An Old School Escape

(Above: Spring Mill Park, 1940)

With heat waves getting ready to slap us in the face like a microwaved salmon, it’s easy to crank our A/C to eleven and ride it out. But this wasn’t always the case.

Here’s a small collection of snapshots, postcards, and memories of Hoosiers from the past cooling off the only way they knew how…swimming, splashing, and dogpaddling in one of Indiana’s many beaches.

From the chilly waters of Lake Michigan to the man-made convenience of Indy’s Broad Ripple Park, this collection of memories (found at the fascinating online database The Indiana Album) is sure to stir up memories, and maybe get you looking for a nearby beach yourself.

Michigan City, 1960

Michigan City is home to the eastern section of the Indiana Dunes National Park. For over a century, visitors have come from northern Indiana and Chicago to the city’s soft beaches in the summer months to dive into Lake Michigan’s cool waters. The distinctive thrum of wind passing over Michigan City’s sand dunes earned the area its nickname “the singing sands”.

North Webster, 1960

Almost a dozen lakes surround North Webster in Kosciusko County, providing visitors with plenty of open beach even in the hottest weather. Be sure to take a ride on The Dixie, one of the state’s oldest paddlewheel steamboats, which has tooted around Lake Webster since 1929.

Broad Ripple Park, 1910

For many years, the pool at Broad Ripple Park in Indianapolis was the largest outdoor pool in the world, and was the last remnant of White City, an Indy amusement park destroyed in a fire in 1908. Although expensive to maintain, the massive pool still cools off visitors by the thousands every year.

Turkey Run Park, 1910

Turkey Run State Park, the second established state park in Indiana, has miles of weaving, gurgling cool water that once brought swimmers from all around Indiana. However, swimming in these creeks can be dangerous, especially after heavy rains. Instead, visitors today can enjoy the park’s Olympic-sized swimming pool.

Wawasee Lake, 1907

Southeast of Syracuse, Indiana, Wawasee Lake (or Lake Wawasee) is the largest natural lake in the state, once used to “float” the short-lived and experimental Wabash and Erie Canal. Dozens of luxury hotels once lined its shores, with tourists spending the day relaxing and enjoying a refreshing swim. Although the hotels aren’t quite as refined today, the lake still supports a thriving tourism industry.

Chesterton, 1954

Now nearly a century old, the Dunes Pavilion, once known as the Dunes Bath House, ushered countless Hoosiers step through its concrete archways to the white sandy beaches. Attempts are now underway to restore the Pavilion to its former glory, and add the Chesterton landmark to the city’s offerings of event accommodations.

Rensselaer, 1920

The women depicted above are most likely swimming in a calm part of the Iroquois River, a tributary of the Kankakee River which flows through the Indiana city. This river formed the economic backbone of the city’s first settlers. The city also held the St. Joseph Indian Normal School, which hopes to educate concerted American-Indian youth.

Spring Beach, 1911

Spring Beach is now better known as a road running through Rome City, but it once was legendary a Orange County recreation hotspot. Now the city’s most popular feature is the Gene Stratton-Porter State Historic Site, celebrating one of Indiana’s earliest conservationists.

Indiana Beach. Monticello, 1955

It would be silly to have a collection of Indiana’s beaches without including its (arguably) most famous beach. This icon of Indiana recreation was owned by the Spackman family for almost 80 years, expanding from a length of sandy lakeshore to an outright amusement park. Almost every Hoosier has spent hours lolling in its Lazy River, strolling along its boardwalk (with all the air conditioning signs) or squishing the sand between their toes in the beach area.