Prepared by Westchester Public Library
(Revised October 2006)
Location: Westchester Township, Porter County, Indiana is located on the southern shore of
Lake Michigan, about 50 miles southeast of Chicago. It stretches from the famous Indiana Dunes on its northern
border, south to the Valparaiso Moraine, a ridge of rolling hills left by the last glacier to pass through the
First People: Part of a great continental crossroads, the land of Westchester Township was for thousands
of years the home to a succession of early people attracted to the area by the abundance of animal and plant life.
The Miami and Potawatomi of the Great Lakes Woodland Culture were the last of the Native American cultures to hunt
and farm the township's densely forested land. Contact with the French fur traders known as voyageurs began about
1650. The resulting fur trade was initially beneficial to both cultures, but ultimately disastrous for the
Potawatomi who, after selling their land to the U.S. government, were forcibly removed from Indiana in 1838.
Wars and Conquest: Control of the Great Lakes region passed to the British in 1763, with the victory over
the French in the French and Indian War, and to the new nation of the United States at the conclusion of the
American Revolution in 1783. What would later become Westchester Township formed part of the Northwest Territory
until the creation of the Indiana Territory in 1800. Following the Federal Government’s purchase of land in
northwestern Indiana from the Potawatomi in the treaties of 1826 and 1832, the area was added to the new state of
Indiana, which had been created in 1816.
Founding Families: In 1822 Joseph Bailly, a French fur trader, moved with his wife Marie and their family
to land that would become part of Westchester Township. He established a trading post on the Little Calumet River,
the primary waterway in the township. The Bailly Homestead is now one of two historic homes included within the
Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.
In 1833 Jesse and Jane Morgan and their seven children settled in the area southeast of the present town of
Chesterton. They established a stage house on the Detroit to Fort Dearborn (now Chicago) stagecoach road, cleared
their land and began farming. They were followed in the next year by William and Ann Thomas and their family,
founders of Chesterton, and shortly thereafter by an influx of pioneers from the East Coast and southern
Founding of Towns: Porter County was organized in 1836, its townships, including Westchester, in the same
year. The Towns of Waverly and City West, two of the township’s first three communities, were founded in the
mid-1830’s, but failed to thrive and are now just footnotes to history. The community of Coffee Creek fared better.
Named after a nearby stream, it was settled in 1834 by the Thomas family who platted it as the town of Calumet in
1852. The coming of the railroads to the area later in the same year brought many changes to the community. The
name of the town was changed to Chesterton in 1870.
Railroads, Immigration, and Growth of Industry: The building of the Lakeshore and Michigan Southern and
the Michigan Central Railroads through the township in 1852 transformed the dusty little village from a strictly
agricultural community to a thriving rail center for far more than just agricultural products. Immigrants from
Ireland, Germany, Sweden and other countries were attracted to the area to help build and maintain the railroads
and later to work in the organ, china, and brick factories that were established in the area. In addition to new
industries, the steam railroads also spurred the growth of new towns such as Porter Station, Hageman (now Porter),
Furnessville, and Baillytown.
Population and Cultural Growth: Between 1850 and 1910 the population of Westchester Township grew from
360 to 2,953 residents. During that time numerous churches were established throughout the township and one-room
schoolhouses were replaced by centralized schools in Chesterton and Porter. A great variety of civic and social
groups were founded during the same sixty year period and both Chesterton (1869 and 1899) and Porter (1908) were
Depression and World Wars: The period from 1910-1945 was one of great hardship but also wonderful new
opportunities for area residents. While many local men and some women served in the military during the two world
wars, citizens on the local home front contributed in efforts to increase farm production and worked in area
factories and steel mills to produce parts for the military.
By the 1920’s, women had gained the right to vote (August 26, 1920), the town of Dune Acres had been
incorporated (1923), and township residents were for the first time enjoying such features of modern life as the
automobile, electricity, and telephone service. The 1920’s also saw the opening of the Indiana Dunes State Park and
the newly constructed Dunes Highway (Rt. 12), the first paved east-west road through Westchester Township. Although
the Great Depression of 1929-1934 caused hardship to many residents of the township, vital businesses such as the
Chesterton Tribune, the First State Bank of Porter and the Chesterton Bank survived the Depression. New Deal
programs such as the WPA and the CCC brought relief to those who were most in need, and the 1932 opening of U.S.
Rt. 20 relieved the massive traffic jams and collisions that occurred frequently on Rt. 12.
1945-1999: Following World War II, Westchester Township experienced tremendous population growth as new
residents flooded into the area to take advantage of new industrial jobs. Interstate Rt. 94 and the Indiana Toll
Road Rt. 80/90 were built across the township tying it closer both to Chicago and to the eastern states. The town
of Burns Harbor was incorporated in 1967 after it became the home to the county’s largest employer, Bethlehem
To meet the needs of the expanded population, new schools and libraries were built, a YMCA founded, new
businesses opened and many new housing developments were constructed throughout the township. Citizens debated the
Equal Rights Amendment, the Vietnam War, civil rights, and the environmental movement, but generally supported the
successful campaign to defeat the construction of the Bailly Nuclear Plant on the shore of Lake Michigan, just west
of Dune Acres. The creation of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore in 1966, although criticized by a small
minority of local citizens, was applauded by most as a means to safeguard and preserve the unique beauty of the
Beyond 2000: Westchester Township at the beginning of the new century was a study in contrasts. Blessed
with a vigorous economy and a diverse and energetic population of just over 17,000, the township is also home to
the Indiana Dunes, one of the most beautiful and unusual natural areas in the Midwest. Our ability to maintain and
protect this tenuous balance of opposites will be our legacy to the township residents of the new millennium.
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