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Ogden Dunes grew on industrialization, conservation
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Ogden Dunes grew on industrialization, conservation

OGDEN DUNES — At the turn of the 20th century, the sands and shores of Lake Michigan had been discovered by industrialists and conservationists.

The city of Gary was born on the construction of U.S. Steel, a commuter railway brought thousands of visitors to the Region from Chicago and some of those Chicagoans, such as those who formed the Prairie Club and Diana of the Dunes, made their way to a patch of sand just east of Gary and west of the newly conceived Indiana Dunes State Park.

Likewise, two men, Colin Mackenzie and Samuel Reck, both Gary residents, saw the possibilities in developing an "upper-middle class, highly restricted community with a golf course, riding stables and boat club," according to a book written by Ogden Dunes historians Ken Martin and Dick Meister and published as part of Arcadia's Images of America series.

Reck built his home here and set up a real estate office. The two had purchased some 500 acres of land from the estate of Francis Ogden, a Wisconsin real estate developer.

The Town of Ogden Dunes was incorporated in 1925. 

"By being 'restricted,' the community explicitly excluded racial minorities and Jews. With incorporation a few of the early investors built large homes near the Reck home while others built cottages," according to the authors.

"But the grandiose plans, as reflected in the 1927 sales brochure, did not get off the ground. By 1927 to stimulate interest, Ogden Dunes Realty leased and sold part of a large dune near the entrance to the Ogden Dunes Ski Club. This ski club, established by Norwegian-Americans in Chicago, began to build the highest man-make ski jump in North America in late 1927. The first international competition was held in 1928 with an estimated 10,000 in attendance," they wrote.

By 1930, there were 14 households and 50 individuals living year-round in Ogden Dunes. By 1935, in the midst of the Great Depression, the ski jump was dismantled and the land divided into lots.

Residential growth continued. By 1940, there were 44 households and 144 residents. Many full-time residents had their homes constructed by well-known architects such as Frank Lloyd Wright and the Keck brothers. The community was a mix of full-time residents and summer or weekend residents in their cottages.

Building slowed during World War II, but picked up again following the war. Summer cottages were town down or expanded into year-round homes.

By 1950, the full-time population had reached 600. In 1953, residents rallied together to build a community church near the town's entrance.

The town also became a seat of conservation. Home to Dorothy Buell, who in 1952 invited 22 women to her home for a meeting. Out of the meeting grew the Save the Dunes organization and a renewed effort to protect Lake Michigan's shoreline.

A homeowner's association was also created and several clubs and organizations, including the Lion's Club and Women's Club, were organized to bring residents together. The groups planned several events, including parades and picnics, that are still held today in the community.

By 1960, 1,000 residents lived in Ogden Dunes.

The new decade saw the creation of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, which resulted in some areas of the town being purchased by the National Park Service.

It also saw the development of the Port of Indiana by the State of Indiana directly to the east. The port, while providing jobs, also had an adverse effect on the community. The shutting off of the lateral, natural drift of sand began to take its toll. By the 1980s and 1990s the town saw severe erosion problems. Many lakefront residents constructed seawalls to protect their property from the wrath of Lake Michigan.

The town's population stabilized, growing to about 1,100 in 2010.

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Porter County Reporter

Joyce has been a reporter for nearly 40 years, including 23 years with The Times. She's a native of Merrillville, but has lived in Portage for 39 years. She covers municipal and school government in Porter County.

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