Inspiration For a Town
Isaac C. Elston might be considered the founder of Michigan City, but three men named McDonald, Elliot and Neely were its finders. Those four gentlemen, the Indiana General Assembly, and most of the town's early settlers and investors were inspired by the same expectation: That in this place would develop a great commercial waterway. John McDonald, Chester Elliot and John Neely came, respectively, from Daviess, Warwick and Gibson counties. They were sent by the state legislature in 1828 to the sand and wilderness of northernmost Indiana to survey the entire Lake Michigan shoreline and determine the best location for a harbor and a city. Their search ended at the mouth of Trail Creek. Here, they concluded, was the ideal location for the new community which was to be the northern terminus of the Michigan Road. In an 1826 treaty with the United States, Pottawattomie Indians had ceded land on which the north-south road would be constructed. It would connect Lake Michigan with Madison on the Ohio River, opening great new potentials for Indiana commerce, settlement and growth. The ambitious undertaking stirred interest throughout the state - and gave the town a name before it had even one inhabitant. Hoosiers referring to the city to be built on the lakeshore quite naturally called it "the city on Lake Michigan." That soon was shortened to "the Michigan City" and, finally, "Michigan City." The community had a name before it came into official existence - a name that most appropriately derived from its lakefront location. In October of 1830, Major Elston of Crawfordsville purchased a quarter mile of land that included the mouth of Trail Creek in Michigan City. Later, he bought more. He made his purchases sight unseen - a testimonial to the potential envisioned for the future port city. (And he sold half his purchase to New Yorkers for $250,000 cash, another indicator of the promise foreseen for Michigan City.) Gov. James Ray (the only "non-partisan" governor in the state's history) stated in his 1829 message that the Michigan Road's northern terminus was at the mouth of a river "where a harbour for vessels may be easily made." It seemed so. It was not to prove so. The 1908 Oglesbee-Hale history of Michigan City reports: "Beginning with the opening of the road there came to Michigan City a large forwarding business and for years thereafter grain and farm produce was hauled to the warehouses on the lake from as far as Indianapolis." Indeed, there was a burst of enthusiasm after the Federal government appropriated $20,000 for the Michigan City harbor in 1837. The good news prompted Gov. Noah Noble to suggest - and the legislature to agree - that improvements be made to the road. Julius Adams, the engineer appointed to make the study, came up with a grandiose proposal to make the entire Michigan Road a boulevard of hexagonal plank. The Oglesbee-Hale history notes: "The country was in a frenzy of internal improvement at that time but the magnificence of this new proposal was startling to the wise men of Indiana when it burst upon them in January, 1838. It soon transpired, however, that the scheme had powerful support in the lobbies and gradually it was learned that a prodigious graft was being attempted; only with great difficulty was it defeated..." (LaPorte County legislators Charles W. Cathcart and Charles McClure actively opposed the scheme.) An interesting fact in Adams' report to the legislature was his report that it required an average of 14 days for a six-horse wagon and load to travel the Michigan Road from Indianapolis to Michigan City. One effect of the economic panic of 1837 was the shelving of a proposal for the building of a railroad to the lake beside the Michigan Road. Considering the competitive situation involving two lake cities in those early years - Chicago and Michigan City - some may wonder if construction of such a railroad at the time might have made a difference in the outcome. As the historians wrote: "The two places were not far apart in size. Chicago's estuary was not as favorable for harbor purposes as that of Trail Creek, and there was every reason to anticipate for Michigan City a position of supremacy in the commerce on the lake. It was by force of circumstances beyond the control of man that the wonderful western metropolis grew up elsewhere than at the foot of Hoosier Slide..." . People in the town and in the state, legislators and governors, and visitors to Michigan City readily recognized the natural potential of the channel as a great harbor of commerce and refuge. Now if only the congressmen in Washington could be made to share the same enthusiasm for the development of the southern Lake Michigan port at Michigan City... That was to be a big and frustrating "If."
The First 75 Years
Pushing the Port Potential
"The Fourth of July in 1836 was a day of double rejoicing in Indiana's newly incorporated lakefront community. On that date, President Andrew Jackson signed a bill appropriating $20,000 for development of a harbor at Michigan City. The amount was modest, but was interpreted by happy local citizens as evidence that the United States government had, after a five year effort by city and Indiana advocates, finally recognized the potential for a major port here. This first federal investment was viewed as earnest money. And, by appropriate happenstance, the first commercial vessel ever to enter Trail Creek was brought in on that same Independence Day. The ship was a little schooner, the Sea Serpent. It was dragged and towed by a crowd of enthusiastic citizens to a point on the creek almost as Franklin Street. Getting the vessel over the sand bar, which had long provided a natural obstacle at the mouth of the creek, was no easy task. Her keel plowed across the bar with great difficulty. The celebration which took place that day on Michigan City's waterfront is described by Jasper Packard: "A barrel of whiskey was rolled out and set upon end, then the head was knocked in, a nail was driven partly in the side, and a tin cup was hung on it, when every man helped himself; and it may be presumed that no one failed to partake in his full share of the liquid. It was a general spree in which every last man lent a hand." Before the successful docking of the Sea Serpent-and for most ships for some years after-there was no entering the "harbor". Instead, as the Oglesbee-Hale history describes it: "...It had been necessary for vessels at this port to anchor outside in the roadstead, prepared to slip cables and make for the open sea for safety at short notice in case of sudden storm...and freight was taken or discharged by means of lighters, small enough to be poled over the bar."
Two years before the Michigan Road was completed, and five years before Michigan City was incorporated, the state of Indiana had begun imploring the United States Congress to assist in development of a harbor at Michigan City. There were some skeptics who doubted that a harbor of refuge was even possible to construct on the southern shore of Lake Michigan. One of them (writing in 1821) is quoted in a history book: "It is yet somewhat problematical whether a safe and permanent harbor can be constructed by any effort of human ingenuity, upon the bleak and naked shores of these lakes, exposed, as they are, to the most furious tempests." The skepticism was not widely shared. Certainly it was not prevalent among members of the 1831 Indiana General Assembly, who adopted a joint resolution asking that the federal government make a survey of the mouth of the river at Michigan City "with instructions to examine and report as to the practicability, best manner and expense of improving the same." There followed a response from Washington that was to become all too familiar in future years: silence. In 1832, the legislature tried once more. It specifically asked Congress for an appropriation. Part of the resolution read: "It is represented to this General Assembly that the construction of a safe harbour and the erection of a light house ... are objects of great utility to the Union, important to the commercial adventurer as well as the local agriculturalist, and of peculiar interest to our growing population in that quarter and ... the means at our disposal are utterly inadequate to accomplish the construction and erection of said works." Edward A. Hannegan of Michigan City voted for the resolution in the state legislature. He was elected to Congress in the next election (the only Michigan City resident to achieve that honor) and his first act in Washington was to submit the document to his fellow congressmen - along with a resolution requesting the Committee on Roads and Canals to consider an appropriation for the necessary survey and construction of a harbor at the mouth of Trail Creek. That was Dec. 18, 1833. On Jan. 2, 1834, the Indiana Legislature produced still another resolution for forwarding to Washington, stating that: "The mouth of Trail Creek ... has been adjudged to afford the best harbor for vessels within the limits of the state... and from the peculiar nature of the mouths of rivers and creeks on Lake Michigan, it is obstructed in a considerable degree by the barriers of sand which surround the entrance of streams in said lake, and which can only be removed and prevented by the "excavation of basins and the erection of piers ... From surveys already made at the mouth of the creek ... there is found to be as great a depth of water over the bar as at any point on the southern shore of the lake within this state, and that a small sum of money properly applied, would make the same a safe and convenient harbour; which harbour is imperiously demanded by the extraordinary improvements of the country in the northern parts of Indiana, and the necessity of protecting and regulating the extensive commerce, which is already extending itself from and to this point." Pausing for breath, the author continued: "Indiana, with only 40 miles of coast, has little opportunity to ask for such favors, and the salt and other supplies to be demanded by the dense population soon to inhabit her fertile soil gives the matter a national importance." Rep. Hannegan transmitted the message immediately to Congress. It was referred to the Committee on Roads and Canals. Hannegan testified before the committee. He addressed his colleagues from the House floor. He succeeded in obtaining the desired authority, which then went through channels of the War Department to Col. J.J. Abert, chief of the topographical bureau. On Oct. 10, 1834, he ordered Lt. John M. Berrien to conduct a survey of the mouth of Trail Creek to ascertain its potential as a harbor. Lt. Berrien made his report Jan. 19, 1835, it was transmitted to the Senate Feb. 9. The report included a map and gives an accurate description of the creek and adjacent section of the lake at that date. It shows that at its widest part, the stream measured 120 feet and at the mouth about 30. At the mouth there was a depth of one foot, increasing to six feet upstream. The stream did not appear subject to flooding, the current was slight, there was a smooth clay bottom, and the creek "did not bring down any inconvenient quantity of sediment." The bar at the mouth was formed by drifting sand from adjacent hills, the report stated. There was good anchorage for vessels outside. Needed improvements were said to be the widening of the stream and deepening to nine feet - "sufficient for the largest vessels and the construction of piers." There was ample timber for the project on the banks, the lieutenant reported, but stone would have to be brought from Chicago. On Dec. 22, 1835, the Senate again asked for a report; the same one was transmitted. In private letter to Cong. Hannegan, dated Feb. 20, 1835, Col. Abert said that construction of a breakwater at a cost of $84,240 would afford sufficient protection from winds and waves to permit the stream to clean itself and provide a safe outer harbor. No action yet having come out of Washington, on Feb. 8, 1836, both houses of Congress heard (and each referred to its Committee on Commerce) a petition signed by the masters of 16 vessels who sailed the south part of the lake. The petitioners said: "That during the last two years there has been in immense increase of transportation and especially to different places on Lake Michigan. That this lake does not abound with harbors, hence navigation is extremely dangerous, and in the opinion of the petitioners, it is practicable, at a reasonable expense, to construct a pier or breakwater at Michigan City, Indiana, so as to answer both the purposes of a harbor for that flourishing town, and also serve the important object of a general place of safety and protection for the whole fleet in time of danger." The petition had been circulated the prior summer. At the same time, a committee of Michigan City citizens wrote to Col. Abert asking for a copy of Lt. Berrien's plan and estimate. The colonel bucked the letter to the lieutenant for answer. Lt. Berrien replied at length Nov. 14. His letter discussed the relative advantages of the pier and breakwater plans. He favored the latter. He said the subject was of great importance because of the growing need for a harbor in the south part of the lake. He expressed his opinion that Trail Creek afforded the best opportunity listing the nearest other location as Grand River 120 miles away. "(Trail Creek's) position being nearer the head of the lake than any point offering any facilities for the construction of a harbor or any advantages in point of trade, the mouth of the creek presents itself as of the greater importance from the fact that beyond it no advantages offer for similar improvements," Lt. Berrien wrote. His enthusiastic endorsement of the Michigan City site - one which clearly ranked it superior to Chicago - was given wide circulation and attracted considerable investment capital to Michigan City. Historians of the period credit the lieutenant's comments with clearly aiding the town's growth. Thus encouraged, Major Elston once more rallied his allies in the legislature. On Jan. 23, 1836, another resolution was adopted and forwarded to Washington. It reiterated past points. It referred to recent fatal wrecks on the Indiana coastline. It stressed the importance of the harbor to eastern states whose merchants were interested in the Michigan City port as a place of trade. Of the town just about to be incorporated, it stated: "On that shore, so lately wild and uninhabited, a city is now springing up, an enterprising people are fixing their homes. Already the constant hum of business is heard there, and the sails of commerce begin to whiten the hitherto undisturbed waters of the great lake ... The amount of money paid for the freight of produce and merchandise at Michigan City during the past year has exceeded $20,000. The value of the merchandise landed at the same place in the same period, and forwarded from thence into the interior of our state, we are certainly informed, has been upwards of $400,000. Indeed the whole northern part of our state for near one hundred miles south from Lake Michigan has received its supply mainly through that channel, and must continue to do so, until other works of internal improvement shall be completed. It is now the only road to the city of New York. An appropriation has been made by Congress to erect a lighthouse at this point, and nothing now is wanted but a commodious harbor, to make the navigation of that part of the lake safe and the anchorage good." On April 2, 1836, the House Committee on Commerce reported a bill which included an appropriation for a harbor at Michigan City. Following several sessions of the committee of the whole, a vote took place June 8, 1836. The bill passed, 99-85. Ironically, Rep. Hannegan was absent. There were motions to table, to strike out the enacting clause, to re-refer, to cut the amount in two but all failed and the bill went to the Senate. After a stormy career it passed with amendments July 2. The House concurred in the amendments, and the bill went to the desk of President Jackson, who signed it July 4. After all of the resolutions, all of the lobbying and petitioning, the studies and reports, the speeches and debates, the Federal government had consented to invest $20,000 in the harbor at Michigan City. Local citizens celebrated, they pulled the Sea Serpent over the sand bar, and they awaited the benefits of the action in Washington.
During the time the Michigan City harbor proposal had been a hot potato in the halls of Congress, some local merchants had done what they could to foster commerce at the lakefront. The Oglesbee-Hale history notes: . "The Blairs and perhaps some of the other local forwarding merchants at one time built a pier extending to deep water from the creek mouth and laid a track of wooden stringers on which small cars were pushed from the warehouses to the end of the pier, where vessels could tie up in pleasant weather. Many such piers and tracks were constructed along the shore north of Michigan City in after years to accommodate the shippers of wood and lumber." The $20,000 having been appropriated in 1836, orders descended through the chain of command until they got to Capt. Ward B. Burnet of the Army Corps of Engineers - the man initially assigned to supervise the construction of a harbor. Sporadic additional appropriations between 1836 and 1870 brought the total funded for the harbor by that date to $287,388.92. The creek was widened and deepened, and piers and revetments built to protect it. The channel in 1870 had an average depth of 12 feet. The Oglesbee-Hale book states: "In 1870, Congress, aroused by the demands of the citizens and impelled by the report of the engineers who saw that a simple inner harbor would not accommodate the rapidly growing commerce at the foot of the lake, made a specific appropriation of $25,000 for the outer harbor. The plan prepared was to comprise an outer basin, of some 40 acres located to the east of the entrance to the inner harbor, and an exterior detached breakwater to the westward designed to give increased safety to vessels entering during heavy weather; the combination (of inner and outer harbors) was intended to provide a safe harbor of refuge against northerly gales, for general commerce. Work on the outer harbor facilities began in1870. That construction and its repair, and further work on the upstream channel, constituted the Federal government investment of funds, manpower and expertise up to the end of the century. Lt. Col. G. J. Lydecker was engineer in charge for the Army Corps from 1894 until 1899, and again quoting the Oglesbee-Hale history -- "it was owing to his energy that the government began to realize the necessity of fostering the commerce of Michigan City ... In his report for the year 1895 he states that no great advantage to local commerce can be secured unless all the projects should be immediately completed." Once more, those actually on the scene - familiar with the situation here - saw the need for action. But Washington moved slowly, snail-pace slowly, to respond. The historians continue: "In 1897...dissatisfaction not only with the progress of the work, but also at the character of the plan itself, became so general that it could no longer be ignored. The draft of vessels using this area of Lake Michigan had long exceeded the modest allowance of 12 feet; steamers for the carriage of freight had come into more general use, superseding the original sailing schooners which had in earlier times brought merchandise and lumber to Michigan City; a considerable passenger traffic had likewise been developed between this harbor and Chicago. One great purpose for which the outer harbor had been planned was the protection to be offered to craft of all kinds exposed to the sudden and severe storms apt to occur at any moment near Michigan City, but in place of the protection promised, the piers and cribs forming the outer harbor had become in reality a source of danger, so that sailing masters and pilots actually avoided rather than sought this harbor. Naturally the residents of Michigan City were dissatisfied with the result and distressed at the loss of cargoes, or not infrequently of life, which occurred." Some were suspicious of the preferred treatment being given to the Chicago harbor. Congress had spent millions there up to 1897 - but only $1.2 million on the Michigan City harbor, even though neutral observers had often deemed it advantageous to Chicago's before the funding flowed. "The injustice was evident," the historians wrote, "and the War Department (Feb. 16, 1897) convened a board of engineer officers to advise on some change in the location of the outer breakwaters." The board recommended radical alterations in the engineers' plans - implementation of which would cost an estimated $282,150. Congress reacted in its traditional pattern: The following year, it appropriated $7,500 for the Michigan City harbor-and it specified it was only for use on the inner harbor! Finally, on June 6, 1900, the Congress appropriated $195,000 for outer harbor work. In 1902, another $63,000 was provided. Summing up the situation as it looked at the beginning of this century, the historians commented "... the harbor is not completed, yet the government is wiser than it was, and there is every prospect that Michigan City will before long be equipped to care for and foster the extensive commerce that is hers by right." They made plain their conclusion that the fault for delays and misjudgments and inadequate funding rested with Congress: "There was bad politics at the bottom of it all, in which outside interests prevailed, although the representatives from this district did everything possible to gain a proper recognition for the only state harbor in Indiana." They added: "But the story of the Michigan City Harbor would be incompletely and poorly told, if only the reports of Congress were examined. To catch the vital element in this growth of nearly 80 years, the unwritten history of the town itself must be studied, and public documents, transactions of the local business organizations, as well as the public spirited and often self-sacrificing conduct of the men of affairs, must be investigated." A prime example of what they meant occurred locally in reaction to a period of time in which the Federal government was particularly inattentive to the Michigan City harbor needs. After 1838, there was an interval of six years before another cent was allowed. In 1844, $25,000 was appropriated, but not until 1852 was even $20,000 forthcoming. And from then until 1866 there is a period of 14 years during which nothing whatever was attempted or accomplished for Michigan City by those having power in Washington. "Much of this neglect must be explained by the crisis of the Civil War," the history book acknowledges, "in which all the money obtainable from any source was devoted to the cost of that awful struggle, but the need was there and the citizens themselves bravely attempted to meet it. July Fourths seem to be significant dates where Michigan City's harbor is concerned. It was on July 4, 1864, that a meeting was conducted in City Hall at which a Michigan City Harbor Company was organized. "They then memorialized Congress in dignified terms; they omitted to mention that the expenditure of the money from past appropriations was barren of results, they did not complain that the harbor afforded no shelter to the ships plying at this end of the lake, they drew no particular attention to the patent facts that the piers were fallen into decay, that material purchased by the government had been allowed to rot or to slip unused and unobserved into the water, they restrained their impatience at seeing the work of one summer nullified by the pitiless storms of the succeeding winter, but they did ask that the government permit them to take over what remained of the original plans and construction already accomplished, and to carry out as best they might, a plan of their own whereby they hoped to do something to further the interests of the nation, of the state of Indiana, and of their own city." In 1865 authority was granted to the local company to use government piers in the harbor for the purpose of protecting the harbor. Under this authority, and power given by the state legislature the same year, Michigan City Harbor Company began collecting money from the stockholders - "and continued to do so until many of the stockholders were nearly, if not entirely, bankrupt and impoverished." The funds were used to rebuild foundations on the old government piers, and to make extensions into the lake to protect the mouth of Trail Creek before dredging could be done. In two years, the company expended $100,526.53. The city did its share, too-- building docks and dredging. City funds spent totaled $20,767.85. And private parties had added to the improvements in the amount of $63,000. When Congress began to show interest in aiding harbor projects again, the company petitioned the Federal government to take over where the Michigan City Harbor Company had left off. It asked that a sum equivalent to what stockholders had expended from their own pockets be appropriated--not to repay the stockholders, but to fund further work on the harbor project. That was when Congress provided $100,000 for work in the years 1868 and 1869. Oglesbee and Hale included a table in their 1908 book, listing Federal appropriations for Michigan City's harbor from 1836 through 1905 totaling $1,588,268.92. Then they observe, "It is between the lines of this table that one must look for the sickening tale of congressional imbecility, of inadequate appropriations, costly delays, waste of material and inattention to public interests. Wreck followed wreck. Ships, cargoes, and human lives were sacrificed. The legislature memorialized, and Hannegan, Cathcart, and others in Congress pleaded in vain for relief. Year after year passed by and construction material rotted on the shore for lack of money to put it in place."
In spite of the wretched record of Congress, there was significant development on the waterfront in Michigan City in those first 75 years after the place was chosen as Indiana's lake port. Most of it was the result of action by citizens as illustrated by the formation of the Michigan City Harbor Co. Hardy, optimistic and determined citizens had worked to develop the harbor from the time in 1830 when its potential first was proclaimed. Warehouses were constructed and do-it-yourself piers built so that commerce might commence. As one history puts it, "The great attraction which so rapidly turned the silent sandy shores of Lake Michigan into a hustling market was trade." One of Michigan City's prominent early figures, Samuel Miller, who came here in 1832, built the first warehouse. "He was a forwarder, taking grain, provisions and produce from all the neighbors who had to sell, and obtaining his supply of goods (such as salt) from vessels plying the lakes." Many more warehouses soon were constructed. In 1833, James Forrester brought a cargo of salt and other commodities from Buffalo to Michigan City on the schooner Post Boy-- the first shipment of its kind. The businessmen built piers from their warehouses to facilitate loading and unloading of cargo. Ships made regular stops here. Michigan City became the leading grain market for all of Indiana north of the Wabash - and there were even shipments from Indianapolis. Great caravans of wagons, often drawn by three-or four-ox teams, passed constantly through Michigan City's streets. "A man would have to reach the town of Michigan City early in the day to get his grain unloaded before night," an account of the time states. As many as 300 teams could often be counted in line moving up toward the warehouses. Grain was brought from as far west as Joliet, and Rockford, Ill., to be ground into flour by the mills on Trail Creek and to be shipped to other ports. In 1842, it was reported, more wheat, pork, and lard was shipped from here than from Chicago. The mural by noted artist Robert Grafton on the study hall at Elston Senior High School depicts lakefront activity at about this time. Chicago interests were behind a scheme, reported in 1840, to minimize the use of Michigan City's port (and also those of New Buffalo and St. Joseph in Michigan) and to list Chicago as the loading point even when cargo was taken aboard vessels at Michigan City and other ports. Chicago was listed as the loading point for lumber and flour, for instance, even though it had none to ship. In the 1840s, the Oglesbee-Hale history of the town notes, "There was now much barrel making in the city to supply not only the demand in Chicago, but also that for home use, as beef and pork packing was an increasing industry, while the annual catch of fish in the local waters was a noticeable factor in commerce. It is reported that Lyman Blair's output of fish for one year was as high as $40,000, probably one of the best records on the lakes." Some of the lake fish catch was sold locally, but most was shipped to Chicago and other centers. Whitefish and sturgeon were plentiful during that period. The railroad was beginning to supplant the lake vessels as a carrier of commerce, and the warehouses on Michigan City's lakefront began to disappear to be replaced by huge piles of lumber. One commodity that remained important in lake traffic was salt. An 1894 publication referring to the Michigan Salt Co. warehouse here noted it had a capacity of 25,000 barrels, and salt shipped to Michigan City by boat was distributed from here to points in Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky and Western Ohio - "something more than 150,000 barrels being handled annually here." But it was lumber that became increasingly the principal item of Michigan City lakefront business in the latter years of the 19th century. Some vessels for the carrying of lumber even were launched in Michigan City - the schooners C.P. Williams, Frank Miller and Margaret Dall among them. They were able to travel smaller streams, taking cargo where larger boats could not go. In 1868, the era of sailing vessels reached its peak with 2,000 schooners officially registered. Lumber, shingles and stone were brought to Michigan City, and ships left with cargoes of hay, potatoes and huckleberries. Influenced by the advent of the train, Michigan City's harbor had changed from a grain to a lumber port. Lumber yards came into existence at the lakefront and along Trail Creek, as far as points beyond Sixth Street. The lumber shipping season lasted from April until late October. Some yards hired as many as 120 men for a season. Michigan City became the foremost lumber market of the day. Its commercial tonnage reports were dominated by vessels bringing lumber from the forests of Michigan and Wisconsin. By the 1890s, harbor docks were lined on both sides with lumber. Mayor Martin T. Krueger, describing the scene in later years, said the lumber "was piled as high as it could be done by the hands of man. Through it were many lanes or alleys, along which lumber was hauled to and from the docks to the piles and again from these piles to cars, to be shipped all over the Midwest." The fleet of lumber vessels plying the lakes was widely known - the A.R. Colborn (named for one of the local businessmen, who was known as "the lumber king of Indiana"); the O.E. Parks, the Morris Gage, the Early Bird, the H.A. Root, the Horace A. Tuttle. The passenger excursion business had developed after the harbor was opened. At the close of the century, a commemorative publication-- Michigan City Illustrated--observed: "Michigan City is especially fortunate in having a cheap and popular means of transportation to Chicago, and this is by the double daily excursions run by the Chicago and Michigan City line, on the new steel steamer America." And so, the 20th Century began. Michigan City was 64 years old and its lakefront legacy already was a colorful, eventful, dramatic--and in many ways disappointing--story. That hard-to-quell optimism remained in evidence, as shown in this quote from the 1900 Michigan City Illustrated publication: "Nowhere on the Great Lakes is there a better harbor for safety and convenience. Situated at the extreme southerly point of the great waterway, our harbor offers facilities for receiving and dispatching that have been recognized by the most expert government engineers, and it must soon be of greatest importance to shippers."
The Second 75 Years
The Turn Toward Recreation
In the second 75 years of Michigan City's harbor history, the tide turned dramatically in favor of recreational boating. Today, the navigable length of the channel and the Washington Park Marina are berthing points throughout the summer season for cruisers, sailboats and other pleasure craft. Save for the remaining commercial fisheries, it is to the boaters that the waterfront-related shoreline businesses cater. And it is to the further development of the harbor's recreational usage that planning in 1976 points. In mid-century, an article in The News-Dispatch noted, "The decline of the harbor in relation to the industrial scene since 1900 must be viewed as a major development in local history." Great strides had been made in the community's industrial diversification in those 50 years and the harbor had not been a direct factor in most of them, only indirectly as something that made Michigan City unique and a pleasant place to live and play. "By 1925," the 1950 article pointed out, "the lumber yards gone and no one at hand to fill in, harbor traffic had dwindled to a mere shadow of its former self, and today the only commercial tonnage is that of locally-owned fish tugs which find the lake's catches less each year. "During the period from 1925 until the present, it has been an occasion of note when vessels of any size visit the port. As the tonnage dwindled, so did government expenditures and interest ... Last big dredging of the harbor was done nearly 15 years ago. At a meeting of the Congressional committee hearing on this improvement, several local men were present. Harry Frey represented the Yacht Club, George Trask the Chamber of Commerce, William C. Haviland the park board, and T.C. Mullen the zoo board. As a result of the hearing the harbor was dredged and later the west part of the old breakwater was repaired." After that major 1935 dredging project and some lesser dredging in 1948 and 1949, there were continuing efforts by citizens, government and the Chamber of Commerce to attract tonnage to the channel and to interest the Federal government in improving it. But a letter from an Army Corps of Engineers official in 1953, in response to a local request for dredging of the harbor, tersely summarized the Federal position, "A review of the past record at Michigan City reveals that dredging has been performed by the Federal Government on a number of occasions based on local assurances of future water-borne shipments of grain, coal, sand and gravel, package freight, passengers, etc., which only partially materialized." Dredging of the channel could not be justified, he concluded. Repairs to the piers in 1954, at a total cost of about $60,000, represented the only government investment in that period. Again in 1955, the Army Corps of Engineers denied a request for dredging. The Corps had been told that there were local plans for shipping of construction aggregates for use in construction of the Indiana Toll Road - and for other use of the harbor by city businesses and industries, if it were dredged. The Corps again seemed skeptical. Maintenance dredging might be justified, it said, "following such development." In 1956, after Cargill Inc. decided to build three huge grain elevators here and promised shipment of about 125,000 tons of grain annually, the Corps agreed to dredge the harbor as far as the Franklin Street bridge. The work continued in 1957. That year, the Jupiter, first large commercial vessel to enter Michigan City's harbor in years, picked up a cargo of 90,000 bushels of soybeans from the Cargill elevator. The Jupiter, other ships and barges began a schedule of regular trips. There was some optimistic talk at the time about new commercial life for the harbor. But realists recognized that after 125 years as Indiana's potential port, Michigan City now had been officially eliminated from consideration. The St. Lawrence Seaway was open and plans were proceeding for construction of a major Indiana deepwater port at Burns Harbor west of Michigan City. The Corps did do additional dredging in 1958 to permit unloading of salt for use on highways and the toll road. The first of several ships to bring salt, the Sumatra, unloaded 6,000 tons on Oct. 28, 1958. Vessels collecting grain and leaving salt were the last large commercial ships to enter the Michigan City harbor. Pleasure boating had humble beginnings in Michigan City. But by the 1930s, more and more cruisers and sailboats began to be seen on the local lakefront. The yacht basin became a popular port of refuge for boaters. Events such as the annual Columbia Yacht Race helped to popularize Michigan City as a Great Lakes port of call. Extension of the East Pier in 1884 had created 40-acre yacht basin. In a development that seems unbelievable today, the city began to fill in the basin in the 1920s--virtually using it as a dump. Somebody had decided the basin area could better be utilized at a future date, once all that water was gotten rid of, as a baseball field or parking lot. Dad Heisman and E.G. (Babe) Browne, two of the city's earliest pleasure boating enthusiasts, circulated petitions and called the development to the attention of the Corps of Engineers. Finally, a desist order was issued--but the marina today is only one-third the size of the original basin. The Michigan City Yacht Club was organized in 1931. In following years, members helped bring about a dredging project and participated in a community effort to clear the harbor and the basin area of debris. Interest in boating increased steadily in the years after World War II, and a real boom was in progress by the late 1950s. It was particularly untimely, then, that Lake Michigan should choose that point to drop to its lowest level since 1933--creating what a News-Dispatch series in February of 1959 called "a crisis of unprecedented proportions for local tug and pleasure craft owners. "In fact," the article continued, "the harbor channel southeastward from the New York Central Railroad bridge looks more like a dirt lane after a rainstorm than the healthy, flowing waterway it ought to be. The turning basin adjacent to the Blocksom Co., where lumber schooners once maneuvered, is a vast mud flat. Other sandbars divide small puddles of water. Birds strut in mid-harbor without getting a single feather wet." The low water posed problems for 150 boat owners, whose usual slips would not be available when spring came; for owners of harborside boat businesses, and for fishing tug owners such as Fred (Butch) Ritter and Louis Igielski, who faced daily dilemmas and frequent repair expenses. At this transitional point in the harbor usage, and low point in its upstream depth, the Michigan City Port Authority came into existence. State Rep. H.J. Kintzele Jr., working with local boaters, introduced - and the House passed - an enabling bill on Feb. 24, 1959, which would permit cities to develop and operate port facilities. Directors would have power to plan, finance, promote, construct, and. manage all necessary port facilities, including such things as docks, warehouses and service buildings. They would be empowered to ask their city council for a cumulative channel maintenance fund, money for which could come by taxation, to provide for municipal dredging operations and other maintenance and improvement of local waterways. The bill was approved by the State Senate, and Gov. Harold Handley signed it on March 14. A month later, the city council had enacted an ordinance creating the port authority. Among its first members was Hartley Job, whose service on the board continues up to today. His enthusiastic interest in Michigan City's harbor and lakefront is on a level with the records of those citizens throughout Michigan City's history. who have worked tirelessly for positive developments. Many have been named in this history of the harbor. Another, also appointed to the port authority at its inception, and who served as its first chairman, was the late Mark Moorman, who had come to be known here as "Mr. Harbor." In its early life, the port authority was the subject of some controversy. It engaged in a legal dispute with the parks and recreation department to determine jurisdiction over the yacht basin and adjacent land. Some owners of small boats feared the port authority was more concerned with commercial aspects of the waterways. A 1960 article by News-Dispatch editor Elwin Greening succinctly summarizes the story of the harbor during the first 60 years of this century--up to the time the port authority was created: "By the mid-'20s, only a few hundred. tons of fish were all that could be counted annually in harbor tonnage. Naturally, government interest in maintenance dwindled proportionately. The harbor, in time, could well have become a cat-tail swamp had it not been for the efforts of a few diehard visionaries. They cajoled, worked on congressional sympathy, nursed what water activity they could--and managed to keep government dredges coming in periodically. Twice in the late '20s, they coaxed oceangoing ships to stop off with bulk cargoes. In the early '30s, they successfully fought efforts to fill in the yacht basin to create parking space for visitors to Washington Park. They organized the Michigan City Yacht Club a year later and fought a proposal by the Federal governments to close the Coast Guard station here. Midway in the same decade, they wangled a dredge to deepen the basin. The fight for recognition went on through the wartime '40s. Then in 1948, lacking official voice, the small group formed the unofficial Michigan City Harbor Improvement Assn. And, using what stature it gave them, renewed their pounding at the door of the Army Engineers. How about re-examining the harbor and modernizing it to accommodate small cargo vessels from 90 to 200 feet in length? the group asked. With hope for state aid all but dead in the '50s, harbor enthusiasts switched their strategy and sought to interest private capital in locating here as a means of reawakening government interest in maintenance. Cargill's construction of a grain elevator was the first result of this approach. With concrete evidence of awakened harbor interest in hand, Mayor (Francis) Fedder and the city council deemed it wise to organize the efforts and advice of the harbor enthusiasts within a city board, unofficial or not. Consequently, in early 1958, the council created through resolution the unofficial Michigan City Harbor Commission, . Legislation of the port authority type often had been discussed through the years, but not until the Burns Ditch development materialized (in 1959) did it crystallize. Then, realizing that they were fighting for their lives, the harbor commission members--along with Chamber of Commerce leaders--approached State Rep. Henry J. Kintzele with a request to introduce legislation in the General Assembly. He did--and the enabling act was passed." In August of 1960, a court judgement gave the port authority jurisdiction over the yacht basin and adjoining land. Two months later, the port authority announced its plans for the basin--the first project to be installation of piers with slips for about 200 boats. What was to be a major recreational boating program in Michigan City had its birth. In 1961, at a hearing in Indianapolis to determine the best site for Indiana's commercial harbor on Lake Michigan-a designation given to Michigan City more than 130 years earlier-the Burns Harbor location was picked. It had the endorsement of Michigan City's municipal government and civic leaders. While some limited commercial traffic in the local channel still was hoped for-enough, at least to justify Corps of Engineers dredging--the momentum locally was toward recreational usage. That was demonstrated when a proposal by the Monon Railroad for a $2 million coal dock facility on Michigan City's lakefront was made known. In an earlier day, the project might have been heralded as a step toward commercial development on the local waterfront. But in the 1960s, it was viewed as a threat to the park and beach and to lakefront recreation. Community opposition was strong--and probably a major factor in the decision by the Interstate Commerce Commission to deny the Monon proposal. The port authority conducted a hearing on its master plan for pleasure boating June 4, 1962, and G.E. McGrath, president of the Chamber of Commerce, hailed the plan as a "first step to the North End's rehabilitation." The plan provided for pleasure boating facilities in the Washington Park Marina, at an upstream marina between "E" and Scott streets, and at points between on Trail Creek. At the same time, the port authority initiated planning for dredging of the navigable length of the creek. A 2-cent cumulative channel maintenance tax levy was approved for 1964--the first time, port authority member Job observed, that local tax money had been invested in harbor upkeep since early in the century. Money from the tax was used to provide the local government share of upstream dredging projects. The port authority act later was amended to permit use of such funds for other waterway improvements. The tax rate has varied from 2 cents to 6 cents in succeeding years. Mayor Randall C. Miller was a strong advocate of the channel maintenance fund and helped win close city council approval in the early stages. In December of 1964, $425,000 in revenue bonds for the first stage of the marina development project were purchased by a Chicago brokerage group. In February of 1976, a $1.2 million marina bond issue was sold, to finance additional stages of the Washington Park marina project and boating facilities at the upstream Sprague Marina and elsewhere on the Michigan City waterway. In 1966, the Army Corps of Engineers undertook a two-year program to rehabilitate protective facilities at Michigan City's harbor. (An Army Corps of Engineers report issued Oct. 20, 1971, incidentally, stated that total expenditures by the United States government up to June 30, 1970, in the Michigan City harbor were $4,995,000. The Corps said these included $1,543,000 for new work, $2,407,000 for maintenance, and $1,044,000 for rehabilitation.) In the years since the port authority began implementation of its program for Trail Creek, investment by private enterprise in pleasure boating also has grown dramatically--including a $250,000 project just east of the Franklin Street bridge. The objective of the '60s and '70s - and for the years to come - was defined by Louis Cotts, port authority chairman in 1964: "The port authority is dedicated to limited commercial development. Our main course of action is to develop the harbor as a pleasure boating facility - to make it one of the best." In 1965, Mayor Miller added impetus to the new emphasis when he announced, after studying reports and recommendations requested from several governmental agencies: "It is my present opinion that ultimately our harbor will and should become entirely recreational in use." He referred, in his comments, to an apparent major development - a federal willingness to provide dredging based on recreational, as well as commercial, usage of waterways. The U.S. government and Michigan City shared the costs of the 1967 upstream dredging project. The mayor said existing commercial shipping businesses should continue as long as economically feasible, "but a policy of restricting new uses to recreation should be followed for the future." That is the course which has been followed in Michigan City the past decade--one of heavy emphasis on the development of the harbor, Trail Creek, and--of course--the yacht basin for recreational boating. Boats fill the berths in the basin and Trail Creek. The summertime traffic is continuous. The Michigan City waterway is alive with activity. It's an impressive sight - one that those departed citizens who labored tirelessly on behalf of the community's harbor during the past century and a half would, no doubt, find pleasing.
Drama on the Lake
A Toll of Ships, Lives and Cargo
Temperamental Lake Michigan has taken a heavy toll of ships, lives and cargo. Incidents in Hoosier waters have not been of Titantic proportions. But there have been tragic, costly, dramatic, embarrassing, and even humorous nautical mishaps. Most of them occurred during sudden surging storms - the type at which Lake Michigan excels. Indian braves, venturing against enemies in fleets of canoes, were at the mercy of such sudden tempests when they paddled too far from land. There's a legend that the Wisconsin Winnebago, at war with the Foxes on the Michigan side of the lake, sent an army of 500 braves to do battle. A storm struck, and all 500 perished. One lake tragedy in which Pottawattomie Indians played an indirect part is documented. It concerned the schooner Hercules, which sailed from Chicago, bound for Detroit, on the evening of Oct. 2, 1818. The next morning, one of the worst gales in Lake Michigan history struck. It raged for two days. No word of the Hercules was received until Oct. 9 when a party of Indians arrived in Chicago, carrying with them objects they had picked up along the shore at the south end of the lake. Some of the objects were recognized as being from the Hercules. A rescue party dispatched from Fort Dearborn in Chicago found the lake shore near what is now Michigan City strewn with fragments of the ship. Only one body was found. The hull of the vessel had vanished, although portions of the mast had blown ashore. Indians had carried off every article of value which had washed ashore. The 1908 Oglesbee-Hale history of Michigan City describes the earliest recorded shipwreck off the town of Michigan City: "The memorable little schooner Post Boy, which for several years plied between Michigan City and Detroit, was caught one evening in November, 1833, and failed to gather headway in time to prevent disaster in a rising storm, for she was driven on the beach toward midnight, near the mouth of the creek, and in spite of the efforts of a crowd of excited citizens her cargo of salt and furniture, brought from Detroit, was damaged or lost." Accounts of the early history of Michigan City make frequent references to shipwrecks and lost lives. The Oglesbee-Hale history observes: "As the years grew, the losses and fatalities increased in greater proportion than the government offered means to prevent them." U.S. Sen. John Pettit of Indiana, speaking before Congress in 1854 in behalf of a bill to appropriate funds for a Michigan City harbor, said: "Last fall, I visited Michigan City for the purpose of looking at it; and there, standing upon the pier, as far as the eye can reach you can see wrecks on either beach, on the right and on the left hand; because, in stress of storm, vessels have been driven into what is called the bight of the southern end of the lake, where they have no refuge." Another of Lake Michigan's severe storms occurred on Oct. 8, 1884. Sleet and a slashing wind swept down the lake and hurled waves 10 to 20 feet high onto the beach and against the newly constructed breakwaters. Early that morning, the A R. Colborn (named for a prominent Michigan City lumber dealer) limped into the local harbor - its crew half frozen, their clothes covered with ice. They reported having spotted the Early Bird, a Michigan City-bound lumber schooner, tossing adrift eight miles out in the lake. Its rudder was disabled, the cargo washing overboard and the masts broken off. One of the first persons to hear the news was Capt. Alexander D. Campbell, whom local historians recall as "one of Michigan City's most versatile and colorful characters." The good captain quickly summoned his crew of seven and they rushed to the lakefront and their vessel, the Pearl B. Campbell. A tremendous wave swept over the tug before it had even reached the harbor mouth. Two crew members on deck were carried to the stern by the giant wave's force, and would have gone overboard had they not grabbed the rail. Onward - into the teeth of the storm - the tiny tug crept. Somehow, the Early Bird was located. A tug crewman, John H. Lutz, described the ensuing drama: "We couldn't get too close for fear of crashing into the schooner on account of the waves, but we pulled to lee'ard about 25 feet away and Barney O'Brien and Bob Siminaugh (the two who had nearly been washed overboard) tossed lines to the crew. They caught them and were hauled through the water to the tug." By this time, nearly half of Michigan City's 9,000 citizens had gathered on the shore, awaiting what they hoped would be the tug's return. The clean, yellow sand of famed Hoosier Slide was literally blackened with thousands of people. Rain-drenched local residents, many weeping and praying, lined the harbor banks. Hundreds clambered atop buildings and climbed smokestacks, anxiously hoping for the first view of the Pearl B. Campbell. After several suspenseful hours, an excited call of "Here she comes!" was emitted by those with the long-distance views. The tiny tug had been sighted cresting a wave. A unified salute was shouted to cheer on the heroic crew members, all of whom later were awarded gold medals for their bravery. Other crew members were George Schultz, John Carrow, William Cavinaugh and J. Campbell (no relation to the captain). The Early Bird drifted ashore near the present site of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, where she broke into pieces. Three years and three weeks after the heroism of Capt. Campbell and his crew, one of the "corniest" shipwrecks in all nautical history occurred in Indiana waters. Involved was the Horace A. Tuttle, a steel-hulled ship of 15,585 tons, 250 feet long, with a 38-foot beam. The Tuttle, towing the schooner Aberdeen, bore a cargo of 77,000 bushels of corn. It left Chicago at 1 p.m. Monday, Oct. 26, 1888, bound for Buffalo, N.Y. From there, the corn was to be shipped to Europe. At 11 that night, a sudden gale blew from the northwest. The sea-weary Tuttle sprang a leak, but couldn't head back for Chicago because the crew feared that in turning her they might be swamped by the schooner. At midnight, though, the ship turned itself around and it became necessary to cut loose the Aberdeen. The Tuttle then set course for Milwaukee. At 5 p.m. Wednesday, a terrific wave struck the embattled ship, carrying away the hatches, deckhouse and a yawl boat. The crew worked feverishly to keep additional water out of the hold by covering hatchways with bedding, mattresses, quilts, sails, boards - everything but the galley sink. Their efforts were futile. With six feet of water in the hold and his ship in danger of sinking, the captain abandoned hope of reaching Milwaukee and made for Michigan City's harbor. At 3:15 p.m. Wednesday, just as it reached the harbor entrance, the vessel grounded, lost its rudder, the rudder pipe broke off, the steam pipes burst, and the stern began pounding against the breakwater. When the steamer settled, she lay in a precarious position--bow in harbor and stern against the end of the pier. She broke in half and started to go to pieces. All on board, the ship's papers and some baggage were saved. But the cargo of shelled corn - all 77,000 bushels - was washed by the still-raging storm onto the beach and yacht basin shore to a depth of several feet. Michigan City residents and area farmers made a mad rush to gather the storm-sown harvest. It required many years for the remainder of the corn to be washed ashore. As late as 1905, an unpleasant odor from the sour corn could be detected on the lakefront after severe storms. One of the saddest Lake Michigan shipwrecks occurred Jan. 21, 1895, and involved the Chicora, once the proudest excursion ship on the Great Lakes and a frequent visitor to Michigan City. The Chicora could carry 1,200 passengers, but only 23 crewmen and one passenger - a prominent St. Joseph druggist - were on board when she sailed from Milwaukee for St. Joseph early on the morning of Jan. 21, 1895. The ship carried 800 tons of flour, which was to be reshipped from St. Joseph by rail for eastern points. A weather forecaster at St. Joseph told officials of the line which owned the Chicora that the barometer indicated a storm brewing. They immediately sent a wire to the Chicora's captain at Milwaukee, telling him to remain in port there. But the ship was just out of the dock when the messenger got there with the wire. Persons along the Michigan shoreline reported seeing lights bobbing on the stormy lake. Some said they heard the lonesome wail of a steam whistle. The lights dimmed slowly, finally disappearing in clouds of swirling snow and sleet. The ship apparently went down somewhere between Holland and South Haven. The exact reason for her sinking remains a mystery to this day. All that ever was seen again of the Chicora were bits of wreckage that washed ashore. Fate of those aboard was told in a note found in a bottle that waves deposited on the beach: "All is lost...could see land if not snowed and blowed ... engine give out ... drifting to shore in ice ... we have a hard time of it ... 10:15 o'clock ... Good Bye." Somewhere three or four miles off South Haven, in probably 30 fathoms of water, lies the wreckage of the Chicora - a silent tomb for her 24 dead. Not so dramatic or tragic was the demise of the sandsucker Muskegon. Originally built for the Chicago & Duluth Transport Co., and operated between Michigan City, Chicago, and Lake Superior ports, it was christened the Fearless. It was the line's flagship and finest passenger ship, but it ultimately was converted into a sandsucker and renamed the Muskegon. No longer "Fearless," she caught fire while docked at Michigan City and bubbled out of sight one autumn day in 1910. That same year a ship figured in the unique experience of being part of a harbor wreck that was not a shipwreck. Mayor Martin T. Krueger, after years of trying, had finally prodded the citizenry into building a bridge across the harbor at Franklin Street. Such a bridge was an obvious first step, so to speak, to Krueger's plan for a park on the lakefront. Ferries had transported passengers across the harbor, but the $10,000 span fostered by Mayor Krueger was the first regular bridge. It was a swing-type, single-leaf bridge that could be cranked open to let big vessels puff upstream. In 1906, progress-conscious Krueger got the county to replace the swing bridge with the first local lift-type span - a combination steel and timber affair. The county's heart wasn't entirely in the project, however, and the bridge they built showed it. There were numerous instances of difficulties in opening and closing it. Things worked out fairly democratically, though. Boats had to wait nearly as often for the structure to open as landlubbers did for it to close. On June 24,1910, the excursion steamer United States apparently got fed up with the whole business and decided to take matters in its own hands -- or, more correctly, stern. The United States was being shoved by a tug toward its berth beneath the bridge. The span, having one of its erratic moments, was not yet fully opened when the ship impatiently backed. into it, collapsing the whole works. Twisting steel and splintering lumber fell into the channel and across the little tug, submerging it up to its smokestack. The steamer was not badly damaged, however, and by that afternoon set sail for Chicago. Irritated city officials, caught with their bridge down and goaded on by chagrined county commissioners who had taken a dim view of the birdge project in the first place, promptly filed a $30,000 suit against the boat company. At the same time, they had the channel cleared of the hesitant bridge's rusty remains. For the next few days, a gravel scow was converted into a ferry until a temporary pontoon bridge was installed. In little more than a year, another lift bridge of steel and wood crossed the harbor. On June 16, 1911, an obsolete little freighter, the City West, went down in an unexplained manner during a spring gale that swept over Lake Michigan from the southwest. The freighter had left Chicago for Michigan City on June 15. The 75-year-old vessel was 88 feet long, 14 feet wide and had a draft of five or six feet. It actually was fashioned like a canal boat. After the freighter and the nine aboard it had gone down, the coroner of Porter County commented: "It's hard to visualize how small and insignificant an 88-foot vessel can appear out in the middle of Lake Michigan beyond the sight of land." The greatest tragedy in the history of the Great Lakes, in terms of number of lives lost, was the overturning of the Eastland at her Clark Street dock in the Chicago River on July 24, 1915. In 1914, the Eastland - known as the fastest steamer on the Great Lakes - had been one of a number of excursion ships chartered by the local Indiana Transportation Co. to assist its ships (the Theodore Roosevelt and the United States) in transporting several thousand employees of Western Electric Co. and their friends from Chicago to Michigan City for a gala picnic in Washington Park. The event was a great success. The following year, on July 24, the same ships again were booked to carry the Western Electric group to Michigan City - where decorations had been placed, and where park rides and concessions were in readiness for the festive event. Eight hundred and twelve persons drowned in the disaster, which apparently was caused by failure to fill the water-ballast tanks before the capacity crowd of excursionists was taken aboard. When most of those on deck ran to one side of the ship to look at an unusual ship approaching in the Chicago River, the Eastland rolled over. Carter Manny of Michigan City, in his written recollection of the incident, recalled that men later came over from Western Electric and burned most of the decorations and favors which had been sent ahead of time to be used at the picnic. "It was a cold, dreary rainy afternoon. The smoke left a pall over town." Manny wrote that the disaster "marked the end of a summer lake excursion business into our town, and the following demise of our very popular amusement park of that period." Michigan City's worst nautical event took place in 1933. The day after the community had been gifted with a white Christmas, the holiday atmosphere turned to mourning as the result of a harbor accident that claimed the lives of four commercial fishermen. About 6:30 a.m., when the four-year-old, 45-foot tug Martha set out for the lake, there was a dead calm - not even enough wind to blow the snow off the pier. After the boat was out in the lake a terrific blow - estimated at 60 miles an hour - developed. Barometers had not indicated the approaching storm and it later was described as "a freak blow." Capt. Walter Biddle operated the tug on shares and ran the business independently of the Ludwig Fish Co., owner of the 45-foot gas launch. Other crew members were Anthony Gaytka, William Kelmmeek and Walkter Markowski. Capt. David Furst, then in charge of the Michigan City Coast Guard station, reported: "We first sighted the boat about 11 o'clock when she was coming out of the northeast. She was about 300 to 400 feet off the entrance of the harbor when she passed behind the lighthouse and was out of sight for a minute. "I don't suppose the real cause of the accident will ever be known, but it's probable that a breaker struck the starboard side and broached her sideways into the sea. The next we saw of her she came around west of the lighthouse and swung right around and started back again. The waves might have broken the rudder cable because it is likely that the breaker ripped through the cabin and flooded the boat." More fortunate than the crew of the Martha was that of the Dad Ludwig, another fish tug caught in the sudden storm. Capt. Henry Newberry, at the helm of the Ludwig, reported that his vessel and the Martha were struck by a high wind which soon became a gale. Hampered by blinding snow, crews of both boats turned about and started for home. The Martha apparently took the lead and reached the harbor entrance first, because when the Dad Ludwig came into port at noon, the crew had no knowledge of the disaster that had preceded them. Ludwig and Capt. Furst watched the plight of the doomed tug through binoculars. She was proceeding in normal fashion and all appeared well aboard her as she entered the harbor and the two men scanned her decks. "Then she went behind the lighthouse and was lost to our view. A moment later the prow of the boat appeared on the west side of the lighthouse and was immediately struck by a breaker. She 'broached' then in the heavy cross-current from the west and passed out of our view behind the lighthouse again and that was all we could see until the waves started throwing up the wreckage. The Coast Guard immediately went to the scene with a boat and life preservers, but it was too late. Reports from the lighthouse attendant, Capt. Walter Donovan, and his assistant, Thomas Martin, were that they had caught a glimpse of three men clinging to pieces of wreckage for a brief instant. A fourth had been seen to grab for a projecting piece of rock on the pier and hanging on for a moment - only to slip back. The wreckage broke up rapidly under the impact of the heavy rollers. The Martha's pilot house was thrown into the shadows west of the breakwater, while the main superstructure was cast to the east of the harbor entrance and broken up by the pounding waves. The Coast Guard rescue returned with only a steering wheel of the doomed craft to show for their efforts. It had been snapped off and washed shoreward. An editorial in the Evening Dispatch of Dec. 27 commented: "A harbor made shallow by sewage, refuse and a thick layer of silt, and a heavy sea ... No one person is to blame; it is the fault of all who have allowed the harbor to fill up and make its entrance dangerous ... Let's do something about it! Clean out the harbor channel for one thing!"
140 Years of Boater Protection
Harbor lights have shone for Lake Michigan skippers almost from the time the town of Michigan City was chartered in 1836. At first, there a simply a lantern atop a post at the water's edge. In the 140 Years since, protection for boaters has come a long way. Today, it includes a foghorn which, under ideal conditions, can be heard at least 18 miles out in the lake; a light which can be seen more than 15 miles away, and a highly capable Coast Guard unit. The need for a lighthouse was fundamental in the planning for the community on Trail Creek. On June 14,1835, Isaac and Maria Elston deeded to the U.S. government a strip of land from the lake to the bend of Trail Creek as the site for a light. A 40-foot high tower housing a lantern was the next step in progression toward the first full-fledged lighthouse-- built in 1858 and preserved today by the Michigan City Historical Society as a museum. The first keeper of the light appointed here was Edmund E. Harrison at the end of 1837. He was succeeded by two sisters Mrs. Harriet C. Towner and Abigail Coit. The first keeper of the light when the 1858 lighthouse was put into use was John M. Clarkson. In 1861, he was replaced by Harriet E. Colfax who was to become a local legend in her own time during a 43-year service. Miss Colfax was the first cousin of Schuyler Colfax, vice president of the United States under Ulysses S. Grant. Disappointed in love, so the story is told, she left her New York home and came to Michigan City in 1853. Her brother, Richard, was editor of the Michigan City Transcript. She learned to set type and helped her brother get out the paper. After his death, she gave music lessons. She formed a close friendship with Ann Hartwell, a school teacher who also was from New York. In 1861, Miss Colfax was put in charge of the lighthouse. Miss Hartwell was her assistant. There was no bridge across the harbor at the time, so whenever the women wanted to go into town they had to cross by boat. Lard oil was used as fuel for the light and Miss Colfax kept it glowing. In heavy fogs, she had to man a hand-cranked whistle to warn approaching vessels. On Nov. 20,1871, the government installed the first beacon light at the end of the east pier, on the present lighthouse site. Miss Colfax had to light the lamp each night - no easy task in stormy weather and in wintertime. In 1880, the old lard oil lanterns were replaced with more modern lamps using mineral oil for fuel. Miss Colfax maintained meticulous records--each day carefully listing every boat that docked here, lake mishaps, and other items. She established a reputation for efficiency, appreciated by Lake Michigan mariners, and reluctantly accepted retirement in 1904, at age 80. The original lighthouse building was being remodeled at that time, and an improved fog signal installed. The lantern was moved from the lighthouse dwelling to the tower above the fog signal on the pier, where it is located today. T.J. Armstrong became the lighthouse keeper, succeeded by Phillip Sheridan in 1918 and Walter Donovan in 1930. In 1939, the U.S. Coast Guard took over. Electricity came into use at the harbor light in 1933. That's also the year automation came to the foghorn. Today's lighthouse contains the foghorn equipment as well as the light beacon. The sound of the foghorn perhaps would head a list of sounds uniquely familiar to local residents. The horn, once activated by the Coast Guard, blows for a two-second interval and is silent exactly 18 seconds. The 300-candlepower light (with a 5,000 watt bulb ) is regulated to be on one second, off one second. In case of accident, there is a lantern standin. Lights on the west pier and breakwater receive their power from batteries and operate on a "sun-dial" principle. That is, they are constructed so that they are shining anytime the sun isn't. The lighthouse beacon is about two feet high and vaguely resembles a large Chinese Ian tern in appearance. The side away from the lake is shielded by a copper "door " to prevent rays from shining inland. On the lake side of the copper is a reflector. In fact, the entire light is a series of intricately and strategically placed reflectors and varying types of glass--all designed to produce the desired sharp, long-distance beam. The historic old Lighthouse building was declared government surplus and was sold to the city with the understanding that it be used for historical purposes for 20 years. In 1965, the Michigan City Historical Society entered into a lease agreement to restore the lighthouse and establish a museum. Michigan City Historian Edna Kitchell was a leader in the effort to preserve the landmark structure. Pennies from school children and more sizeable gifts and grants from individuals and foundations made possible the restoration project. Preceding the establishment of a U.S. Coast Guard station here, there was a "life-saving station," a seasonal operation with a captain and eight-man crew. Besides being prepared to man the lifeboat, the crewmen walked the beach nightly on a patrol two miles both directions from the station. The patrol period was 6 P.M. to 8 a.m. G.C. Calvert, local Historical Society member who has extensively researched community history, commented: "When called upon, the crews of these early stations rowed through pounding surf and roaring gale repeatedly in fantastic rescues, and many people owe their lives to the intrepidity (s.i.c.) of these early lifesavers." Until 1875, when the Life-Saving Service built a sation here, mariners had been very much on their own in times of trouble. Capt. Henry Finch was the first to command the local station. Today, the U.S. Coast Guard is on the job in Michigan City - maintaining the powerful beacon and foghorn and the other harbor lights, and providing service and protection for sailors in this area. The proud tradition of the Coast Guard affords comforting confidence to those who today sail in or near the Michigan City water- ways.
A Shoreline Preserved
A History of Washington Park
"Nothing contributes so much to the pleasure of people who dwell in cities as large and carefully kept parks. In Washington Park, Michigan City has reason to be proud. Situated upon the lakeshore, under spreading trees, upon the white sand, thousands of men, women and children drink in renewed health and inspiration during the summer months." (Michigan City Illustrated, 1910).
The Washington Park shoreline, Michigan City's most precious acreage and priceless legacy, was acquired 85 years ago for $7,500. The idea of establishing a community park on the lakefront began in 1883 in the mind of Martin T. Krueger, who then was city clerk, during a visit by him to Chicago's Lincoln Park. Eight years later - and after considerable lobbying, promoting, persuading and arm-twisting on his part, Krueger, by that time mayor, saw the dream become reality. (A more complete accounting of Krueger's role in preserving the lakefront will be found in a chapter about him in another publication in this series - People From Our Past.) Thirty-one years later, Krueger was to recall, "A curious freak of human nature is the circumstances that people seldom want or provide for a public park when they can get one, in the best location and for the least money. They usually wait until the most desirable lands for that purpose have been denuded of their natural beauty or converted to other uses before they realize what they have lost. And this situation the people of Michigan City escaped by a very narrow margin, when they secured about one hundred acres of land for a song, which in a very few years would have been absolutely beyond their reach." Speaking to fellow Rotarians in 1922, Krueger commented: "I wish all of you might have seen the piece of land on which the present park on the lake shore is now situated, about 30 or 40 years ago. First it was only a sand desert; one great drift of white shifting sand." Then, when the harbor was extended to where the railroad bridge now crosses, great lumber yards covered the sand. But as the harbor was extended eastward, the lumber businesses also moved. Remnants and debris were left behind, and dissolute squatters moved into the area, built a kind of shantytown of makeshift shacks, and created what Krueger called a "no-man's land." A wooden bridge that had crossed the creek at the approximate location of the present Franklin Street span in the 1880s had been removed because it interfered with harbor shipping. So the area now Washington Park was isolated from the town. People in Michigan City knew, or cared, little about the slum conditions there. Few of them shared Krueger's vision of what could be there. As he tried to sell his proposal for a new bridge, he found many citizens opposed. He quoted what one prominent lady told him: "I have lived in this city over 30 years and have never yet been on the shore of Lake Michigan and I have not missed anything." But the bridge was built, the necessary legislative action secured, and the shoreline land purchased. Krueger appointed the city's first park board: John G. Mott, Charles Porter and William Shoeneman. Land was graded from the harbor east to about where the road adjacent to the tennis courts is today. Citizens brought tree saplings and plants. Two industrialists made notable contributions. John Winterbotham donated the monument at the entrance to the park - dedicated to those who fought in the Civil War to preserve the Union. John Barker once had offered to pay off the city's debts if attorney Krueger would acquire the shoreline land as an industrial site - perhaps for a steel mill. But when Krueger rejected the idea, Barker supported the park plan. He paid for construction of a bandstand and a picnic peristyle. The peristyle, long a park landmark, was used for exhibiting pictures and paintings as well as for picnics and for refuge from rain by persons attending band concerts. It was copied after a Columbian Exposition building. A Michigan City cigar manufacturer, John Felten, named one of his leading sellers "The Peristyle." The building was rebuilt in 1924 and again rehabilitated in 1931 by Barker's daughter, Mrs. Catherine Barker Hickox. It was demolished in 1972. A 1950 News-Dispatch article stated: "Washington Park today is a far cry from what it was in Krueger's day and probably surpasses his early dreams ... The shoreline, both in and out of the yacht basin, was littered with debris. The sandy beaches were almost entirely covered with trash washed ashore. What sand was uncovered blew helter-skelter, unchecked by walls or sand fences. But the park proper was grassy, shaded and pleasant and the site of many picnics and band concerts." The first amusement area in the park was constructed during the second half of the 1900 decade. It included a theater, bathhouse, merry-go-round, roller coaster, and other rides and concessions. Soon after, a dance pavilion was built about where the Naval Armory is today. In 1922, the Oasis Ballroom was constructed - one of the finest in the nation, one in which most of the name bands would play. Excursion ships made regular runs to Michigan City from Chicago, bringing crowds to Washington Park. The park, the state prison, and Hoosier Slide were the prime attractions for the visitors. The steamships, along with special railroad excursions, brought steady streams of summertime visitors to Michigan City. A local Historical Society publication records that in the season of 1909, ships and trains alone brought 435,650 persons here. That era ended during World War I. Fires wiped out major amusement area facilities. And the tragedy involving the steamship Eastland--which tipped over in the Chicago River as it was about to sail for Michigan City in 1915, drowning 812 persons--had an understandably negative impact on the popularity of the excursion ship business. In future years, some ships - the Theodore Roosevelt, the United States, the North America, and (as recently as the early 1950s) the City of Grand Rapids - made Michigan City a port of call and the excursion business enjoyed a revival in popularity particularly in the late 1920s and 1930s. Michigan City's first zoo was established in 1927, across Lake Shore Drive from today's zoo site, to which it moved a year later. The impetus for today's park and zoo came with the creation of the Washington Park Zoo Board in 1928, and restoration of the park board as a nonpolitical unit in 1931. The 1950 newspaper story comments: "An energetic community spirit was developed as men volunteered their services and literally begged, borrowed or stole needed materials and supplies to improve the park. That spirit carried on for 15 years until the war dampened it and in those years the park more than tripled in size and its value soared past the $2 million mark. In those years, local citizens and firms donated more than $350,000 in materials." Krueger's original park board had been a nonpolitical group. In the late 1890s this was replaced with a political system, with members paid $25 a month. That arrangement lasted until the early '20s when the board of works assumed control of parks. In 1931--spurred by the example of the zoo board and other civic-minded citizens - local government leaders revived the non-political park board system. The idea for the zoo was born in the minds of three men - Albert R. Couden, Max Gloye and Wesley R. Kibby - in 1927. The zoo at first was under the park department. But Couden, who was city manager, in 1928 appointed the first zoo board - a non-political group of men who volunteered time, money and effort to work for the zoo (and also developed a tradition of friendly horseplay at their irregular meetings and annual cruises aboard a fish tug.) The hillside dune setting into which the zoo moved in 1928 was described by the director of Chicago's Lincoln Park Zoo as "a million dollar location." The first deer barns in 1929 were frame shacks with the area enclosed by chicken wire. The animal and pheasant houses were the first substantial buildings and were financed by citizen subscription, with labor and materials donated. In 1931, bear dens were constructed, cement walks put in, and rock gardens built on the burr-covered sand dunes. From the start, citizens and business firms readily took on the responsibility of providing food for zoo animals and birds. The News-Dispatch 1950 story goes on: "While the nation was steeped in the economic chaos of the depression, the park and zoo boards capitalized on federal relief agencies - the Civil Works Administration, then the Federal Emergency Relief Administration, and finally the Works Progress Administration. Washington Park and the zoo benefited to the tune of $600,000, most of it in payrolls which stayed in Michigan City and helped keep merchants in business. By using first workers sent from the township trustee and later those supplied by federal agencies, the park was rapidly developed. As many as 2,000 otherwise unemployed men worked in the park at the depression's height. "But the spirited promoters of the park didn't rely altogether on Franklin Roosevelt's economic pump-priming. They scrounged materials at cost or free everywhere. They utilized what they had, found ways of getting what they didn't." When the roller coaster was pulled down in 1935, its lumber went into picnic benches and shelters. From 1929 to 1934, the park really began growing with addition of a rock garden area, administration building, tennis courts, shelter house, new lawns, parking space, the observation tower, the shore drive and other improvements. The picnic area behind the Oasis was planted with trees in 1934 and 1935. On Arbor Day in 1934, more than 5,000 school children planted twice that many trees, donated by LaPorte and Michigan City leaders. The year 1936 was one of the most eventful for the park. The city built the Yacht Club, leasing it to the members. WPA funds that year totaled more than $200,000., The popular observation tower, which was to become a Michigan City landmark and logo, was near completion. Its cost was estimated at nearly $30,000. Also in 1936, the city purchased from the Monon Railroad the land where the old dance pavilion had stood. This was promptly given to the state as a site for the armory, built shortly afterward. There were many zoo improvements in 1936 also. It was the best year for donations. The estimated value of materials given was $42,000. Included were 6,000 trees, 5,000 truckloads of dirt, 1,760 of broken stone and granite, 4,000 of cinders, and 1,500 of broken concrete. The development of the formerly barren east end of the park to Sheridan Beach was near completion. In 1937, new docks were constructed at the West end of the park and that area re-landscaped. The basin was cleaned and dredged and much of the sludge from its bottom used for fill of low areas near Sheridan Beach. During 1939 and 1940, concrete molds were put to use in quantity. Some 20,000 square yards of roadway were resurfaced. More than 1,000 concrete posts to rim the outer drive, Lake Shore Drive and to mark parking lanes in the big lots were poured. Some 400 concrete picnic tables and 700 benches were placed in the park in 1940 and 1941. Like the park, the zoo owed much to the federal relief agencies of the '30s. Through WPA and its two predecessors, materials and labor for many buildings were furnished at no local-tax cost. In 1932, grading of a dune was begun to permit construction of what was to be one of the zoo's perennially most popular attractions Monkey Island. After 37 years, the zoo board went out of existence in 1965. A Zoological Society was established as the official arm of the park board for the continued promotion of the zoo. Officers of the society, park board members, and the zoo director noted that facilities constructed by the WPA were showing their age--that the zoo had many problems which required attention if it was to be preserved. An admission charge was instituted at the zoo to provide some revenue. A 1968 fund drive was conducted - construction of an elephant house its first objective. Mayor Conrad S. Kominiarek noted the zoo had been started and developed through community participation and said it could be revitalized with the same spirit. In 1975, the city applied for federal grant, part of the money to be used for zoo improvements. Approval of the grant was announced early in 1976. The project is to include construction of a new feline house, remodeling and expansion of the primate house, restoration work at the observation tower, and other improvements. In 1956, the parks and recreation board was put under the 1955 Parks and Recreation Act - providing it with a degree of autonomy, although its budgets are subject to city council review. Make- up of the board is bipartisan, and the board has authority to select qualified administrators for the city's parks and recreation department. Another amusement park era came to an end in 1962. A court ruling, resulting from a suit filed by former city councilman Roger Mckee, stated the park board could not lease public grounds for private enterprise. Even before the ruling, officials of Lake View Amusement Co. announced they would remove rides and facilities from the park. Such longtime landmarks as the Oasis Ballroom and the bathhouse were razed. There was a limited midway in operation that year. And, following 1963 state legislation, a new operation - Washington Park Amusement Co.- was given a 20-year lease in 1965. But the company and the park board became involved in disagreements that led to litigations. The amusement park did not open in 1972, and it appeared quite probable that there might never be another midway of rides, games and concessions in the Michigan City lakefront park. Plans for the park's development, some of them several years in the making, awaited decisions in 1976. A new band shell, revised road routings, and other projects were among the proposals. Whatever the determinations, the shoreline park with its beach, zoo and other facilities remains Michigan City's showcase--the proud front yard which sets it apart from thousands of communities comparably-sized or larger.
The Revival in the Lake
How Sport Fishing Came Back
Profanity was not unknown as Lake Michigan shoreline residents and visitors reacted in 1967 to the nauseating stench from millions of dead alewives. But a four letter word few of them used - or even knew - was about to liven the lake lexicon and brighten its future: Coho! The alewife was the second of two Atlantic Ocean infiltrators which caused problems in the Great Lakes. The first was the parasitic sea lamprey, which had been the prime villain in the elimination of once-abundant Lake Michigan trout, and near elimination of whitefish. The trout and whitefish were natural predators which kept the populations of smaller fish in check. With the predators gone, smaller fish flourished. Alewives, ignored by lampreys because of their size, enjoyed a population explosion after the lampreys wiped out their natural enemies in the 1950s. Alewives comprised 17 percent of the Lake Michigan fish population in 1962. By 1967, the figure was 90 per cent - an estimated 175 billion alewives then in the lake. That's when the big die-off and subsequent stench occurred. The exact reason for the die-off is not known. It was blamed on everything from lightning to old age to overactive thyroid glands. Other explanations included sudden change in water temperature, lake pollution, lack of oxygen, starvation and overpopulation. Whatever the reason, the shoreline suddenly was a stinking mess, covered with millions of alewives. The obnoxious odor was too much even for those scavengers of the lake shores, the seagulls, who temporarily sought more pleasant 1ocales. Officials reacted to the outcries of residents and visitors. Congressmen called for studies, at Michigan City a crew of 108 Job Corpsmen established headquarters for a four-day shore cleanup, and the mayor even suggested the use of a flamethrower to cope with the alewife beach assault. But the alewife, easily public enemy number one to inhabitants of Lake Michigan communities, was to be a prime participant in a dramatic project to revive the lake as a sport fishery. That's where the coho came in. Researchers had found a lamprey-killing chemical in time to save the trout in Lake Superior. Before embarking on a trout-restocking program in Lake Michigan, fisheries officials logically decided to bring the lampreys under control. The only problem ensuing from that decision was that it gave alewives more predator-free time to feed, breed and multiply. Even before the alewife die-off occurred, visionary Michigan fisheries people had flown a million coho salmon eggs from Oregon to Michigan hatcheries to try what no one had yet done: establish a large-scale salmon fishery entirely in fresh water. A calculated gamble, it was the product of a studied search for the sport species most likely to achieve Lake Michigan's maximum potential for recreational fishing. Coho are short-lived but fast-growing, sporty and tasty. And they feed voraciously on alewives. The million Oregon eggs produced about 900,000 fry, which became-850,000 ready-to-migrate one-ounce smolts after 10 months of tender, loving hatchery care. In 1966 Michigan released 658,760 of these smolts in Lake Michigan's Platte and Manistee river systems. By then, hatcheries already held a second crop of 1,700,000 coho and 600,000 chinook (or king) salmon, to be planted early in 1967. Planned for 1968 were even larger stockings if the imaginative venture succeeded. Succeed it did - beyond wildest dreams. In Lake Michigan, the salmon found a safe, comfortable, food-rich environment. When the coho returned to spawn and die in autumn of 1967, the average size exceeded 10 pounds. Gorging on alewives, many had grown in the 16 months from one ounce to 15 or 20 pounds. Stocking continued. By 1968, it was evident that salmon would thrive in Lake Michigan and would be self-sustaining. A climate of excitement and hope generated ideas and innovations and action all around the lake. Indiana's Department of Natural Resources assigned a salmon specialist to a new office here, purchased a research vessel for aquatic studies, and funded a million-dollar cold-water hatchery at Kingsbury to establish spawning runs in Hoosier waters. The first Indiana-stocked coho salmon returned to Trail Creek to spawn in 1971. Additional stockings of coho, chinook, steelhead, lake trout and brown trout have been made. Dale Burgess of Associated Press took a look in 1971 and concluded: "This salmon-trout explosion is the most exciting thing that has happened to northwestern Indiana sportsmen since the Pottawattomie Indians were dragged away from their hunting and fishing grounds in 1838." Michigan City, alert to the potential, began calling itself, "The Coho Capital of the Midwest". Annual seminars for writers, broadcasters, sportsmen and lake-fishing experts have been conducted here since 1969. Charter boats and other facilities and services are available to the annual invasion of sport fishermen. The exciting revival of sport fishing in the lake coincided happily with the emergence of pleasure boating and the decision that Michigan City's future as a port and waterway should be recreation-oriented. With further cleanup and beautification of Trail Creek, with additional facilities for boaters and fishermen, and with determination to abate lake pollution, the outlook for Michigan City as a Great Lake community appears brighter than ever.
Michigan City's Lakefront Legacy obviously cannot be fully explored within the limitations of a single publication. It would require volumes. The legacy involves many more past and present citizens than those named in these pages. It extends beyond the area bounded by the harbor and the eastern end of Washington Park - the area primarily covered in the foregoing articles. It is the story, too, of Michigan City land west of the harbor: the land where Hoosier Slide, once Indiana's most famous landmark, was removed for sale in the 1920s ... where the 52-acre West Beach with its Mt. Baldy dune, purchased by Michigan City in 1961 and now within the boundaries of the Dunes National Lakeshore, has been reduced by erosion to about 30 acres ... the story of the long fight by conservationists to win establishment of the Lakeshore - and the dramatic, exciting implications that park has for Michigan City's future ... and of the development of the Bethlehem and Midwest steel mills and the Port of Indiana, with their current and potential impact on the local economy. It is the story of the establishment in the second and third decades of this century of Sheridan Beach and the suburban lakeshore communities - Long Beach, Beverly Shores, Duneland Beach, Michiana Shores, and Michiana ... the story of the fluctuating level of Lake Michigan over the years, and man's efforts to find ways to combat shore erosion ... of the storms which have taken their tolls of lakeside land and property ... the story of the determined persons who tried to swim from Chicago to Michigan City, the many who failed, and the father and son who made it ... the story of vessels not mentioned, or passingly referred to, in these pages - from tugs and speedboats and sailboats to the Navy escort vessel USS Havre and some of the salt ships which found the local channel tough going in the 1960s... the story of the bridges that have been built across Trail Creek; their ups and downs... the story of the nearby port town of New Buffalo... of Warren Dunes State Park and of Indiana Dunes State Park. A full history of the Coast Guard service and the many rescues in which its personnel have participated would have been appropriate ... so would detailed stories of the Michigan City Yacht Club ... the Power Squadron ... the Sea Scouts... the Columbia Yacht Race and other lake races in which Michigan City has been a port. More could be written about Washington Park and zoo and beach - the bands that played the Oasis Ballroom ... the animals that have inhabited the zoo, and the people, and organizations whose support made it possible ... there would be nostalgic appeal for many in a descriptive account of a day in the park when the midway was in its heyday ... or of the beach on a hot day before air conditioning. And pages could have been devoted to the ecological problems of Lake Michigan - of what has been done, and what has not been done, to resolve them. The story of the first 150 years of the Michigan City lakefront shows that nothing is certain. Early optimism about a great commercial port at Michigan City proved frustratingly misplaced. Through the years, the channel and the lakeshore have undergone dramatic changes-- most for the better, some for the worse. So to hazard a prediction in 1976 about the future is a risky proposition. Conceding that, it seems probable that when someone writes the story of "the third 75 years" midway in the 21st Century, the story of the turn to recreational emphasis will be found to have only had its beginnings in the 1960s and 1970s. The growth in pleasure boating in these two decades (and Michigan City's action to accommodate it), the preservation of bordering duneland and beach as a national park, and the revival of sport fishing in Lake Michigan quite likely will be seen as milestone occurrences which added measurably, in our time, to the positive perpetuation of Michigan City's priceless Lakefront Legacy!
Lakefront Legacy was written by Bob Kaser in collaboration with Henry Lange. Principal sources of information included the files of The News-Dispatch, The History of Michigan City, by Rollo B. Oglesbee and Albert Hale; History of LaPorte County, Indiana, by Jasper Packard; Michigan City's First Hundred Years, by Elizabeth M. Munger; The Cruise of the Zoo Board, 10th anniversary souvenir booklet of the Washington Park Zoo Board, and Miracle of the Fishes, by Al Spiers, an article in the Fall 1972 edition of Saturday Evening Post.