• By Kirk Gaw

10 Must See Tourist Spots In Walkerton 2020

Tourism continues to thrive throughout the Walkerton Area! Though the community has been dealing with COVID-19 restrictions as is the rest of the World over the past year it hasn't dampered our spirit.

Situated between 4 counties on the banks of Pine Creek, and the Kankakee River Marshes. Our community is home to history, and destinations that inspire tourists. You will find Koontz Lake 2 miles south, Potato Creek State Park 9 miles north, and Kingsbury State Park's Grand Kankakee Marsh is 5 miles west. Walkerton is the birthplace to Nobel Prize Laureate, Harold C. Urey. He is the father of the Atomic Age and NASA.

Kids like Makai Hesters enjoy the year-round rodeo activities at Saylor's Arena. Picture by Laura Saylor.

The friendly townspeople are helpful with knowledge about their historic community. They are eager to please visitors and make you smile. Here is the top 10 must see locations of Walkerton:

10. Creekside Equicenter Horse Boarding, Training, and Riding Instruction

Not far from downtown Walkerton and, going towards Stanton Rd. you will find the most complete horse facility at Creekside Equicenter. It's where getting up close to horses is all in the plan. This business is a family owned operated horse boarding and training facility started by Tina Prout.

She emphasized, "we don’t give trail rides."

"We do give lessons and have summer camps."

Kids love this place! 1 hour of riding instruction is only $35. It includes all riding disciplines approached through solid principles. Their goal is a balanced, supple, forward and, cheerfully cooperative horse. The owner looks for desirable traits in any riding endeavor. Kids Summer Camp is $250 for 1 week.

She said, "We encourage our riders to pursue riding disciplines that are suitable for their skill level and, horse’s abilities. Jumping lessons are available to riders with appropriate skills and experience."

"Our goal is to help you develop skills necessary to realize your equestrian interests and potential. Your horse or ours. We have lesson horses available."

Creekside Equicenter was established in 2004. The Walkerton couple of Michael and Tina Prout built their boarding stable to include riding, equine training, and instruction. Creekside Equicenter is currently operated by the mother and, daughter team.

Tina and her daughter, Colleen, manage a full barn with dozens of students throughout the year. Colleen grew up helping her mother since she was about 7 years old and, for the past 3 years she has been assisting with all tasks in boarding, training and riding lessons.

Colleen Prout, Riding Instructor, said, "At Creekside, we specialize in Hunter Jumper, Western Gaming, General Horseback Riding and, Dressage Training for both horse and, rider."

Annually, there are at least 2 exciting "Summer Camps" for kids ages 6-14 during, June and, July.

Summer Camps hours are Monday through Friday, from 9am to 2pm.

Colleen said, "We host fun riding activities, and games."

"The friendships here, teach kids the value of good horsemanship."

"There are several horse shows at our facility throughout the year. Typically, called schooling shows for fun shows, they are competitive but, relaxed and, fun. We also participate in various horse shows around the area that focus on Jumping, Dressage or Western Contesting."

She added, "We have too many good times in this barn to list! But, I can tell you that this barn is more of a family then any other team or, club I have ever been a part of."

"We do everything for the smiles and, laughter of our barn community. We host fun days for the kids to come to the barn and hang out." Those are her favorite moments.

9. DeSimone Mansion at Ohio & Roosevelt

This magnificent Turn-Of-The-Century home was built for one of the promoters of the first Lake Erie & Western lines connecting Indianapolis-Peru-Chicago. It included a ballroom for the family to entertain the Walkerton community. You will find a unique curved glass window, a rooftop balcony off the upstairs ballroom, and a carriage house in the back-for the many horses and vehicles used to transport his family. Ruth DeSimone is most recently remembered with her husband Roy as one of the original owners.

Photo by Phil Whitmer

Photos by Harmony Lynn

At some point in the 1950's Ruth outgrew the home. She decided to convert it as a Nursing Home dedicated to the elderly and disabled in the community. By 1973 after the Millers Merry Manor facility was built a mile away, the home was converted into apartments to sustain the need for rental housing in Walkerton.

Today, the mansion is a reminder of the glorious gilded age. It was nearly the same size as the other mansion that once stood at Illinois St. next to the barber shop. The D.V. Wolff Mansion was of similar stature. Sadly, it was demolished in 1979 to make way for a parking lot for the once popular Ray's Supermarket. The DeSimone Mansion is a rare example of the "Queen Anne, Free-Classic" style.

It has a hipped roof and lower cross gables which are predominate for the time period between 1880-1910. This style accounts for nearly 50% of all Queen Anne houses with steeply pitched hip roofs and one gable facing the front and another facing the side. This example is a large high style house and looks to be very well maintained.

Photos by Tim Fantin

The "Free Classic" sub-type uses classical columns. It is an example with fluted Ionic columns set on a well defined pedestal above the railing. The height shows exaggerated volutes at the column cap. . The railing has decorative spindles which are typically uncommon in this sub-type which is predominate after about 1890- 1895.

The style was named and made popular by the English architect Richard Norman Shaw. The name is not appropriate as it has nothing to do with the actual styles popular during the time of Queen Anne! Though, the "Free Classic" style sub-type is distinctively American. The front porch at the left side of the front elevation that is enclosed is relatively uncommon; it is likely an addition, or later enclosure of an originally larger front porch.

8. Conrail Train Yard - B & O Interlocking Tower

Aerial photograph of Walkerton westside rail routes taken by John Miller.

The third floor was removed in 1972 after Conrail took over what was once the New York Central Line Rail Yard. It was the command center built for the junction of the Lake Erie & Western/ Nickel Plate, New York Central, and B&O Railroad lines. It not only housed a train station where you could buy tickets and wait for a B&O Train on the boardwalk, but you could use the restrooms on the 2nd floor, and the 3rd floor kept the lookout control tower for the interlocking equipment operators.

Reading From the March 22, 1895 The Railroad Gazette: "The National Switch and Signal Company has received an order for interlocking the crossing of the New York Central with the B & O, and Lake Erie & Western/ Nickel Plate Railroads, at Walkerton, Ind. The machine will consist of 44 working levers and 8 spare spaces, operating 21 switches, 7 locks, 14 facing point locks, 3 crossing bars and 25 signals. In order to obtain view of all the tracks within the limits of the interlocking, the tower is to be 25 ft. high to the operating floor."

1960's map showing rail spurs provided by John Miller.

This 40 acre yard was once part of a massive complex once, evident before Conrail demolished much of it in 1972. It actually crossed US 6 and went on into what is today the eastern portion of the Walkerton Cemetery. Before 1978 you could see trains storing boxcars behind American Door and Modern Door Corporation. Not much is left today except for several spurs near the old B&O Interlocking Tower.

Historic maps and photos provided by Jenny Fry and WAHS

For 100 years or more you would find an entire neighborhood here. It included several storage towers (last one demolished mid 20th century). You would find saloons, boarding houses, a beverage bottling plant, and the Union Hotel. The rail yard even went as far as beside the old Urey Middle School and on into the parking lot passing Adams St. This was the original settlement of the community beginning with the name West York, then Washington, and lastly, the west end of Walkerton.

7. St. Patrick's Catholic Church

Many of the founders of the Tyler St. church were Irish Catholics who worked on the Cincinnati, Peru and Chicago Railroad extension in the area.

In the parish’s early history, it began as St. Henry's and was served by Holy Cross priests and priests of the Precious Blood order who led services in what was once, a log cabin prior to 1870. The mostly Irish members during the 19th century had the name changed to St. Patrick's.

Last March 14th was a mass of dedication of an altar to mark the church’s 150th anniversary. St. Patrick's parish was founded in 1856 and the building of the church in 1870.

Recently, Father Eric Zimmer has overseen a restoration of certain elements of the church. That includes the altar, belltower circular window, and chapel stained glass windows.

Today, the old St. Patrick's School serves as an event center and caters to the Walkerton community. It was renamed Letko Hall to honor longtime Pastor, Father Anthony Letko, who served the parish from the 1940s to 1988.

Current Pastor, Father Eric Zimmer said, "at one time there were 450 families, but we are growing."

"We’ve had 30 families join since I arrived.”

He said, "integrated programs are getting more people involved in the parish."

Zimmer gave the example of a program held on Wednesdays during Lent, starting with Ash Wednesday.

"There is a simple supper at 6 p.m., followed by Stations of the Cross at 7 p.m. and Exposition and Benediction."

He said attendance at Stations of the Cross has gone from five parishioners to about 30. The parish’s strong point, according to its pastor, is the willingness of the parishioners to help.

“We have a core of people who are very happy to volunteer their time and talent towards various things, whether it’s updating the facilities, cooking or cleaning up. Their willingness to do that is very helpful. They are very proud of their parish,” he said.

Father Zimmer wants to continue the growth he’s seen since being assigned to St. Patrick.

“It’s important for our parish to continue to grow."

"We need to continue outreach to the groups alienated from the Church who are still within our area,” he said.

“We have to provide programs and outreach that refreshes people.”

6. Urey Park Square Downtown Walkerton

Located in downtown Walkerton at the northeast corner of Roosevelt & Illinois St. Harold Urey himself was employed at the Railroad Station ticket booth/ Newspaper stand that once sat on the corner. He fed the ducks and sold tickets to earn extra income from busy travelers destined for New York City, Chicago, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia. The old Nickel Plate train station was one of 4 in the town.

Walkerton was built as a haven for railroad workers who served the Lake Erie & Western Railroad founded by James Walker. Today, you will find an ornate clock tower, and a Victorian water fountain that trickles the sound of water flowing during the summer months.

This public space was once, home to the Walkerton Band Shell that greeted visitors as they departed the trains. It was also, a meeting place for rallies supporting political candidates.

It is a place to celebrate the arrival of Santa Claus to greet the community's children during the holidays. During early December you may hear the area choirs sing, and the "ho,ho,ho" of jolly St. Nicholas himself! A festive community Christmas tree graces the square during the holidays.

5. Wooden Railroad Trestles Over Pine Creek

The two railroad trestles that run train lines over Pine Creek are maintained frequently. One is visible on the east side of town near the old Welco's Parking Lot in a wooded area beside highway US 6. That one is also visible from Underwood Rd. on the other side when traveling towards Teegarden. That one was built for the Nickel Plate Railroad to grace the water falls of the waterway.

The other wooden railroad trestle built by the New York Central / Chicago Indiana & Southern is on the westside of town behind Plas/ Steel near Adams St. It is a popular fishing spot. An ancient brick train station with collapsed roof is visible on one end of it. Once a clock was seen on a broken out wall as recently as the 1980's.

Both bridges include a wooden plankway. It is a dangerous place when a train is heading towards it. The slopes along the sides of them are steep. Boulder flagstone is used to line the undersides of the lovely wooden structures. Trespassers must be agile climbers in order to reach the sandy creek beds.

4. End Of The Trail Riding Stables and Rodeo Stadium

Eott and Laura Saylor have kept a riding tradition going for decades. Their family run operation located near Koontz Lake has a Grovertown address. They offer hourly horseback riding, state park rides, camping trips, pony parties, a farm animal petting zoo, and horse drawn hayrides, carriages, and / or sleighs rides.

They also operate the rodeo stadium event space used for horse shows, bulls & barrel racing, kids dirt biking, pit bike motorcycling, and holiday pageants. You can take a fun relaxing ride on an open track and wooded trails. The Saylor's accept small, informal groups. They provide very gentle horses for the most inexperienced riders, and always, an experienced horseman rides with the group to help insure safety. This is done by appointment only.

Do you want to arrange a Pony Party? Make memories happen when you invite a pony for a child's party? They will go to your location. For an hour the children will be led while taking turns riding the pony. Another option is they offer the "End Of The Trail" grounds to host your party.

You can play basketball, volleyball, take a nature hike in the woods, a pony ride, or a horse-drawn wagon ride. They provide picnic tables if you pitch a tent, and can start a campfire for your group to roast hot dogs, or marshmellows.

The riding stables, cycling, and rodeo is pure sport, and entertainment. The best part about it is being close to the animals that are involved. For Laura, and Eurrat Saylor their horses are a part of the family. They take pride in every way.

It is a special place. Riding and training horses is in their blood. Have you ever thought of arranging an appointment to ride on a one horse open sleigh? It can really provide therapeutic energy for yourself, and loved ones. The Grovertown Throwdown is a great cycling event to explore your talents.

3. The Walkerton Area Historical Society Heritage House Museum

At the Heritage House Museum located at 413 Michigan St., you will find exhibits, photographs, memorabilia from local businesses, and many other interesting artifacts to satisfy your historic quest for the past.

Visit Thursday, Friday, or Saturday. Make an appointment for a group tour. Let the experienced museum docents guide you through the collection. Much never before seen photographs and memorabilia.

It is a great resource. The WAHS members meet monthly to discuss artifacts.

2. Victorian Era Walkerton Commercial District

Upon the 500 - 700 blocks Roosevelt Rd. you will find these ornate buildings straight out of the mid-19th century. They were built to attract eager railroad travelers and keep the community busy shopping, dining, drinking, and visiting with intricate architectural details.

Photo by Indiana Aerials

Photo by Tammy Allsop Proctor

Many services once, occupied the thriving district. Lawyers, Doctors, Printers, Blacksmiths, Hotel keepers, Entertainers, Bankers, and Automobilists succeeded here. It was and still is the historic center of town. Over time fires, and neglect have taken their toll on the age of the structures.

The owners try to maintain the roofs and foundations of what is here. As in the past entrepreneurs and investors have returned to rebuild. The Walkerton Main Street Program ordered from the Town Hall continues to study for the future vitality of the unique commercial center.

1. Visit Koontz Lake

Koontz Lake is a destination for leisure seekers and weekend residents who are looking to escape the busy life of the big cities. They flock to places like Kramers Beach to swim and picnic or play music. They return to their cottages dotting the shores of N. Tippecanoe Drive.

Kelly Busse photography

They fish on the banks of the Marshall County side or drop their boats in at launch ramps on the Starke County side. They boat to the sandbar to visit friends, or water ski up and down the waves from one side to the other for thrills.

Visitors and tourists watch fireworks during the summer or drive over to the Koontz Lake Brewery for new menu items or entertainment. Once, grocery stores, sports shops, and hamburger stands dotted the tree lined lanes named after indigenous tribes.

Adam Oles photography

Tom Quinn photography

Today, you will see cyclists exercising along the very same lanes. Koontz Lake has been a resort community since the 19th century.

Once steamers, and paddleboats carried passenger across the waters. It is a special community full of much to explore. Restaurants and taverns continue to serve visitors and residents alike. It is a place to make special memories.

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