Cedar Lake Conference Grounds
There was no direct route between what is now known as Cedar Lake into Chicago by rail until 1882. The Monon railroad considered a more direct route to Chicago and insisted that the rails be laid parallel to the shoreline. John Sweeney, builder of the Monon railroad, camped along the railroad right-of-way as he supervised the building of this stretch of rails that was soon to transform the lake's tranquil shores to those of an era of hotel industries and ice farming. The view of the lake’s shores would afford the passengers some scenic beauty during their trip to Chicago.
At the same time, the railroad also considered the possibility of running special excursion trains daily to and from the lake, which at the time, were known to many as a quiet fishing and camping adventure. The railroad envisioned hotels and a park, where people could relax and enjoy themselves. They also envisioned two depots along the lakeshore.
The railroad acquired the land need for the right of way, then they turned their attention to the local land owners in an effort to make their dreams a reality. One of the first deals was with a Robert Hunter and his associates. They agreed to construct a hotel and park for the entertainment of visitors. The price, $2,500.00 at 8% interest. Part of the deal was that Hunter agreed to aid John DuBreuil to secure a depot and all necessary railroad offices on DuBreuil land as seen fit. As a result of these transactions, a 100 room Hunter Hotel was built in southeastern Armour Town and the DuBreuil Hotel was built on the mid-western shoreline adjoining what is now Noble Oaks Park.
Two depots were established. Armour Town, named for the Armour Brothers, and Paisley. The accepted story was that someone named Paisley held an important position with the railroad, so the depot and town was named after them. The first post office opened in 1890 at Paisley. In 1899 it was changed to Cedar Lake. The lake was originally called "Lake of the Red Cedars", because of a large number of red cedar trees along the shore line.
The railroad main line ran immediately along the west shore of the lake. Railroad management considered Cedar Lake the equal of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, the famous retreat of millionaires, and had hoped that the lake would develop in a similar fashion. The first park was established at Noble Oaks park, which is south of where the Conference Grounds are now. Before long the small park became seriously over crowded and with no land adjoining to expand, the railroad looked to the north.
South of Armour Town there was a twenty acre parcel of land. The railroad quickly moved to purchase the land. Prior to the purchase, the area was virgin timber and a frequent spot where fishermen camped. Both villages of Armour and Paisley were in their infancy, populated by pioneer families. The ice industry had not yet burst upon the lakeshore. The new site, once dense with wild berries, hazel bushes and wild life, was cleared and replaced with an open picnic grounds.
Left: The Monon Hotel, Cedar Lake, Indiana. Picture postcard, date unknown. The hotel was commonly known as the Sigler Hotel, built by Charles Sigler, on the south part of the park. Courtsey of Kevin Ruble.
Right: Another picture of the Sigler Hotel, date unknown. Compare the pictures and one comes to the conclusion that the Monon Park Hotel was the Sigler Hotel. Photo courtsey of The Museum of the Red Cedars.
Above: Postcard depicting Special Monon picnic train arrival at Monon Park. There is a photograph of the foot bridge later on the page. Courtsey of Kevin Ruble.
Local workmen and carpenters were hired, by the railroad to build benches between trees and set up "comfort stations." A midway was established and stands were built. These were occupied by hawkers who set up concessions of every description. Realizing a potential hazard, a wooden overpass was constructed over the railroad tracks. Built of wooden pilings and steel framing, the bridge furnished a safe walkway for passengers as they filed to and from the grounds to meet the passenger trains and lake boats. The Lake Pier was constructed and steam powered boats afforded lake tours to guests. The Monon stopped directly in front of the grounds, near the pier and it also made scheduled stops at Armour and Paisley, prior to 1898.
By 1890, Monon Park was considered a huge success. The grounds were crowded on a daily basis. They park continued to gain in popularity and by 1898 the crowds came in such numbers that neither the Hunter or the smaller DuBreuil Hotel could take care of the demand. To the rescue came Charles Sigler. Sigler, a hotel builder from the eastern shores of Cedar Lake, gambled and erected a huge hotel at the south end of Monon Park. Sigler, at the time, was also the manager of Monon Park. The Sigler Hotel sat on a bluff that overlooked the lake. It was followed by the even bigger Glendenning Hotel, which was to the north. The hotels enjoyed a tremendous seasonal business because the railroad sold the idea to city dwellers of a peaceful get away.
Although the railroad targeted Chicago, they were not the only people to visit and enjoy the beautiful park and lake. The original concept was to draw profit to the railroad through the sale of excursion tickets. The concept soon changed as groups from nearby towns discovered the park. Coming up from Lowell or other points south, horse and buggy, or landing at the pier via steam, or row, boat people enjoyed the park. The whole idea behind the park was to entertain people and that job was being done. The crowds continued to grow. Caliapes played and vendors hawked their products, selling everything from cold drinks, crackerjacks, popcorn and everything else imaginable. Dice games rolled down long planks in concession stands as wells as blankets on the picnic grounds. In one concession stand, Sam Smith of Cedar Lake, learned photography. Eastman Kodak of Chicago had set up a canvas covered cubicle and Smith processed and sold tin-types to people who posed and waited.
Monon Park, Cedar Lake, Indiana. Date unknown, but caption indicates it may be after 1914. Courtsey of Bea Horner/ Lake Of The Red Cedars Museum , Cedar Lake, Indiana.
Left: Monon Park, 1914. Baseball field where local and professional baseball teams once played. According to records the Chicago Cubs played the Chicago White Stockings on this field several times during the early 1900's. The famous House Of David Baseball club also made frequent visits. Courtsey of Lake Of The Red Cedars Museum , Cedar Lake, Indiana. Right: Playground equipment Moody Grounds. Picture was taken sometime during the summer of 1919. Torry Auditorium, also known as the Monon Park Dance Pavillion is in the background to the left. Photo courtsey of Ken Weller.
Left: One of the girls cabins at the Conference Grounds. Right: Dining hall and refreshment stand on the grounds.
Soon liquor made its way into the park. First it was imported in case by case and quickly the crowds became rougher and tougher. The railroad became so concerned they assigned constables to the park to stop the rowdy behavior. A Chicago Bar Tenders picnic held in Monon Park proved a really challenging one to handle. The picnickers were so out of hand that when they boarded the train to return to Chicago, they tormented the train crew, by constantly blowing the whistle, invading the tender and being unsanitary and obnoxious (Translation: public urinations.) To deal with the bartenders, the railroad just pulled the passenger cars aside in Hammond and rolled the remaining cars to Chicago, leaving the troublemakers to dry out.
Left and Right: Rare picture postcard, advertising an upcoming picnic of the International Association Of Machinists, District No. 8. The picture shows the wooden footbridge built over the railroad tracks. The Sigler/ Monon Hotel sat atop the bluff towards the southern end of the park. Photo courtsey of Gregory Jancosek.
Tennis Courts and hotel. Cedar Lake Conference Grounds, also known as Monon Park, circa 1950's.
In May of 1897 several additional buildings were constructed at the park. A dancing pavilion, now called Torrey Auditorium, was constructed behind the hotel, away from the bluff. A bowling alley was also constructed. Many groups and organization experienced outings at the park. Included were groups from the Chicago Odd Fellows, Knights of Pythias and 40 to 50 other groups each summer. By far the largest group was Marshall Field and Company. In 1907 the employee’s picnic numbered 7000 in attendance. Field arranged to have baseball games between the Chicago Cubs and White Sox at the park in the early years of baseball. A field was cleared and bleachers constructed in the park. The park also hosted the famous House of David baseball team, who frequently played local teams from Lake County, Indiana. The bearded players from the House of David created quite a furor back then because of their appearance.
Monon Park was unique because back in 1901 the color line had not been drawn yet. Records indicate that on many occasions large groups of African American picnickers enjoyed the park alongside groups from Lowell and other white communities, or groups. Most of the groups were peaceful, however, on occasion the local constables needed billy clubs to maintain order. The park had its own paddy wagon to take law breakers to the Lake County Jail, in Crown Point. One resident, Henry Henn, established a boat which ran between the Monon Pier and Hetzler’s Pier and took arrested souls to meet the police wagons.
Though business continued to be good, by 1912 the Monon was becoming discouraged with the park. They sought out another means of handling the management of the park. The increase of fights and problems, at the park, led people to believe that it was commonplace to be involved in a fight if one frequented the park. It was a case of one or two bad apples spoiling the bushel. The truth was that many well conducted outings were held over the years. They were peaceful, but the ones that turned out bad seemed to always grab the headlines, or wind up as the subject of gossip. The citizens of Armour Town and Cedar Lake were not fond of the troublemakers, but they seemed to be able to put the problems aside. Although the noise and swearing may have bothered the locals, many were able to earn money to buy school clothes, or provide for their family when the dollar went a long way. The locals were too busy serving the people to be part of the flock of vacationers.
E.Y. Woolley, Associate Pastor of Moody Memorial Bible Church of Chicago had the vision of a conference grounds and a summer camp for those who attended Moody Church. Early in 1914, Woolley's vision became fulfilled when the Monon Railroad gave the church permission to become the new manager of Monon Park. Also, in 1915, Paul Rader became pastor of the church and was very instrumental in the work at Cedar Lake. The Church accepted the wooded park as a gift and promised to take good care of the grounds and lake front. The excursion trains would continue with trains running with tickets sold to Christian groups in need of summer outings. The Church made many improvements to the park, which resulted in an increase in picnic crowds. By 1919, Monon Park was officially sold to Moody Memorial Bible Church for the total sum of one dollar. The park was now the Moody Assembly Grounds at Cedar Lake and renamed "Rest-A-While" Conference Grounds.
People still arrived at the park in droves. They came by carriage, using the same hitching posts and watering their horses at the same toughs as before. They enjoyed the same natural scenery of the park and all the sports afforded in the park, the lake pier and the Monon boats. The number of visitors were about the same, their reasons for coming had changed dramatically. The once loud and boisterous crowds of the old Monon Park had been replaced by more tranquil church groups. Came the days of the Chataqua, a gathering where the desired aim was to combine rest, bible study and healthful recreation. First named after a Sunday School Teacher’s assembly in 1847 at Chataqua Lake, by 1915 the big tents for the gatherings were replacing the midway booths in the new Cedar Lake Conference Grounds. Trains arrived from north and south, filled to capacity with followers.
To meet a need for overnight lodging, Mr. Glendenning gave his hotel to the Moody Bible Institute’s Conference Grounds. The Reverend Charles Watt, ordained in 1914, moved to Armour Town with his wife in 1918. Besides being a man of the cloth, Watt was known as an expert carpenter. Watt and his helpers literally cut the huge Glendenning Hotel into two pieces. They then moved the sections deeper into the park property, where they were reassembled to become once again a tourist abode. The building was dedicated in 1919. Other permanent buildings were constructed and named for loyal church members.
By 1923, the Moody Bible Church experienced financial difficulties, and stopped its operation at Cedar Lake. The work, at the park, was handed over to Mr. Bowles, Mr. Erickson and Mr. Swanson, three elders of the church. On April 23, 1923, the Cedar Lake Conference Association was incorporated. As a means to purchase the grounds from Moody Church, association stocks and summer homes were sold.
The middle and late 1920's were prosperous at Cedar Lake once the economy picked back up after World War I. When John Duff became the association president in 1927, great things occurred. In this same year, the annual conferences, which began in July and ended Labor Day had commenced. In 1928, the Fundamental Young People's Fellowship Conference included Arthur McKee as the speaker. Despite the Great Depression, work continued, but it was impossible to generate any cash surplus. In 1929, the first boy's camp took place and this was followed in the next year with the first girl's camp. The association felt that it could not handle the financial responsibility to pay the insurance for the Glendenning Hotel and dropped coverage in 1935. Around Labor Day of that same year, the Glendenning Hotel burned to the ground and the damage was estimated at $25,000. A new hotel, the Hotel Rest-A-While was completed in July of the 1936 and although updated and remodeled over the years, remains standing in 2002.
During the 1940's conferences, concerts and camps continued. By 1948, the Monon Railroad relocated the mainline about a quarter of a mile west of the lake front. This relocation left about a half of a mile of lakefront open to purchase and the Cedar Lake Conference Association purchased it from the railroad for $15,000 with the help of a short-term loan from the First National Bank of Crown Point. Several loads of dirt were brought in and the lakefront was re-landscaped. By about 1950, South Gate Chapel was built and construction of the west wing of Hotel Rest-A-While began. In 1958, Richard Boldt became the new manager.
In the 1960s, the Conference Ground realized that more modern conveniences were needed for their guests. By 1964, Cedars #1-6 were beginning to be built. During the mid-1980's, rooms in Hotel Rest-A-While were being remodeled and by the early 1990's, Cedars #7-12 were constructed. After the modern facilities were completed, the Cedar Lake Bible Conference Grounds was renamed the Cedar Lake Bible Conference Center in 1980. During the 1980's there was a major efforts to get the grounds septic system hooked up to the town's sewer system. During this period there was an even greater efforts made to provide modern facilities to the various groups that were coming to Cedar Lake. As a result several key improvements have been made and essential buildings constructed. In 1995 a 30-site RV Park and Bathhouse was completed and opened for the season. A new 350 seat Dining Hall and Conference Center was also completed in 1996. They sit close to the old location of the Sigler Hotel. The fall of 2000 and winter of 2001 saw Hickory Lodge, built in 1924, renovated and air-conditioning added. Eight rooms in Rest-A-While Lodge were gutted, renovated and two handicap accessible rooms added.
The fall of 2001, to the summer of 2002 has been a busy time at Conference Grounds. Torrey Auditorium, built in 1897, was completely renovated with a new foundation, windows, carpet, drywall, lighting, sound system, siding, seating, heating and air-conditioning. The Rest-A-While Lodge, built in the 1936's, also has seen improvement. The west wing of the building had not been improved since it's original construction in the early 1950's. The west wing now contains 18 brand new rooms with a new conference room on the lower level. The remodeling to the eighteen rooms completes a renovation project that began in the early 1990's.
Reference sources for this website:
Cedar Lake Indiana, "Once Again It Will Live" by Beatrice Horner.
Lake of the Red Cedars Museum
"Timeline" Cedar Lake Bible Conference Center website
And a very special thank you to Mr. Dave McCauley for the guided tour of the Conference Grounds June 30, 2002.
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