Samuel H. (January 1867 – September 1951) and
Anna Nelson Reck (1871 – May 5, 1941)
By Dick Meister (August 31, 2010)
Without the family of Samuel Henry and Anna Nelson Reck, Ogden Dunes, as we know it, would not exist. Samuel and his oldest son, Nelson, took the lead in making the town a reality. Their physical presence in the dunes ended with the retirement and move of Nelson and his wife, Helen, in 1971 to California. Yet, their commitment and many contributions have allowed the community to continue to flourish.
Recently, the Historical Society received a box of materials on Ogden Dunes history from Nancy Thomas Machin, who grew up in Ogden Dunes. The materials were from her father, Joseph Thomas. Thomas, a reporter and editor at the Gary Post-Tribune, was responsible for writing and editing a forty-page History of Ogden Dunes (1976). Included in the materials are a letter, dated June 18, 1936, sent by Nelson Reck to his father and Samuel Reck’s four-page recollection of his interaction with Alice Gray, aka Diana of the Dunes, and her common-law husband, Paul Wilson.
Samuel Reck and Ogden Dunes
In the fall of 1922 Samuel Reck and a group of investors, took an option to purchase 486 acres of sand dunes and approximately a mile of Lake Michigan frontage owned by the Francis Ogden estate. In April 1923, Ogden Dunes Incorporated was created. The Vidette-Messenger reported that the deal was finalized on June 14 at a cost of $398,440. Assisting Reck in the development of the new town were Colin Mackenzie, a civil engineer, and Joseph Boo, who worked with him. They did a topographical survey of the acreage and began platting the first subdivision and laying out the streets. In the first year a number of lots were sold; a few cottages were built; and Samuel and Anna Reck’s home was completed. This home, located on a dune overlooking the lake (today’s 4 Cedar Trail), was the first permanent residence in Ogden Dunes.
The Winter 1996 issue of The Hour Glass, includes an article, “The Birth of Ogden Dunes.” This article was based on notes written around 1976 by Harriet Mackenzie, the widow of Colin Mackenzie. Mackenzie was born in England in 1892. Ten years later, his family immigrated to the United States. Colin, like his father, became a civil engineer after studying in Cincinnati. He married Harriet in 1921. She wrote that her husband was the one who had the dream for a restricted community on the Ogden Tract. He made a proposal to the Ogden Estate in Madison, Wisconsin in the Fall of 1921. However, he lacked the financial resources to make the plan a reality. In 1922, by accident, he met Nelson Reck, an acquaintance, on the South Shore train going from Gary to Chicago. This led to Colin discussing his plan with Nelson. Nelson, in turn, said his father might be interested in investing. As a result Samuel became involved and the rest is history.
Samuel Reck interested a number of Gary businessmen to invest in Ogden Dunes real estate. Some agreed to build large homes. The Chesterton Tribune reported on August 6, 1925 that Reck and other land owners had petitioned the County Commission to approve the incorporation of the Town of Ogden Dunes. The local vote on the incorporation would be held at Dick’s Store [Samuel’s youngest son Dickson] near what is today’s Shore Drive and Cedar Trail. In the weeks that followed, the Commission approved the petition and then 24 residents voted for incorporation. That Fall, the first election for town officials was held with Samuel Reck becoming president of the Town Board on January 1, 1926 and his son, Nelson, Clerk-Treasurer. Nelson would be reelected to that position for 21 years.
Samuel and Anna’s home on Cedar Trail was valued at $25,000 in the 1930 U.S. Census. Other early investors in Ogden Dunes homes were James Cassidy, owner of a wholesale bakery in Gary, Lynn Glover, an insurance broker, Edouard Kratz, and John A. Norman, the president of an oil refinery. In 1930, Glovers’ home at 5 Cedar Trail was valued at $18,000, the Cassidy’s at 13 Beach Lane at $30,000, and the Norman’s at $15,000. The Kratz home at 50 Shore Drive was built in 1930. In 1927, to increase the visibility of this emerging town, the Ogden Dunes Ski Club built the largest man-made ski-jump in North America on what is today Ski Hill Court and Ski Hill Road. However, the vision of a restricted lake front community with a harbor, golf course, riding stables and ski-jump failed to become a reality. The stock market crash in October 1929, and then the Great Depression ended Samuel’s dream. In 1933, at the age of 66, he turned the enterprise over to his son Nelson and retired to St. Petersburg, Florida.
Who was Samuel Henry Reck? Samuel, born in 1867, was the second son of Rev. Henry (1830-1881) and Anna Mehring Reck. Henry had graduated from Gettysburg College in 1852. His oldest son, William M. was born in 1865, followed by Samuel Henry, and then a sister, Marion Virginia, in 1868. In 1870 Rev. Henry Reck served as Director of the Orphan Home in Rochester Township, Beaver County, Pennsylvania. The home was located between Youngstown, Ohio and Pittsburgh. It served 45 children.
About five years later, Rev. Henry Reck and his family relocated to Rock Island, Illinois. There he took a position as Professor of Languages at Augustana College and Theological Seminary. This was the time when the Swedish Evangelical Lutheran Church made the decision to relocate its seminary from Paxton, Illinois to the campus of Augustana College. By 1880 the Henry Reck family had increased in size with the addition of two sons, Warren, born in Pennsylvania in 1871, and Charles E., born in Illinois in 1875. The following year Rev. Reck died. However, the family remained in Rock Island.
Samuel and his siblings did not follow their father in serving society through the ministry or higher education. The oldest brother, William, was involved in Florida real estate in the 1920s. Warren was also involved in real estate, but in Minnesota. Before and after this attempt to make his fortune, Warren was involved in dry goods stores. The youngest brother, Charles E., who had attended college in Cambridge, remained in Massachusetts working as an insurance broker. The censuses give no indication that the brothers ever acquired much wealth.
Their only sister, Marion, married well. In 1888 at the age of twenty she married Levi McCabe, a successful department store owner in Rock Island. They had three daughters. The censuses of 1900 and 1910 show the family as having three live-in servants. Levi died in 1915, leaving Marion a rich widow at the age of 47.
Samuel H. Reck sought to make his fortune through a variety of professions – law, manufacturing, insurance and then real estate. In 1892 he married Anna Nelson (1871-1941) the only daughter of Swedish immigrants, John (1830-1883) and Eva Christiana Nelson of Rockford, Illinois. Through John’s patents on automated knitting machines that made seamless hosiery, John Nelson and his five sons made a fortune in the knitting industry in Rockford.
Samuel and Anna’s first child, Nelson, was born in Massachusetts in March 28, 1893, possibly while Samuel was attending college. In the 1900 Census Samuel, Anna, Nelson, and Franklin M., born in 1897, shared Anna’s mother’s large home on Seminary Avenue in Rockford. At that time Eva was a sixty-five year old widow. Also living in the family home was Anna’s brother, Frank, who was 32 and also operated a knitting factory. Samuel listed his profession as attorney-at-law. Two servants lived in the home.
Ten years later the three families still lived together. The Recks had two more sons, Samuel, Jr, born in April 21, 1902, and Dickson, born on April 3, in 1904. Anna’s brother, Frank had married. But by 1910 he was a widower with a six-year old son. Samuel and his brother-in-law were both involved in manufacturing, machinery and hosiery.
Around World War I, Samuel Reck appears to have had a factory or business in Cincinnati. Nelson and Frederick registered for the draft in Cincinnati. However, by 1920, Samuel had moved his family to the boom town of Gary, Indiana. They rented a large home at 377 Adams. Samuel and Franklin were involved in the life insurance business. Nelson worked as a mechanical engineer for American Bridge in Gary. Samuel Jr. and Dickson attended high school.
The twenties brought great change for the family. In 1922, Samuel became the lead investor of a group that made plans to develop a deluxe, restricted community east of Gary. After the purchase of the Ogden tract in 1923, Samuel and Anna contracted with Pete Nicholson to build their Ogden Dunes’ home. Nicholson of Crisman made the concrete blocks on the lake shore. Over the next fifteen years Nicholson built many homes and cottages in the dunes. By 1925, Nelson had joined his father in Ogden Dunes Realty. Franklin and Samuel were enrolled in Iowa State University and spent little time in Ogden Dunes. Dickson, the youngest, attended the University of Illinois and spent his summers at his parent’s home in the dunes.
In 1925, Dickson and a classmate, John Morse, built a temporary structure near Shore Drive and Cedar Trail that served as a store for summer guests. They stocked candy, soft drinks, ice cream and a few groceries. The roof had a sign in large letters, “Dick’s Store.” The following year Dickson and John’s brother were partners. After Dickson graduated from college in 1927, local high school students attempted to keep it running. Finally, the big storm in the autumn of 1929 destroyed the shack, as well as a number of cottages on the east end of Ogden Dunes, (“Dick’s Store” in The Ogden Dunes Sandpiper, May 15, 1953).
Samuel and Anna’s Sons
Nelson married Helen Archibald, a teacher in the Gary Public Schools in 1927. She was born on October 10, 1899. They lived in a modest home just west of his parents at 73 Shore Drive. Helen would later take responsibility for editing the community newsletter, The Ogden Dunes Sandpiper. The newsletter was published periodically by Ogden Dunes Realty from 1938 until 1970. Around 1940 Nelson and Helen finally had Keck & Keck, well known Chicago architects, to build their dream house at 58 Shore Drive.
Over the long run, Samuel and Nelson’s dream to create a thriving residential community on the shore of Lake Michigan did become a reality. It was Nelson’s persistence that made it happen. He struggled through the Great Depression, World War II, and the encroachment of the new steel mills and the Port of Indiana. As Nelson and Helen prepared for retirement in 1967, they made the decision to make a gift of their assets and the majority of the stock in Ogden Dunes, Inc. to the University of Chicago in exchange for a life income trust. The plan was to have the university sell the five parcels of land, totally 84 acres, to developers with the proceeds becoming part of the trust. Nelson and Helen’s gift would allow the university to continue its mission with special emphasis on the recently created department in Urban Planning. (See Gary Post-Tribune, clipping, “Ogden Dunes, Inc. Becomes Income Trust of U. of C.)
At the time of this decision, the only surviving member of the original directors of Ogden Dunes, Inc., was Robert E. Richardson, a Gary attorney and secretary–treasurer of the corporation. Richardson also served as town attorney until the mid-fifties. Nelson continued to operate Ogden Dunes Realty until 1971. He and Helen then retired to California. Nelson died on March 23, 1980 in Laguna Hills, California. Helen passed away six years later on August 15, 1986.
Nelson’s three brothers had interesting careers. Franklin Mehring Reck, born in Chicago on November 29, 1896, worked briefly in a family related machine tool business in Cincinnati before joining the National Guard and then the American Expeditionary Force. After his discharge from service, he enrolled at Iowa State University, where he majored in agricultural journalism. There he married his wife Claire Yunglas on January 26, 1926. After graduation, Franklin joined the editorial staff of The American Boy Magazine, published in Detroit. He served as managing editor from 1935 until it folded in 1941. In Detroit, he was active in the local theatre, serving as president of “The Players.” In 1941 he, his wife Claire, and their two daughters moved to Manchester, Michigan, outside of Ann Arbor. There he became a free lance writer and an occasional consultant to the Publication Department of Ford Motor Company. Franklin died at his typewriter on October 17, 1965, the very day of the publication of his 25th book, Stories That Boys Like. His other books included Sergeant Pinky in 1919, A History of the 4-H Movement, and a well received academic book, The Romance of American Transportation (1935). He also traveled to Latin America for the Ford Foundation and served as president of the Manchester School Board for nine years. [Obituary, Ann Arbor News, October 1965]
Samuel, Jr., who was born in Rockford, Illinois on April 21, 1902, also attended Iowa State University. After graduation he served as editor for Iowa State Agricultural Extension Service. In the 1930s he had a 6:25 a.m. radio program, “Farm Facts.” He died in December 1975 in New Jersey.
Dickson Reck, born on April 3, 1904, graduated from the University of Illinois in 1927. After graduation he moved to Detroit, where he served as assistant to the president of Square D Company, manufacturer of electrical equipment. In 1937, he left Detroit to take a Ph.D. at Columbia University. On the eve of World War II, he began a ten-year career with the federal government, working first for the Office of Price Administration, then in government purchasing, and finally for the Department of State in the Ministry of Economic Affairs in China. With the fall of China in 1949, he returned to Columbia to complete his Ph.D. in Economics. He then joined the faculty of the University of California in Los Angeles, with a specialty in engineering standards for scientific and economic development. He published a number of books including Government Purchasing and Competition (1954) and National Standards and the Modern Economy (1956). He died suddenly on April 10, 1955. In the university’s Memoriam, he was praised as a renaissance man. It noted “his great love for people”, his international outlook, his facility with language, and his knowledge of and his collection of rare Chinese pottery.
The Samuel H. Reck family has left its mark on Ogden Dunes and to even a greater extent on the larger American society. And for those of us who have or currently reside in Ogden Dunes, we owe a great debt to the quiet contributions made by Nelson and Helen Reck between 1923 and 1971.
Note: Further information on Colin Mackenzie and Joseph Boo. Boo was born on a farm in Westchester Township in Porter County in 1889. He later worked as a bookkeeper and a real estate salesman. Both the Mackenzie and the Boo families lived in Miller in 1930. Sources in Ancestry.com indicate that Colin died in 1931, leaving a son, Colin, Jr. and two daughters. Colin Mackenzie, Jr. and his wife Marge lived at 59 Hillcrest from 1960 to their deaths during the last decade.
Copy of Nelson Reck’s letter to his dad, Samuel, dated June 18, 1936
This letter was written in 1936. The United States still was mired in the aftermath of the Great Depression. The many interventions of the federal government to reduce the suffering and to stimulate the economy had ended the Depression, but had not brought a return of prosperity. And the presidential election was five months away.
We were surprised and tickled to death to get the anniversary present….
We have closed more deals than in any other Spring for several years and we have more cash deals pending than we had last Fall, but the cash collected has not been so hot. We just barely were able to pay our taxes and ever since that time we have had a rather serious money shortage due to the fact that all these pending cash deals are still pending. Six weeks ago I was pretty optimistic and did a bit of road building around Ski Hill and other spots which I have since had to curtail due to the slowness of said cash deals.
Under the circumstances the bonus payment came in mighty handy. I got $500 which enables me to pay the balance on my car and to pay the Mutual Benefit premium which will be due tomorrow. The postman delivered the bonds yesterday morning and before noon I had cashed them. [note: this is most likely in reference to Ogden Dunes, Inc.]
When I went to Chicago the other day I rode with Bob McGhee. He asked about you and mother. We spent most of the time going in talking about the election. Our conversation was rather one sided since he is so anti-Roosevelt. I let him do most of the talking, as I was not in an argumentative mood. I have an idea that these people who are so anti-Roosevelt would be equally anti-Landon if Landon is elected. About a year after his inauguration most of them would be calling Landon, [a] Socialist. Bankers and business men generally don’t seem to know what it’s all about.
A man named Atkinson is building a home on Ski Hill  at exactly the point where the ski slide takeoff was located. [Walter I. Atkinson worked in management for the Southern Pacific Railway in Chicago; the home was likely a second home; since 1962 it has been in the George Muller family] We have paved the road past his place. The doctor who is going to build on Lot 1 in block “K” [today’s 135 Ogden Road] is waiting for approval of his F.H.A. loan but hopes to get started in a week or two. There are four homes under construction now. There would be eight or ten but the increasing cost of building has prevented some places from getting started and may prevent Helen and me from building very soon. In any event, before we build I shall have to get a volume of cash collected so as to feel secure. [note: In 1940 the Recks had Keck & Keck Architects from Chicago to design the home they built at 58 Shore Drive]
Mary Norman was in the office yesterday and said she is anxious to unload her home. We have tried to sell it but so far have been unsuccessful. [end of the letter]
Note: author is not sure of the address of the John Norman home, but in the 1930 census it is listed on Hillcrest, today’s Cedar Trail. One of the Norman’s sons, Lewis and his wife Ada, built a home on Beach Lane in 1938]