Barker Mansion and Purdue University

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In the fall of 1946 following the end of World War II, Purdue University opened extension centers in La Porte County. With classes originally being held in both Michigan City and La Porte, the staff of eleven professors was forced to rotate between the two cities to teach. During the first two years, the enrollment for classes was high with an all male student body of 25 freshmen and 30 Technical Institute students. Unfortunately the new extension center soon faced the possibility of closure when enrollment began to decline. In an attempt to find a permanent place to hold classes, Mrs. Catherine Hickox was contacted. Mrs. Hickox, the only child of John H. Barker was asked to donate her childhood home to be used as a campus for the Purdue extension center. Mrs. Hickox agreed and negotiations began to settle the fine details of the donation.

Mrs. Hickox was determined to preserve her father’s memory, even if the house would now belong to the university. So, rather than let the university have free reign to take over the house, Mrs. Hickox asked that they leave four rooms untouched. The four rooms on the first floor, the library, drawing room dining room and entrance hall, would be maintained to the standard that they were when the Barker family lived in the house. Mrs. Hickox allowed the university to keep the original furnishings in place, ensuring that the four rooms remained a monument to John H. Barker. Purdue University agreed that when they no longer had need of the mansion, they would turn it over to the Barker Welfare Foundation to be used as they saw fit. In return for this, Mrs. Hickox gave Purdue free reign to remodel the rest of the house to be more suited towards classrooms. By the time the mansion opened for classes in 1949, the basement, second floor, and parts of the first floor had been turned into classrooms, laboratories, and offices. The Barker Mansion was officially ready to start a new era as the Purdue Barker Center.

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When the mansion opened for students in 1949, the original staff of eleven was down to only three full time professors teaching 35 freshmen and 24 Technical Institute students. The Barker Center’s daytime freshmen courses maintained a low enrollment, but the part-time night classes for the non-traditional students and the general public were very popular and need a constantly growing staff of part-time professors. By 1951, the Barker Center had 51 students enrolled in just the summer classes. This may seem like a small number but it was significant due to the fact that the Barker Center, unlike most of the other universities in Indiana, had not experienced a drop in enrollment. In addition to that, 20 of the 51 students were from large universities and were home for summer vacation. This high (for the Barker Center) number of students and the lack of a drop in enrollment encouraged Director Waterhouse to look into expanding summer workshops and classes for the general community. When he did so, he was meet with greet success across the board. The workshops and classes were loved by the community and covered everything from hands on technical training to speech therapy workshops to classes on how to arrange flowers.

Unlike most universities in the early 1950s, the Barker Center never experienced the expected 12% enrollment drop. Instead, the center had a steady rate of growth that would continue on until the early 1960s. Then, due to the rate of growth of the incoming student body, Purdue made the decision to purchase land in Westville to build a campus on. By 1968, the new campus was ready and Purdue officially moved campuses and renamed their La Porte County extension center Purdue University North Central. This marked the beginning for this newly named campus and the end of another era for the Barker Mansion.

It is hard sometimes to look around this grand mansion and imagine classes being held in the master bedroom and students studying in the library. Yet this is a part of our history here at Barker Mansion. Not only that, but we have to say our thanks to Purdue for all of the precautions they took to ensure that the mansion looks as beautiful now as it did over one hundred years ago.

Until next time this was Heritage Interpreter Jackie Perkins!

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The City Bellow City Hall

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As a historian, a good day could encompass reading, researching, and often times thinking about the past. However, a great day is when we actually get to dig through the past. This past Friday the Barker Mansion team had the opportunity to look through the Michigan City archives! This was a great experience for everyone on the Barker Mansion team. Being able to see tax records dating back to 1881 and further, to city leases of the old wooden rollercoaster generating thrills and screams to patrons in Washington Park during the early 1900’s, was an unforgettable experience.

As soon as you enter the archive, you instantly want to investigate everything. Moving from city ordinance records, to Michigan City improvement bonds, to field manuals written by construction workers putting in the city’s first underground sewer. As with any archive, it is like walking into a time capsule and immediately being immersed with the world of the past. This was the first time I had ever seen a city archive and was truly awed at the sheer amount of records they held. One very interesting find we had included old diary entries from some of Michigan City’s first settlers around the 1830’s. However my personal favorite was seeing an entire drawer filled with documents and court proceedings of the U.S.S. United States and Franklin St Bridge collision in 1915.

However, to me the most interesting part of the dig was what we were not able to look through. We spent about an hour and 45 minutes looking at everything we could, but there was still a vast amount of documents we just could not get to because of time. This goes to show that the past can take up a lot of the present. Entire pieces of Michigan City’s past is just waiting to be rediscovered in city hall.

Besides the cool documents pertaining to Washington Park, our team was able to locate some documents about the Barkers in Michigan City, including old tax records, as well as city zoning maps of the original Haskell and Barker Car Company.

This whole experience just goes to show that history is everywhere. I know I speak for the whole team when I say that our experience was incredible in the city’s archives. Being able to explore the plethora of documents under City Hall made me feel like we were inside an entirely new city, except this time the entire city was just history. I highly encourage everyone to get involved with Michigan City history and explore their surroundings.

Definitely stay tuned for updates on our finds from the archive and be sure to like us on Facebook! Thank you for reading and have a great weekend Michigan City! This is Heritage Interpreter Austin Pittman signing off.

By Austin Pittman, Heritage Interpreter

 

Getting to know MC- and loving it

This content was originally published as an op-ed piece in Michigan City’s News Dispatch and ran on September 9, 2016.

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My adopted hometown of Michigan City is bursting at the seams with fun events and activities each weekend. A girl really doesn’t need to look hard to find something enjoyable to do. This fall will be no exception. We’re cooking up something big with our friends at Barker Hall. Together, we like to nerd-out on history and dream up ideas for sharing our love with others. Our newest idea? We’re throwing a huge party to celebrate 180 years of Michigan City’s history. The Heritage Ball will be held on Saturday, October 1 with activities taking place at both Barker facilities. You can expect jazz, cocktails, finger foods, period costumes, and more. Tickets are $50 a piece or $85 per couple. Give me a call at (219) 873-1520 to reserve your spot or you can purchase online through Eventbrite.

Before I became immersed in all of this wonderful Barker history, I was just a girl exploring her new hometown. Moving to Northwest Indiana five years ago has been a treat for my history-loving husband and me. After he was relocated for work, we decided to make our home in Michigan City. Coming from small towns in Northern Minnesota established in the 1950’s, we were amazed at the rich history of Michigan City and the great diversity of cultural activities available to residents.

We fell in love Michigan City’s beach, the then up-and-coming Uptown Arts District, and restaurants like Shoreline Brewery, taking advantage of the historic building to serve their brews. We visited the Old Lighthouse Museum where volunteers helped us research the history of our home. We bicycled and drove along Lakeshore Drive to admire the varied architectural styles, feeling as if we’d been transported to Florida or California in an instant. We visited the public library and checked out books on Washington Park’s history, marveling at old photographs from the amusement park days. We climbed the WPA tower at the Zoo and enjoyed Monkey Island. We went to Mass at St. Stan’s and St. Mary’s and were amazed at the beauty of the artwork and details, both inside and out of the sacred spaces. We took advantage of First Fridays, with one of our favorite stops being a tour of Trinity Episcopal Church whenever the bright red doors were open.

Stepping into the role of Director at the Barker Mansion has allowed me to immerse myself even deeper into our City’s history. I feel that it’s impossible to talk about the history of our City without referencing the Barker family. They have been here since our incorporation as a city in 1836. As a handsome young lad from Massachusetts, John Barker Sr. came here at age 22 and set up a general merchandising firm on the shore of Lake Michigan 180 years ago. A couple decades later, Barker became involved in a small freight car business which grew to employ thousands of people and allowed him to accumulate massive wealth. Lucky for our town’s ancestors, he was a generous guy and passed that value onto his kids. Barker money helped build this town. They contributed architecturally magnificent buildings to our City, funded the arts, and built places of worship and education. The Barker legacy of 180 years lives today through two very tangible examples in the Uptown Arts District – Barker Hall and the Barker Mansion.

I am so grateful that life has brought me to Michigan City, a place steeped in history, art, and architecture. Please help me celebrate 180 years of my adopted hometown’s rich heritage this fall by attending the ball on October 1. We have so much to celebrate and so much to which we can look forward. Guys, dust off your fedoras. Ladies, get out your flapper dresses. I know I’ll be wearing mine.

By Jessica Rosier, Director

A reminder of who I should be

Life is about relationships. It’s about how we choose to make a mark on this earth, who we can impact and reach in a positive way before our number is called.

This is something I forget sometimes. I used to be better. I used to remember every single visitor’s name, even remember their dog’s names, their likes and dislikes. That was when work was easier. I was a seasonal interpreter and had time to invest in building relationships with visitors, and thus, enhancing their experience and making them feel as if they belonged and were a valued addition to the property. I was pretty good at that.

Then, I became a grown up. I got a full-time job. Oftentimes, moving up in the field of interpretation (whether at parks or museums) means moving from the front visitor lines to behind a desk in a back office. The desk world is tough. Staring at a computer screen, meeting deadlines, doing budgets (math isn’t my thing), and being a logistics coordinator means I spend less and less time with visitors. That’s how I excuse my “inability” to learn visitor’s names and backstories. I leave that job to our seasonal heritage interpreters, the role I once held so well.

I am wrong, though. I need to hold onto this role. I need to strike a balance between the desk duties and visitor interaction. I have been letting this desk job get the best of me. Luckily, last week’s History Camp brought me back to life. Hanging out with seven kids for the week, designing and leading programs like I did as a seasonal interpreter, detaching myself from the computer, and just taking time to enjoy their personalities has reinvigorated me.

Our History Camp ran Monday through Thursday of the past week. We had boys and girls ranging in age from six to 11 years. I’ve led many camps before, but none quite like this. This one seemed special. We had less kids than camps I’d led in the past, and that was really a blessing. It allowed us to absorb their personalities and really bond through the week. Each day started with an ice breaker, created by staff member Amanda. We learned many things about each other, from one camper’s ability to recite all the presidents to another’s musical talents. Though the week, we toured through the mansion and ventured into the “creepy and smelly” basement. We embarked on a scavenger hunt (which prompted one high-energy camper to repeatedly hide in closets) and even took a field trip to the Old Lighthouse Museum where we had a fantastic tour led by Karen. Our last day ended with a special lunch from Top Dog. Seeing the kids picnicking in the formal mansion gardens with ketchup and mustard smeared all over their faces was a great contrast.

The last few minutes of camp were a little crazy. We were cleaning up lunch, passing out t-shirts, and parents were coming to get their kids. As they were leaving, many campers expressed interest in coming back again next year; some wished it could be History Camp every day of the summer. They even offered to move into the mansion, live in the servant’s quarters and clean for me if they could stay a little longer.

Yes, we will be offering History Camp again next summer. I hope my feeling of having reconnected with an interpreter’s purpose doesn’t fade through the next year. If it does, I will count on these campers to reinvigorate me again in 2017.

Thanks to our staff and volunteers for their assistance. Thanks, especially, to our seven campers for reminding me that life is about relationships and the way we relate with each other as human beings on this earth. Thanks for reminding me that it’s important to step away from my desk and connect with visitors. I hope our camp has impacted and reached each one of you in a positive way. See you in 2017.

By Jessica Rosier, Director

jrosier@emichigancity.com

New Discoveries at the Barker Mansion

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Today the staff members did something that has been on our bucket list since the beginning of the summer- we opened up the attic spaces and took a peak inside. The staff have anxiously awaited this afternoon when we would all be free to take our flashlights out and see if the Purdue (or even the Barkers) left some treasures in the attic. There are two openings into the attic- one in the old 1857 part of the mansion and the other in the ballroom on the 3rd floor of the 1905 edition. Who knew what we would expect! Would there be enough room to physically inspect brickwork or would we be blocked at the door and only take a small look into the area where so many of our visitors ask questions about. I was not taking any risks when it came to climbing up into the attic. I came to work prepared with my jeans stuffed into long socks and boots. It looked like I was going into a bio-hazardous situation with my NASA sweatshirt pulled over my head and secured with a mask. But I wanted to be safe rather than sorry.

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Suited up for our attic adventure

 

When we opened the attic in the 1857 house,  fellow Heritage Interpreter T.J. and I were able to crawl around and examine where the old brick meets the new edition. We saw original piping and what looked like the makings of an old duct in the kitchen. Instructions for the laying of wool insulation littered the area beneath us as we carefully made our way to each rafter. The Ballroom was not as fruitful. I had hoped to find a bust of Katherine Barker which would complete our set of busts of John H. Barker, Anna Barker, and young Catherine Barker. I wanted to find missing pictures or perhaps small toys that were placed there for safe keeping and later forgotten. Unfortunately, all we saw was modern insulation.

Seeing the attic was just another way I could really visualize what sort of construction was happening in the mansion over 100 years ago. I can more accurately define where the 1857 house ends and the new edition begins after seeing that raw footprint. But like any good researcher, we were left with even more questions and more opportunities for some interpretation of the construction in our Behind the Scenes tours. The sites were truly remarkable and warrant further research to bring what we saw today into aspects of our tours and exhibits.

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Heritage Interpreter T.J. Kalin takes the first look into the 3rd floor attic

If you are looking to know more about the workings of the mansion or simply just want to peak into rooms that are not included on the 1pm guided tour, come to our Behind the Scenes tours on Wednesday nights at 7pm. Doors open 15 prior to the tour. Capacity is limited to the first 15 guests that arrive. Tickets are $15/adult, $10/youth.

See http://www.barkermansion.com for more details.


Emily Reth

Heritage Interpreter

 

Exhibits at the Barker Mansion

One of the things I most enjoy about working at the Barker Mansion is that I am surrounded by real living history. It can also pose as a disadvantage in many cases- we don’t allow photography of the artifacts, we cannot touch the artifacts and most of the items on the tours, some rooms must be roped off at the door. It is honestly an oxymoron. We want people to enjoy the history that the house provides, but as staff we create barriers so items can be preserved and enjoyed for future generations. One of the ways we can show guests artifacts is by creating exhibits.

Yesterday the Barker Mansion staff moved many of the exhibit cases from the 3rd floor ballroom to several other rooms in the mansion. Previously, the 3rd floor was a self- guided floor where several exhibit cases were created with items collected from the mansion. Today our first tour experienced our new exhibit case locations. Cases were put in the Catherine’s sitting room, master bathroom, master bedroom, and exhibits are still waiting to be created in the drawing room and old master bedroom. The tour flowed seamlessly- guests were able to visualize what items Mrs. Barker used in the master bedroom or see what toys Catherine played with in her sitting room. As a heritage interpreter here at the mansion, I am always examining how my tours go and what snags I come across in the story I tell. When the staff came together, we noticed similar problems in how our tour was constructed. Exhibit cases enhanced the experience of the tour and allowed guests to participate in learning what Catherine’s childhood was like here at the Barker Mansion.

Come take a look at our new exhibits!

Tours are offered Tuesday- Saturday from 10am – 11:30am for a 1st floor self guided tour and Tuesday- Saturday promptly at 1pm for a guided tour of all 3 floors of the mansion.Our Behind the Scenes tours are Wednesday nights at 7pm. Entry is limited to the first 15 guests.

See http://www.barkermansion.com for more details.


Emily Reth

Heritage Interpreter

Behind the Scenes Tour

Tonight will be the mansion’s 3rd Behind the Scenes tour of the summer! I had the privileged of leading the first Behind the Scenes tour on June 15th. Summer had finally come, and with that, a specialty tour. This tour in particular is unique because guests visiting the Barker Mansion can discover how the mansion operated, explore the basement and peek into rooms that are not seen on the guided tours.

Guest admiring artifacts in the Library

As an interpreter, I have mixed opinions about this sort of tour and I was both excited and nervous about leading people through the archive, the basement where we are currently renovating some of the rooms, and other more personal areas, such as my office located in what would have been a servant’s bedroom in the 1857 part of the house. I was worried that because I would be leading a tour through rooms like the Summer Kitchen and Wine Cellar in the basement, I would not be able to answer as many detailed questions. As I walked through rooms two weeks ago making last minute preparations before guests arrived, I realized that this tour would be more of a challenge- the tour talks more in depth about our relationship with Purdue and has more of a mechanical feel since we discuss the inventions installed in the 1905 edition that were “before their time”. Pictures, blueprints, diagrams, and copies of post cards were set up along my journey to assist me in interpreting the rooms and artifacts.

Students from Purdue North Central when the Barker Mansion served as a center for study

 

For the community, this is a fantastic way to travel back to an era where modern inventions were merely ideas and dreams. The two hour guided tour is a way to comprehend how a different generation operated. My knowledge of the Barker family and the factory are challenged, but a new narrative is created, shedding light on so many questions guests have wondered while touring the mansion. As an interpreter, this tour was a way to share a story that is not told very often.

Space for this tour is limited to the first 15 guests.  Admission prices are $15/Adult & $10/youth.  Doors open 15 min in advance.

 


Emily Reth

Heritage Interpreter