A few months ago I was in Noble County in northeastern Indiana, wearing one of my other hats, giving a presentation at a remote state park, one that came into the system after the New Deal. Fully half of Indiana’s state parks and all but two of its state forests were developed or improved by New Deal agencies. I spent the night in Ligonier, a small struggling city with a rich historical heritage.
Ligonier is on what was once an old military road, an Indian trail before that, which became part of the original Lincoln Highway route in 1913. Adventurous early automobile travelers took to the road with camping gear, and any number of towns or private entrepreneurs set up tourist camps featuring set-up sites, running water, outhouses at the least and sometimes real toilet facilities and showers, and a degree of safety. Often there was a small store where a traveler could purchase supplies. Such a tourist camp soon opened west of Ligonier, at that time a thriving manufacturing community.
But in 1928 the Lincoln Highway across Indiana was rerouted into virtually a straight east-west line that soon became US30. If one wished to travel across the country on the Lincoln Highway, the idea of saving miles and skipping populous areas to the north such as South Bend must have been appealing. Not only that, State Road 2, that part of Lincoln Highway from Fort Wayne to South Bend (designated US33 in 1938), ultimately passed around Ligonier, and the tourist camp was left high and dry.
Since I research the Lincoln Highway and other early twentieth century roads, naturally I headed out on the old road to explore and to my delight discovered a New Deal treasure. WPA Project 54-52-309 created a city park on the property in 1935. The gateposts do not quite match those of the tourist camp, so they may have been newly built by the WPA, or they may have been altered or moved and rebuilt. The following year another WPA grant funded the construction of a stone shelterhouse in what became Woodlawn Park, completed in 1937. Inside the shelter is an awkwardly lettered plaque, perhaps a repair or replacement of the original. Other WPA features in the park include a large fieldstone flower bed that likely was a fountain originally and another, larger circular fieldstone enclosure that may have been a shallow pool with concrete steps leading toward it. Surrounding it are three mysterious stone platforms. None of these resources is especially well maintained. No doubt some of the playing fields on the property originated with the WPA, but more have been added, along with a large open picnic shelter and some utilitarian buildings.
Parks and recreational facilities were seen as especially suitable for WPA projects; an administrator in the 1930s pointed out that they “are flexible and can offer employment where there is greatest need; most of their expenditures go directly to local unemployed labor; they do not compete with private enterprise, and. . . they make permanent contributions to better living conditions and increased opportunities for more abundant living.” Not only that, they were highly visible and could readily make use of native or discarded material, such as the abundant fieldstone, a remnant of the glaciers withdrawal from northern Indiana, used here, no doubt once the pride of Ligonier.
Is there an actual map available of the original route of the Lincoln Highway??? That is also when the Lincoln Highway ran through Rolling Prairie, but we are having trouble establishing that fact. Any help you can send our way as to how to document that route would be appreciated.
Carol Lode, Secretary for Rolling Prairie Business & Community Association
I think I can help you with this project. How do I contact you and send you the map?
I was told by a researcher that Woodlawn was a family owned property that donated it in 1937 after there restaurant burned to the ground except for the kitchen that you called the shelterhouse. Also that none of the park was a WPA project. I have some paperwork but I have not looked at it for 20+ years and the researcher has long moved away, so I’m curious as to your sources.
In 1937 Woodlawn was already a park, and indeed, the shelterhouse has the plaque right inside identifying it as WPA along with the dates! It is also a matter of record from the original WPA project files now housed at the National Archives (RG69). There were two projects, the first funded in 1935 and the second the following year that specifically mentions the shelterhouse. All the work in the park is consistent with WPA work in far northern Indiana.
The Lincoln Highway and its relationship to Rolling Prairie is a little tricky. From South Bend to Rolling Prairie the original LH followed the route of the old Michigan Road platted in the mid-1830s. The Michigan Road went through Rolling Prairie (actually, it preceded the town) and on to Lake Michigan and its new port there, called Michigan City. The part of the route from Rolling Prairie to Michigan City became US20 in the late 1920s. A bypass was built to the south of Rolling Prairie in the 1920s and when completed that became the Lincoln Highway. A famous LH landmark that included a restaurant and tourist cabins (Bob’s Barbecue) was built south of Rolling Prairie shortly after (the restaurant building still stands). From Rolling Prairie the Lincoln Highway then proceeded to LaPorte on what became State Road 2.
It gets more complicated, what with the relocation of the junction (of US20 and SR2) several decades later, but that’s the gist of it.
Incidentally, I grew up just a few miles from this location and remember the old road–now Oak Knoll–very well.
It occurred to me that there may a grain of truth in your story, David Magnus, in that the property had indeed been privately owned and likely could have been donated to the city to be developed into a park. That there may have been a restaurant on the property and that it burned is certainly possible and that such an event was the straw that broke the camel’s back, so to speak, for the owners. However, it was very definitely a WPA project. That does not preclude the possibility that the shelterhouse may have been adapted from the remains of a kitchen, although the records do not suggest this. But adaptive reuse was VERY common in WPA projects.
Glory-June Greiff: I am Dan Replogle. I contribute to Growing Up Ligonier (a Facebook site). I also wrote a book about the history of Ligonier Indiana. Ruth Hite told me that you had a question about Indiana 2 running through Ligonier and Rolling Praire. I can help you get a map that shows this plus a photo of downtown Ligonier with an Indiana 2 sign clearly visible on the Lincoln Highway. Contact me by my email and tell me how to get the map to you and how to conveniently converse with you. Thank you. History on!
I was the editor of the Ligonier Echo newspaper in Pennsylvania and heard about your town named after Ligonier PA.
I will be passing through on Aug. 10-11. Could you provide some information on tour town’s history. I am interested in writing a story about this connection.
Daniel Replogle–I apologize; I have only just seen this comment! It was not I but another person on this thread that had a question about SR 2/LIncolnHwy, but that being said, I’d love to see your map. I research both the New Deal (especially in Indiana) and early auto highways, and sometimes, as in Ligonier, they converge!