The history of the Lake of the Red Cedars Museum building in Cedar Lake begins back in 1895, when brothers Phillip and Jonathan Armour of the meat packing family built a large rooming house near the northwest shore of Cedar Lake. The big hotel-type structure was built by local carpenters Charles Wheeler and K.E. Witter to house Armour's ice cutting employees.
The Witter family managed the hotel from 1895 to 1906, when the O'Clarren clan became the managers.
Men from Chicago and elsewhere continued to stay at the building during the ice cutting season until 1919, when the Armour brothers sold their ice business to John G. Shedd (1850-1926). Shedd had an interest in many ice cutting companies and donated three million dollars to finance the world-famous Shedd Aquarium on Lake Michigan's shore in Chicago, Illinois.
In the Lake County Directory of 1909, Christopher Lassen's business was listed as a "pavilion and boat livery." Early in the century, he started his business with one small steamboat for excursions around the lake, and eight years later his "Dewey" fleet had been expanded to include more vessels. The Old Timer even had the pleasure of boarding those excursion boats.
But in the 1920's, gasoline engines replaced steam power.
Lassen also managed a large pavilion over the lake, with a dance hall, restaurant and boat dock. He saw the need for a hotel, purchased the Armour rooming house and ice barn, moved the hotel across the ice in 1919 to a new site on the eastern shore, then remodeled it into a resort hotel. Materials from the Armour ice barn were floated across the lake and used to add the west section of the current building, all the construction supervised by Nicholas Mager.
Looking toward the lake from the breezy porch, visitors could see the twin piers flanking the large dance hall and restaurant, as well as a comfortable beach area with swings and slides, dressing rooms on a small pier, and a fenced-in area for ducks.
The best years of the resort hotels at Cedar Lake were from 1890 to 1930. Crowds came from Chicago to escape the city heat or to stay at the hotels to be near their seasonal work or sport.
The big porch that wraps around the west and part of the south sides of the hotel was a favorite place for visitors to sit on comfortable chairs, enjoying the breeze off the lake and the scenic view.
Many families rode the Monon Railroad to the lake, boarded the Lassen boat on the west side pier for the trip across the lake to the resort, and prepared to stay all summer.
The following headline appeared in an October 1944 issue of The Lowell Tribune: "Lake Site Taken Over, Chris Lassen, Cedar Lake, Former Owner, Retires after 48 years."
The Lassen Resort had been sold that year to the Lake Reform Christian Assembly, composed of the Churches of Christ of this area, which made plans to use the 70-room hotel for housing those who attended the conference and school.
The Assembly operated the Conference Grounds until 1977, when the property was sold to the Town of Cedar Lake for a Town Hall, police station and other town offices. The large Lassen garage building, also used for boxing exhibitions, became the Town Hall, now completely remodeled.
When it became evident that Cedar Lake town officials were considering demolishing the old hotel, the Cedar Lake Historical Assn., Inc., was formed. It was granted a 50-year lease on the building by the Town of Cedar Lake, and by 1981, the site was listed on the National Register of Historical Places.
Soon after the lease was signed, the Historical Assn. made plans to establish the Lake of the Red Cedars Museum, which now houses many interesting exhibits of Cedar Lake and the surrounding area. Now down to 65 rooms (from 70) due to some remodeling, the museum features exhibits of pre-historic times, of the ice industry which flourished in the early 1900's, and several 1920's period rooms -- a parlor, bedroom, kitchen and dining room. "The Museum maintains a 1920's flavor in keeping with Cedar Lake's tradition as a resort destination for Chicago's high society during the Prohibition era," says a brochure.
"Take our guided tour and learn how Dr. Scholl started his famous business as an apprentice in Cedar Lake. Walk into out 1940's doctor's office to test your eyesight and find out why the operating room walls are green. View our expanding fashion collection from an 1870's mourning gown to a 1920's flapper dress," bids the brochure.
Room after room has been converted into very interesting displays, including the old hotel lobby, with its big fireplace and the desk where many famous guests registered, with an adjoining room featuring the back bar and relics from the old Coleman's Hotel.
In one of their brochures, the Cedar Lake Historical Assn. has extended this invitation: "Come sit on our wraparound porch and enjoy the scenic view. Visit our past at the Lake of the Red Cedars Museum on the shores of Cedar Lake, Indiana." Accept their invitation; you will be glad you did, for so much of our past is on display.
The museum is open from May though Labor Day, Thursday through Sunday, hours 1 to 4 p.m. Special tours are available by appointment from May to October. Ann Zimmerman of Cedar Lake, the museum director, provided background information for this story.
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