A La Porte County Life in the Spotlight: Jessica Rosier

 Jessica Rosier, the Director of the Barker Mansion, has not always been a Hoosier. She was born and raised in northern Minnesota, which is where she first fell in love with nature. Rosier’s passion for nature compelled her into earning her master’s degree in geography with a concentration in tourism planning and development from St. Cloud State University.

Rosier recently gained her Hoosier status when she and her husband moved here not too long ago.

“About six years ago, my husband got transferred for work in Northwest Indiana, which is when I became a Hoosier,” she said.

Rosier and her husband initially resided in Valparaiso where she worked at the Dunes State Park, but then she was promoted and transferred to Indianapolis with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.

“We really missed life in Northwest Indiana and in the Dunes. The Barker Mansion Director job opened up about two years ago, and we knew we wanted to live in Michigan City, so I applied, got it, and here we are today.”

As the Director of the Barker Mansion, Rosier is the secret face behind the scenes.

“I am kind of the support behind the scenes person. The Barker Mansion leads tours and plans special events, which I lead at times, but my interpreters are the ones usually leading the tours,” she said. “My job is to make sure that we have money to do these things, the marketing is going out, the websites are up to date, staff schedules are in place, and I also help to manage repairs on the building, so I work with contractors quite a bit too.”

Her favorite part about working as the Director for the Barker Mansion is being able to work with a historic building that has lots of history behind it and a lot of potential for the future.

“My favorite part about working here is that the mansion is a work in progress, with a lot of potential. When I got here two years ago, I like to say that the mansion was sleeping and it had been sleeping for a few decades and it’s my job to gently wake it up,” Rosier stated.

Rosier and her staff work to try and get people back to the mansion who have not visited in a while, as well as introduce it to those who have never been.

“We’ve been trying out a lot of different programs to get in a lot of people in their 20s and 30s to revisit this place and realize that it is a value to the community. Then, they can start bringing their kids to get the next generation invested in this place,” she said. “It is also a big goal to get people coming back again and again instead of just coming once in elementary school. We are starting to see that, so it is really exciting when we start recognizing our guests and remembering their names.”

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Rosier dressed as the Barker’s Dining Room maid, Alice Smith, at a birthday party last fall.

When on a tour of the Barker Mansion, the tour guides will claim and share that the mansion is haunted. Rosier has been working as the Barker Mansion’s Director for a couple of years now, but has yet to encounter any haunted scenarios.

“I have not encountered anything suspicious, but many of my staff members have. Many of them have stories about seeing, hearing, and even feeling things when in the mansion. I do trust my team and I do believe it, but I just have not experienced it myself,” she said.

Outside of working as the Director of the Barker Mansion, Rosier enjoys being outside and supporting local businesses.

“I love being outside, even in the winter, and I think that comes from growing up in northern Minnesota. I try to go to the beach every day and walk or run with my dog. My husband and I love to go hiking, especially at the Dunes… we love the Dunes,” she said. “We also love trying new local restaurants in town. We really enjoy supporting local businesses. I love going to thrift stores and I like to quilt when I have time.”

Right now, during the mansion’s winter hours, tours are open to the public Tuesday through Saturday at 1 p.m. There are also special events that the mansion puts on that can be found on the website.

If you would like to learn more about the Barker Mansion, or see what special events are going on in the near future, click here.

Scary good changes

Change is scary.

 Change is good.

Change is hard.

Change is easy.

What’s your take on change? Is it scary? Good? Easy? Hard? I believe it is all of the above. At the Barker Mansion, many changes have been made over the last 21 months.

Some of the changes were good (and easy). Getting rid of mold and asbestos in our basement was an easy decision to make and has led to a good change. We now have a clean, well-lit space for future programming.

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Above: The basement at Barker Mansion during the renovation process.

Investing staff time and hiring qualified people like Jackie and Emily to organize our precious archival photos and documents was an easy decision and a change that’s led to all sorts of good. The materials will soon be available digitally to researchers across the globe. Intern Anna is continually researching bits of our past that make us change our story, just in the slightest ways.

Some of the changes were good (and scary). Opening up the mansion to after-hours tours during the Halloween season and letting folks wander in the dark was a scary thought. TJ’s Barker Blackout Tours, however, were among our most popular events for the year.

Another scary good change has been allowing the consumption of alcohol on-site during events such as bridal showers, or Austin’s upcoming Painting the Past program (think wine and canvas-type event). I initially worried about the protection of the artifacts if people were drinking and got tipsy. So far, folks have been extremely well-mannered and my worries have amounted to nothing. It’s been a good change.

So what about the hard changes we’ve made?

Some changes have been hard in the matter of time they consume. Designing a website. Branding the mansion. Deep-cleaning every square inch. Working to the wee hours of the morning so contractors can finish the basement work on time. Staying up all night during Night at the Mansion scout sleepovers. Despite the amount of time all the aforementioned tasks have taken, they have been extremely worth it and have led to good change.

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Above: Night at the Mansion scout sleepovers.

Other changes have been hard due to the unknowns. Will people complain if we change our tour times and offerings? How will people respond to more authentic (and way toned-down) Christmas decorations? Will teachers grumble if we scrap a long-running field trip program and replace it with more historically-based material? What will people think if we rope off certain rooms to protect the artifacts? All of these questions posed great concerns to me, and still do. While we certainly take criticism for some changes, others are met with great acceptance.

Please wish us luck, foresight and wisdom as we continue to make scary good changes at the Barker Mansion.

Jessica Rosier, Director

jrosier@emichigancity.com

Christmas at the Barker Mansion

15253481_641036996068357_5709921093500943458_nChristmas is finally upon us! It truly is the most magical time of year here at the Barker Mansion. Glorious Christmas trees decorated with intricate ornaments and lights radiate cheer all through the mansion. No matter the harsh winter weather outside, the Barker Mansion will make you awe in bewilderment inside.

We have had the honor of hosting a number of Region organizations to come in and decorate the mansion, so while you are exploring, make sure to read a little bit about their organization and the theme they decorated the room to.

One great thing about Christmas at the mansion, is the opportunity to finally empty out some of our closets that have been storing Christmas decorations all year. Whenever I give a tour, I almost always get asked, “What’s in the closet?”. I usually jokingly answer (but semi-serious) that whenever you see a closet in the mansion, there is a 99 percent chance there are Christmas decorations in it. Well, this time of year, you are finally able to see for yourself what is in the closet.   

Besides all the illustrious decorations, one of my favorite things about Christmas time at the mansion are all of our incredible ensemble performances. This is the time for Michigan City locals, or Region natives, to showcase their talents and spread Christmas cheer through their beautiful flute, trumpet, vocal, or piano performances! These ensembles are sure to warm your heart and make sure you leave with a smile.  

This time of year is also especially fun for the Heritage Interpreters because we have the opportunity to work with so many of our wonderful volunteers! This is one of my personal favorite things about Christmas at the mansion. During our Christmas season, we have the pleasure of meeting so many volunteers from all walks of life. Hearing the volunteer’s connections to the mansion always make me smile and feel proud to work at such an incredible home. In true Barker fashion, the Barker Mansion volunteers and their philanthropy are the backbone of this incredible monument. For anyone interested in volunteering at the mansion, we are always accepting volunteers and would love for you to come and be a part of our special family! So on behalf of myself and the rest of the Barker Mansion staff, we sincerely thank all of the volunteers for making this Christmas season a splendid and magical time for everyone here at the mansion.

Make sure to stop by if you have not already, and also follow us on Facebook. We look forward to seeing you at the mansion!
This is Heritage Interpreter Austin Pittman wishing you all a very merry and happy holidays, and a most splendid New Year!

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