Indiana – October 2016 – Weekend to the Dunes

Located in the Indiana Dunes town of Beverly Shores exist five 1933 World’s Fair houses, where once a year they have tours during an open house. I managed to get tickets to one of the Saturday afternoon tours, but to make the 300 mile trip interesting we made a number of stops.

We left early enough on Friday to make it to Knightstown, Indiana around 4:30 PM, in time to visit the Hoosier Gym. Built in 1922 it served the local high school until the 1960s, but is most famous for being the home gym of the Hickory team in the movie Hoosiers. Restored to it’s 1952 look, they have retained that look ever since.

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The great thing is the gym is a rec center and anyone can come in and shoot some hoops, which we did. The older gentleman who worked there gave us a brief tour, then tossed us a ball and said ‘have fun’. It was great, but also a reminder I haven’t shot a basketball in many years.

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We made our way to Indianapolis where we went directly to the State Fairgrounds where there is a 1939 arena, recently refurbished with the naming rights sold to Indiana Farmers Insurance. We were there for a minor league hockey game, the Indianapolis Fuel. The arena currently seats a little over 6000, with the seating bowl pitched fairly steep, offering good views throughout.

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The game against Cincinnati was competitive, with the teams competing in the ECHL, with quite a bit of checking.

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As with most minor league teams their events during breaks were amusing. First up was a couple of competitors shooting for a small opening in a board in front of the goal, which a young boy managed to do, thrilling the crowd. The other event was the chuck a puck, only this time they had a washer set up on the ice, which took a beating, even from the soft rubber pucks.

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We arrived at our hotel to find it packed with University of Iowa football fans, as they had a game the next day in nearby Lafayette against Purdue. Also staying in the hotel was a sports team from Transylvania, Kentucky, the Transylvania Pioneers. The following morning we had breakfast amongst the Iowa fans, as well as seeing them on the freeway as we were going past Lafayette as well.

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We had a few stops planned on the way to the dunes, the first being a train themed restaurant called the Whistle Stop in Monon, Indiana. The grounds outside had a number of restored train cars, as well as an old train depot. Inside they had a display of lanterns but wanted $10 to view a small room, so we passed.

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Next up was Kerstings Cycles outside the small Indiana town of Winemac. The elderly owner, Jim, had just arrived as we did. While he may move slowly he was passionate about his collection of more than 100 vintage motorcycles. He boasts there are no duplicates, and that he has everything from an Ariel to a Zundapp.

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He has the bikes grouped together, American bikes, German bikes, British bikes, and others. In addition in the back room he has a number of old cars, including an old Rolls Royce.

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Along with the bikes and cars, there is a large collection of posters, mannequins in motorcycle clothing and toys.

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Finally we arrived at Indiana Dunes State Park, which is next door to the Dunes National Lakehore. I am not sure why they don’t combine the parks, but you end up paying for the state park, and would pay a second time for the National Lakeshore, except we had our pass.

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Since we had a couple of hours to kill before our tour we went to the State Park and took a hike up and down the dunes until we reached the lakeshore. The dunes themselves are mostly covered in trees and underbrush, which surprised us as we were expecting giant open dunes like at Sleeping Bear Dunes in Michigan.

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Once at the shore you have a great view out over the greenish blue waters of Lake Michigan, but you also had the industrial view just to the west of the steel mills of Gary. The day was somewhat hazy so you could barely make out the Chicago skyline 30 miles away across the southwest corner of the lake.

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After we returned to our car we made our way to the National Lakeshore visitor center to sign in and catch the bus for our tour of the homes. Over 70 years of wind, sand, and surf have battered the five World’s Fair houses located along Lake Front Drive in Beverly Shores, but their uniqueness has weathered the elements. With the theme of a Century of Progress, the houses were built for the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair to demonstrate modern architectural design, experimental materials, and new technologies such as central air conditioning and dishwashers.

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Four of the houses were brought to the dunes by barge in 1935 by real estate developer Robert Bartlett. The Cypress Log Cabin was dismantled at the fair and moved by truck. Bartlett hoped that the high profile houses would entice buyers to his new resort community of Beverly Shores. Today the houses are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The houses have been leased to the Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana. Through this organization, private individuals or families have leased the homes for 30 years with the agreement they must rehabilitate them, normally at a costs over a million dollars.

The first home we went into was the Armco Ferro home, which is noted as the only one of the houses to meet the criteria set by the Fair Committee of building an affordable and mass producible home. This house was made out of Cleveland steel using corrugated steel panels for walls.

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Next door is the House of Tomorrow, which was designed with its own airplane hangar. It’s orgininal design had glass walls throughout, however this home is the only one still not refurbished. When we were there it was definitely a construction zone, and it appeared they have a long ways to go.

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The last home on the dune side of the street is the Cypress Log Cabin, sponsored by the Southern Cypress Manufacturers Association, to promote the use of cypress in construction. Today the harvesting of cypress trees is prohibited, so when the owners were doing their rehab work, they had to locate old cypress wood and reuse it on their project.

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Across the street is the Florida Tropical House. Designed for the southern Florida tropics, the house combines the indoors and outdoors into the living space. Large open terraces and a flamingo pink paint scheme stand out. The owners were home, and took great joy in describing their rehab effort, bringing it back to it’s original beauty. Situated on the lakefront the view both inside and out are fantastic.

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The final house was framed in steel and originally clad with an artificial stone called Rostone (Limestone, shale and alkali). Its Rostone exterior was billed as never needing repairs, but it only lasted until the 1950s. The exterior of this home was completed, but the interior was still being worked on by an eccentric old guy who chain smoked the entire time we were there.

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The highlight of this house was the Ferrari in the garage. Our tours done, with sunset coming, we made our way to Valparaiso where we spent the night.

The next morning was rainy and cool, and we had the long drive back to Columbus. The plans for this day were to hit some Roadside America sites along the way.

First up was a restored Mobil Gas Station in Plymouth, Indiana

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Next up – Mentone, Indiana and the worlds largest egg – or more appropriately a concrete model of an egg

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Continuing across Indiana we stopped in Huntington to see some college professors collection of outdoor toilets….

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Ossian, Indiana gave us a silo painted like a minion.

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Finally we stopped at the Allen County Museum in Lima Ohio, where they had a hearse collection, some beautiful wooden model houses, a locomotive, and a collection of items a doctor pulled out of peoples throats over the years.

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Also here was a mock up of the jail cell that John Dillinger spent time in.

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Of note is their collection of quartz and other stones and minerals.

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All in all a great weekend.