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Shops - Sand - Smiles
The 19th century town of Michigan City emerged as a plan before it ever became a settlement. The plan arose from the ambition to create a harbor on Lake Michigan, and a road to transport supplies to homesteaders in Indianapolis and central Indiana. In 1830, just 14 years after Indiana became a state, the land for Michigan City was purchased, sight unseen, by Isaac C. Elston, a real estate speculator who had made a small fortune in Crawfordsville. He paid about $200 total for 160 acres of land including the future harbor at the mouth of Trail Creek. The town was named after the road leading up to Lake Michigan.

Early visitors to the region were captivated by its rugged beauty, its abundance of wildflowers and berries, and especially the majestic sand dunes, one towering to 175-foot height. The land, however, was not suitable for farming. The growth of Michigan City was due to the flowing waters of Trail Creek, which afforded good locations for lumber and gristmills. Farmers came from miles around to have their wheat ground into flour. Other businesses developed rapidly.

By 1836, the year of its incorporation, Michigan City had 1500 residents, a church, post office, newspaper, and a thriving commercial district with 12 dry goods stores and 10 hotels. It was a stopping point for stagecoaches. The town had grown to 15 square miles - quite a large town in the midst of a forested wilderness.

Although some progress was made on the harbor, the project was afflicted by under-funding, competition from Chicago, political wrangling, shipwrecks and the drifting sands, which kept clogging the dredged waterways. New methods of transportation also opened up - most importantly, for Michigan City, the railroads.

In 1852, a major factory was founded here to manufacture railroad freight cars. In 1855, John Barker, a local grain shipper, joined two New Yorkers in establishing the firm of Haskell, Barker and Aldridge. It became Michigan City's largest and longest surviving industry, at one time producing 15,000 cars a year. In 1907, Haskell-Barker had 3500 employees; in the 1960's, its payroll was $9 million a year. Today, the grounds are occupied by Prime Outlets.

Michigan City's earliest settlers came West from Massachusetts and New York. European immigrants, forced out by crop failures, began arriving to take factory jobs. They tended to cluster in ethnic enclaves and soon founded their distinctive churches. Thus the New Englanders organized Episcopalian and Congregational churches, followed by German Lutheran, Irish and Polish Catholic institutions, and a Jewish Synagogue. So many immigrants came from Syria that Michigan City at one time had the largest Lebanese population of any American city.

The historic Downtown District has retained the ethnic diversity and rich cultural traditions of 19th century Michigan City.

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