CEDAR LAKE — It’s always been about the lake. And about recreation and entertainment, and about families.
Ever since the days when Native American families lived along its shoreline. Ever since, generations later, summer revelers came down by the train carload to enjoy touring orchestras and the lakeside pavilion. Ever since families like Diane Jostes’ family set down multigenerational roots in what by then was a growing town.
This has always been the history of Cedar Lake: water, fun, hard work and family ties.
The town celebrates that history, and itself, during a remembrance of its 50 years as a town on Saturday. Cedar Lake historian Scott Bocock and others hope it’ll be a time for residents not only to celebrate but also to remember and cherish the town’s history.
“It has a lovely history,” said Jostes, who remembers enjoying the lake with friends and family while she was growing up. “We were right by the water. There was great sailing. We sailed with friends throughout the year. Waterskiing was popular.”
Jostes' husband, Jack, spent his summers at the lake in one of Cedar Lake’s many summer cottages.
“That was a very interesting lifestyle,” Jostes said of summertime lakeside living. “We as children would have a conversation in September and start it over again in May.”
When they married, they decided to stay in Cedar Lake. “It’s one of those places I feel offered everything for family life. We both thought it would be a good place to raise children,” she said.
The earliest families who settled the area were Miami and Illinois, followed by Potawatomi in the latter part of the 17th century. White settlers began making land claims around Cedar Lake in the 1830s.
Ice harvesting thrived
While the steel industry developed to the north, ice harvesting companies thrived around the lake. One such company was owned by John Shedd, who later helped finance the construction of Shedd Aquarium in Chicago.
Another company, owned by the Armours of Armour Bros., built a building lakeside to be used as a boarding house. Resort owner Christopher Lassen eventually purchased the building and turned it into a hotel.
During the Prohibition era, the lake became known as a 1920s entertainment destination for Chicagoans. The Lassen Resort became well known for its hotel, a restaurant built out over the lake, and a dance pavilion that featured live music.
The Great Depression slowed the resort business considerably, historian Bocock said.
Hard times forced many Chicagoans to sell their city homes and live year-round in the summer cottages they owned beside the lake. The septic systems that resulted from this influx of full-time residents ultimately led to pollution in the lake, he said.
Good quality of life
Al Bunge Sr., founder of Lakeshore True Value Hardware currently on Lakeshore Drive, served on the first Town Board, his son Al Jr. recalled.
“My dad was instrumental in getting the Police Department (up and running), getting the sewer system (in place),” said Bunge, the second generation in his family to run the hardware store.
“Being that he was a businessman I remember people coming in all the time with questions about the town. He’d be doing town business right in the store.”
Bunge Jr. was reared in Cedar Lake and jokes, “I was born in a playpen in the store.” He grew up helping his dad and decided to come back to town after graduating from Purdue University.
Though he had other job opportunities, “they would have involved working in an office and I’d have had very little exposure to the outside world. So I got into the hardware business.”
Cedar Lake has changed a lot, he said. “There’s certainly a lot more people, activity and traffic. A lot more subdivisions and more (on the way), which has been good for us," he said.
“The lake was a great opportunity for a kid. I learned to swim. I remember riding my bike around the lake and (swimming) with my friends.”
Sewage problems led to incorporation
The constant problem with sewage prompted the eventual incorporation of Cedar Lake. A local doctor, Robert King, later called the father of Cedar Lake, was making a house call one day and stepped into a puddle of sewage when he entered the patient’s yard. That experience convinced him to begin researching how the area could be incorporated into a proper town. King had his supporters, but his idea wasn’t universally popular.
The group that opposed King’s faction was known as the Terrible 10, Bocock said. They opposed Cedar Lake's becoming an official town in part because of the tax increases that would cause. King and his supporters won the costly court battle, and the town officially became incorporated on Oct. 30, 1967. Incorporation eventually would lead to an agreement with Lowell, and a system by which sewage would be pumped to the Lowell treatment plant.
By the early 1970s, the Cedar Lake Chamber of Commerce, for which Jostes serves as executive director, had been formed. The town also was working on saving its history. In 1971, Beatrice Horner formed a history center in Cedar Lake’s Town Hall. She and others spearheaded an effort to acquire the old Lassen Hotel.
The hotel building is the current home of the Lake of the Red Cedars Museum, which opened in 1986. The building itself had been placed on the state’s registry of historic places in 1980. A year later, it was placed on the National Registry of Historic Places.
“Today I realize how hard (the founders) worked to put this town together,” Jostes said. “They would sit and discuss conditions of the lake,” and the town has been working for years with the Army Corps of Engineers to put a plan in place to clean up the lake.
“There was a whole lot of thought behind (building the town.) I hope they’ll be able to pass on (the town’s good fortunes) to the next generation,” she said.
That includes Jostes’ grandchildren, who also are growing up in Cedar Lake. “I’m very happy I was able to stay in the community,” she said.