In the last quarter of the 19th century came, what I refer to as the Sportsman Era, of the Kankakee Marsh.
Clubhouses were built throughout the marsh. Most were established by wealthy businessmen. At that time hunting for the elite was a social event as much as sportsman’s affair. It was a place that the influential of America could gather, hobnob and even do a bit of waterfowl hunting. One of the most famous and renowned was the Pittsburgh Gun Club located at Baum's Bridge in south Porter County.
Much of the material for this column came from William Wallace's Stroller column.
The Pittsburgh Club was built in 1878 and was made up of Pittsburgh businessmen. The captain of the Pittsburgh was Ira Brainard. Pittsburgh brewers Joseph and Harry Wainwright were two other key members of the club.
In 1885, President Grover Cleveland stayed at the Pittsburgh after which, the clubhouse was painted white and renamed the White House. George Wilcox was the caretaker and guide for the Pittsburgh. The Wilcox home was a few hundred yards north of the clubhouse. Our KVHS Vice President Sarah Miller now owns the Wilcox house. Many local people worked for the members as guides, housekeepers and cooks.
Although the Pittsburgh's members and guests drew from America’s privileged class, they came to the Pittsburgh to rough it out––but yet be within a few miles of a railroad and telegraph line. The main sleeping room was made up with bunk beds. After the building was completed the members decided they wanted more than a row of bunks. A club room was added, where they could gather, sit around, enjoy a few drinks and talk about hunting. There was one rule — no one was to talk shop. Business was to be absolutely forgotten during these hunting trips. At that time there was no set hunting seasons. Members and guests were arriving throughout the year to hunt, fish and socialize.
Soon after the clubhouse was built the members had a steamboat constructed so they could ply the waters of the marsh. Wallace wrote: "The boat was a sea-worthy little affair, done up in all the fancy trimmings money could provide. The boat was named "Little Rhody" by William H. Hunt, one of the club members. He was a native of Rhode Island and familiar with boats of all kinds and it was from his plans the little steamer was built." A short rail line was built from the clubhouse, so the boat could be launched from the bay —which was incorporated as part of the building.
In 1911, the old Pittsburgh clubhouse was sold as a private residence. Although the clubhouse was sold, the new owner continued to cater to the few remaining members. The last recorded visit I've found was in 1926 by Ira Brainard. Mr. Brainard passed away in 1927. The former clubhouse continued as a private residence until 1966 when it burned down.
And, so passed into history the Pittsburgh Gun Club and its landmark clubhouse. A few of the old clubhouses are still in existence— sprinkled along the Kankakee—but few had the stature of the Pittsburgh.