Indiana Dunes
Administrative History
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I felt we were in the grip of an almost irreversible force, which would overrun those who loved the dunes and sweep on to Michigan City and beyond. Then we would have a continuous jungle of asphalt and steel, with pollution of air and water, with no place for the millions of pent—up city folk to seek refuge, quiet and renewal. It seemed impossible to stop this movement, but one moonlit evening [in the Indiana Dunes] I made a secret pledge that if I could help to do so I would.

Senator Paul H. Douglas [1]

Dorothy Buell's Save the Dunes Council

For two decades, the Great Depression and World War II and its aftermath pushed the issue of saving any more duneland into the background. These two momentous events, however, did nothing to halt the progression of industrial and commercial development in the dunes. As a result of Indiana Dunes State Park's enormous popularity, one realty company developed a large tract on the park's east boundary into a resort community called Beverly Shores. (A component of the realtor's promotion was the 1935 acquisition and relocation of six model homes from Chicago's 1933—34 Century of Progress International Exposition) as well as other structures modeled after famous American buildings. [2] Pleased by the wide appeal and revenues generated by the Dunes State Park, the State of Indiana did not seek to expand or make any substantial developments to it. Rather, the state began exploring ways to induce more industry into its sliver of lakeshore.

The Indiana political and business communities were encouraged by the growth of Chicago steel industries in the direction of the south shore of Lake Michigan and sought to entice them to jump the Illinois—Indiana border. Built in the 1880s, United States Steel Corporation's South Works was the first and largest of the steel plants on the lakeshore. Soon after three other steel mills located on the Calumet River in Illinois: Acme Steel, Wisconsin Steel Works of International Harvester, and Republic Steel. The old Youngstown Steel and Tube Company mill at the mouth of the Calumet River was already planning to abandon its Illinois facility in favor of a new site at Indiana Harbor (built in 1916) to the west of Gary where Inland Steel Company also had a plant. The largest steel mill complex in Indiana and second largest producer in the nation was none other than U.S. Steel's Gary Works. Within this complex were its subsidiaries, American Bridge Company and Universal Atlas Cement Company, for which U.S. Steel constructed two harbors: Gary Harbor and Buffington Harbor. All of this development was in Indiana's Lake County. With the continuous expanse of steel mills the only prospect for further industrial expansion between Chicago and Gary along Lake Michigan's south shore was to reclaim land from the lake by use of fill. Another option was to expand industrial development into neighboring Porter County. This latter scenario excited Hoosier developers.

As early as 1929, Midwest Steel Company, a subsidiary of National Steel Company, purchased 750 acres in the vicinity of Burns Ditch in Porter County for a future plant. Midwest Steel officials determined that they would not follow U.S. Steel's precedent and build its own harbor. Instead, the company began lobbying for Federal funding. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reports in 1931 and 1935 recommended against using tax dollars to build a harbor at Burns Ditch because it would only benefit one company. A similar 1944 Corps study evaluated all Indiana sites, but determined that existing Illinois and Indiana harbors were sufficient. Midwest Steel Company, therefore, shelved its plant construction plans yet again. [3]

Meanwhile, conservation forces, sated by the state park victory, dwindled. Following its 1940 annual meeting, the National Dunes Park Association, purposeless and disillusioned by the seemingly inevitable industrial onslaught, quietly faded away.

While the dunes preservation flame flickered, it did not go out. In 1949, an Ogden Dunes family visited White Sands National Monument. Dorothy Richardson Buell, while moved by White Sands' grandeur, thought her own Indiana Dunes possessed greater qualities. As a young girl, Buell had performed in the Prairie Club—sponsored dunes pageants. Returning home, the Buells stopped for diner in Gary where Dorothy Buell spotted a fateful sign announcing the formation of a citizens group to save the dunes. Led by a University of Chicago professor, the Indiana Dunes Preservation Council (IDPC) identified unspoiled areas and recommended nearly seven miles of lakeshore for preservation. The IDPC garnered few positive developments. In early 1952, during a meeting of the Chicago Conservation Council, Dorothy Buell advised that historical precedent be followed to reignite the dunes preservation movement. Buell recounted Bess Sheehan's struggle and recommended that the effort be heralded by women. After the meeting, Buell decided to follow Sheehan's example and lead the revived movement herself.

On June 20, 1952, twenty-one women congregated in the Buell home and listened to Bess Sheehan relate events of thirty years past. The group discussed an alarming 1949 Corps of Engineers report which advocated a deepwater port for Indiana. While not opposed to the port, the group called for adding nearly five miles of lakeshore to the Dunes State Park. The women announced to journalists they would dedicate their lives to saving the dunes. With that assertion, the Save the Dunes Council was born. [4]

Indiana's opposition to adding more land to the Dunes State Park soon became apparent to the Save the Dunes Council. A united front of the political and business communities sought to maximize economic development along the limited lakeshore. The idea of setting aside more parkland was anathema to the economic planners who were working to secure Federal funds to construct a gigantic "Port of Indiana" at Burns Harbor (or Ditch). Expanding the existing mills and attracting still other steel companies to the area were other top priorities.

Instead of despairing at the overwhelming opposition, the sacred mission of saving the dunes inspired the women to redouble their efforts. The Council's purpose was to preserve the natural environment and recreational potential of the dunes. To attain the goal, the Council launched a nationwide membership and fund—raising drive. One of its first successes was the purchase of Cowles Tamarack Bog, fifty—six acres in Porter County. Sold for delinquent taxes, it is ironic that the difference of the balance—beyond the meager donations—came from Bess Sheehan. Sheehan, the guardian of the National Dunes Park Association's treasury, donated the fund's total of $751.68 to attain the $1,730 purchase price. Thanks to the organization which first formed decades before to save the dunes, Cowles Bog was secure. [5]

Besides expanding its membership, the Council began establishing links with other conservation organizations, cultivating contacts with women's clubs throughout Indiana, meeting with legislators and chambers of commerce, lobbying editorial boards of regional newspapers, encouraging local preservation zoning, and delivering public programs. The Council also organized a "Children's Crusade to Save the Dunes."

Buell looked to historical precedent once again. If Stephen Mather once pushed for a Sand Dunes National Park, what was the attitude of the contemporary National Park Service? Director Conrad L. Wirth and his Region II Director in Omaha,* Howard W. Baker, supported a potential national monument in the Central Dunes as well as a one—mile stretch of 830 acres owned by Inland Steel adjacent to Ogden Dunes. In June 1953, Region II Director Baker participated in "A Day in the Dunes" sponsored by the Save the Dunes Council. Baker spoke in favor of an expanded state park or new national park. [6]

*In 1937, when the National Park Service's Region II headquarters was established, Indiana fell under the jurisdiction of the Omaha office. When the Region V office opened in 1955, Indiana came under the supervision of the Philadelphia office. See Harold P. Danz, ed., Historical Listing of National Park Service Officials (Washington, D.C.: National Park Service, Department of the Interior, May 1986), p. 20.

In 1954, Save the Dunes Council established an advisory board composed of scientists Edwin Way Teale and Myron Reuben Strong; Bess Sheehan; artist Frank V. Dudley; writers Donald Culross Peattie and Harriet Cowles; conservationist Richard Pough; and philanthropists Mrs. Charles Walgreen and Mrs. Norton W. Barker. With increasing press coverage, the activities of the Council and its advisory board gained wide notoriety and support.

Buell was reluctant to jeopardize the Council's tax-exempt status by delving into the political arena. She worked hard to keep the effort a largely female movement focused on educating the public. The primary educational issue involved the proposed port. Buell wanted to avoid confrontation and political machinations. Council attorney Leonard Rutstein determined to change this platform by inviting environmentalist and public relations specialist Thomas Dustin to a meeting. Rutstein and Dustin informed the women that they would never win the battle unless the Council broadened its base and worked in political circles. The move worked. Thereafter, men were welcomed as members and a new strategy emerged concerning industrial development: separate the proposed port from the favored site in the Central Dunes at Burns Ditch. The Council argued that Indiana already had two ports at Indiana Harbor and Michigan City, and that those could be expanded. Additionally, they pounded away at whether it was ethical to use tax dollars for the benefit of the two area steel companies. [7]

Soon after taking office in 1953, Indiana Republican Governor George N. Craig announced initial plans to construct a harbor for ocean—going boats between Ogden Dunes and Dune Acres by selling $35 million to $70 million in bonds. While the Indiana Legislature rejected a state financing plan in bonds. While the Indiana Legislature rejected a state financing plan in 1955, it did approve funding to purchase 1,500 acres at Burns Ditch. The state intended to secure Federal funding for the new port and begin development quickly before the opponents had a chance to mobilize. Governor Craig also encouraged private funding for the harbor.

To combat the governor's plan, the Save the Dunes Council launched a one million dollar fund—raising campaign targeted against the proposed mills, grain elevators, chemical plants, and coal shipping facilities which were expected to flock to the new port area. [8] The campaign had barely begun when, in 1957, Bethlehem Steel Company pledged itself to the proposed port at Burns Ditch and began purchasing land in the Central Dunes through its realty agent, the Lake Shore Development Corporation. Land values skyrocketed to almost $3,000 an acre. Allegations abounded in which state and local officials allegedly encouraged the speculation to benefit the port project over the park. [9]

Save the Dunes Council repeatedly solicited the Indiana Congressional Delegation to introduce legislation preserving the lakeshore by incorporating the dunes into the National Park System. A resounding "no" came from the industry—minded solons. It was in this context that the Save the Dunes Council looked outside Indiana for a champion of the dunes, namely Paul H. Douglas, U.S. Senator from neighboring Illinois. [10]

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Last Updated: 07-Oct-2003