History of the South Shore

The South Shore of Lake Michigan has a rich history of natural wonders, industry, immigration and tourism.

Natural Wonders

The Indiana Dunes were created over thousands of years. As the glaciers retreated during the last Ice Age, they created the Great Lakes along with the ground, boulders, gravel and sand that make up the Indiana Dunes. The 15,000 acres of towering dunes and various habitats and landscapes that were left behind have fascinated ecology experts for more than 100 years.  

Members of the public, scientific community and politicians worked together over the years to preserve the Indiana Dunes, most recently by being named the 61st National Park.

Learn more about the history of the Indiana Dunes, including groundbreaking flight experiments and historic homes from the 1933 Chicago World’ Fair here.

Immigration and Industry

During the 1800s to early 1900s, many of the people settling in Northwest Indiana were traders or farmers. One example is a fur trade pioneer, Joseph Bailly, who established a local trading post near Lake Michigan in 1822. In the 1870s, Swedish immigrants Anders and Johanna Kjellberg established a modest family farm. Both Bailly Homestead and Chellberg Farm have since been preserved at the Indiana Dunes National Park, allowing visitors to come and experience this history.

In the first half of the 20th century, the jobs at the steel mills - built along Lake Michigan’s south shore - and their supporting industries drove the early population wave that came from around the world to Northwest Indiana.

With the massive population growth through 1970, what was once farmland throughout much of the region was developed for housing as well as retail, restaurants, healthcare, education and other industries.

Another contributor to our area’s expansion is our proximity to Chicago. A growing number of commuters who work in the city have moved to Northwest Indiana’s cities and towns

Want to learn more about some of the amazing people who have made an impact on the region and beyond? Read about the South Shore Legends here.


Over the years, visitors to the South Shore of Lake Michigan have been drawn to an ever-changing set of attractions.

In the late 1800s, the Monon Railroad started bringing tourists from Chicago to vacation at Cedar Lake. At one point there were more than 50 hotels surrounding the lake. 

In Crown Point, the courthouse erected in the center of town in 1878 became known as the "Marriage Mill" since Crown Point required no waiting period for marriage licenses. Many notable people, including Rudolph Valentino and Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali), were married there.

In the 1920s, the Indiana commuter train from South Bend to Chicago called the South Shore Line created an innovative marketing campaign to boost tourism. The most iconic effort was the South Shore Line Poster series used to entice the riders to visit beautiful stops along the commute including the Indiana Dunes

Today the Indiana Dunes continue to draw more than 2 million visitors each year. Outside of the dunes, a variety of other popular attractions have been created over the years to draw visitors to the South Shore. These include Albanese Candy Factory, Mascot Hall of Fame, The Shrine of Christ’s Passion, Fair Oaks Farms and many more. Start planning your visit today!