While there were many residents
As a resort community in the late 1800’s through the 1940’s, Cedar Lake had a history that included more than 50 hotels around the lake that offered families comfortable rooms and days filled with water activities. But while the term “resort” is still mentioned, the community has become more of a quiet suburb with the 784 acre lake in the middle of it that still entices fishermen and water sport lovers throughout the year.
Geologists say the lake was the result of a melting glacier and the collection of its water in a clay-lined depression. The experts also concluded the natural lake was much larger 150 years ago and point to the more than 400 acres of wetland on the south end of the lake. Today, the lake is 2.1 miles long and 0.9 miles at its widest point at the north end. State statistics indicate the lake is 15ft. to 16ft. at its deepest, but averages 8ft. to 9ft.
The Potawatomi Indians first roamed the area, then called Lake of the Red Cedars. It is documented that the land was part of the Indians main food trail as they traveled from what is now East Gary through Cedar Lake into Illinois. The Indians found good hunting and fishing and were friendly to the white man who settled the area in the late 1830’s. European hunters also came to Cedar Lake and a lodge built for them in 1834 still exists today on a bluff overlooking the lake on the north east side. Through the years, the building’s exterior has been covered by modern siding, but can you imagine what wonderful tales those walls could tell.
With the arrival of the Monon Railway in the late 1800’s, Cedar Lake began its ascent to becoming a popular resort area with many vacationers arriving from Chicago. These early tourists spent days or weeks at the various hotels that were scattered around the lake. At that time, the Monon tracks ran along the lakeshore on the west side. For convenience, a fleet of small boats picked guests up at the depot and brought them to the hotels. The visitors were able to soak up the sun and enjoy swimming, boating and fishing. A documented story noted that thousands of employees of Marshall Field and Co were brought from Chicago by train to the lake for picnics and family outings. The Monon Company actually purchased acreage adjacent to train tracks which they named Monon Park. Picnics were hosted there and guests had direct access to the lake. Later, that property was managed by the Moody Bible Church and later donated to them for their ministries. The railroad moved its line in 1948 and the property today is known as Cedar Lake Ministries.
In looking at Cedar Lake’s early industry, much of it evolved around the lake. During the winter months the ice companies employed local residents as well as itinerant workers brought by train from Chicago to cut large blocks of ice. The ice blocks were stored in giant ice barns and were eventually sent by train to the meat packing companies like Armour in Chicago. Many of the tools used to cut and move ice blocks, clothing the men wore and other associated items can be seen in the Lake of the Red Cedars Museum today.
In the ensuing years, while there were hundreds of year-round residents, city families became more affluent and summer cottages were built around the lake. Mothers and children would come to the cottages when schools closed in late May and fathers would come out on the weekends. True to the resort image of the time, the cottages were built on 25ft. lots because of the seasonal use and needed little landscaping.
The resort feeling began to change in the 1940’s when workers came up from the south to work in the Gary steel mills. Summer cottages that had become obsolete were quickly converted to year-round homes for growing families. Unfortunately, in many cases the small lots were not conducive to the change in use, but the newcomers made do. In later years as the economy improved, the cottages were torn down and larger homes built.
Cedar Lake celebrated its 50th anniversary as an incorporated town in 2017. But it’s hard to recognize the former resort community of the 30’s and 40’s. While some of the remodeled cottages still exist, they might sit next to million-dollar homes on the lakefront. The economy has again allowed Chicago residents to have summer homes on the lake but unlike earlier cottages, these homes are built for year-round living. New subdivisions are sprouting up all over the community offering amenities such as parks and club houses. Senior citizens or those 55 and older have not been forgotten. There are several new developments geared for that age group.
Bring a lawn chair and sit in one of the lakefront parks and feel the frustrations of daily life melt away. Become a part of Cedar Lake’s new history!