swallowtail on blazing star
spring on a woodland edge - Lena Park
CR 700S through BigEastern

history of Lena Park

'the New Manufacturing City'

At the turn of the 20th century, real estate speculators subdivided hundreds of acres southeast of North Judson, Indiana and built a train station. They aggressively marketed their development to recent immigrants in Chicago, selling thousands of tiny lots. They claimed to be building a new industrial center that would use the abundant sand to make glass and bricks - the buttons shown below were part of their promotional campaign. The one on the left (showing Lena Park's first developers, W. Williams and P. Hicks) had this message on the back:

"Free Excursions every day to LENA PARK, IND., the New Manufacturing City. For Railroad Tickets Apply to "Square Realty Co." (not inc.) 85 Dearborn St., Suite 604-608 Chicago."

antique Lena Park promotional buttonantique Lena Park promotional button, circa 1903

Williams and Hicks sold thousands of lots -- and gave some away too, if the promo leaflet shown at right is to be believed -- but the industrial development never happened. The remnants of the train station continued to be visible into the early 1980s, but was destroyed by fire. Despite the lack of development, Lena Park is still shown on many maps of Indiana.

Lena Park Glass Factory

There's little sign of it today, but in the early 20th century a cut glass factory operated at Lena Park, probably mainly serving to promote lot sales; following is an account by a lady who was employed at the factory in 1909:

    "Cut glass had to be cut before it was covered with a wax (on the inside) then placed on wire racks and dipped into an acid filled vat - left for a number of minutes - taken out - wax removed and washed.
    They employed about 40 people. The factory was right along the C&O Railroad approximately five miles from North Judson. C&O& excursions came from Chicago each Sunday to promote lot sales.
    Those who worked [at the factory] came from adjoining farms. Many of the employees purchased pieces. I still have one piece I treasure."
                Minnie Dell Lacy

The factory was located along the C&O (now abandoned, but still discernable) a short distance northwest of where it crosses CR 100W. The train depot was located at the intersection on property currently owned and operated by Gumz Farms as a sophisticated horse breeding facility.

Our cabin is located in the area marked as 'Original Plat - Lena Park' on the east side of CR 100W. The factory (then a residence of sorts) burned in the late 1970s and the Lena Park sign on the railroad vanished mysteriously at about the same time. The only building shown on the early plats still standing is the old one-room school at the corner of 100W and 800S (the later was called 'Lena Street' in the early plats). That portion of the plat is reproduced at the upper left hand corner of this page.

Did you say Luna Park?

Luna Park opened on New York's Coney Island in 1903, perhaps the world's first large scale working class amusement park at about the same time that Lena Park was being marketed to new immigrants in Chicago - it seems likely the name was intended to exploit the success and high profile of Luna Park. The original Luna Park closed after the depression and a series of fires in 1944. Find our more about Luna Park on the amusement history web site.

Name confusion continues today - Lena Park is also the name of a highly regarded Korean singer - we'd like to extend an invitation to her to stay at her namesake if she happens to be touring here!

Digging deeper

To get a closer look at the historic promotional brochure, click here. For an interesting look at the areas rich Italian-American heritage check out Edward Boilini's Pictures of the Past: Images and Descriptions of Italian-American Immigrant Life in North Judson, Indiana. Learn more about North Judson's history at Memory Lane Street a photographic history of downtown North Judson, or check out the extensive online collection of historic photos at The Starke County Public Library.

the Lucas family connection

Leonard Lucas grew up nearby; his father Charles, a school teacher, called their farm the Big Eastern, after the name of a large marsh that once covered hundreds of acres there. After serving as a navigator in a B-17 in the European theater in WW II, Leonard, a surveyor and civil engineer, assembled a property of 680 acres of land in the heart of the Kankakee sand country; including most of the former Lena Park development and land that had been owned by Prudential Insurance company. It's a mosaic of farmland, woodland and prairies. In the 1980s the family incorporated the farm, reviving the Big Eastern name.