Miller Beach, Part 2: the "Squatter Queen" of the Lakefront

This is part of a series of blog posts about community history, urban planning, and the built environment in the Miller Beach community of Gary, Indiana, publishing in 2023 and 2024.

 

 

Miller Beach, Gary's only lakefront neighborhood, owes much of its present-day condition to a single woman. Drusilla Carr, who arrived at the now-gone mouth of the Grand Calumet River in 1872 and remained nearby until her death in 1930, became regionally famous for squatting on hundreds of acres of duneland.

 

 

Raising kids close to the beach while the initially independent town of Miller grew around them and was eventually absorbed into the city of Gary, Carr and her family were responsible for the area's reputation as the first resort community past the smokestacks and noise of the massive industrial firms that operated along Chicago's southeast coast and into northwest Indiana. Beginning in the 1910s, the family ran a small empire of rental cabins and other attractions on land that was otherwise undeveloped north of the lagoons the once connected the Grand Calumet to Lake Michigan's shore.

 


Carr fought many legal battles to retain control of the property she considered hers. When Gary annexed Miller, the city forced her to give up the majority of her claimed holdings to create today's Marquette Park, around which most of the residential portion of Miller Beach soon filled in. To the west, where Carr remained in control until her death, coordination between the local officials and U.S. Steel forced the remaining Carr holdings out of her descendants' hands in 1940 to expand the steel mill next door.

 


U.S. Steel eventually abandoned their eastward expansion and sold the land to the city. Other new battles followed, but this part of Miller Beach became a residential neighborhood that today is fronted by Miller Woods, a formally protected natural area that forms the westernmost part of Indiana Dunes National Park. 

 


With only about 60 homes, this northwestern bit of Miller Beach is disconnected from the more populated portions of the neighborhood by the lagoons and by parkland, accessed via a narrow bridge on Lake Street or by foot trails through Marquette Park. It holds a mix of vernacular midcentury architecture and custom homes of varying ages, including a lagoon getaway designed by the late Peter van Dijk for his own family (seen at a distance in the above photo).