Explore the history of the region as well as the nature supported by the Hoosier State’s famous lakeside sand dunes in Porter, Indiana. 

Indiana Dunes National Park in Porter, Indiana (photo courtesy of National Park Service)

In the early 1800s, the Quebec-born Honore Gratien Joseph Bailly de Messein established a trading post on the Little Calumet River in Northwest Indiana. At the time, the region was considered a vast no man’s land of swamps, swales, sand dunes and useless beach frontage along the southern shore of Lake Michigan.

But Bailly, who had been granted a fur-trading license by President William Henry Harrison despite having spent time in a Detroit prison for aiding the British during the War of 1812, recognized that the location was the perfect gathering spot for Native Americans and European explorers to buy and sell furs and other goods. It only got better when the first stagecoach line was established between Detroit and Fort Dearborn. Bailly, ever the entrepreneur, opened a stop where passengers could dine on meals prepared by his wife Marie and horses could be fed and watered. 

The two-story house where he and Marie lived with their many children was furnished with items imported from Europe, its size and luxury well beyond the rough log cabins that most early settlers called home back then. Bailly’s homestead is now part of the 15,000-acre Indiana Dunes National Park, one of the most biodiverse spots in the country. Here there are 50 miles of trails, soaring dunes, woodlands with rare native plants and butterflies, and 15 miles of Lake Michigan beach. 

It’s a short walk from the Bailly homestead to Chellberg Farm, another historic site tucked away in the park. The Chellbergs were one of many Swedish families who lived and farmed in the dunes starting in the last half of the 19th century. The farm’s home and outbuildings include a barn built around 1870, farm animals and maple syrup making. 

Birders should mark their calendar for the annual four-day Indiana Dunes Birding Festival held each May and hosted by the Indiana Audubon Society. For those who want to get out on the water, there’s a 90-minute Riding with a Ranger Tour aboard the Emita II that follows the park’s coastline. 1100 N. Mineral Springs Rd., Porter, Indiana 46304, 219/395-1882, nps.gov/indu