Indiana Dunes
Administrative History
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Should public regard or private means procure it for the country, it will be the only national park within reach of millions of workers for weekend pleasure. The Yosemite, Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Adirondack, White Mountain, and other national parks always will be sacred to the few who have money and plenty of time. Here is a chance for the powers that be to show regard for the working people of the middle West, who are, after all, the pillars of America. Could there not be at least one national park within reach of the masses of the citizens and their children?

"Miss McCauley's Column," circa 1918 [1]

Settling the Dunes

Fur trader Joseph Bailly was one of the first known Euroamerican settlers in the Calumet region of what later became northwest Indiana and northeast Illinois. Prior to Bailly's arrival in 1822, however, the area was traversed by various peoples. Most archeological evidence of prehistoric settlement suggests the harsh topography of the Calumet—swamps and sand dunes—deterred anything but transient habitation. Indians came to the area during the summer and then migrated to the Kankakee River area to winter. By the seventeenth century, the Miami, Ottawa, Potawatomi, and Wea tribes occupied the region when French explorers arrived to claim the area as "New France." Father Jacques Marquette led one of the first groups of French fur traders and missionaries through the Calumet in 1675. In 1753, the French and their Indian allies operated a fur depot, Petite Fort, which was near the mouth of Fort Creek, within today's Indiana Dunes State Park. With Great Britain's triumph in the Seven Years' War, the entire Ohio valley became the reserve of British fur traders who used Petite Fort until reverses in the American Revolutionary War forced them to abandon it in 1779.

Post—bellum American settlers flocked to the fertile farmland of the southern Indiana Territory, avoiding the swamps and dunes of the Calumet as an inhospitable no man's land. Six years after Indiana attained statehood in 1816, Joseph Bailly and his family became one of the first known settlers of the "Indiana Dunes." Bailly, a Canadian fur trapper, was the first to recognize the area's commercial potential, but by the time of his "squatting" on Indian lands, the fur trade was in decline. Bailly built a trading post on the Little Calumet River, between the Lake Shore Trail—the trace connecting Fort Dearborn (Chicago) and Detroit—and the Calumet Beach Trail. By settling the area, Bailly hoped to prosper from the travelers along the latter trail. The continued decline in the fur trade, however, forced Bailly to open a tavern to prevent his indebtedness from further escalating.

A mail route was established in 1831, followed two years later by a stage line along the Calumet Beach Trail (present—day Highway 12). When Michigan City was platted in 1833, additional settlers arrived and land speculation boomed. The same year saw the signing of the Treaty of Chicago and the removal of the last Indian reservations in the area. Bailly, joining in the speculation fray, platted a village one mile northwest of his homestead site called "Bailly Town." The new settlement failed following Bailly's death in 1835. Joseph Bailly's legacy is physically reflected in the form of several log structures as well as the family's large home, construction of which began in 1835.

The Bailly family subsequently began a sawmill business to supply the area's building boom. In the 1860s, this logged—over land was sold to Swedish immigrants such as the Chellbergs (Kjellberg) who established productive farms along the periphery of the Indiana Dunes. The Swedes were followed by an influx of German settlers. [2]

By the turn of the century booming communities on Indiana's lakeshore included Whiting, Hammond, East Chicago, Woods Mill, Crown Point, Chesterton, and Porter. In LaPorte County, Michigan City prospered with its harbor and a growing number of industries. To the west, Porter County was principally agrarian with small towns built along several railroad lines which gave farmers access to the vast Chicago marketplace. Along the lakeshore dune ridges towered nearly 200 feet above Lake Michigan. The area featured interdunal ponds and blowouts stretching nearly a mile inland. Behind these dunes was the "Great Marsh," a band of swampy terrain extending from Michigan City across Porter County to what is now Lake Street in Lake County. Further to the south was another band of dunes where the Chicago, South Bend, and South Shore Railroad and a series of roads were built, and beyond that were the farm fields. In Lake County, a low ridge of dunes skirted the lakeshore and abutted the wetlands of the Grand and Little Calumet rivers. There were very few people who lived in these desolate areas. [3]

The Early Preservation Movement

Henry C. Cowles' investigations while a botany student at the University of Chicago formed the foundation of the dunes preservation movement. In 1899, the Botanical Gazette published Cowles' work, "Ecological Relations of the Vegetation on Sand Dunes of Lake Michigan," and set the course of modern botany. Cowles meticulously documented the intricate microcosm of plant life amidst the bogs, woodlands, dunes, and swamps in an area between Mount Tom and Mount Holden in present—day Indiana Dunes State Park. Cowles' efforts established a new discipline of plant ecology; early animal ecologists also adapted Cowles' methodology. Henry Cowles' concentration on the Indiana Dunes brought international attention to its intricate ecosystem. [4]

As early as the 1880s, a decade preceding Cowles' study, commercial interests began exploiting the lakeshore. Sand mining companies hauled huge quantities of sand from the dunes for use in Chicago landfills and building industries. In one unpopulated area near the mouth of the Grand Calumet River, the Illinois Steel Company, a subsidiary of U.S. Steel, purchased land in 1905 and began constructing a new steel manufacturing plant the following year. A new community, named after the corporation's finance committee chairman, Elbert H. Gary, thrived nearby. Woodlands, swamps, and dunes were eradicated to accommodate the new structures. [5]

By the end of the first decade of the twentieth century, it was apparent that the urban industrial sprawl from Chicago would continue its rapid encroachment on the Indiana Dunes. Hoosier Slide, just west of Michigan City, at 200 feet high was the largest sand dune on Indiana's lakeshore and a popular attraction for climbing and sliding. In twenty years, the Ball Brothers of Muncie, Indiana, manufacturers of glass fruit jars, and the Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company of Kokomo, Indiana, carried Hoosier Slide away in railroad boxcars. Northern Indiana Public Service Company (NIPSCO) bought the denuded site to build a power generating station. [6]

From Gary to Michigan City, industry ringed Indiana's lakeshore. Local residents and some Chicagoans recognized the threat and organized to meet it. In 1908, the Playground Association of Chicago initiated the "Saturday Afternoon Walks" in the dunes. The popularity of the weekly event prompted Thomas W. Allinson, Jens Jensen, and Henry C. Cowles to form the Prairie Club of Chicago in 1911. All three men served on the club's conservation committee with industrialist Stephen T. Mather, future first Director of the National Park Service. For the Midwest, the Prairie Club became the counterpart of the Appalachian Trail Club in the East and the Sierra Club in the West. The Prairie Club was the first group to propose that a portion of the Indiana Dunes be protected from commercial interests and maintained in its pristine condition for the enjoyment of the people. [7] The following year club president Jens Jensen purchased "the Beach House" east of Mount Tom in Tremont where the group could assemble and strategize. For thirteen years, Jensen, the "Dean of American Landscape Architects" and Superintendent of the Chicago Park System, spoke throughout the region promoting the dunes and earning for himself the title "Apostle of the Dunes." Friends of Our Native Landscape, founded in 1913 by Jensen and dedicated to the "spiritual power in the American landscape," joined the Prairie Club for the weekend walks in the dunes. [8]

The idea of establishing a park in the Indiana Dunes germinated for several years, and the concept blossomed in the spring of 1916. Rumors circulated about the impending dredging of Fort Creek at Waverly Beach to accommodate Lake Michigan ships loading sand directly from railroad cars. Many were convinced Mount Tom was to go the way of Hoosier Slide. When Prairie Club members staged their annual picnic at the Beach House, they decided to take the offensive against the industrial interests despoiling the Indiana Dunes. They voted to form the National Dunes Park Association (NDPA) to promote the establishment of a national park on Indiana's lakeshore. On July 16, a mass meeting at Waverly Beach to inaugurate the effort resulted in three special trains from Chicago carrying 5,000 people to the dunes. With a theme of "A National Park for the Middle West, and all the Middle West for a National Park," a principal goal was to raise money to buy enough duneland to turn over to the Federal Government for a national park. Elected officers of the NDPA were Armanis F. Knotts, Thomas H. Cannon, and Mrs. Frank (Bess) Sheehan. On the board of directors were Jens Jensen, Henry C. Cowles, John O. Bowers, and George M. Pinneo.

The popular appeal of the NDPA's message was phenomenal. Less than two months later, on September 7, U.S. Senator Thomas Taggart (Democrat—Indiana) successfully presented Resolution 268 before the Senate calling on Secretary of the Interior Franklin K. Lane to explore the feasibility of obtaining segments of three Indiana counties for a Sand Dunes National Park.* The stage was set for the opening round of the battle for a park in the Indiana Dunes. [9]

*Thomas Taggart served as Mayor of Indianapolis (1895—1901) and Chairman of the Democratic National Committee (1900—1908). On March 20, 1916, Taggart was appointed to the United States Senate to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Senator Benjamin F. Shively. On November 7, 1916, following the general election in which he ran to fill the position, Taggart resigned upon his defeat. The first national legislative heralder of the save the dunes movement died in Indianapolis on March 6, 1929. See U.S. Senate Document No. 92—8, Biographical Directory of the American Congress, 1774—1971 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1971), p. 1786.

Stephen T. Mather and the Sand Dunes National Park

Stephen Tyng Mather left Chicago in 1915 to serve as an assistant to his friend, Franklin K. Lane, President Woodrow Wilson's Secretary of the Interior. Mather, a wealthy Chicago borax manufacturer imbued with a deep appreciation of the environment, went to Washington to manage the neglected national parks. On August 25, 1916, President Wilson signed the National Park Service Act, and Lane later appointed Mather the first director of the new bureau. As a member of two organizations promoting a Sand Dunes National Park, Mather found himself in an ideal position to promote just such an entity to benefit his native Chicago and the Midwest. Within two weeks of the National Park Service Act, Mather met with Senator Taggart to draft a resolution authorizing an investigation of the "advisability of the securing, by purchase or otherwise, all that portion of the counties of Lake, Laporte, and Porter, in the State of Indiana, bordering upon Lake Michigan, and commonly known as the 'Sand dunes,' with a view that such lands be created a national park." While Congress made no appropriation for the study, local preservation groups assumed Mather's expenses, including a one—week trip to the dunes, Chicago, and Michigan City. [10]

Mather held hearings on October 30 to gauge local sentiment on the proposed national park. Meeting in a courtroom in the Chicago Federal Building, 400 people attended and forty—two spoke in favor of the park to "save the dunes." There were no opponents. Individuals testifying were Henry C. Cowles, University of Chicago botanist; Earl H. Reed, artist and writer; Otis Caldwell, Chicago Historical Society president; Lorado Taft, sculptor (and future father—in—law of U.S. Senator Paul H. Douglas); T. C. Chamberlain, University of Chicago geologist; and Julius Rosenwald, founder of Sears, Roebuck, and Company. Some other organizations represented were the Prairie Club, Indiana Academy of Science, Chicago Association of Commerce, and the Illinois Audubon Society.

The most convincing testimony was that of Henry Cowles. The botanist had dedicated twenty years of his life to the Indiana Dunes and still took his students there for intensive academic study. The dunes were known throughout the world for their ecological importance. Cowles related the story of a group of European scientists with only two months in the United States who compiled a list of places to spend their time: the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Yellowstone, and the dunelands of southern Lake Michigan. [11]

Mather's assistant, Horace M. Albright, accompanied him to the dunes and compiled the National Park Service's report to Congress, [12] which was submitted to Secretary Lane on December 20. The document represented a potential turning point for Federal land acquisition policy for the Park Service director proposed the government purchase the land for a national park from private interests, a practice hitherto verboten by Congress. He cited the example of the $50,000 appropriation to buy a tract in Sequoia National Park which was insufficient to meet the $70,000 price tag, the deficit amount coming from the National Geographic Society. Mather identified a strip of lakeshore twenty—five miles long and one mile wide for acquisition. This represented 9,000 to 13,000 acres at a price of $1.8 to $2.6 million. The park should be "contiguous and dignified," with no isolated tracts outstanding, Mather believed.

Federal developments in the Sand Dunes National Park would be scant. Four or five roads connecting the lakeshore with the state highway would take motorists to the lake. A road along the shore itself was also a possibility, but development was not pressing because of the convenient rail lines traversing the dunes. As for Park Service administration, a superintendent and two permanent rangers were all the personnel needed for visitor protection and interpretation with additional seasonal help during the summer. Estimated cost for the manpower would not exceed $15,000 a year. [13]

Mather declared that the Indiana Dunes were unmatched anywhere in the United States, if not the world. The area was convenient to five million people in the Chicago metropolitan area as well as millions of other Americans in the center of the nation. The principal segment of the proposed national park stretched from Miller to Michigan City, the northeast corner of Lake County to Porter County. Mather wrote:

The beauty of the trees and other plant life in their autumn garb, as I saw them recently, was beyond description.

Here is a stretch of unoccupied beach 25 miles in length, a broad, clean, safe beach, which in the summer months would furnish splendid bathing facilities for thousands of people at the same instant. Fishing in Lake Michigan directly north of the dunes is said to be exceptionally good. There are hundreds of good camp sites on the beach and back in the dunes. [14]

Mather discounted the value of land near Gary for the park either because the dunes were less spectacular or the land was too near industrial areas. Mather discussed the unique values for which Yellowstone, Yosemite, Crater Lake, Sequoia, Mount Rainier, Glacier, Rocky Mountain, Mesa Verde, and Grand Canyon (at the time pending) merited national park status. The Sand Dunes of Indiana, Mather believed, deserved the same designation:

The sand dunes are admittedly wonderful, and they are inherently distinctive because they best illustrate the action of the wind on the sand accumulated from a great body of water. No national park or other Federal reservation offers this phenomenon for the pleasure and edification of the people, and no national park is as accessible. Furthermore, the dunes offer to the visitor extraordinary scenery, a large variety of plant life, magnificent bathing beaches, and splendid opportunities to camp and live in the wild country close to nature.

If the dunes of this region were mediocre and of little scenic or scientific interest, they would have no national character and could not be regarded as more than a State or municipal park possibility. My judgment is clear, however, that their characteristics entitle the major portion of their area to consideration as a national park project. [15]

Because opponents were not present at the Mather hearing does not mean there was no serious opposition to the park proposal. The center of this opposition was in Porter County, Indiana. Led by the press, business and political leaders, and the Valparaiso Chamber of Commerce, the critics attacked the immense area under consideration and charged it would undermine the tax base of the region and permanently close the lakeshore to industry. Many believed U.S. Steel Corporation was the power behind the park movement because it wished to keep its competitors out. [16]

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Last Updated: 07-Oct-2003