the park.

Since then several other tracts have been secured by the state, bringing the total acreage in the title of the state up to 2,000.

Who first conceived the idea or openly suggested to set aside a large area of the Dunes lands in Porter county for use as a park is a matter of conjecture. The Prairie club of Chicago which made week-end tours into the dune country and maintained a club house on the bluffs overlooking the lake, is said to have advocated the establishment of a state or national park in the dune region. John O. Bowers, of Gary, who owned land in the dunes, also began to agitate a park project. Jens Jenson, of Chicago, president of the "Friends of Our Native Landscape," also advocated the park idea and state he would like to see established there an institute for the biological, botanical and geological classes of the Chicago schools and universities.

On May 15, 1916, the Pottawattomie chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution of Gary passed resolutions favoring a Dunes park which were forwarded to the State Park Memorial committee, and this action was probably the first definite step taken by an organization in Indiana for the preservation of the Dune country for a park.

To stimulate interest, the Pottawattomie club held its annual picnic in 1916 at the club house of the Prairie club on the bluffs overlooking Lake Michigan, a short distance east of Mount Tom. It was the first introduction of a large body of Indiana residents to this primitive enchanting region and they were delighted beyond measure with the beauty and attractions of Duneland.

On July 16, 1916, a meeting was held in a tent at the mouth of Fort creek, now known as Waverly Beach. The purpose of meeting was to take steps to preserve a typical section of the adjacent territory as a park. It took three special trains to bring the Chicago contingent. A. F. Knotts acted as chairman of the meeting. A number of talks were made, and the upshot was that Mr. Knotts was empowered to name a committee of fifteen to incorporate a national organization to be known as the National Dunes Park association.

At an adjourned meeting held at the Gary public library on July 30, 1916, A. F. Knotts was named president; Mrs. Frank J. Sheehan, secretary, and Prof. Lee F. Bennett, of Valparaiso university, treasurer.

On the Sept. 7th following, Thomas Taggart, U. S. Senator from Indiana, submitted a resolution in the United State Senate, which directed the Secretary of Interior to investigate and report to Congress the advisability of securing by purchase or otherwise all that portion of the counties of Lake, LaPorte and Porter bordering upon Lake Michigan, commonly known as the sand dunes, with a view of creating said land into a national park with a report on the cost of acquiring such lands and the probable expense of maintaining them as part of the national park system.

Uncertain as to what action Congress would take on the park project a bill was introduced in the Indiana legislature in the session of January and February, 1917, for the incorporation of associations with power to acquire by purchase, gift, donation or other means, real and personal property for public or forest preserve purposes or both, and empowering the corporation to improve such lands acquired and transfer the same to any municipality, county or the State of Indiana for a public park or forest preserve. The bill provided that such associations should be organized to be operated without a profit.

The Valparaiso Chamber of Commerce and the press of Porter county were particularly active in opposition to the bill, taking the ground that it would prevent the industrial development of the Porter county section of the lake shore, although they expressed not hostility against the reservation of a part of the Duneland bordering on the shore. It was the contention of the promoters of the bill that any delay in acquiring the land would result in it becoming greatly enhanced in value and greatly retard the attempt to acquire it for park purposes.

In 1919 a number of public meetings were held in Valparaiso at which members of the Valparaiso Chamber of Commerce and Porter county farm bureau named committees to investigate the interests of Porter county.

In January, 1921, the boundary committee appointed in 1920 recommended a three mile lake frontage for a park extending back as far as the Dunes Park highway was ample as against a nine mile front provided for in the original bill.

The committee, composed of J. A. Warren, E. L. Morgan and D. E. Kelly, for the farmers, and Edmund J. Freund, William Schleman and T. P. Gavin, for the chamber of commerce, went to Indianapolis to represent the county in the legislative hearing.

An association from Chicago and Lake county known as the Sand Dune Park association boosted for a park along the 12 miles of shoreline of Lake Michigan in Lake and Porter counties. The Porter county delegation proposed as an alternative a four mile fount on the lake and that it be extended back into Porter county within three miles of Valparaiso to take in thirteen lakes.

Governor Warren McCray promised the Sand Dune Park association that if the members raised one million dollars by public subscription the State of Indiana would contribute a similar sum, $200,000 being available each year.

On Feb. 28, 1917, Franklin K. Lane, Secretary of the Interior, filed his report in response to the resolution introduced in the United State Senate by Senator Thomas Taggart, of Indiana. Such report recommended the purchase of fifteen miles of duneland along Lake Michigan in Porter county for the establishment of a national park, at an estimated cost of between $1,800,000 and $2,600,000, or $200 per acre. The declaration of war against Germany on April 6, 1917, put further action for the park by the Department of Interior far into the future, and the efforts of the citizens who favored the park became now concentrated on its purchase by the State of Indiana.

To further promote the project, a historical pageant was held on June 3, 1917, under the auspices of the Dunes Pageant Association, Friends of Our Native Lanscape, the Chicago Historical Society, and the Audobon Society, the Municipal Art League, the Chicago Public schools, the Art Institute and Illinois Federation of Women's clubs.

Then came the passage of a bill in the legislature during the 1923 session and the initial purchase on Sept. 2, 1925, which paved the way for the acquisition of still more land which resulted in the present Dunes State Park.

According to scientists some of the greatest flora and fauna of the United States is found in the dune region of north Porter county and in the Dunes State Park. Despite the apparent barrenness of the region, the hillsides are purple with violets and lupine. There are the beautiful fringed genitans and hundreds of orchids. The distribution over the seasons is equally remarkable but at all times, from the coming of the trailing arbutus early in May until the passing of genitan in October, there is always some of nature's beautiful productions to be found.

There is a story that Joseph Bailly, the first white settler in Porter county, and a great friend of the Indians, is responsible for many of the plants seemingly out of their natural habitat. The story goes that because of many kindnesses, the Indians coming from northern points brought unusually beautiful flowers as presents to him, and either they or other Indians coming from the opposite direction did the same.

Among some of the plans found are the tulip tree, the sassafras, the sour gum and the paw paw. There are also carnivorous plants, lilies, cactus, trailing arbutus and members of the orchid family.

In the ten years since the purchase of the first 120 acres of the 2,000 acre park site was purchased, Dunes State park has developed into the leading park in the state in point of attendance. A new hotel, the Dunes Arcade, has been constructed, along with a bath house of immense proportions. A CCC camp was maintained at the park for several years, during which time the members made a large number of improvements in the park, installing water and drainage systems and improving the trails. Col. John S. Fishback is park custodian. A fee of ten cents is charged to persons entering the park.

Article transcribed by Steven R. Shook


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