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WATCH NOW: Steamboat tour offers glimpse into Cedar Lake’s past

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A partnership between the Cedar Lake Historical Association and the Hesston Steam Museum has brought Hesston's 1915 Alabama No. 4 Steamboat to Cedar Lake this week for Steam Through History. Passengers can ride out onto the lake recreating the Dewey Line route, which began in 1896 from the Cedar Lake's Monon Railroad Depot to Lassen's Resort. Video by Jeffrey D. Nicholls, The Times. 

CEDAR LAKE — The town really does look different from the lake.

The Cedar Lake Historical Association is offering a glimpse at the town's resort era, and there is smooth sailing ahead for those who choose to take a ride on the Dewey Line.

In partnership with the Hesston Steam Museum, the historical association launched its Steam Through History program Monday, which allows visitors to get a glimpse of the town's past on a 1915 steamboat captained by Jerry Beno, of Chicago. 

The voyage recalls the history of Lassen's Resort, which was founded in 1896.

The Dewey Line started in 1896, when Christian Lassen, founder of Lassen's Resort, started the boating service to take tourists on trips around the lake.

The fleet of boats were named after Admiral George Dewey, who served in the Spanish American War, with each steamboat carrying the Dewey name, according to a museum history panel. 

Charted night and day, the boats met passengers at the Monon Railroad Depot and brought them back to Lassen's Resort — or any of the more than 50 resorts on the lake — for about 15 cents, according to a museum history panel.

Ted Rita, general manager of the Hesston Steam Museum, leads the Steam Through History tours on the Alabama No. 4 steamboat, which was built in 1915 by the Manitowoc Dry Dock Company in Manitowoc, Wisconsin.

Rita, who owns the steamboat, said the engine for the craft was built around 1900 in St. Joseph, Michigan.

The small vessel, complete with a green and white striped canopy, was used as a lifeboat on the passenger cargo steamship Great Lakes Steamer Alabama, Rita said over the hum of the water craft.

The steamer was delivered to Goodrich Transit Company in 1910, and took its maiden voyage from Manitowoc to Chicago in June 1910, according to "Voyage of Vision: The Manitowoc Company, a Century of Extraordinary Growth."

After "the Titanic disaster happened and regulations changed the maritime industry, and they required enough lifeboats for all of your passengers, at that point," Rita said. "Steamship companies did not want to clutter up their decks with a lot of lifeboats — that made them look dangerous."

Thus, the Alabama No. 3 and Alabama No. 4 were built to satisfy the updated regulations. The steamboat was originally powered by oars, which were rowed by 50 people aboard the vessel, Rita said.

Join Tristan DeFord, Jami Rieck, and Nancy Zakutanksky on a shift working for Superior Ambulance in Merrillville.

History restored 

Rita said the idea behind the Dewey Line was to get passengers from the Monon Depot to Lassen's Resort as fast as possible in a fun way.

"You might ask, 'Why?' Well because that means you're starting to spend money," he said.

Back then, visitors could grab a drink at the Lassen's tavern, located right on the dock, take a spin at the dance hall that floated on piers, or take a ride down the water slide, while their luggage was taken to the resort via a horse-drawn carriage, Rita said.

Up until a week ago, the Alabama No. 4 was in storage, where it sat for more than 20 years, said Rita, who noted the boat was restored by James Kinkaide, of Elkhart, Indiana.

The steamboat travels around 4 knots, or about 4 1/2 mph, and instead of being powered by propane, like it would have been in its heyday, or even wood or coal, the ship is fueled with kerosene, Rita said.

"This is the first time in decades that there has been a steamboat for hire in the state of Indiana, and this is the only one," Rita said, noting the venture has received approval from the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.

A dozen trips on the steamboat are offered daily through Friday, an endeavor that was funded through a Indiana Humanities Collaboration grant; Legacy Foundation Transform Lake County grant; Indiana Historical Society Heritage Support Project grant, made possible by Lilly Endowment, Inc.; and town of Cedar Lake tourism funds, said Julie Zasada, executive director of the historical association.

The partnership also is sponsored by the Schillings and Austgen Kuiper Jasaitis.

Zasada said the historical association is interested in again offering the steamboat tours in the future.

"It's the exact resort area history that is relating back to Lassen's," Zasada said. "We are we are duplicating the exact experiences that the Lassen's Resort guests would have had."

Tickets for Steam Through History are $15 per person for all ages and can be purchased online at


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South Lake County Reporter

Mary Freda is the South Lake County reporter at The Times. She is a proud Ball State graduate, where she studied news journalism and Spanish. You can reach Mary at or 219-853-2563.

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