Industrial Expansion and the Fight for a Deep-Water Port
By the 1950s, most of Porter County's Dunes remained undeveloped and privately owned, either by residents, real estate speculators, or steel interests, with a congested state park in the middle. Congressman Charles Halleck of Indiana and other state officials championed the construction of a duneland deep-water port, arguing that it would attract further manufacturing to the surrounding lakeshore and emphasizing economic and social benefits of industrialization. Neither industry nor preservation advocates expected the Indiana legislature, with only limited state funds, to finance their project. The battle over the Dunes became a question of whether the federal government would create a large national park or a public port along the lakeshore.
Burns Ditch (near 21st Ave.), 1927
In 1926, Randall W. Burns, a Chicagoan who owned marshland in northwest Indiana, finished cutting a ditch through the sand from the headwaters of the Little Calumet River to Lake Michigan. Burns Ditch rechanneled the river, draining swamps to create farmland and allowing for easier navigation from the lake to the river. The ditch also quickly became the target for development plans, beginning in 1929 when Midwest Steel Company purchased 750 acres where the ditch entered Lake Michigan. Rather than constructing its own private harbor, as had U. S. Steel, Midwest began to lobby for a federally subsidized public port at Burns Ditch.
"Meeting the Challenge of the Seaway"
In 1951, Congress authorized the construction of the St. Lawrence Seaway, which opened in 1959. As this report indicates, industrial planners and developers recognized that the waterway would attract more industry and shipping to the entire Great Lakes, including the southern tip of Lake Michigan. Advocates on both sides of the fifty-year debate between preservation and development realized that their battle had reached a culminating moment. With the opening of the Seaway and the potential for increased commercial traffic, all participants identified the need to act quickly in order to ensure either the protection of the duneland from imminent development or the construction of a deep-water industrial harbor.
Senator Homer Capehart Letter to Editors, 1959
By the mid-1950s, steel mills across the nation were booming and plants in the Chicago metropolitan area were producing one-quarter of the national steel output. Even as production soared, analysts for Bethlehem Steel, Inland Steel, and the Illinois Institute of Technology concluded that consumption of steel in the Chicago region already exceeded production. Industry advocates predicted that this gap would increase as demands for steel grew. Industrial developers saw great potential for expansion along the sparsely developed lakeshore in Porter County, Indiana. In 1956, Bethlehem Steel purchased 4,000 acres of prime duneland to the east of the still undeveloped Midwest Steel property.
Senator Paul H. Douglas Statement on Landfill Deal, 1962
In 1962, Bethlehem Steel revealed that it had sold two and a half million cubic yards of sand from its undeveloped central Dunes property to a contractor who in turn sold it to Northwestern University. The sand was to be removed from the Bethlehem property and transported up the lake, to be used as land-fill for the campus's expansion along its Evanston lakeshore. The announcement came as a blow to preservationists as bulldozers destroyed the wildest and largest undeveloped area of the Dunes. The frustration and anger of park advocates boiled to the surface in the response by U. S. Senator Paul Douglas, long-time champion of Dunes preservation. Less publicized than the Northwestern controversy, the city of Chicago soon thereafter purchased Dunes sand for use at Oak Street Beach.
The Electronic Encyclopedia of Chicago © 2005 Chicago Historical Society.
The Encyclopedia of Chicago © 2004 The Newberry Library. All Rights Reserved. Portions are copyrighted by other institutions and individuals. Additional information on copyright and permissions.