Showplace Homes on The Dunes, Michigan City, and Crown Point Historic Sites
Lafayette, Beverly Shores, La Porte, Michigan City, and Crown Point, Indiana
Friday and Saturday, October 13-14, 2017
By Nelson Price | Photographs by Julie and Tracy Newhouse
Special, private tours of distinctive homes showcased at the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair, including the iconic House of Tomorrow, were among the highlights of a Fall Pilgrimage to northwest Indiana. That’s where the showplace homes were brought by barge across Lake Michigan after the World’s Fair to the newly created resort town of Beverly Shores, Indiana. Perched on the Indiana Dunes, the five showplace homes are owned by the National Park Service and privately occupied.
The two-day pilgrimage – on October 13-14, a Friday and Saturday – involved a full-capacity motor coach of Pioneers and guests. The group embarked from Indianapolis and, en route to far northwest Indiana, stopped in Lafayette to visit a showplace home associated with an even more historic World’s Fair.
During the early 1900s, the Haan Mansion Museum was known in Lafayette as the Potter Mansion after a wealthy resident of the Indiana city purchased the home at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. Then, he had it shipped by rail to Lafayette. Restoration began in 1984 by philanthropists Bob and Ellie Haan, the mansion is the home of the world’s largest collection of artwork by the distinguished Hoosier Group painters, including T.C. Steele.
Since the Pioneers visited the mansion during a trip to Lafayette in 2007, the Haans have expanded their collections to include ceramics – specifically, Indiana-made ceramics. The Pioneers toured two floors of the elegant mansion, admiring the artwork. An outdoor sculpture garden – also a feature that the Haans have created since the previous Pioneers visit – was also available to tour.
From Lafayette, the Pioneers traveled to Beverly Shores. Blessed with a sunny day, the group enjoyed an outdoor luncheon at Bartlett’s Restaurant near Lake Michigan. A presentation at the Beverly Shores Visitors Center by Todd Zeiger, the northern regional office manager for Indiana Landmarks followed that. The historic preservation organization leases the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair homes on the Dunes from the park service, then sub-leases them to tenants.
During his presentation, Mr. Zeiger noted that the showplace homes are the only remaining structures from the World’s Fair; all other buildings have been demolished. Because the homes are privately occupied, they are open to the general public only one day of the year; our Pilgrimage, with the special private tour, was timed to precede that day so the homes would be set up for group visits. In addition to Mr. Zeiger and his Landmarks colleagues serving as guides for the Pioneers, several tenants were at their homes and available to answer questions.
The House of Tomorrow is currently unoccupied and under renovation. In 1933, it was a showcase for expert predictions of how Americans would live in the 21st Century. At the fair, the House of Tomorrow featured the very first G.E. dishwasher, among other appliances and features considered revolutionary. The distinctive house is twelve-sided, located atop a hill, and accessible by a series of steep steps.
Indiana Landmarks is in the midst of a $2.5 million fund-raising campaign that, in addition to providing for the renovation of the House of Tomorrow, is expected to return the structure to its 1933 appearance.
Other houses from the World’s Fair that the Pioneers toured included the Florida House, a pink, Art Deco-style residence with a spacious patio that overlooks Lake Michigan.
After the home tours, the Pioneers enjoyed a cocktail party and dinner in La Porte at the Heston Supper Club. During dinner, former Pioneers president Leigh Morris, who also is a former La Porte mayor, did a presentation about the city’s history.
The next morning, the Pioneers traveled to the harbor area of Michigan City. The group toured the Old Michigan City Lighthouse Museum. A functioning lighthouse until the early 1940s, the building’s heritage dates to 1850. As a museum, it has a permanent exhibit about the Eastland Disaster of 1915, one of the most tragic shipwrecks in U.S. history. More than 840 people were killed in the disaster involving the passenger ship, which was bound from Chicago to Michigan City.
Also in Michigan City, the group toured the opulent Barker Mansion Museum, a 38-room residence built by the family of John Barker, an entrepreneur who arrived in Indiana in 1836. His business, which manufactured railroad boxcars, was eventually sold to the Pullman Company. Photos are not permitted inside the Barker Mansion, an English Manor home with extensive family furnishings.
After lunch at Fiddlehead Restaurant in Michigan City, the Pioneers – braving a heavy rainfall — visited a historic Swedish homestead in Porter County. At Chellberg Farm, the group toured a barn and farmhouse where Swedish immigrants (who arrived in 1863) and their descendants farmed for 100 years.
The next destination was the Old Lake County Courthouse in Crown Point. The former courthouse, spared from the wrecking ball during the 1970s and owned by the Lake County Historical Society, now has multiple uses. They include retail shops on a lower level; a sprawling museum with exhibits about all aspects of the region’s heritage (from agriculture to astronauts who have grown up in northwest Indiana), and a former courtroom now a venue for weddings and other special events.
On the return trip to Indianapolis, the group stopped in Lafayette again. This time, the Pioneers disembarked to savor a buffet dinner at the Knickerbocker Saloon, one of the most historic taverns in the state.