Jim Ton wore his uniform from when he worked at the Indiana Dunes State Park
when he joined Mark McKibbon and Brad Baumgardner to reminisce about the
park for the Duneland Historical Society on Thursday, March 15 at the
Library Service Center.
Ton worked summers from 1968 until 1973 at jobs which included gate
attendant, park patrolman and campground manager. McKibbon first worked at
IDSP as a seasonal naturalist and lived in the back of the closed grocery
store. He was later hired as the youngest-ever assistant property manager
and after eight years at Clifty Falls State Park became the property manager
of the IDSP from 1985 until 1989. Baumgardner is the current Park
The park was about forty years old when Ton worked there and there have been
about forty years since. He spoke of many changes taking place, the biggest
being the removal of politics from the parks. Prior to that employees
including the superintendent were appointed by the party in power.
During his time as a gate attendant admissions went from $1.00 per car to
$1.25. Patrolmen carried flashlights and firearms and had arrest powers, but
no radios, phones or bulletproof vests. They had to check the parking lots
each night at 11 p.m. and often had to break up beer parties on the beach.
An unsolved case concerned three girls whose car was found but no clues as
to their disappearance.
The Dunes Park Patrol was replaced in 1972 by conservation officers and Ton
became campground manager. He remembers many buildings in the park being
torn down with some of the work done by Chesterton High School football
Uniforms for park employees were changed in 1969 to avoid confusion with
uniforms worn by Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore rangers. Many employees
lived in the park and lifeguards lived in the pavilion penthouses.
Baumgardner showed pictures including a park map from 1932, an early photo
of a pageant in the dunes which took place before the park became a reality,
people such as Governor Jackson for whom Mount Jackson is named, the
pavilion and hotel. One picture showed the elegant dining room in the
pavilion where guests at the hotel were served meals.
The Dunes Arcade Hotel built in 1931 was designed by John Lloyd Wright, son
of Frank Lloyd Wright, and had 88 rooms. Bathrooms were at the ends of the
halls and rooms were small. The arcade was on the first floor. It was torn
down in 1971.
During McKibbon’s tenure as property manager the Dune Park South Shore
Station opened, the park hired its first full-time naturalist, a bird tower
was constructed, a new camp store was built and inmates from Westville
worked in the park. He said that ended soon after one of the inmates escaped
only to be captured in Fort Wayne.
He reported a good relationship with the National Lakeshore.
Gang fights in the park led to an alcohol ban and the park was closed when
the parking lots filled up. In earlier years cars were often parked along
the road outside the park as far back as U.S. 12.
The speakers and members of the audience recalled the Tremont entrance to
the park and the nearby Duneside Inn, Prairie Club Beach House, Wilson
Shelter built by the Wilson Meat Company as a retreat for employees, the
Jens Jensen Fountain, the large boulder at the entrance from Turkey Run
State Park which has been moved twice, work done by the CCC (Civilian
Conservation Corps) during the depression and the Governor’s Cottage.
Ton and Baumgardner are working on locating the footprints of the cottages
and other buildings from the past.
Duneland Historical Society will next meet April 19 at 7:30 p.m. at the
Library Service Center when the program will be presented by author Harry
Mark Petrakis. The program will be preceded by a dinner for members and
their guests at 6:00 p.m.