Chesterton Tribune

Indiana Dunes history: Read House placed on National Register of Historic Places

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The home of long-time environmentalists Herb and Charlotte Read has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Carol Shull, Interim Keeper of the National Register of Historic Places, listed the Read Dunes House on Dec. 8, according to a statement released this morning by the Reads.

Designed by Herb Read, the house was commissioned by his parents, Philo Benham Read (1882-1961) and Irene Martin Read (1902-1981), and is located in Tremont, the historic “Gateway to the Dunes,” on Tremont Road north of Chesterton.

The house lies 1,000 feet inside the southern boundary of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, which was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson on Nov. 5, 1966. Eight months after President Johnson signed the law, Irene Read wrote to the National Park Service offering up the property. “Having helped fight for this park for many years as a member of the Save the Dunes Council and the Izaak Walton League,” she wrote, “I am delighted to be included in the park area.” The National Park Service bought the house in 1969, vacant since the “Reservation of Occupancy and Use” expired on Sept. 30, 2010.

Herb and Charlotte Read and supporters of the nomination hope that its listing on the National Register of Historic Places will prompt the National Park Service to put the Read Dunes House to use for environmental education, a staging point for hikes on the nearby Lycokiwe Trail, and as a museum or interpretive center to tell the story of the citizen movement to preserve the Dunes.

The late Stewart Udall, former Secretary of the Interior (1961-69), was among those who supported the nomination. In a handwritten letter to Herb Read dated Dec. 15, 2009, he wrote: “I remember your leadership well. I support your application and it is a privilege to help you.”

That was one of Udall’s last public acts before he died three months later on March 20, 2010. In the 1960s, Udall presided over the most ambitious era of park creation since the New Deal—including the creation of great urban parks within a short distance of large cities, shoreline parks and midwestern parks -- of which the 1966 Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore is a notable example. Until the National Lakeshore was created, the National Park System had no major unit in the Midwestern heartland.

U.S. Pete Visclosky, D-1st, also wrote in support of the nomination that “the Read Dunes House, designed by Herb Read and occupied by Philo Read, then Herb Read, stands as a historic testament to the hard work and dedication of all those involved with the conservation of the Lakeshore. Many strategic meetings were held at this home by the Save the Dunes Council and the Porter County Chapter of the Izaak Walton League of America, not to mention the individual discussions held to continue the fight on behalf of the unique ecosystem found along the south shore of Lake Michigan. Further, the Porter County Chapter of the Izaak Walton League of America was founded in the Read Dunes House and as founding members, the Reads energized the other members of this organization with their ceaseless enthusiasm to protect this most precious resource.”

J. Ronald Engel, who wrote the definitive history, Sacred Sands: The Struggle for Community in the Indiana Dunes (1984), supported the nomination as well. In his book he writes that the Read family was a key element of the intergenerational continuity and leadership of the citizens’ movement: “One example of the remarkable series of relationships that have characterized the movement over the generations is the Read family. Chicago novelist Opie Read was a good friend of Carl Sandburg, Lorado Taft and other notables of the Chicago Renaissance. His son, Philo B. Read, an artist, was a friend of Jens Jensen and an ardent Dunatic. Philo participated in the Dunes Pageant of 1917 and worked assiduously for the Indiana Dunes State Park in the 1920s. Thirty years later he was a leader of the Save the Dunes Council. Philo’s son Herbert P. Read, an architect, took up the fight for the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore in the 1950s and continues to this day to be one of the Dunes’ most outspoken advocates. Charlotte Johnson Read, his wife, became executive director of the Save the Dunes Council in 1976.”

Irene M. Read had organized early petition drives with the Save the Dunes Council and was a founding member of the Porter County Chapter of the Izaak Walton League, which was founded at the Read Dunes House in 1958. She was recognized by the League in 1981 “for her long efforts on behalf of preserving the Indiana Dunes” and as a “founding member of the Porter County Chapter.”

National Register Interim Keeper Carol Shull wrote that after review of the nomination, she determined that “The Read Dunes House is historically significant for its association with the efforts of citizen conservation groups to preserve the Indiana Dunes and create the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. While the beginning of these efforts dates back to the early 20th century, it was in the 1950s-1960s that they proved successful, overcoming the opposition of industry and much of the state’s political leadership, leading to the preservation of the dunes and the creation of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore in 1966. It was during this time period that events occurring at the Read Dunes House played a central role.”

The nomination, she continued, “provides the specifics of the events that occurred at the Read House including the dates of strategic meetings of the Save the Dunes Council and the Izaak Walton League (whose Porter County Chapter was founded in the Read Dunes House), the legal, political and public awareness strategies planned there, the fundraising efforts directed, the petition drives undertaken, the newsletters written, the letter-writing campaigns, and the studies produced.”

Shull concluded: “We agree with the opinion of the Indiana Deputy State Historic Preservation Officer that the work of the committees and groups that met at the Read’s house was crucial to the movement. The considerable number of letters and statements of support included with the nomination further demonstrate the importance of the Read family and their home in the efforts to save the dunes and establish the National Lakeshore.”

The golden anniversary of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service will be marked in 2016. As Pia Lopez, a daughter-in-law of Herb and Charlotte Read and the preparer of the nomination, has noted, “The Read Dunes House is a perfect location to tell both the human and natural history that is the essence of Dunes country. The Read Dunes House is one of those places where conservationists met and worked and made history, the creation of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. This is a place to tell the story of the people who made a park.”

Supporters of the Read Dunes House listing on the National Register hope to work with Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore Superintendent Costa Dillon and the Midwest Regional Office of the National Park Service to establish a public-private partnership to assure the future of the historic house.

 

Posted 12/14/2011