Welcome to Dune Country
Welcome to Dune Country
By the late 1800s, the south shore of Lake Michigan, along the whole coast between the city of Gary and the border of Michigan, was coined "Dune Country" by the many ecologists, botanists, geologists and others who came to study it.
Then, as today, those visitors were fascinated with the region's wild beauty, stunning beaches, diverse flora and fauna, unique geography, and sense of freedom.
These world-renown sand dunes are located in Lake, Porter and LaPorte counties. For 43 linear miles, the southern beach line of Lake Michigan that is found in these counties forms the northern boundary of the state, as well as the northern boundary, or "beach side," of Dune Country.
The "country side" of Indiana's Dune Country stretches as far south as the Valparaiso Moraine, which is a mass of earth, stones and boulders deposited by glacial action. This land formation's name was derived from the city of Valparaiso, which sits upon it.
This part of Dune Country is equally as interesting as that on the beach. For example, Henry Cowles, the noted University of Chicago professor for whom Cowles Bog was named, wrote that Chesterton was "the most interesting place in the vicinity of Chicago, since it [showed] nearly all plant societies - from ravine to flood plain; from pond to prairie; from spring brooks to morainic forests."
A Growth in Popularity
By the early 1900s, the varied and mysterious landscapes of the sand dunes had captured popular interest. Articles about Indiana's Dune County began to appear in magazines such as National Geographic. Numerous books were published that extolled the beauty and charm of the area.
This interest was fueled in great part by the activities of the Prairie Club of Chicago. In 1911, the Prairie Club set up its first overnight camp in the Dunes; and by 1912, began bringing hundreds of visitors to the lakeshore year after year.
For those visitors from Chicago, the South Shore Line railroad which is the last remaining electric commuter train in the US - made Dune Country easily accessible. Consequently, some of our country's earliest "adventure travellers" came to visit its beaches, hike its dunes, camp in its woods and enjoy its many diverse pleasures.
The "Roaring" Twenties
During the 1920s, Indiana's Dune Country became a fashionable summer destination, especially for those who enjoyed "camp life."
In and around the communities now known as Miller Beach, Ogden Dunes, Dune Acres, Porter Beach and Beverly Shores, summer colonies were established. Some residents built small homes while others stayed in tents right on the beach.
Michigan City and the nearby communities of Long Beach and Michiana Shores became the weekend destination for many of Chicago's elite. Long Beach's "Millionaire Row" is lined with stylish "summer cottages" while Michiana Shores is known for its many "log cabins."
With this influx of summer visitors came great growth. A number of the summer colonies became formally incorporated towns. Some towns, like Dune Acres and Beverly Shores, involved extensive community development, including clubhouses, marinas, golf courses and much more. While others, like Ogden Dunes and Porter Beach, were more informal in their approach. Nonetheless, these communities were here to stay.
A Changing World
The Great Depression, World War II and the ensuing years brought numerous changes to Indianaâ€™s Dune Country.
The rapid growth of these beachfront communities slowed and their development took a different direction. While each of these towns remained a summer destination for many, others began to make them their permanent home.
The summer tents and cottages made way for larger, year-round homes, many of which were designed by noted architects such as Keck & Keck, Richard Neutra and John Lloyd Wright, son of Frank.
Increasingly strict planning, development and building ordinances were put in place to protect the unique environmental nature of these towns.
Many of the grander public works of the past, such as marinas, golf courses and so on, were either not built or returned to parkland.
Also during this time, industrial growth encroached into the region. This growth forever changed Dune Country and many feared that Indiana's unique sand dunes would soon be lost forever.
By the 1950s, many area residents, both part and full-time, realized that the sand dunes of Indiana had to be protected. As a result of their many years of hard work, and with the tireless effort of the Saves the Dunes Council, the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore was established in 1966.
With the establishment of the National Park, Indiana's Dune Country became a popular destination for day-trippers during the 70s, 80s and early 90s. Yet, during these years, the region never regained the widespread popularity it once enjoyed as a fashionable resort destination.
Instead, its sleepy beachfront communities turned into the well-kept secret of those who lived there. Quite often, people would be surprised when they discovered that these towns even existed.
A Region Rediscovered
Today, however, Indiana's Dune Country has been rediscovered. With its beautiful beaches, extensive parks, charming towns, relaxing privacy and fascinating history, we are surprised it took so long.
Nonetheless, Chicagoans and many others are once again calling Dune Country home. They also are calling it a number of other things: some refer to it as the "Casual Coast"; and the Chicago Tribune even called it the "Hamptons of the Midwest."
Today's new residents are also discovering the joys of the country side of Dune Country - Chesterton with its small town, country-club living; Valparaiso with its expansive country estates; and LaPorte County with its small farms, sprawling estates, private lakes and quaint country towns such as Hesston, Rolling Prairie, Mill Creek, Hudson Lake and Fish Lake.
So, whether one enjoys the beach or the country, Indiana's Dune Country continues to give its residents the freedom to get away from it all, whether full-time, on weekends or just for the summer. Perhaps it is time to discover Dune Country for yourself!
Formally established in 1925, the Town of Ogden Dunes was named after Francis Ogden, the original owner of much of the land upon which the town now sits.
At its inception, Ogden Dunes was conceived as a resort community with plans for a golf course, hotel and clubhouse. Over time, however, those plans were dropped.
In 1927, Ogden Dunes became home to the highest ski jump in the US, where its Ski Club hosted international ski competitions. It was disassembled in 1932 and a state historical marker now denotes the site where the thirty-story ski jump once stood.
As with all the beachfront communities along the Southern shore of Lake Michigan, the growth of the town slowed during both the depression years and World War II. Yet, its number of residents continued to steadily grow.
Today, Ogden Dunes is a quiet residential community with a wide variety of homes, ranging from small cottages to grand residences by such noted architects as Frank Lloyd Wright and Stanley Tigerman. Through the efforts of its Homeowners Association, residents not only enjoy its beautiful beach but also take pleasure in its parks, tennis courts, soccer field and numerous town activities.
Founded in 1923, William Wirt, then Superintendent of the Gary Public Schools, spearheaded the development of the Town of Dune Acres as an upscale community akin to those found on Chicago's North Shore.
Prior to World War II, Dune Acres' growth was brisk. It was during this time that many of the town's classic log cabins were built. At the center of early town life was: (i) its Guesthouse, a small hotel that had twelve guestrooms; (ii) its Clubhouse, whose dining room served the community; and (iii) its Golf Course, which was returned back to parkland during the depression years.
As a result of the Depression and then World War II, the town's direction changed. Its growth slowed, and it did not become the grand suburb that was envisioned by Mr. Wirt. Rather, it remained more like a summer colony with few year-round residents.
After World War II, however, Dune Acres began its move from summer destination to year-round community. During the 1950s and 1960s, homes by such noted architects as Keck & Keck, Perkins and Will, Crombie Taylor and Richard Neutra were built.
By the 1980s, it was a well-established municipality; and, in 1985, the Dune Acres Civic Improvement Foundation was organized, which has over the years spearheaded numerous projects throughout the town.
Today, Dune Acres is a quiet residential community that has managed to retain its "summer resort" feeling. Once past the guardhouse at the only entrance into town, residents continue to enjoy its Clubhouse, tennis courts, soccer field, ice skating rink and many other amenities.
Incorporated in 1908, Porter - of which Porter Beach is a part - is one of the few communities in Porter County that abuts the Southern shore of Lake Michigan.
First known as a "railroad town," Porter was soon identified with its thriving brickyards. In fact, many of the region's historic homes were built with Porter brick.
Today, Porter Beach, as this area of town near the lake is called, remains a quiet beachfront community. This is due in large part to Porter's contribution of 1,200 acres of land to the National Park Service to help form the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.
Less developed than many of its neighboring communities, Porter Beach offers residents a wide mix of homes, from older beach cottages to newer post-modern homes, while its informal feel captures the charm of the Dunes of yore.
Frederick Bartlett founded Beverly Shores in 1933, naming the town after his beloved daughter. Originally conceived as a grand beachfront resort, the town's plans included a casino, beach club, golf course and other leisure-based amenities. However, like many of the other communities along the lake, his plans were never fully realized.
With the arrival of the Great Depression, the town's building boomed ceased and growth came to a standstill. So, in an attempt to stem the effects of the depression years, another Bartlett, this time Robert, moved sixteen homes from the 1933-34 World's Fair in Chicago to Beverly Shores and reassembled them throughout the town. In fact, his idea for promoting Beverly Shores even included the reconstruction of the fair's Colonial Village.
As a result of those efforts, five of these homes -- the House of Tomorrow; the Florida House; the House of Steel; the Weiboldt- Rostone House; and the Cypress House - are now recognized as historic landmarks and occasionally opened to the public by the National Park Service.
Not until the end of World War II did growth begin again in Beverly Shores. During this period of time, the town's composition began to change from simple summer community to fully functioning municipality; and like its neighbors, Beverly Shores' population become a mix of full and part time residents.
By the end of the twentieth century, two-thirds of the town had become part of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, which maintains its beaches and marshlands as well as provides public parking and access to its beaches.
Today, Beverly Shores is a charming residential community with a wide variety of homes, from original "Bartlett Stucco" bungalows to newer ultra-modern residences. Due to the efforts of its residents' association, visitors and homeowners alike still enjoy many of the activities and landmarks originally envisioned by its founders.