Chesterton Tribune

'Lost Tourist Attractions of the Dunes' exhibit extending its stay here

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

Visitors at the Westchester Township History Museum can step back into the past and catch a glimpse of what it would be like to be one of the 3,500 sitting in the grandstand of the Mineral Springs Race Track on opening day or climb the steep 200 ft. hill at the Ogden Dunes Ski Jump to watch the international ski jump events.

History Museum curator Jane Walsh-Brown said due to the popularity of the exhibit, the museum will keep its temporary summer exhibit open through the end of September. She said nearly 600 had visited the exhibit just last month.

“It brings back a lot of memories for older visitors and our younger visitors say they wish these attractions were still here,” Walsh-Brown said, who said the goal of the exhibit is to educate on local history.

The exhibit, which officially opened on June 20, features a total of twelve lost attractions, most of which are luxurious lodging facilities like the Coronado Lodge which was located on the north side of U.S. 20 near Howe Rd. or restaurants like The Spa Restaurant near Springhouse Inn on U.S. 12.

Littleville

Walsh-Brown said the attraction that seems to catch the visitor’s eye the most is Littleville, a miniature replica of a town built by Inland Steel worker William Murray who lived in Chesterton. Murray began making and selling miniature buildings in 1932 as a way to make some money during the Great Depression.

Murray built a small village in his backyard on 11th Street in 1937 and the next year opened Littleville for business. The “town,” which featured schools, stores, an oil refinery, a castle, a baseball stadium, and a small-scale replica of Chesterton’s Bethlehem Lutheran Church where Murray was a member, attracted 20,000 people in the first year, even folks from overseas.

Walsh-Brown said Paramount Pictures even made a short documentary film on Murray’s tourist attraction. In its life span, Littleville saw close to 133,000 people. Older publicity posters displayed in the museum show season tickets for Littleville were sold for 35 cents for a family.

The popularity even spawned “The Littleville News” which was printed by the Chesterton Tribune and sold for two cents per copy.

Murray decided to close Littleville during WWII because of the wartime rationing of gasoline and tires, but never entirely reopened the town afterward. The Littleville Castle remained on the property as other buildings were sold or given away.

The castle remained on site but it slowly deteriorated through the years. Walsh-Brown said the last remains of the castle were removed by the property’s current owner in 2009.

“The buildings still exist in people’s memories,” said Walsh-Brown. She said the pictures of the town have brought back memories for the museum’s visitors.

Mineral Springs Race Track

Duneland residents and horse race enthusiasts may be interested to find that the Worthington Steel facility in Porter on the north side of U.S. 20 was the site for one of the area’s premier race tracks in 1912.

The $25,000 grandstand was opened by the Mineral Springs Jockey Club.

The track held its first race on Oct. 16, 1912, and was shut down by the Indiana National Guard less than a week later under the charge that underground gambling was being conducted.

The track opened for a second season in July of 1913, only to be shut down again in August by the National Guard for gambling, this time for good.

The grandstand burned down after being struck by lightning in 1917.

The gambling fiasco even caught national attention. Displayed in the museum is an article that appeared in the New York Times on the guard suppressing betting at the race track.

Enchanted Forest

Before there was Splash Down Dunes, there was Enchanted Forest Amusement Park, located at the northeast corner of the U.S. 20 and Waverly Rd. intersection.

Dubbed “the playland of the Indiana Dunes,” the park opened in 1956 and quickly became a popular summer destination in Northwest Indiana for over 35 years.

The Kruse family who ran the park struggled financially as bigger amusement parks began to draw away crowds in the later years. The park closed its gates for good in August of 1991. Splash Down Dunes opened three years later on the western parcel of the property, but also shut down this past year due to owner disputes.

The history museum displays many items of memorabilia from Enchanted Forest, including the large red sign for the park’s Tilt-a-Whirl with gold lettering.

Museum visitors can also see pictures of the Swingin’ Gym, the Santa Claus workshop, the Dodgem Bumper Cars, the Skyliner Ride, the Scrambler -- “world’s greatest action ride”, and the Mad Mouse roller coaster which was purchased by the Little-A-Merrick amusement park in Marshall, Wis. after the park closed.

Ogden Dunes Ski Jump

A number of residents may recall a ski jump that existed in Ogden Dunes from 1927 to 1935. The jump was erected by the Chicago Ski Club approximately where Kratz Field is today at Boat Club Rd.

The ski club chose Ogden Dunes due to the formation of the dunes making the ski jump easier to engineer. Five international ski jump competitions were held between 1928 and 1932 which drew crowds of up to 20,000 people.

The jump itself was nearly 200 feet with the total length of the track totaling 595 feet.

Walsh-Brown said the jump was discontinued due to lowered attendance caused by the Great Depression, lack of natural snow, and because admissions were difficult to collect. She said the hill was also difficult to climb because it was so steep.

The jump was dismantled in 1935 and moved to Rockford, Ill.

The museum features vintage film stock taken during one of the ski events from 1930 and also publicity posters along with a map of the track.

Carlson Planetarium

In 1932, Reverend Eric Carlson, a Swedish immigrant with a strong interest in astronomy, opened his planetarium to the public on the southwest corner of U.S. 20 and Mineral Springs Rd.

The site became a popular destination for school groups and Boy Scouts. Admission was ten cents a person.

The Carlson Planetarium held over 150 astronomy lectures in its busiest year, 1936. Astronomy lectures were held on Thursday and Friday evenings and Sunday afternoons.

The exhibit contains pictures of the Carlson Planetarium and written memories from residents who had visited the planetarium in school or in Scouts.

Restaurants and Inns

Museum visitors can look at menus from The Spa Restaurant and the Bailly Homestead Inn. The menus circa 1960 contain a few interesting items like “The Mr. Bailly” -- a ten-ounce broiled center cut top sirloin steak for just $3.85 or “The Look Out Tower” triple decker sandwich for $1.25.

Visitors can also read about the Tremont Inn that opened in the 1920s and was a very popular spot given its location in the Dunes. The inn closed in 1972.

Other featured attractions include the Red Lantern Inn in Beverly Shores, the Johnson Inn on Waverly Rd. at Lake Michigan, the Coronado Lodge, and the Dunes Arcade Hotel which was designed by John Lloyd Wright and sat west of the Dunes State Park pavilion building.

Walsh-Brown said she designed the exhibit herself and put museum staff in charge of researching and creating the displays. Joan Costello was in charge of the Ogden Dunes Ski Jump Display, Cobie Ball -- Enchanted Forest, Eva Hopkins -- Carlson Planetarium, Serena Sutliff (a summer intern from the University of North Carolina) -- Mineral Springs Race Track. Walsh-Brown also headed up the Littleville display.

Burns Harbor is Next

The museum will be featuring the history of Burns Harbor as its next exhibit in October. The museum usually creates three to four temporary exhibits a year.

The Westchester Township History Museum is located at 700 W. Porter Ave. right next to the Chesterton Middle School.

The museum is open Wednesday through Sunday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. or by appointment. Groups of ten or more are asked to call for a tour reservation at (219)983-9715. The public may tour the exhibit for free.

 

Posted 8/20/2010