The Baum's Bridge area in south Porter County has had continuous occupation for more than 11,000 years. In early times, it was a Native American encampment; later it was the site of a ferry crossing where today a bridge from Jasper to Porter counties is located.
In the early 1900s, it had become a recreational area. The surviving former sportsman's clubhouses became lodgings and private homes. A whole range of entertainment could be found at Baum's Bridge from boat rentals to picnic grounds. It was now a resort area.
By 1929, there was a movement underfoot to create a park at Baum's Bridge.
Reporter Lewis Dowdell of The Vidette-Messenger wrote a lengthy story about the proposed park. The initial purpose was to preserve the area where renowned author and Civil War Gen. Lew Wallace docked his houseboat.
Wallace wrote some of his celebrated novel "Ben Hur" on his houseboat that he anchored at Baum's Bridge. Wallace's camp was a short distance upriver from the Collier Lodge and he was known to have dined at the Colliers.
Kouts druggist John Benkie headed up the project, which was comprised of men from Valparaiso and Gary. Benkie owned the bayou land south of the Collier Lodge.
Dowdell wrote: "Of the 38 acres set aside as the camp of the noted author, about four-fifths are covered with large trees, and the camp borders the river about three quarters of a mile."
Wealthy Gary real estate man, W.G. Wright, was quoted as saying: "Here's your day-dream — yours and mine — we who live in the city, for in the spring and summer of the years the most prosaic among us hear the call for green fields and open county along a water edge. ... A natural park, a Morning Land, with the glorious Kankakee River paralleling the risen sun. ... A place of contentment — a peaceful refuge from the hustle and bustle of the city — yet just a short ride from the Calumet Region."
I could not say it better myself. What should have been a great venture was doomed to failure due to bad timing. The newspaper announcement of the Baum's Bridge Park occurred three days after the Great Crash of 1929.
The Kankakee Valley Historical Society is presently forming a partnership with Porter County Parks and Recreation. I believe this will be a great opportunity for both organizations. PCPR has recently purchased 63 acres— a bit north of Kouts on Ind. 49. This land will be a sports activity park with a number of playing fields and other amenities. The KVHS and PCPR partnership will give PCPR a presence on the Kankakee and open up numerous recreational opportunities on the river.
PCPR is in a position to help advance KVHS projects like the Collier Lodge restoration and the establishment of the Baum's Bridge Historic Park. This partnership is in the early stages, but the first joint venture will be the Aukiki River Festival held on the weekend of Aug. 23 and 24. PCPR will have a booth and be available to answer questions and inform the public on its goals and dreams. Please, come out and join us at the festival.
This column solely represents the writer's opinion.