Chesterton Tribune

Indiana Dunes State Park memories relived at Historical Society event

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Jim Ton wore his uniform from when he worked at the Indiana Dunes State Park when he joined Mark McKibbon and Brad Baumgardner to reminisce about the park for the Duneland Historical Society on Thursday, March 15 at the Library Service Center.

Ton worked summers from 1968 until 1973 at jobs which included gate attendant, park patrolman and campground manager. McKibbon first worked at IDSP as a seasonal naturalist and lived in the back of the closed grocery store. He was later hired as the youngest-ever assistant property manager and after eight years at Clifty Falls State Park became the property manager of the IDSP from 1985 until 1989. Baumgardner is the current Park Naturalist.

The park was about forty years old when Ton worked there and there have been about forty years since. He spoke of many changes taking place, the biggest being the removal of politics from the parks. Prior to that employees including the superintendent were appointed by the party in power.

During his time as a gate attendant admissions went from $1.00 per car to $1.25. Patrolmen carried flashlights and firearms and had arrest powers, but no radios, phones or bulletproof vests. They had to check the parking lots each night at 11 p.m. and often had to break up beer parties on the beach. An unsolved case concerned three girls whose car was found but no clues as to their disappearance.

The Dunes Park Patrol was replaced in 1972 by conservation officers and Ton became campground manager. He remembers many buildings in the park being torn down with some of the work done by Chesterton High School football players.

Uniforms for park employees were changed in 1969 to avoid confusion with uniforms worn by Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore rangers. Many employees lived in the park and lifeguards lived in the pavilion penthouses.

Baumgardner showed pictures including a park map from 1932, an early photo of a pageant in the dunes which took place before the park became a reality, people such as Governor Jackson for whom Mount Jackson is named, the pavilion and hotel. One picture showed the elegant dining room in the pavilion where guests at the hotel were served meals.

The Dunes Arcade Hotel built in 1931 was designed by John Lloyd Wright, son of Frank Lloyd Wright, and had 88 rooms. Bathrooms were at the ends of the halls and rooms were small. The arcade was on the first floor. It was torn down in 1971.

During McKibbon’s tenure as property manager the Dune Park South Shore Station opened, the park hired its first full-time naturalist, a bird tower was constructed, a new camp store was built and inmates from Westville worked in the park. He said that ended soon after one of the inmates escaped only to be captured in Fort Wayne.

He reported a good relationship with the National Lakeshore.

Gang fights in the park led to an alcohol ban and the park was closed when the parking lots filled up. In earlier years cars were often parked along the road outside the park as far back as U.S. 12.

The speakers and members of the audience recalled the Tremont entrance to the park and the nearby Duneside Inn, Prairie Club Beach House, Wilson Shelter built by the Wilson Meat Company as a retreat for employees, the Jens Jensen Fountain, the large boulder at the entrance from Turkey Run State Park which has been moved twice, work done by the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) during the depression and the Governor’s Cottage.

Ton and Baumgardner are working on locating the footprints of the cottages and other buildings from the past.

Duneland Historical Society will next meet April 19 at 7:30 p.m. at the Library Service Center when the program will be presented by author Harry Mark Petrakis. The program will be preceded by a dinner for members and their guests at 6:00 p.m.


Posted 3/20/3012