It is early 1900’s in the rising town of Michigan City. A young Catherine Barker gazes out her second story window towards Hoosier Slide. Where now stands a Nipsco cooling tower, the tallest sand dune of the time, Hoosier Slide overlooked the town and the Barker family house.
From that window, Catherine and her family could see the picnics, and weddings settled near the dune, and the children running up and down its sandy banks.
This is all just a guess though. A guess based on past records and photographs.
Later, the Hoosier Slide dune was mined away, but the house built by the Barker family, one of the founding families of the Lake Michigan town, still stands today.
“My favorite thing to do is imagine the family seeing Hoosier Slide right outside their window,” Jessica Rosier said. Rosier is the new director at Barker Mansion. “The Barker story ties into the Dunes, because they were able to see all of the changes to the Dunes.”
The Barker Mansion is located on Washington Street in Michigan City, Indiana. The house was home to John H. Barker Sr. who relocated to Michigan City and became involved in the manufacturing of freight cars, starting his own company called, Haskell and Barker Car Co. His son, Hon. John H. Barker continued with the company, which merged with the Pullman Co. His only daughter, Catherine, became the sole inheritor of the house at age 14.
The Barker family is a well-known name throughout the town.
“They (the family) gave back to the community,” said Rosier. “They helped with the building of the YMCA, the town’s first library, Trinity Episcopal Church, Barker Hall and on and on. They were huge philanthropists.”
From 1948 to 1968, Purdue North Central used the mansion for classrooms for students, before the university moved to the location it is now. In 1969, Catherine Barker Hickox then presented the house to the city of Michigan City to become a cultural center for the town.
Tours throughout the 38 bedroom, 10 bathroom, and 7 fireplace home lure visitors from all over the country, as well as town functions and educational and fun programs.
“We have weddings, events, and are having our first birthday party soon,” Rosier said. Recently hired at the museum after working for the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, Rosier is determined to add more programs and events for the public. “In the founding rules, our focus is being a civic center for the community and be here for non-profit meetings.”
“But, my goal is to have more people realize that we’re here,” she said. “I want to get more people through the door.”
As of now, the museum offers tours year round. Monday through Friday the hour-long tour through the three-story house occurs at 10 and 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday a tour is offered at 12 p.m. and 2 p.m. but may change due to other events scheduled.
Catering to the younger crowd, a 1900’s schoolroom tour and a Clue Game tour, guide children ages three to six to think and play in a similar way as a the young Catherine once did.
This summer is the first year the team at the museum will offer multiple summer programs.
These new events Rosier said, are focused more on the history and inner workings of the house. And, starting July 11, each Saturday morning will be open to the public for Coffee in the Garden, next to the running fountain and marble sculptures.
“I hope to have more NWI people realize how much the mansion and the Barker family were a part of history,” she said. “Not just Michigan City people. People from all over the region can relate to this family and recognize a Haskill and Barker freight car if they saw one.”
Catherine Barker Hickox died in 1970. Out of her four children, three are alive today and recently visited the mansion. The ancestors still remain active within the Barker Welfare Foundation, and help maintain the upkeep of the 100-plus year old house.
“A bunch of the family members came to visit,” Rosier said. “I met one of Catherine’s daughters, who is a grandmother herself, and a younger family member who was just coming to the house for the first time.”
The Barker Mansion symbolizes the foundation and growth of Michigan City. Even though it resides a block away from the latest styles of The North Face jackets, inside its walls, time is traveled backwards. Back to a time when faces were carved into fireplaces as a sign of possession and Catherine Barker’s radio set continues to rest in the library since 1928.
Yet, no matter how many years pass and how many sand dunes are eroded down, Michigan City will always be the classic little beach town on Lake Michigan, thanks to the Barker family.