With the majority of Chicago-area residents either escaping to Wisconsin or saying “yes” to Michigan, Northeast Indiana has sort of slipped under the radar. As it turns out, the Angola area provides an abundance of fun for summer “lakers”—most of them from nearby Michigan or Ohio.
Angola is just a three hour drive from downtown Chicago and with its location at the crossroads of Interstates 80 and 69, it’s easy to see why it would be a hot spot for everyone from summer vacationers to long-distance trucking firms.
Although modern innovations like I-Pass make it easy to head east, once you arrive you’ll find an area steeped in history. In the 1930s and 40s, it was the place for kids from Ohio and Michigan to elope as it was the county seat closest the border, and Indiana’s guidelines for getting married were more lenient than its neighbors to the north and east.
It’s also easy to fall in love with the scenery at nearby Pokagon State Park, where once again, Depression-era history abounds. Like so many state parks in the region, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) were recruited to build trails and shelters that still are in evidence today. These young recruits also built a toboggan shoot that overlooks the 1,203 acre park. It is still in operation with long lines of thrill seekers waiting to shoot down Indiana’s only refrigerated toboggan run during the winter months.
But with another brutal winter finally behind us, thoughts turn to summer and the 101 lakes that dot the Steuben County countryside. Both Lake James and Snow Lake offer angling and swimming opportunities for Pokagon visitors and there are several local businesses that cater to both year-round residents and the “lakers.”
With water quality that’s been rated among the best in Indiana, Lake James has long been a lure for vacationers, some of whom settle in “cottages” valued at more than a million dollars. Long before “Dancing with the Stars” came into vogue, Bledsoe’s Beach was touted as “The Midwest’s Favorite Fun Spot” and attracted dancers and Djs from the 1930s all the way into the early 1960s.
Although Bledsoe’s Beach was sold at an auction in 2011, the fun and summer games continue at Jimmy’s on James, where food, beverages and live weekend music is on the menu for patrons. It’s literally a “can’t miss” destination as there is a large figurine of a lady waterskiing on top of the building.
Moving over to Lake George, you’ll find additional dining options ranging from breakfast to supper clubs. A Lake George fixture since the 1950’s, Clay’s Family Restaurant has been satisfying customers with their signature pies, fish fries, made-from-scratch sweet biscuits, home cooked meals and other crowd pleasing favorites. Their weekend brunch features over 20 selections for the throwback price of $8.99. One Yelp review summed it up by saying, “This is the kind of place that makes me glad that there is such a thing as Yelp, which makes it easy for us to forgo a generic, fast-food stop and instead have a nice little adventure at a nice local spot during a road trip.”
Lake George is also rumored to be a spot where John Dillinger and his gang holed up due to its proximity to the Indiana-Michigan state line, which made it easier for the gang to stay on the lam from local police.
While trying to stay one step ahead of the law in those pre-interstate days, Dillinger and his crew might have ran a merry chase down Route 20. The “US Grant Memorial Highway” still runs through Angola to Chicago and points beyond, If you take 20, you’ll see evidence of everything from Amish horse and buggies near Shipshewana to the Indiana Dunes and other points of interest.