The Mysterious Berry Lake and Marktown History Detectives: The Marktown Edition by Paul Meyers – The Unofficial Mayor of Marktown August 2019

The following history comes to us with compliments from Paul Meyers, the unofficial “mayor” of Marktown. Paul, who puts out a beautiful and historical newsletter of his hometown, shares with us the history of Berry Lake not only in its relationship to Marktown but the area in general. This history of Berry Lake originally appeared in his newsletter

It is amazing to see how the history of Marktown manages to appear in so many unexpected places. On page eight of Oil and Water: A Pictorial History of Whiting, Indiana by Archibald McKinlay we find this most fascinating quote:


"Berry Lake was Eden-like, full of fish and water lilies, its banks lush with berries, especially raspberries, and luxuriant with woods, topped at the lake's northern end by birches that stood like sentinels guarding a magic place.

"Its southern tip was in the area that became Indiana Harbor, from which the lake ran northwesterly, ending almost due north through the western part of what became Marktown before curling to the northwest and ending just beyond the area that became Carbide and Chemicals Corporation plant (now Prax Air). Most of idyllic Berry Lake became the south tank farm of Standard Oil (now BP), the lake reaching up to the east line of land that became the refinery and connecting with immense sloughs across what became the south end of the refinery."

The leading paragraphs of History of Marktown 1917-1967 published in the Marktown Golden Jubilee  describes the area on which Marktown was built slightly differently:

"Marktown stands on what was once swampy marshland. In 1907, the East Chicago Engineering Department surveyed and laid out what are now know as Riley and Dickey Roads, both of which dissected Berry Lake. At that time Berry Lake extended from the Pennsylvania Railroad tracks almost to Forsythe Avenue, now Indianapolis Boulevard, and was an excellent spot for fishing, hunting ducks and geese, and for trapping muskrat. In order to transport the stakes and measuring pile for sighting a line from one spot to another, Lester Ottenheimer Sr., and Charles Jeppson, who were working for the summer, would tie a piece of tough cord around their necks and then swim or wade from bog to bog. Upon reaching the bog, they would pull in the cord, to which was attached a rope that secured the stakes and measuring pile."

So, just what is the truth in the matter? Was there a lake or was it a bog with dune and swale? The answer can only be found in federal records and earlier accounts and histories of the Calumet Region.

With just one email to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (US-ACE) and an almost immediate reply from archeologist Keith Ryder, at least part of the question was answered. According to an 1872 map titled Calumet and the Grand Calumet Rivers of Illinois and Indiana compiled from the U.S. Land Survey under the direction of Major D.C. Houston there was a Berry Lake that probably covered much of what is now the Marktown Historic District.  

Mr. Ryder was kind enough to have transposed the outline of the lake upon a more contemporary map of the Calumet Region, and in doing so we realize that Berry Lake extended from eastern Whiting and the shore of Lake Michigan south to Columbus Drive and encompassed nearly all of the New Addition area of East Chicago. As noted in the 1967 Marktown Golden Jubilee article, it extended from Indianapolis Boulevard on the west clear beyond the Indiana Harbor Ship Canal (which had not been dug at that time) to the western reaches of Michigan Avenue in Indiana Harbor.

But what about other early accounts of Berry Lake? Some of the earliest and most accurate accounts of the lake come from Powell A. Moore's 1959 book The Calumet Region: Indiana's Last Frontier. Despite the previous mention that the lake was surrounded by a rich grove of raspberries, Mr. Powell tells us that Hannah Berry opened an inn between the north end of Berry Lake and the shore of Lake Michigan in 1833 and that the lake was probably names after their family.

Despite the great fishing and trapping at Berry Lake, Mr. Powell goes on to tell us about a mid winter use for Berry and other lakes in the Calumet Region.


"The cutting, storing and shipping of ice from inland lakes was also a flourishing business. Ice was not obtained for commercial purposes from Lake Michigan as its quality was poor and the operations difficult as well as dangerous. Miller and Clark were centers of the industry and large ice houses or storage places were maintained at both stations. In 1882 approximately 5,000 cars were shipped from Clarke. Chicago companies reaped a large harvest from Berry and Wolf Lake. Francher's Lake south of Crown Point produced a good yield each year. The railroads used much of the ice in their refrigerator cars and large amounts were shipped to Chicago for refrigeration purposes."

But wait, no mention was made of an ice house anywhere near Berry Lake. Did the ice have to travel east to Clarke or did it miraculously just appear on the docks and rail yards in Chicago?   

Again, Mr. Moore's history provides the answers to this and many other questions. He states "Vater and Heinrich Eggers pioneered the shipping of ice from the inland lakes of the Whiting area to Chicago. They formed a partnership with Frederick Zuttermeister and erected a large icehouse on Berry Lake. The partners also shipped sand and gravel  by the railroad to the Chicago market. In 1890, when it was evident that Berry Lake would ultimately be drained by the Standard Oil Company and by the drainage project in East Chicago, Eggers sold his interest in the ice business to Zuttermeister."

Mr. Zuttermeister, being from Chicago, was probably not aware of the future draining of the lake when he purchased the Eggers interest in the business and was ultimately left out in the cold so to say.

      What was that they said? "...would ultimately be drained by Standard Oil Company"?

      Again, we turn to Mr. Moore’s account of the Calumet Region.

Eggers at Berry Lake

"Early in May, 1889, the construction of the refinery was started. A month later the Standard Oil trust organized and incorporated a Standard Oil Company in the State of Indiana under whose jurisdiction the plant was to be built and operated. In the meantime, about 1,500 laborers were at work under the direction of experienced construction men from other Standard refineries. The sand ridges were leveled and the intervening sloughs filled in. Loose sand retarded the progress of construction. Horses stumbled and fell while pulling heavy vehicles and earth-moving machinery. The wagons were equipped with great wide tires and the roads in the plant area were covered with hay and straw to keep the wheels out of the deep ruts in the sand. Workers floundered through water and wet sand, while clouds of mosquitoes made their lives almost unbearable during the summer months. By October, 1889, it was so obvious that an oil refinery was being built that the name of the Standard Oil Company was substituted for that of William P. Cowan, in whose name construction had been carried on from the beginning.

"One of the first undertakings was the erection of a water works, the water being obtained through a twenty inch pipeline that was laid into Lake Michigan. This was superseded a short time later by a tunnel dug under the floor of the Lake to connect with a crib, nearly one half mile of from the water's edge. Water was thereby provided for the refinery and ultimately for the town. Immense sewers, which in time drained the greater part of Berry Lake and many of the sloughs, were constructed. And yet, while the storage tanks were being constructed, it was necessary to haul sand to build up rings around their foundation to hold back the water. When the tanks were put into service, a boat was used for workers to get from one tank to another to operate valves and read the gauges."

Plant records today indicate that the site of this original Standard Oil tank farm is still called the Berry Lake Tank Farm. The tank farm lives on at least in name.

So, now we know that there were several thriving businesses here at what had been Berry Lake.  We also know that the lake had been intentionally drained long before East Chicago was even incorporated and that it was drained by none other than Standard Oil (now BP).

Young Girl at Berry Lake

That means that both accounts are accurate. The lake was here and it was a fairly large lake, but by all accounts was probably no deeper than 3-6 feet, and that much of it was drained long before the City Engineers arrived in 1907 to survey the land and lay out Riley and Dickey Roads.

If we look at the 1917 drawing above of what would become the Mark Town Site in 1917, you will find that Mr. Shaw not only took the presence of the oil refinery into consideration, but that the remnants of Berry Lake were also incorporated into his plans for our neighborhood.

In the offset box at the upper right corner of the drawing you will see that sections 11 and 13 were designed as buffer areas to hide the oil tank just beyond them.  Directly to the left of the offset box you can clearly see that Mr. Shaw had planned on including a large park complete with a lake, yes the last vestiges of what had been Berry Lake in his plans for Marktown. 

But what happened to those plans and more importantly, what happened to the last of Berry Lake?

      The answer to both questions can is found in two historical events: 1) WAR, and 2) industrial expansion.

While Marktown was originally designed to house more than 8,000 workers, it was our early victory in the Great War (WWI) that brought an immediate halt to the completion of Mr. Mark's intentions for the completion of the worker housing project now known as Marktown.  For details of this we must direct you to our web page and the PDF of the Marktown booklet, as the story is far too involved to include here. 

Berry Lake Lutheran School

The last vestiges of Berry Lake remained until WWII when plans were begun for the No. 2 Tin Mill across from what is now a park on Pine Avenue. The Little Lakes area was filled and the woodlands leveled for what would be the last great expansion of steel surrounding Marktown.


Where were Little Lakes and just what happened to them can be shown in the photo here. Just to the left of center you will see the Mark Town Site. To the upper right of Marktown is the No. 1 Tin Mill which was built by Youngstown Sheet and Tube right after they purchased the Indiana Harbor plant in 1923. Immediately to the right of Marktown is the No. 2 Sheet Mill which was built during WW II. Both of these plant sites had never been developed prior to these dates and both sites had originally been a part of the original Berry Lake.

Berry Lake

Just to the lower left of Marktown you can clearly see that the land is being worked by heavy machinery and that there is open water on that site. If you compare the location of the largest body of water to the original drawing by Mr. Shaw on the preceding page you will see that Mr. Shaw had indeed intended to use the heritage of our natural environment in the development of a model worker community. Marktown was designed to address quality of life issues for the workers in the adjacent steel mill and ready access to a natural environment was and is a component of the quality of life agenda.

But what happened to the lake you ask? Industrial expansion! Remember, back in the 1950s Youngstown Steel wanted to rezone that parcel of land and all of Marktown as industrial. Had they done so, Marktown would have been razed by the mid 1960s and would only be a fond memory today.

But again, it was teamwork and community spirit lead by Chester Williams (my grandfather) that derailed their efforts and insisted upon the 400' mill offset and the inclusion of the then newly constructed Marktown Park.

Youngstown Sheet and Tube

In preparation for the building of the No. 2 Tin Mill all of the wooded lands were leveled and the lakes were back filled with slag from the very active steel mill.

That mill was built in the mid 1950s and the Marktown Park along Pine Avenue and Broad Street was constructed not by the City of East Chicago, but by the Youngstown Sheet and Tube Company.

But wait, the remnants of Berry Lake are still with us. Every time the pump house on Broad Street is disabled, the basements in Marktown begin to back up. The primary source is ground water.  It's the same ground water that helped to create Berry Lake in the first place.