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

 

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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