Porter County Parks Department is working on construction of a park in south county. I am overjoyed about this project — it is long overdue! The Dunn's Bridge boat launch is currently the only county facility along the Kankakee River in Porter County.
Although this is wonderful news, this is not the first proposed park in south Porter County.
In March 1959, it was made public that the South Porter County Conservation Club had purchased the Collier Lodge and was working to establish the Baum's Bridge area "as a national monument." The group moved quickly, working with the state, to create the Collier Lodge site as a state park. They gathered support from state representatives and officials.
The Indiana state master plan strove to establish a state park within 35 miles of every Hoosiers' home. The main drawback for the Collier Lodge project was the amount of land surrounding the lodge site. The state wanted a minimum of 10 acres and lodge was only one.
Baum's Bridge has long been known as a spot steeped in history. Years ago, local residents placed metal markers at spots rumored to have been visited by Lew Wallace, Marquette and LaSalle.
The large clubhouses were built at Baum's Bridge in the 1880s. As the club members began to pass away, the clubhouses were sold and became privately owned. The Indianapolis was purchased by James Donley in the early 1900s and turned into a resort. People had more leisure time, and the Baum's Bridge area was becoming a recreation center.
Originally, the clubhouses were built on leased land, but by the early 20th century the parcels were being broken up and sold. The 7-acre parcel where the Valley/White House Club was located, remained leased property and included the Kouts Picnic Grounds and Kouts Fishing Club. During this time, Baum's Bridge was crowded with power launches and sightseeing craft. The road to Kouts was improved and visitors flocked to Baum's Bridge in automobiles. Gone were the days of clubhouses and trappers' shacks — replaced by dance halls and roller rinks.
The Collier Lodge, built in 1898, fit right in this new playground theme. Collier's had rooms to let on the second floor, and restaurant and store on the main floor. They also had boats lined up for rent. I sense that this was the golden era for Baum's Bridge.
The Kankakee Valley Historical Society has been working since 2002 to accumulate funds to restore the historic Collier Lodge. KVHS is in the process of submitting a HUD planning grant and will then move on to seek construction grants and other funding sources.
The restored Collier Lodge will be used as an educational platform to teach the great history of the Kankakee River. At this time KVHS is already using the grounds to host the Aukiki River Festival. The festival is a celebration of the history of the Kankakee River through re-enactors, demonstrators and musicians. The Collier Lodge is now listed on the NIRPC Blueways Plan and, has applied to be listed on the Greenways Plan.
I'm convinced that Baum's Bridge will compliment the new south county park and bring renewed vitality to the area.