Starting in the north and working our way south, there’s the small town of Beverly Shores, which is surrounded by the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. The tiny railroad depot is one of nine original stations built along a train route in 1929 that reached into Milwaukee, and only one of two that still exist. The depot is on the National Register of Historic Places.
It also serves as the Beverly Shores Museum and Art Gallery, which is open Friday through Sunday from 11am to 3pm usually from May through October. The small museum tells about the history of the community and the strong influence of Lithuanian immigrants.
Also in Beverly Shores is a replica of the Old North Church in Boston. It was originally featured in the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair and brought to Beverly Shores shortly after. It’s now a private home. It’s not really worth seeking out, but there are five other much more interesting homes from the fair in Beverly Shores. You can read about those homes and the beaches here.
The town of Porter has remnants of the area’s Swedish roots. The Augsburg Svenska Skola was a small building that served as a school for Swedish immigrant children from the 1840s to 1885. All classes were in Swedish. The current building was built in 1880.
Behind the school is the Burstrom Swedish Cemetery, which was founded in 1870 to serve the Swedish community. Many of the headstones are written in Swedish.
Porter is also the home of the Bailly Homestead, the oldest settlement in Northwest Indiana, and Chellberg Farm, a Swedish immigrant settlement. Both are part of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. Read about them here.
If you like watching trains, Porter is a great place to do it. There are several sets of tracks running through the town. Other than that, you can find a couple of good choices for food. Santiago’s serves very good Mexican food while Wagner’s has some amazing ribs.
Not much is going on in Portage. It’s got a few nice parks but no real downtown or historic area, but the Alton Goin Museum in Countryside Park tells the history of Portage. It’s usually open weekends from 1pm to 4pm.
Broken Wagon Bison
Located near the small town of Wheeler is Broken Wagon Bison. This bison ranch, open since 2003, offers Saturday tours at 11am and 2pm from 1 June to 30 September.
The first half hour features a lecture by the owner about the history and uses of bison, along with an explanation of how the ranch works. The next half hour or so consists of a hay ride into one of the fields where the bison will run right up to the tractor while the owner feeds them. Some of them come when called by name!
It’s a fun and educational experience that costs only US$10 per person (as of September 2017). After the tour, you have the opportunity to buy bison meat and souvenirs in the gift shop (open Monday through Saturday from 9am to 5pm year-round).
Southwest of Valparaiso is the small town of Hebron. It was an important stagecoach stop and later a railway junction in the 1800s.
The Stagecoach Inn is the town’s historical museum. It was built in 1849 as an inn for travelers, and for hunters and fishermen visiting the Kankakee River. It’s still in its original location. Hours are 12pm to 3pm on the first and third Sunday of every month. Otherwise it’s open by appointment only. Admission is free.
The railroad heritage of Hebron can be seen behind the Stagecoach Inn. The Panhandle Depot, the old railroad depot for the Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Chicago and St. Louis Railroad, is used as a railroad museum and has the same hours as the Stagecoach Inn.
Hebron’s library is a historic building. It was built in 1917 with an Andrew Carnegie public grant.
Finally, at the southern border of Porter County is a unique and historic bridge with an interesting and mysterious story behind it. Dunn’s Bridge was built over the Kankakee River. From what and exactly when, we don’t know. It could possibly have been built in the mid 1890s with steel salvaged from the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. Or, it could have been built in 1904 with parts from the original Ferris Wheel that was at the same World’s Fair but dismantled in 1904. The Ferris Wheel theory is more romantic but experts believe it’s impossible.
The bridge is also a great place to view the Kankakee River. It’s a popular river for fishing and boating.