CEDAR LAKE | In the end, it all comes back to the lake.
Its very existence attracted settlers to the area in the mid-19th century. City dwellers were vacationing at the lake as early as the 1880s. Eventually, the lake became home to more than 50 resort hotels, as well as pavilions and ballrooms which drew well-known entertainers to the region.
Today, Cedar Lake is largely a residential community with local businesses and two four-star schools: Hanover Central and Douglas MacArthur Elementary School. However, remnants of its resort past linger and the lure of the lake is ever present. And even today it is a summer playground for some vacationers, says Town Councilman Robert Carnahan.
"There are some people who have condos down there, I met one family that lives in Crete and they use that for a vacation spot," Carnahan said. "We have a community here that people come to and use as a vacation spot. They don't have to go to Michigan and other places."
But Cedar Lake also has its cadre of lifelong or near-lifelong residents, like Carnahan and Diane Jostes, executive director/secretary of the Cedar Lake Chamber of Commerce.
"I was away for a couple years," says Jostes. But she and her husband decided that Cedar Lake "was a great place to raise our family. We raised both of our boys here, we have the advantage of being close to a large city, but (we can also) enjoy the lake right here."
One of the great pluses of her job, Jostes said, is that people come into the chamber offices on business and "share their memories of Cedar Lake. There are just so few that have negative memories and so many who have wonderful memories. I'm very grateful when people come in and share their stories, they have very touching, great stories to tell. That's one of the great things about being in a small community."
Despite the poor economy, Cedar Lake's business community is continuing to grow.
"We still have building activity going on in the town," Jostes said. CVS has announced plans to build a store in town, and plans are under way to build a new Strack & Van Til at Lincoln Plaza. The town also approved a new commercial development on Parrish Avenue. The development will be home to Luke Oil and a new St. Anthony's medical facility.
The popular Lighthouse Restaurant embarked on yet another expansion at the end of 2011. It is planning an outdoor kitchen facility which will eventually enable it to offer outdoor dining. Earlier in the year, it added a gazebo and landscaping to the parcel directly adjacent to the restaurant. Lighthouse obtained that parcel via a land swap with Cedar Lake.
In exchange for town-owned property directly next to the restaurant, Lighthouse gave the town a parcel it owned that is directly adjacent to the Town Complex property. At no cost to the town, Lighthouse added a beach area on that property and expanded its parking lot to accommodate future beachgoers.
The town also added some wintertime activities lakeside, Carnahan said. Cedar Lake has purchased a portable ice skating rink, which is currently on the town grounds.
"The lake I've always described as a gem," said Carnahan, who has spent "most of my life" in Cedar Lake. "As a gem it was kind of tarnished (for a while), and now it's being polished and people are seeing that gem shining."