Barker Mansion and Purdue University

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.


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!


The City Bellow City Hall


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


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

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

Pink Tea in the Garden

Summer at the Barker Mansion is here! We are anxiously awaiting some of our newer events such as our Summer Camp and Movie by Moonlight events. For the first time, I will experience the Pink Tea event coming up on June 25th and 26th. Both afternoon teas will start at 3pm.

The Pink Tea has been a Barker Mansion tradition for quite a few years. Traditionally held outside under the pergola, the tea invites a new experience to guests. When the Barkers lived in the mansion over 100 years ago, tea in the garden, whether in the tea house or under the pergola, was not out of the ordinary. At the Pink Tea, guests can imagine what tea with Mrs. Barker and friends could have been like as they enjoy the sites of the garden with their own family and friends.


This year’s afternoon tea will be catered by the Duneland Beach Inn. Take a sneak peak at our menu!

The Braur Museum’s Gregg Hertzlieb will be our speaker this year. He will take a look at the captivating artwork of dunes painter Frank Dudley(1868-1957), whose regional contributions in the creative and environmental realms would have been familiar to the Barker Family.



Reserve your seat at this year’s Pink Tea!

Also new this year, the occasion will include a self-guided first floor tour of the mansion following the event. Advance registration and payment of $32 per adult or $28 per youth (ages 17 and under) is required. Groups can reserve a table of six for $180. Eventbrite processing fees will apply.

Tickets are on sale now and can be purchased through the link below:



Emily Reth

Heritage Interpreter



Jewelry Making at the Mansion

Last night at the Barker Mansion, we had a local from the community come to the mansion to teach a jewelry making class. Pat Frankinburger is a retired english teacher who has dedicated her retirement to numerous hobbies. One that she started around six years ago was jewelry making. From the moment she picked up a jewelry kit from Barnes and Noble, Pat has been making her own jewelry and continues to do so.

Pat getting the class started.

The students for tonight’s class had the opportunity to create their own jewelry. They could choose between a bracelet and a pendant for the class. The class was all women, but there was a variety of ages. We had children, young adults, and adults all in attendance. Everyone seemed very eager to learn, and that’s not too surprising. Who wouldn’t want to know how to make their own jewelry? It’s probably cheaper in the longer run. Plus, as Pat shared with me, “there’s something special about wearing something you made”.

The students making their pendants and bracelets.

As stated before, Pat used to be an english teacher. This was the first time Pat has ever taught a jewelry making class, but she naturally fit the part as teacher once again. She kept everyone’s attention and made sure to work one-on-one with everyone during the process. She told me before the class started that she felt nervous since this was her first time sharing her methods for making jewelry. She recalled the first time she wore her jewelry out in public. She wasn’t sure how people would respond, if they would respond at all. In the end, she received compliments for her jewelry. That was a great feeling for her then, and teaching this class was also a great feeling for her.

Pat helping one of the students.

The reason Pat decided to have this class was due to her being in contact with Jessica, the head of the Barker Mansion. Pat has been a volunteer for the mansion, and felt there was no better place than the mansion to have her first class. When asked why, Pat simply said, “[it’s her] way of paying back the community”.

Two of the finished bracelets.

Pat said, “it’s all about creativity” and that showed tonight during the class. She shared some pattern designs the students could do, but Pat encouraged everyone to do whatever they wanted. She promoted they be creative with it. In the end, it will be their jewelry, so it should look the way they want it to look.

Pat giving one-on-one guidance.

Continuing on, the creativity had all always been there for Pat and the first person Pat taught how to make jewelry was her daughter, a fine arts major. Now, her daughter has gone on to make some fantastic jewelry, and Pat uses that as motivation to make her own jewelry better. Pat is currently looking into having another class with a troop of girl scouts in the future. She is excited about that prospect since it is a way to teach the girls something new while also allowing mothers and daughters to have a bonding experience the way Pat had with her own daughter.

Pat Frankinburger, our jewelry making teacher for the night.

Making jewelry is a hobby for Pat, and she sees it staying that way. She’s been told to sell her jewelry on sites like Etsy and to create an online presence. Pat does attend craft shows and fairs to sell some of her jewelry. However, she isn’t looking to branch out and make her hobby into a business. She’s a crafter and enjoys making the jewelry for fun. Making some money isn’t bad, but in the end, it’s simply something fun to do. Pat has expressed the idea of having future classes, and we would love to have back again.

Miguel Valencia

Learning by Touring

The Barker Mansion is home to many events. It opens its doors to the public and community, allowing people to be a part of the mansion. Meeting for organizations, “how to” classes, parties, and sleepovers are just a few of the many happenings that occur in the Barker Mansion. One aspect of the mansion that sometimes gets overlooked, but is indeed important, is the fact that we give out tours of the mansion.

The mansion has added signs to further help interpret rooms.

Tours of the Barker Mansion happen every Tuesday through Saturday at 1pm. In the past, tours have been self-guided and allowed people to walk through the mansion at their own leisure. Now, tours are all led by a guide and everyone is a part of one group. The tour itself takes around 45 minutes and allows people the chance to see the many rooms of the mansions.

Another interpretation sign.

I’ve had the ability to tag along on a few tours of the mansion. The mansion isn’t a massive place, but I’ve always seemed to learn something new. There have been times where I’ve privately walked around the three floors, exploring the different rooms. Those these walks were nice, I never really knew what I was looking at.

The door that is often mistaken for a dumbwaiter.

The rooms are elegant and grand. The bedrooms are spacious and fancy. The halls are large. The ballroom is filled with fascinating artifacts. However, that’s basically all I could ever take away from walking through the mansion on my own. All the knowledge I’ve gained about the mansion has been given to me through the tours.

Some of the artifacts of the mansion.

This past Saturday I joined the 1pm tour and once again went through the mansion. Once again, I learned some new things like that there’s a hidden button on the table in the dining room. One lady was talking to the tour guide and I overheard an interesting tidbit. The lady shared that she personally enjoys having a guide rather than doing self-guided.

One of the many pianos in the mansion.

In my head, I agreed with the lady. The guide spoke about how she also enjoys having a guide since then you know what you’re looking at. Naturally, the guides we have know everything there is possibly to know about the mansion and the Barker family. This point was really insightful. It makes perfect sense. Yes, it’s nice to have the ability to tour the mansion on your own, seeing the many rooms at your own pace. However, unless you’re a real history buff, you aren’t really learning/knowing anything about the mansion.

The room of Catherine’s teacher.

Everything looks really nice, but what makes the mansion interesting is the history surrounding it all. The era it’s from and the family that lived in it are what make the mansion fascinating. So, I’ve enjoyed having the ability to join a tour group and learn more and more about the mansion. It’s allowed me to morph a more complete perspective on interning here. Being guided through the mansion has allowed me to be more appreciative of the mansion as a whole.

I’m grateful for always having a guide on the tours since it’s allowed me to understand what I’m looking at/supposed to be looking at. Greater, finer details are given about a room and why it was set up the way it was. Explanation for certain styles and choices are told so that I’m able to walk away from the tour with a greater sense of knowledge.

Miguel Valencia