Sharing Indiana’s 45 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline are three counties: La Porte, Porter and Lake. And while La Porte County has the fewest miles of lakefront property, it derives much of its character and even its name from its location on the lake.
La Porte County takes its name from the French term meaning “The Door” or “The Port.” This refers to the county as the gateway to the Great Lakes and its natural opening from dense forests that once covered the areas to the south and east.
Built in 1904, the Michigan City pier lighthouse is a popular symbol of Michigan City and is often described as “Indiana’s only lighthouse.”
An elevated walkway, known as the “catwalk,” was used by lighthouse keepers for 29 years to access the light tower. In 1933, the light was electrified, and in 1939, the U.S. Coast Guard took over the service. The lighthouse was fully automated in 1960. By 1983, the catwalk was in poor condition. The Coast Guard scheduled it for demolition as it was no longer needed. Local residents rallied and succeeded in saving the structure, getting it added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1988. Funds were raised and the catwalk was restored in 1994. The pier is a favorite spot for fishing and watching sunsets and is frequently painted and photographed by local artists.
The previous lighthouse, built in 1858 on Michigan City’s harbor, is now the Old Lighthouse Museum. The museum has rooms displaying Great Lakes history and artifacts — including a rare Fresnel lens, shipwrecks, La Porte County history, a gift shop and more. It opened in 1973 after eight years of restoration. Nicknamed “Old Faithful,” the structure is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Michigan City boasts many attractions, including breweries and wineries, galleries, boat tours, beaches, gardens, shopping at several centers, a casino and a zoo. The city, the largest in La Porte County, receives a large amount of tourism from Chicago and other nearby cities in the region.
Michigan City is also noted for its proximity to Indiana Dunes National Park which crosses into the western edge of La Porte County. The park runs along portions of all three of Indiana’s lakeshore counties. And while La Porte County has the least amount of park land of the three, it is home to perhaps the Indiana Dunes National Park’s most renowned landmark, Mount Baldy. Mount Baldy is a 120-foot sand dune at the eastern end of the national park. The wandering dune began forming some 4,000 years ago and is continually changing as a result of natural factors.
The Old Lighthouse Museum is located at 100 Heisman Harbor Road, Michigan City, IN 46360. For information, call 219-872-6133 or visit www.oldlighthousemuseum.org.
Named for: “The Door” or “The Port” (from French)
County seat: La Porte
Indiana county number: 46