(Editor's note: This is the first in a series of stories profiling the Keepers of the Region's History, which will include local museums, historical societies and other organizations dedicated to keeping Northwest Indiana's history alive.)
CHESTERTON — The history of the Duneland area of Northwest Indiana is rich and for two groups, well worth keeping and cultivating.
The Duneland area is defined by Westchester, Liberty and Jackson townships in Porter County and includes the communities of Chesterton, Porter, Burns Harbor, Beverly Shores and Dunes Acres.
The Westchester Township History Museum was founded in 1998 and is housed in the historic Brown Mansion, 700 W. Porter Ave.
The museum is unique, said curator Serena Sutliff, in that it is actually a department of the Westchester Public Library.
"We are incredibly lucky. Our former director Phil Baugher saw the need and desire to preserve the area's history," said Sutliff, adding the mansion is owned by the Duneland School Corp. and leased by the library system, which funds salaries and operational costs. An endowment from Les and Mary Pratt funds the leasing of the building. A store inside the museum sells items from books to post cards, souvenirs and posters with the proceeds used to support the museum.
Sutliff is the only full-time employee, but there are five additional part-time employees, including a researcher, registrar, museum educator, archival assistant and maintenance man. The museum, she said, also depends on dozens of volunteers throughout the year for daily operations, tours and special programming.
The museum houses permanent and temporary exhibits on local history. Its archives contain histories on over 100 local families as well as thousands of artifacts and thousands of historical photographs which they are now in the process of digitizing.
They also provide resources for those interested in genealogy.
In addition to offering tours of the Brown Mansion, they also hold free programs throughout the year, from a history scavenger hunt to a Swedish Christmas party. They also offer programs to school children and scouting groups and host a history summer camp for fourth and fifth graders.
The museum is intertwined with, but a separate entity from, the Duneland Historical Society, said Sutliff. She also serves as museum liaison on the historical society's board.
The Duneland Historical Society, founded in 1948, offers seven programs each year free to the public on a variety of local and regional historical topics. They also sponsor a trip to a regional historic site, historical museum or special event each year. Members also receive a newsletter three times a year.
Sutliff said history and preserving history is important to the Duneland community.
"These are small towns with a great sense of community and community involvement. They are history oriented. There are so many people that for generations, their families have live here, some in the same neighborhood, some in the same house," she said.
Through the museum and historical society, she said they want people to be able to connect their personal stories with the past.
"We keep our museum relevant to the people. Our staff and volunteers are the best in making people feel like they want to be here," said Sutliff.