America now boasts 61 National Parks. Technically all of the 400 plus units in the National Park Service are “National Parks,” but only 61 have the capital N, capital P designation from Congress. Buried within a massive spending bill protecting public lands signed by the President on February 15, 2019, was a provision that simply stated “Public Law 89-761 is amended by striking National Lakeshore each place it appears and replacing it with National Park.”

Today’s episode—the new Indiana Dunes National Park – which like many of our parks, is named for one feature of a multifaceted ecosystem.

Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore was established as a unit of the National Park Service in 1966, but the fight to protect this special place on the southern tip of Lake Michigan began at the turn of the 20th century. Botanist Henry Cowles published an article entitled “Ecological Relations of the Vegetation on Sand Dunes of Lake Michigan,” in the Botanical Gazette that helped earn him the title “father of plant ecology” in North America, bringing international attention to the intricate ecosystems existing on and around the massive sand dunes that formed on the shores.

But if you know anything about Northern Indiana, a stone’s throw from Chicago, you know it’s a massive manufacturing corridor, and booming American midwest industry threatened this unique environment. Steel mills and power plants were being built, many of which still exist today. And glass manufactures. Glass is made from molten sand. The Ball Brothers of Muncie, Indiana, manufacturers of glass fruit jars, and the Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company of Kokomo carried the 200 foot Hoosier Slide, the area’s largest dune, away entirely in railroad boxcars while conservationists fought to protect the area to no avail.

Cowles and some other interested parties formed the Prairie Club of Chicago in 1908 in order to protect the dunes. They called to block commercial interests and maintain their pristine condition for the enjoyment of the people. Out of the Prairie Club came the National Dunes Park Association which touted the slogan “A National Park for the Middle West, and all the Middle West for a National Park.”

On October 30, 1916, only one month after the National Park Service was established, Stephen Mather, the Service’s first Director, held hearings in Chicago to gauge public sentiment. Four hundred people attended and 42 people, including Henry Cowles, spoke in favor of the park proposal; there were no opponents.

Unfortunately a few months later the United States entered World War I and priorities shifted. Indiana, however, wouldn’t wait. In 1926, Indiana Dunes State Park opened to the public. The State Park was still relatively small in size and scope and the push for a national park continued.

Another threat loomed, as the St. Lawrence Seaway connected the great lakes to the Atlantic Ocean, and Indiana businessmen wanted to develop a massive Port of Indiana. As a result, Save the Dunes Council President Dorothy Buell and council members began a nationwide membership and fundraising drive to buy the land they sought to preserve, and they succeeded in buying several swaths of acres.

In the summer of 1961, those fighting to save the dunes began to see greater possibilities for hope. President John F. Kennedy supported congressional authorization for Cape Cod National Seashore in Massachusetts, which marked the first time federal monies would be used to purchase natural parkland. Kennedy put forth a compromise that would create both park and port.

The Port and its massive steel mills were constructed on top of what was once the Central Dunes region of the Indiana Dunes. But a park was created. The 1966 authorizing legislation included only 8,330 acres of land and water, but the Save the Dunes Council, National Park Service, and others continued to attempt to expand the boundaries. Four subsequent pieces of legislation (in 1976, 1980, 1986, and 1992) have increased the size of the park to more than 15,000 acres.

Like Joshua Tree, and Wind Cave, and Petrified Forest, Indiana Dunes National Park is much more than the singular feature it’s named after. It features more than 1,100 native plants ranking it fourth in plant diversity among all National Park Service sites. It’s full of mysterious wetlands, bright prairies, wandering rivers and tranquil forests. You can play on the massive sand dunes, but you can also harvest maple sugar from the park’s historic farm.

But one of the most unique features of Indiana Dunes National Park has little to do with nature at all. It’s a set of 5 houses with an interesting past.

The 1933 Chicago World’s Fair, dubbed A Century of Progress celebrated the city’s centennial through a theme of technological innovation. The fair’s motto was “Science Finds, Industry Applies, Man Adapts.” One description of the fair noted that, in the midst of the Gread Depression, the world could glimpse a happier not-too-distant future, driven by innovation in science and technology. Fair visitors saw the latest wonders in rail travel, automobiles, architecture and cigarette-smoking robots. They saw Cadillac’s V-16 limousine. They saw the Burlington Zephyr, a silver-bullet of a train which made a record-breaking dawn-to-dusk run from Denver to Chicago in 13 hours and 5 minutes. They saw the first Major League Baseball All-Star game held as part of the fair at Comiskey Park. And they saw a German Zeppelin, which circled the fair for two hours, an unwelcome reminder for many of Adolph Hitler’s rise to power.

One of the most interesting displays, however, was the Homes of Tomorrow Exhibition, showcasing modern innovations in architecture, design, and building materials. Several unique art deco and contemporary model homes were built, complete with futuristic furnishings and new technologies like central air and dishwashers. Architects and construction firms used the model homes to demonstrate techniques for pre-fabricated homes with new materials like baked enamel and Rostone — a man-made type of masonry that could be molded into specific shapes and produced in various colors.

Many of the plans were purchased by visitors, and homes were built across the country based on their designs. But the original model homes would be purchased by real estate developer Robert Bartlett and floated across Lake Michigan to the peaceful Indiana Dunes. Bartlett hoped that the high profile houses would entice buyers to his new resort community of Beverly Shores.

The Wieboldt-Rostone House is located on the north side of Lake Front Drive, east of Dunbar Avenue. It was framed in steel and clad in the experimental Rostone material. Rostone was composed of shale, limestone, and alkali. Its creators advertised that the material could be produced in a variety of colors and forms, including slabs and panels, to exact dimensions. Rostone was not as durable as originally predicted. The material had severely deteriorated by 1950. Residents repaired it by covering the Rostone with another synthetic material, a concrete stucco called Perma-stone. Visitors can still see remnants of the original Rostone surrounding the front door exterior, in the interior entrance area, and around the living room fireplace.

The Florida Tropical House lies east of the Wieboldt-Rostone House on Lake Front Drive. Miami architect Robert Law Weed, inspired by the tropical climate of Southern Florida, designed this house. Weed sought to blend the indoor and outdoor environments, bringing together a spacious two-story living room, with overhanging balcony, and large open terraces on the roof. The original specifications called for poured concrete walls, however, to save money, the house was framed in wood, and finished with a lightweight concrete stucco. The bright pink house became a well-known landmark for sailors.

On the south side of Lake Front Drive sits the Cypress Log Cabin. Architect Murray D. Heatherington designed this building to demonstrate the unique qualities and many uses of cypress. At the fair, the cabin presented a mountain lodge atmosphere with fences, arbors, and bridges decorated with cypress knees, carved to suggest animal heads, reptiles, and fantasy creatures. None of these details were replicated when the house was moved to Beverly Shores.

West of the Cypress Log Cabin is the House of Tomorrow, creation of Chicago architect George Fred Keck. The first floor was designed as the service area, originally containing the garage and an airplane hangar. World’s Fair optimists assumed every future family would own an airplane. The second and third floors contained the main living spaces and a solarium. The three-story, steel-framed building was originally clad in glass on the second and third floors. Keck defied mechanical engineers, who said that due to the expansive use of glass the house couldn’t be heated, and installed a floor to ceiling “curtain wall system”. Instead of heat loss during the winter, the level of solar heat gain actually reduced the need for mechanical heating, but during the summer the solar gain was too great for the home’s revolutionary air-conditioning system to handle, and it failed. When Bartlett moved the house to Beverly Shores, he replaced the glass walls with operable windows to allow for proper air circulation.

The Armco-Ferro House is the only remaining house from the fair that met the Fair Committee’s original design criteria; a house that could be mass-produced and was affordable for the average American family. This seemingly frameless house boasts a revolutionary construction system: corrugated steel panels that are bolted together. This system resembles a typical cardboard box; it could be placed on its bottom, side, or top without damaging the structure. The corrugated panels are clad with porcelain-enameled steel panels produced by the Ferro Enamel Corporation. This construction system later provided the inspiration for the post World War II prefabricated housing developed by the Lustron Corporation. Several Lustron houses can still be seen in Beverly Shores.

Today the houses are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and have been leased to the Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana, who in turn has leased them to private residents who are restoring them. The small community of Beverly Shores is now encircled by the National Park.

The Century of progress homes are opened to the public to tour annually for one day each October. Tickets are required, and they sell out fast.

Enjoy the outdoors year-round at Indiana Dunes National Park. From swimming and sunbathing in the summer to cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in the winter, each season offers visitors the chance to experience this unique park.

Hiking is rewarding in every season. Spring wildflowers are abundant along the Little Calumet River in April and May. Summer is an ideal time to build sand castles on the 15 miles of beaches and admire Lake Michigan sunsets. The colors of fall can be enjoyed from late September through October, with the peak color occurring around mid-October. Bird watching is popular during spring and fall migrations, and bike trails will zip you through the changing landscape. Fishing the Little Calumet River during the summer steelhead run is a worthy challenge and the Portage Lakefront fishing pier offers lakeside fishing.

Overnight camping is available from April through October at the Dunewood Campground. It’s first-come, first-served. It can accomodate smaller RVs, but has no service hookups. You can also camp at and visit the Indiana Dunes State Park, which is encircled by the National Park.

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Music for this week’s episode is provided through the generosity of the artists under a creative commons license. ,.