WINFIELD — The town celebrated its 25th birthday in 2018 and is starting to really spread its wings and fly out of the shadow of its older, much larger neighbors.
Originally incorporated to prevent being annexed to Merrillville, Winfield has seen its population almost triple in the first two decades of the 21st century to almost 6,000 people. Despite its obvious attraction as a small town, Winfield has suffered an identity crisis because it is served by the Crown Point Community School Corp. and the Crown Point post office.
The effort to try to establish its own identify started in earnest in 2016 when the town’s Redevelopment Commission funded a Livable Community study. Councilman and RDC Chairman Dave Anderson said it was done “to better define the community identity, how the citizens of Winfield define the town and create a unified vision for the future.”
What the residents wanted was a town that maintains a family-friendly atmosphere, separate from Crown Point, and one that promotes its own events in town and continues to promote the quality of the grade schools, Winfield and Jerry Ross elementaries.
The study helped define Winfield as Modern Rural, one with a rural atmosphere yet close to all the modern conveniences. The study also asked residents to answer the question “Why live in Winfield?”
“The top two responses were affordable taxes – we have the lowest taxes in Lake County – and the fact it is a growing community that was family-friendly,” Anderson said.
“In addition, we now have a downtown master plan to help attract businesses to the community.
“Through this plan, we will be able to create better connectivity throughout the different neighborhoods to the downtown area via bicycles, walking and such. In essence, this plan creates a downtown area where residents can shop, eat and enjoy themselves.”
While wanting to assert its own identity, the town is proud of its connection to the Crown Point Schools because of the district’s reputation academically and athletically and overall. The small town atmosphere along with the small-time tax rate are also reasons cited for wanting to live in Winfield.
The fast-growing nature of the community means newcomers have a good variety of housing to choose from in neighborhoods still boasting that low density, rural feel. The town also has easy access to Interstate 65 for those, like Councilman Tim Clayton, who commute to Chicago for work and other activities.
Clayton and his family moved to town from Illinois in 2001, and he said he was attracted by the “great schools, lower taxes and quiet nights.”
“When we were looking for housing, I thought Lakes of the Four Seasons was way out there, but now we live close to that, and I like it,” Clayton said. “It’s a great place to raise a family. My kids are already saying they want to move back here after college. We’re starting to grow, so we have things for kids to do.”
One of those things is the newly opened 15-acre Randolph Street Park just south of the downtown. The town plans to slowly add amenities to the park as money becomes available. This year the council plans to add to the playground equipment and build picnic pavilions. A large detention basin for the adjacent subdivision is connected to the park via trails, and more trails are planned throughout the park.
“We are doing our first Easter egg hunt this year, and we already have movies in the park and yoga,” Clayton said. “We are a small town, but we are close to shopping malls and other locations. It has a wide range of housing from big lots to newer, small homes to the Doubletree mansions.
Town Administrator Nick Bellar said the new park brought record attendance for the town’s annual Harvest Festival in the fall and bigger things are planned for this year.
“We are quickly working on making Winfield more walkable, and we have several new sidewalk and multi-use pathway projects gearing up for construction or in the planning stages,” Bellar said. “An overwhelming majority of respondents to our Downtown Master Plan community survey requested more walking and/or bicycling connectivity. We are working to make this a reality.”
Another factor making Winfield a great place to live is the low crime rate that helps residents feel they live in a safe community. The town was served by the Lake County Sheriff’s Department exclusively until the council created the town marshal position in 2014 and hired Dan Ball as marshal.
The department has gradually grown since then and recently added its fourth full-time officer in addition to several part-time auxiliaries. The council also had to update its ordinances so the marshal would have laws to enforce.
Winfield also has benefited from the new state Community Crossings Improvement Program, receiving $700,000 each of the last two years for repaving and other improvements to Randolph. The town has plans to add landscaping, decorative lighting and other improvements as well as improving safety at the intersection with 109th Avenue, including adding crosswalks.