User:Visviva/History of Miller Beach

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Early history[edit]

Statue of Father Marquette at the entrance to Marquette Park. Sculpted by Henry Hering,[1] the statue was installed in 1931.[2]

When French trappers and explorers first ventured into the Lake Michigan area in the early 1600s, the southern end of the lake was populated by the Miami.[3] By 1640, the Miami had been driven from the region by the Iroquois wars.[4] They were replaced by Potawatomi, who moved into the region from the north. The Potawatomi had no permanent settlements in Miller Beach or elsewhere in the Calumet region, but they frequently came into the area to hunt, fish and gather food including wild rice.[5] In addition to the Potawatomi, the Odawa people hunted deer in the region in the winter.[6]

In 1673 the French explorers Father Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet ventured through Wisconsin and down the Mississippi, returning to Sault Ste. Marie via the Illinois and Chicago Rivers. The next year Marquette ventured down Lake Michigan to the Chicago River and the portage to the Illinois, entering the Mississippi in the spring of 1675. Marquette was sick, however, and returned along the shore of Lake Michigan that same spring. According to local tradition, he camped for a night at the mouth of the Grand Calumet River in present-day Marquette Park in Miller Beach, shortly before his death.[7]

Most Potawatomi were removed from Indiana through a series of treaties and forced removals in the 1820s and 1830s. Indian Boundary Road in Miller Beach marks the border of a tract ceded in one such treaty, the 1826 Treaty of Mississinwas.[8] By 1836 the Potawatomi nation had been deprived of all of its lands in the region.[8] Some individual Potawatomi, however, remained in the Gary area as landowners,[9] including the first owner of the parcel that later became Lake Street Beach in Miller.[10] Simon Pokagon, chief of the Pokagon Band, also held land in Miller.[11] Other Potawatomi continued to visit the region in the spring and summer into the late 19th century.[12][13]

As widespread white settlement began in the Upper Midwest in the 19th century, many promoters and speculators sought to bring commercial and industrial development to the Calumet Region, but most were defeated by the difficult terrain and lack of transportation.[13] The first man to plat a town in modern-day Miller Beach was early settler and Indian trader Joseph Bailly, who in the 1830s laid out a "Town of Bailly" at the mouth of the Grand Calumet River, in present-day Marquette Park.[14] But nothing came of either the Town of Bailly or the "Indiana City" that was platted near the same location a few years later, in 1837.[14][7] The entirety of modern-day Gary was still unsettled in 1850, except for a single inn at Tolleston.[14]

In 1833, an inn called the Bennett Tavern was built on the Miller Beach lakefront at the mouth of the Grand Calumet River, on the stagecoach route between Detroit and Chicago.[7] It stood for only a few years. In 1837, the area that would become downtown Miller was purchased and platted by Indian traders William and George Ewing and George H. Walker, though it was not developed until the railroad arrived in 1851.[7] The development bore the name of "Ewing's Subdivision", as the lots within it still do.[7][15]

Town of Miller[edit]

The Miller Town Hall, built in 1911. After Miller's annexation, the structure was used as a firehouse.[16]

With the coming of the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railway in 1851, a train stop first called "Miller's Station" and later "Miller's Junction" or "Miller's", and ultimately "Miller", was established in the present-day downtown area of Miller Beach.[17] The person for whom it is named is unknown.[17] Michigan Southern agent John Cook recalled the name "Miller" as coming from a construction engineer named John Miller who lived in the area, at whose home the early trains would stop for water and wood between LaPorte and Chicago.[7] Other possible namesakes include an innkeeper for whom train crews dropped off milk; a section boss in charge of roadbed maintenance; and a foreman who buried his son in the area.[17]

A railroad town from its inception, Miller would later be served by the B&O Railroad (beginning in 1874) and the Chicago, South Shore and South Bend Railroad beginning in 1908.[18]

Swedes began to migrate to the United States in large numbers in the 1860s as a result of the famines in Scandinavia, and some of these immigrants settled in Miller.[19] The small Swedish-American town drew its livelihood from sand mining, ice harvesting in the winter, and maintaining railroad equipment.[20] The town of Miller remained very small; only about twelve families were present in the area in 1870.[7] Miller acquired its own post office in 1879.[18] Beginning in the 1880s, the town also hosted a small professional sturgeon and whitefish fishery.[16] Cranberries grew abundantly in the nearby dunes until the moss was harvested to use in packing fruit.[21]

The combination of a pristine natural environment and proximity to Chicago soon began to attract visitors from the city. Bringing equipment from Chicago by train, aviation pioneer Octave Chanute staged a series of experimental flights from the 70-foot dunes near Lake Street Beach in 1896.[22][23] Around the same time, the pioneering botanist Henry Chandler Cowles conducted his early studies of ecological succession in Miller Woods.[24] In subsequent decades, the Chicago film industry used the Miller dunes and beaches as backdrops in numerous silent films set in exotic locations.[25][26] Among these were films by the Selig Polyscope Company,[27] and the Essanay Studios productions The Plum Tree (1914)[28] and The Fall of Montezuma (1912), in which the Miller beach represented the coast of Mexico.[26]

The town of Miller was incorporated in 1907, in an effort to forestall annexation by the newly-founded city of Gary.[29] The Miller Town Hall, which still stands, was built in 1911.[18] The town had a population of 638 people as of the 1910 census.[18]

Gary mayor Thomas Knotts first attempted to annex Miller in 1910 as part of a larger territorial dispute with East Chicago, but the effort was successfully resisted.[30] In 1915, however, Miller and Gary formed a joint parks department to administer part of the land that is now Marquette Park.[31] Encountering difficulties purchasing land for the park, Gary sought to annex Miller so that it could seize the property by eminent domain.[31] Miller was accordingly annexed into Gary in 1918, by a resolution of the Miller town board.[32][31]

Part of Gary[edit]

The Woodson branch of the Gary Public Library, in downtown Miller Beach. The branch dates to 1913, although the current building was constructed in 1991.[33]

After its annexation, the community continued to grow.[10] Drusilla Carr, proprietress of Carr's Beach (now Lake Street Beach), collected rent on more than a hundred beach cottages.[10] With attractions including a shooting gallery, bath house, miniature railroad and "night spots", Carr's Beach was Gary's most popular summer destination in the late 1920s.[10] With the arrival of affluent residents from other parts of Gary in the late 1940s, the neighborhood became increasingly a resort community.

Prior to the 1960s, African-Americans were banned from Miller Beach, including Marquette Park, except for day workers.[25] Segregation had been brought to Marquette Park by Gary power broker William Palmer Gleason, the city's first parks commissioner.[34] Exclusion from the beaches was a point of special frustration for residents of Gary's historically African-American Midtown neighborhood, who had to travel more than 20 miles to find a beach that would accept them.[35] Efforts to open the beaches of Miller to all Gary residents began with a march on August 28, 1949 (selected to commemorate the Salerno Beach landings of World War II) in which a group of white and black Garyites attempted to integrate the beach at Marquette Park; they were driven back by an armed mob.[25] Unresolved, the issue of beach integration continued to simmer, and was a flashpoint in the 1951 mayoral race.[36] Racial incidents at Marquette Park continued into the 1960s.[37]

In 1967, Richard Hatcher was elected mayor of Gary, becoming the first African-American mayor of any major US city. The voting in his election was almost entirely along racial lines, with white Democrats voting en masse for the Republican candidate in the general election. A key exception to this was in Miller Beach,[38] where Hatcher obtained decisive support from a group known as the "Miller mafia".[39][40] These were a primarily Jewish group of Millerites who had opposed the Wallace presidential campaign in 1948 and had subsequently supported Hatcher in his bid for the Gary Common Council.[40]

The first house in Miller Beach had been sold to an African-American family in 1964, and by 1980 the neighborhood was 52% African-American.[25] Fearing that the white flight that had occurred elsewhere in Gary would be replicated in Miller Beach, local residents formed the Miller Citizens Corporation (MCC) in 1971.[41] Unlike similar groups elsewhere in the city, the goal of the MCC was not to prevent integration, but to slow the process so that events did not spiral out of control.[42] The MCC worked to stem flight from the neighborhood with techniques including positive publicity about the neighborhood's advantages, and banning "For Sale" signs. As part of this effort, the organization also addressed local environmental and business issues, including the prevention of sand mining in residential areas, and the expansion of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.[43]

The National Lakeshore was founded in 1966 through the efforts of Senator Paul Douglas, ending a struggle that had begun in the 1890s. The Lakeshore's initial boundaries, however, did not include the Miller Woods and Long Lake areas in Miller Beach. After the death of Senator Douglas in 1976, a Lakeshore expansion bill gained bipartisan support in Congress, as a memorial to him.[44] With the bill's passage, the Lakeshore was expanded by 4,300 acres, including Miller Woods and Long Lake.[45]


In 2002, the Indiana state government shifted the responsibility for property tax assessment of industrial sites from local governments to the state, resulting in dramatically lower assessments for U.S. Steel and other Gary industries. Faced with plummeting revenue, the city nearly doubled tax rates, leading to widespread outcry. Together with other organizations around the state, the Miller Citizens Corporation lobbied successive state governments to impose tax caps on property taxes.[46] The tax caps became law in 2008,[47] and became part of the state constitution in 2010. Disputes between the MCC and the city continued, however, over the granting of relief from the caps by the Distressed Unit Appeals Board.[46]

The neighborhood was served by two fire stations until 2010.[48] In that year, the station located in the northeastern, beachside area was closed down.[49] Miller Beach is now served solely by the Number 7 Station, located in the neighborhood's downtown area.[48][49]


House in Miller Beach occupied by Nelson Algren in the 1950s. Simone de Beauvoir described it as "a ravishing little house hidden in the trees".[50]

Miller Beach began as a working-class town with a primarily Swedish-American and German-American population.[51] The neighborhood's demographic makeup became wealthier and more diverse beginning in the late 1940s as it attracted affluent residents from elsewhere.[52] In 1950, Miller supplanted the Horace Mann neighborhood as Gary's wealthiest area, a distinction it has retained ever since.[53] Along with other areas on Gary's periphery, Miller saw strong 70% growth during the 1950s.[54] During this period the neighborhood was virtually all-white.

Racial integration of housing in Miller Beach began in the 1960s and accelerated in the 1970s. Unlike other neighborhoods of Gary that saw abrupt white flight during this period, Miller Beach saw a stable and peaceful transition through the 1970s to a majority-African-American population, with most of the new African-American residents being "upwardly mobile"[55] black professionals.[25] Miller Beach and the previously little-developed Westside neighborhood were the only Gary neighborhoods to experience population growth during the 1970s.[56]

Since early in the community's history, many people have moved to Miller Beach from nearby Chicago, "seeking a getaway from the city".[57] Early examples included nonconformist Alice Mable Gray, known as "Diana of the Dunes", who frequented Miller Beach and nearby Ogden Dunes in the early 1900s. In the 1950s, as it gained prominence as a resort area, the neighborhood's many new residents included author Nelson Algren, who bought a house on the East Lagoon with the proceeds from the Pulitzer Prize and The Man With the Golden Arm.[58][59] Another wave of immigration from Chicago began in the 1990s.[60][61]

As of 2000, Miller Beach was 70.9% African-American and 24.3% white.[62] 4.8% of the population were of Hispanic ethnicity.[62] 9.5% of Millerites were over the age of 65, and 26.0% were under 18.[62] The neighborhood's 9,900 residents made up 4,280 households, for an average of 2.43 persons per household.[62]


  1. ^ FWP 1939, p. 138.
  2. ^ Cite error: The named reference hitchcock_2011_report was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  3. ^ Bogue 1985, p. 8.
  4. ^ Raffert 1996, p. 1.
  5. ^ Bogue 1985, p. 349.
  6. ^ Lane 1979, p. 10.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g Schoon 2003, p. 175.
  8. ^ a b Lane 1979, p. 6.
  9. ^ Lane 1979, p. 7.
  10. ^ a b c d Lane 1979, p. 24.
  11. ^ FWP 1939, p. 14.
  12. ^ Lane 1979, p. 8.
  13. ^ a b Lane 1979, p. 11.
  14. ^ a b c Lane 1979, p. 12.
  15. ^ Cite error: The named reference gis was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  16. ^ a b Bogue 1985, p. 353.
  17. ^ a b c Lane 1979, p. 13.
  18. ^ a b c d Schoon 2003, p. 176.
  19. ^ Lane 1979, p. 16-17.
  20. ^ Lane 1979, p. 17.
  21. ^ Lane 1979, p. 23.
  22. ^ McHugh 2007, p. 2.
  23. ^ Chanute, Octave (1897). "Recent experiments in gliding flight". The Aeronautical Annual: 30–53. 
  24. ^ Cite error: The named reference intothewild was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  25. ^ a b c d e Pick, Grant (1989-06-29). "Now comes Miller's time: An island of integration and natural beauty in Gary, Indiana". Chicago Reader. 
  26. ^ a b Moore 1959, p. 591.
  27. ^ Svengalis 2006, p. 357.
  28. ^ Moore 1959, p. 592.
  29. ^ Lane 1979, p. 45.
  30. ^ Lane 1979, p. 46.
  31. ^ a b c Lane 1979, p. 107.
  32. ^ Schoon 2003, p. 156.
  33. ^ Cite error: The named reference woodson was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  34. ^ Lane 1979, p. 42.
  35. ^ Hurley 1995, p. 120.
  36. ^ Lane 1979, p. 259.
  37. ^ Lane 1979, pp. 274–275.
  38. ^ Lane 1979, p. 287.
  39. ^ Adler 2001, p. 61.
  40. ^ a b Greer 1979, p. 26.
  41. ^ Hurley 1995, pp. 71.
  42. ^ Hurley 1995, pp. 71–72.
  43. ^ Hurley 1995, p. 73.
  44. ^ Engel 1986, p. 284.
  45. ^ Engel 1986, p. 283.
  46. ^ a b Miller Citizens Corporation (2011-01-08). "Gary finances are shaky" (PDF). p. 1. Retrieved 2011-06-18. 
  47. ^ State of Indiana, Office of the Governor. "Governor signs property tax relief and reform bill" (PDF). Retrieved 2011-06-18. 
  48. ^ a b City of Gary (2007). "Fire Station Locations". Retrieved 2011-06-18. 
  49. ^ a b Miller Citizens Corporation (2010-10-01). "Fire Station Closing" (PDF). Retrieved 2011-06-18. 
  50. ^ Beauvoir 1993, p. 464.
  51. ^ Svengalis 2006, p. 342.
  52. ^ Catlin 1993, p. 29.
  53. ^ Svengalis 2006, p. 353.
  54. ^ Catlin 1993, p. 51.
  55. ^ Catlin 1993, p. 44.
  56. ^ Catlin 1993, p. 90.
  57. ^ Cite error: The named reference millerstime was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  58. ^ Witter, David (2009-05-19). "This Particular Patch: Nelson Algren's Indiana Getaway". Newcity Summer. 
  59. ^ Beauvoir 1993, p. 460.
  60. ^ Catlin 1993, p. 108.
  61. ^ Lesko, Ron (1994-08-07). "Miller's tale: Cozy neighborhood defies hard-baked images of Gary". Chicago Tribune. p. 6P. 
  62. ^ a b c d City of Gary 2008, p. 150.