New Trail Brings Attention to the Oldest Structure in Whiting-Robertsdale

Work is almost complete on a small section of trail which runs along Lake Michigan and across property that was once a part of the State Line Generating Plant. Now, bike riders and walkers can travel from Whiting Park to Robertsdale’s Lakefront Park, and on into Chicago’s Calumet Park, which connects them to that city’s trail system. But as trail users travel the new route, they are likely to see something old. In fact, what they will see is the oldest structure in Whiting-Robertsdale.

The structure is a boundary marker erected in 1838. That’s about 15 years before the first railroad tracks were laid across what later became known as Whiting-Robertsdale, and when the first non-native settlers came to our region. The 15-foot tall sandstone obelisk came into existence after Congress, in 1833, ordered a new survey to determine the exact line that separated Indiana and Illinois.

The marker was erected about 190 feet south of where it now stands. In 1838, that was the location of the Lake Michigan shoreline. But railroads and industry needed more land over the years, so they built out into the lake leaving the marker inland. Occasionally people would cross over the busy railroad tracks into and out of Chicago and onto industrial property to see the marker. The marker was moved to make it more accessible, and to protect it from vandals.  

The marker used to have brass plates which said Illinois State Boundary on one side, and Indiana State Boundary on the other. Today, there is nothing on the sides of the obelisk, but there is a plaque in front of it which reads: “Allen J. Benson Park.” Allen J. Benson was an employee of Commonwealth Edison, which owned the State Line Generating Plant. He led an effort to save the marker, which had been neglected for years. Vandals stole the brass plates and painted graffiti on the sides of the marker. Benson not only got Commonwealth Edison to help restore the marker, but also arranged for it to be watched by the company’s security guards.

Before the new bike trail opened, the only way to get to the monument was via the Illinois side. If you are not into biking or walking, you can still drive right up to it by going through Calumet Park and taking the access road which runs east from 102nd Street at Avenue G. The access road ends at what used to be the entrance gate to the power plant, which is adjacent to the state line marker.     

The power plant is gone, plans are in the works to develop the land on which it once stood. Until then, the state line marker is again vulnerable to vandals. But maybe the new trail will make introduce the marker to more people, and maybe that awareness will help create new efforts to save and preserve this old monument to the history of Indiana and Illinois.