The Battle to Save the Dunes: 1952 to 1966
The Ogden Dunes Story
by Dick Meister
This story was prepared for the Hour Glass Exhibit, “The Battle to Save the Dunes” in collaboration with the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and other museums in Porter County and was published in the “Hour Glass” Newsletter, May 2016. The exhibit was on display from the Autumn of 2016 to the Autumn of 2017 in the West Room of The Hour Glass Museum and is currently on display in the Community/Fire Hall in Ogden Dunes (from October 2017 to October 2018).
The Historical Society of Ogden Dunes has joined with other museums of Porter County and with the National Park Service to celebrate two anniversaries in 2016, the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the National Park Service.
Our new exhibit tells the story of the role of Ogden Dunes, a community of 500 plus residents, in making possible the creation of today’s Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. These dedicated individuals fought to save the dunes through two organizations, the Save the Dunes Council and the Ogden Dunes Plan Commission.
Our exhibit was made possible because of the cooperation and support of many individuals and institutions within and outside of Ogden Dunes. With this support, we were able to draw on our own collections to mount the exhibit, “The Battle to Save the Dunes”. In the HSOD archives are documents relating to the work of the Plan Commission, the Save the Dunes Council, and In-holders Association. These include the public papers of the late William Scully and James Homme.
We particularly recognized the support of the National Park Service (NPS). Their staff, with the support of the superintendent, met with the staffs of the museums of Porter County and offered to lend or copy National Park Service archival holdings to support exhibits commemorating these anniversaries. The NPS provided copies of forty large photographs of early dune scenes and of the involvement of Dorothy Buell and others in support of Senator Paul Douglas’s efforts to create a national park in the dunes.
Just as we were planning the exhibit we fortuitously received in the mail a large packet of materials from the Adrian Nussdorfer family. Adrian and his family lived in Ogden Dunes from 1954 to 1959, when he was transferred to Philadelphia. Adrian Nussdorfer supported the Save the Dunes Council and served on the Plan Commission shortly after it was established in 1957. A number of items that appear in the exhibit come from this collection.
On sending the Nussdorfer papers to the Historical Society, his daughter, Laurie, wrote: “My own memories are, of course, vague. I certainly remember an atmosphere of urgency around the effort to Save the Dunes, a sense of community. We were up against a giant, Bethlehem Steel. I recall a lovely ride in a boat up Burns Ditch. It was a sleepy weed-lined muddy little river at the point it ran into Lake Michigan. I also remember hearing Paul Douglas make a speech in Ogden Dunes [most likely May 4, 1958].”
Lastly, the exhibit would not have occurred if not for the assistance of Kevin Pazour, the director of the Porter County (POCO) Museum and his staff, especially Megan Telligman and Jake Just. They devoted countless hours in designing and then mounting the exhibit.
Ogden Dunes began in 1923 when a group of investors that included Samuel Reck, Colin Mackenzie and Robert Boo purchased more than 500 acres of sand dunes located along a mile of shoreline from the estate of Francis Ogden. Samuel Reck, a Gary, Indiana businessman, became president of the Ogden Dunes Realty. This group hoped to create a highly restricted lake front community. The community grew slowly with only a 144 full-time residents in 1940, along with a larger number of summer or week-end cottage owners and their families.
With the end of World War II Ogden Dunes became primarily residential as scores of young, middle-class families were drawn by the beach and the dunes. The population had tripled by 1950. However, the dunes and the shore line to the east and the west were owned by Midwest Steel, a subsidiary of National Steel, and Inland Steel. Both had plans to level the dunes and build large steel mills. Midwest had as early as 1929 announced plans to build a mill and a harbor a quarter mile east of Ogden Dunes at the mouth of Burns Waterway, a channel built in the mid-1920s to drain the swamps and marshes located just south of the dunes. The Depression and the War postponed these plans until the late 1940s.
The impetus for establishing the Save the Dunes Council in 1952 and the Ogden Dunes Plan Commission in 1954 was the proposal by the State of Indiana and National Steel to build an international port at or near the Burns Waterway. At the same time there were rumors of plans to build steel mills both east and west of Ogden Dunes on the land owned by Inland Steel and the land purchased by Bethlehem Steel between National Steel and Dune Acres.
Dorothy Buell invited 21 women from Northwestern Indiana who shared her love for the Indiana Dunes to meet in her home on June 20, 1952 at 17 Cedar Court. As a result of this meeting, the Save the Dunes Council was formed. During its first six years the Council sought to achieve its goal of saving the dunes by creating a large, national organization with thousands of members with dues set at just $1 a year. Its strategies included increasing public awareness through publications, petitions, and presentations and establishing alliances with other local, state and national organizations.
Within two years of the formation of the Save the Dunes Council, the Town Board of Ogden Dunes created the Ogden Dunes Plan Commission. This Commission took over two years to complete the drafting of a zoning and building code to guide both the growth that the community was experiencing and to include control of the unincorporated areas within two miles of the town. At that time state laws gave incorporated towns and cities the power to control unincorporated areas adjacent to them. Obviously neither the State nor the steel corporations were going to allow Ogden Dunes to dictate the future of the harbor or the plans to build by National Steel and Bethlehem Steel.
Save the Dunes Council
On page one of the Ogden Dunes Sandpiper, the community newsletter, dated September 10, 1952, the headline read Save the Dunes! This article was written by Downing Mann (Mrs. George Mann).
“A new Hoosier organization, The Save the Dunes Council, was formed on June 21 at a meeting called by Mrs. James H. Buell of Ogden Dunes. More than thirty enthusiastic women from Gary, Miller, Ogden Dunes, Dune Acres and Chesterton responded and most attended the meeting in her home at 17 Cedar Trail.
Mrs. Buell explained that the Dunes in their natural beauty can be preserved by adding the last four miles of undeveloped shoreline to the present two and a half mile Indiana Dunes State Park. This will be the objective of the new group.
The Council chose as its first officers, Mrs. Buell, president; Mrs. Leon Snyder of Miller, vice president; Mrs. Willard Butz of Ogden Dunes, secretary, and Mrs. L. N. Conklin of Dune Acres, treasurer. Mrs. Frank Sheehan of Gary who was active in the campaign to establish the present Indiana Dunes State Park will be advisory director of the group. Dues have been set at only one dollar to encourage the widest possible membership.
The needed parkland for this and future generations is here, ready-made by nature. It is more beautiful and varied than the most talented landscape architect could build for millions of dollars. The Save the Dunes Council is determined that it shall be preserved for the people of Indiana and their children.”
A number of Ogden Dunes women became very active in the early years of the Council. These included Hester Butz, Florence Broady, Laura Gent, Downing Mann, as well as Naomi Ireland, Nancy Jones, Evelyn Waite, Martha Miller, Virginia Scovill, Rosalie Johnson, Arlene Seaman and Alyce Meehan.
Hester Butz served as the first secretary; Rosalie Johnson served as the second treasurer. Florence Broady and Alyce Meehan led the petition drive to stop the approval of the deep-water port in 1957; Downing Mann drafted the publicity releases for the Council. In 1957 Laura Gent served as Corresponding Secretary and Hester Butz led the Speakers’ Bureau.
By the end of the first year, the Council had expanded its membership to over 10 states. In addition Downing Mann of Ogden Dunes prepared a Lesson Plan on the Indiana Dunes that could be used by teachers in the Gary Public Schools. Also the Council achieved an early victory and gained momentum in 1953 with the purchase of 56 acres of land in the Cowles Tamarack Bog at a tax sale. The Council also supported the production of a television documentary on the Indiana Dunes and a number of publications.
The Save the Dunes Council shared with its members in 22 states what it had accomplished in its 1956-1957 Annual Report.
- Obtained legal aid to fight the Port lobby in Indianapolis. The appropriation bill was passed on last days of session with no public hearing.
- At its annual meeting on June 20, 1957 Ed Osann, secretary of the O.D. Plan Commission was the principal speaker.
- Distributed to its membership the editorial in Nature Magazine ‘Dooming the Dunes’, a 16 page illustrated pamphlet, copies of Ed Osann’s address at the annual meeting , an aerial map of the region, and a reading list.
- Gary Public Library featured a Dune exhibit.
- Received over 5,000 signatures on our petition to the Governor and the Army Corps of Engineers from 24 states and 5 countries.
The Council originally hoped that through their petitions and political pressure it could add most of the dunes between Ogden Dunes and Dune Acres to the Indiana Dunes State Park. Ruth Osann, the wife of Ed Osann, recalled that she first saw the Council as “Just a nice ladies’ circle try to save an area that we didn’t think we would have too much trouble doing. Originally the plans were to add to the existing Indiana Dunes State Park.”
But the Indiana politicians had little interest in expanding the state park and were more interested in encouraging the industrial development of Porter County. In 1954 Governor George Craig and other politicians proposed that the state purchase 1,200 acres to build a deep-water port, at or near Burns Ditch, just east of Ogden Dunes and to encourage Bethlehem Steel and other steel mills to locate new mills in Porter County.
Given the opposition of Indiana politicians, Dorothy Buell and the Council revived the 1916 proposal to create a national park or monument out of the 25 miles of beach and sand dunes between Gary and Michigan City. Stephen T. Mather, Assistant Secretary of the Department of Interior and later the first director of the National Park Service, had made this proposal. That year Stephen Mather, joined by others, toured the Indiana Dunes and called for the creation of a national park. The War and Washington politics caused no action in regards to the Indiana Dunes.
The exhibit includes a photo of Stephen Mather on the October 1916 hike in the Indiana sand dunes. This visit was led by Stephen Mather and Col. Richard Lieber, father of the Indiana State Parks. And it coincided with the hearings held in Chicago for a “Sand Dunes National Park”.
Through the help of a mutual friend Dorothy Buell was able to convince Senator Paul Douglas of Illinois to take the lead in Congress to create a national park in the Indiana. In 1958 Senator Douglas, introduced the bill to create a National Park. This marked the second phase in the battle to save the dunes. It became national, rather than a state or a regional issue.
During the mid-1950s members of the Council, especially, those who lived in Ogden Dunes supported the efforts of the new Ogden Dunes Plan Commission to prevent the construction of the Indiana port. In addition, what had been rumored for months, Bethlehem Steel admitted in 1957 that it had control of over 4,000 acres of dune land, that is, most of the land between National Steel and Dune Acres.
The Ogden Dunes Plan Commission
Beginning in 1954 the Town Board established a Plan Commission made up of residents and other individuals who lived in Portage Township to prepare a master plan to control zoning and building for the Town of Ogden Dunes. This plan included the control of zoning and building in unincorporated land within two miles of the town limits. It justified its planning of contiguous unincorporated lands as legal. The Commission based this on the Planning Act of 1947 enacted by the General Assembly of the State of Indiana. Section One stated that the Town Board of Trustees, “… “may by ordinance create a Plan Commission in order to promote the orderly development of its governmental units and its environs.”
The Commission filed with the Recorder of Porter County on January 19, 1955 (amended January 5, 1957) its jurisdictional area, that is, its corporate limits and certain unincorporated areas that bear a reasonable relation to the development of the Town. These contiguous areas included approximately 700 acres west of the town, owned by Inland Steel and the 500 plus acres to the east owned by National Steel.
On October 22, 1956 the Commission completed a draft of its plan and ordinances, including factual information, photographs, historical and geographical information to support its work. The next spring a group of woman active in the Plan Commission and Save the Dunes sent a letter to property owners in Ogden Dunes requesting donations to support the legal costs of the law suits. The fundraising was successful in generating $5,000. Those who signed the letter to the homeowners included Naomi S. Ireland, Nancy Jones, Evelyn H. Waite, Martha Miller, Dorothy R. Buell, Virginia B. Scovill, Rosalie Johnson, and Arlene K. Seaman.
The Commission continued to meet and on June 26, 1957 held a public hearing at the Fire House. When no objections were raised, the Commission with Edward W. Osann, as secretary, and Downing N. Mann, as president, submitted the Final Report to the Board of Trustees of the Town on July 1, 1957. Thus, after 3 ½ years of work, the Plan Commission had completed its work.
“Under the Planning Act of 1947, the Plan Commission designated as its jurisdictional area for planning and zoning purposes the area situated within the corporate limits of Ogden Dunes and a certain continuous unincorporated area which, in the judgment of the Commission, bears reasonable relation to the development of the Town.“
The Town Board approved the Master Plan for the Town of Ogden Dunes. With the Town Board’s action Ogden Dunes had an official master plan that included not only the corporate limits of Ogden Dunes but also the continuous unincorporated land.
If upheld by the courts, the Ogden Dunes zoning code would immediately kill the effort by the State of Indiana to build a port near Burns Ditch and Midwest (National) Steel to build its new mill just east of the Ditch. It would also prevent the future plans of Inland Steel, Bethlehem Steel, Northern Indiana Public Service Company and the New York Central Railroad from building or adding to their activities.
Thus began a series of lawsuits filed by the major corporations affected against the Plan Commission and the Town of Ogden Dunes. In turn, the Town and the Commission filed a series of lawsuits against the corporations. Some suits were heard in Porter County and others, in response to a request for a change of venue, were heard in LaPorte County and Lake County.
Within weeks the Gary Post-Tribune reported on Thursday, July 31, 1957, ‘Firms Sue in Test of Zone Law”. The firms included the Farmers State Bank of Valparaiso, Consumers Development, and three steel mills. Mid-West and Inland Steel have owned the land for more than 30 years and Bethlehem has purchased 3,500 acres from Lake Shore Development within the last year. Later as courts rejected Ogden Dunes’ right to plan for contiguous unincorporated land, Ogden Dunes attempted to annex these areas. But these efforts also failed.
At the same time the Chicago Sun-Times, Tuesday, July 23, 1957, reported that ‘Ogden Dunes Residents Rap Harbor Plans’. Mrs. William (Alyce) Meehan and Florence Broady representing O.D. community presented to the Army Corp of Engineers a petition with 452 signatures. “This petition was in reaction to the Indiana legislature appropriating $2 million dollars to buy land at Burns Ditch for a deep-water harbor. Mrs. Meehan is the wife of the Town Board President.” They met with Col. John B. W. Corey, Jr., District Engineer for the Army Corps of Engineers. Corey stated that “the army engineers have been studying the possible development of Burns Ditch since the 1930s.” Alyce Meehan stated, in presenting the petition, “We’re fighting not just for ourselves, but for the whole Chicago area which uses the dunes.”
The petition stated (Gary Post-Tribune uses word alleged) “The harbor site was selected by the principal landholder in the harbor area, Lake Shore Development Company [an affiliate of Bethlehem Steel] … the harbor will be of principal benefit to two corporations whose land holdings hem in the site….The cost of the port is not even known but would be many millions of dollars …. And if the project goes through the property rights of the signers will be adversely affected and they will be taxed at federal, state and local levels to support the harbor.”
Include Photo: Alyce Meehan and Florence Broady arguing with Col. Corey of the Army Corps of Engineers.
The Battle Goes to Congress
As the Master Plan was being taken to court and residents were petitioning the Army Corps of Engineers to reject the port, Dorothy Richardson Buell sought the help of Emily Taft Douglas, daughter of sculptor Lorado Taft and wife of Senator Paul Douglas. As a result she was able to convince Senator Douglas to support the idea of creating a national park along the Indiana lakeshore in order to save the last four miles of high dunes. Douglas had owned a cottage in Dune Acres from 1934 to 1948 and his father-in-law, Lorado Taft, as a sculptor, had long appreciated the beauty of the dunes. Taft had stated “There are two great beauties of this region, two things which are distinctive. One is the lake, and the other its product the dunes.” [quoted by Edward Osann in his pamphlet, ‘The Dunes Belong to the People’ (June 27, 1957)]
On May 4, 1958 Senator Douglas and Dorothy Buell, along with others, toured the Indiana Dunes. He held a rally and press conference in front of the Ogden Dunes entrance sign. Douglas announced his intention to introduce a bill to establish the Indiana Dunes National Monument in order to protect the “last four miles” of Indiana Dunes.
[Photo: On May 4, 1958 Senator Douglas and Dorothy Buell, along with others toured the Indiana Dunes. He held a rally in front the Ogden Dunes entrance sign, announcing his intention to introduce a bill to establish the Indiana Dunes National Monument in order to protect the “last four miles” of Indiana Dunes.]
With Douglas’ support the movement to save the dunes was energized. This is evident in two publications that appeared after Senator Douglas and Representative Saylor of Pennsylvania introduced their bills on May 26, 1958. Shortly after this, fourteen conservation organizations, including Save the Dunes Council, sponsored a glossy 6-page publication, “Conservation: Special Bulletin”. It included many photos and called for the people of the United States to write their congressmen to support the Douglas/Saylor bills. If these bills failed, the bulletin warned, the last four miles of shoreline and dunes, owned by National Steel and Bethlehem Steel, would be replaced by a deep-water port and steel mills.
The Council itself printed a second bulletin, also in 1958. “Save the Dunes: They Belong to the People”. It began with a quote from Carl Sandburg, “They represent the signature of time and eternity. Their loss would be irrevocable.”
The Council also reprinted the article by Richard Lewis, a Chicago Sun-Times reporter, which documented the political wheeling and dealing of Indiana politicians to approve a port with no public hearing. Ed Osann attacked the actions of the governor and state legislature, “To put it bluntly, the appropriation bill was a shocking attempt to use public funds for a harbor of principal benefit to a few private interests…The only benefit to the individual taxpayer is the privilege of picking up the tab. This $2 million is only the down payment.”
The introduction of Douglas’ bill and the publication and the two glossy bulletins were part of a national petition drive to call attention to the potential loss of the Indiana dunes to industry. The Council collected 250,000 signatures in its first six weeks of it campaign.
Although the Senate did not act immediately on Paul Douglas’s bill, it did authorize hearings to be held on the Douglas bill and the request from the State of Indiana that the Army Corps of Engineers approve its application for a port on or near Burns Ditch.
On Friday evening, June 12, 1959, three U.S. Senators arrived in Chicago. Sen. Ernest Gruening of Alaska and Sen. Frank Moss of Utah were members of the Senate Public Lands Subcommittee and Sen. Paul Douglas, although not on the committee, would act as their guide of the dunes.
Saturday included a helicopter tour of the area in the morning and a three-hour jeep tour in the afternoon, despite the very cool weather and the rough winds. On Sunday, June 14, Sen. Gruening and Sen. Moss held a public hearing at the Coronado Lounge near Chesterton. Over 500 people attended. Each side, that is the pro-park and the pro-port had one hour to present their case and offer evidence for the entire subcommittee to review later.
Dorothy Buell gave the opening remarks and then introduced the speakers in support of a national park. Dr. S. P. Moran of Hammond supported the decentralization of industry in order to prevent additional water and air pollution in northwestern Indiana and for national defense, i.e. reducing the economic impact of an atomic bomb attack on northern Indiana. Historian Avery Cravens of the University of Chicago called for Congress to “give America another shoreline and protect the ecological uniqueness of the Indiana dunes.”
Dr. Rueben M. Strong of the Chicago Conservation Council argued, “we must think of our descendants who won’t have any recreation area if the port and steel mills are built.” Ed Osann of Ogden Dunes argued that the new harbor should be created by expanding Indiana Harbor and Calumet Harbor. “It has never been the intent of the Save the Dunes Council to hamper legitimate industrial development in Indiana.” Mrs. J. Curtiss Wood of Baillytown and Thomas E. Dustin of the Indiana Izaak Walton League concluded with, “To save this land now will represent the greatest triumph of human values.” Among the other speakers in favor of the park were Herb Read of Porter and Paul Ireland of Ogden Dunes.
The speakers for the deep water port in the area of Burns Ditch were introduced by the chairmen of the Republican and Democratic parties in Porter County, William Conover and Howard Schwinkendorf. Their first speaker, John Laughlin, general counsel of Midwest Steel, spoke for 15 minutes began by calling the supporters of Save the Dunes “uninformed amateurs.” He argued that Midwest Steel was planning to spend $100 million to build a new plant that would employ 2,200 union workers on land that National Steel owned on the east and west sides of Burns Ditch. There would be no pollution. “We would put back purer water than we take out. Even dumping slag in the lake would not pollute it.” This area is a logical place to locate large, clean steel mills – it has access to water, water transport, and railroads, all necessary for the production of steel.
Other proponents for a port at Burns Ditch included the Indiana coal operators who argued that a port at Indiana Harbor did not provide the land necessary for the storage of coal awaiting to be exported. The Indiana Farm Bureau argued that the port at Burns Ditch is “a great opportunity to bring foreign trade to the bread basket of America.” Professor L. L. Waters of Indiana University, a transportation expert, pointed out that Burns Harbor would save users $40 million a year and generate 185,000 new residents for Porter County. The spokesman for Indiana State Parks argued that future development of the Indiana Dunes State Park would take care of the recreational needs of Hoosiers and guests for the next 40 years.
The Vidette Messenger headline clearly indicated that Ogden Dunes’ attempt to control the land owned by the steel mills had failed. The State of Indiana and Porter County authorities moved quickly to prevent Ogden Dunes from controlling land use outside its borders. The most effective way to accomplish this was to expedite the incorporation of the Town of Portage. And this was accomplished on the same day, June 16, 1959 as the reporting on the hearings held by Senators Moss and Gruening. The Town of Portage now surrounded Ogden Dunes on all three sides. More importantly it meant that Midwest Steel could move forward with the construction of its new mill and that the new port faced one less hurdle.
The Moss-Gruening visit resulted in their sponsoring legislation that called for a smaller foot-print for a National Park, industrially zoned land Bethlehem Steel, and federal funds for a deep-water port. Senator Douglas did not support this. In turn, he continued to introduce bills that would save all or most of the dunes east of Midwest Steel for a national park.
He gained support for his efforts in 1961 from the newly-elected Kennedy Administration. Although not supporting Douglas’ bill, the new Democratic Governor, Mathew Welsh and recently elected Democratic senators, Vance Hartke and Birch Bayh, supported a national park though not at the expense of Bethlehem Steel. Charles Halleck, the powerful Republican House member from Jasper County who also represented Porter County, opposed the national park and supported an expanded port at Burns Ditch. The exhibit includes of a map of the Halleck Plan for the Burns Harbor Port. The map shows more tracks running through Ogden Dunes and rail yards filling the space between Ogden Dunes and Burns Ditch.
Stuart Udall, the Secretary of Interior in the Kennedy Administration, and along with other Congressional leaders and the Democratic mayors in Lake County, supported the creation of a national park. They visited and toured the Indiana Dunes a least twice between 1961 and 1963. At the same time the Army Corps of Engineers came out in support of a deep-water port in the area of Burns Ditch.
[Photos from the National Lakeshore collection – include a number of these photos without a great deal of prose, including Herb Read and Stewart Udall, the mayors in the Jeep, etc.]
In the summer of 1963, just months before the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, his administration proposed a compromise to Congress. On September 24, 1963 the Bureau of the Budget recommended the authorization of the Burns Waterway Harbor and an 11,700 acre Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. None of the dunes that Senator Douglas originally proposed for the park were included. However, the plan did include Inland Steel’s dunes between Gary and Ogden Dunes, the dunes between Dune Acres and Beverly Shores and some of the natural areas in Miller, Ogden Dunes, Beverly Shores and Dune Acres.
Congress approved funds for the harbor on October 27, 1965. A year later it authorized a 6,539 acre Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. On November 5, 1966 President Lyndon Johnson signed legislation creating the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.
Senator Paul Douglas, who led the fight to Save the Dunes in Congress, was defeated in November 1966 Election by Republican Charles Percy. In December 2, 1966 he sent a telegram to Dorothy Buell,
“Greetings and congratulations to one of the most unselfish groups of men and women who it has ever been my pleasure to know … working with you to save some of the magnificent dunes for this and future generations. I think I should warn you that the enemies of the dunes have not given up the battle and will probably seek to throw obstacle after obstacle by trying to cut appropriations and other means. … Let us finish the job”