Global True Lithuania Encyclopedia of Lithuanian heritage worldwide

Indiana and its Lithuanian Riviera

Northern Indiana was absorbed by suburban Chicago - "Lithuanian-American capital". So many Chicagoans have moved into the Lake Michigan coasts there that the area became known as the "Lithuanian Riviera" among the Lithuanian community. Most of the "Lithuanian Riviera" is in Indiana, but it stretches well into Michigan. In numerous towns Lithuanian memorials have been built and Lithuanian institutions created.

"Lithuanian Riviera" began as many Chicago Lithuanians have chosen this area for their holidays in the 1950s-1980s because of the area's dune-clad Lake Michigan coasts being similar to the Lithuania's top resort of Palanga, still a vivid memory for many Lithuanians who fled the Soviet Genocide. Lithuanian men used to arrive here to spend summer weekends, while the Lithuanian women and children would spend entire summers here (in those days, much fewer women worked and it used to be a common practice among all ethnicities). As they became older and retired, many have moved to "Lithuanian Riviera" full time. Moreover, as Lithuanian districts in Chicago disintegrated, some younger families have moved to this area and commute to Chicago every day, treating the "Lithuanian Riviera" as Chicago suburbs, making some of the area's towns and villages to be among the most Lithuanian in the entire USA.

The beach at Union Pier resort

The beach at Union Pier resort

At the same time, however, Lithuanian Riviera gradually lost popularity as a vacation destination, as far-away destinations such as Florida, Hawaii, and the Caribbean became much more easily accessible (in terms of time and cost), while most women began to work, rendering the "pretty summer home for wife and kids" idea obsolete.

In addition to the laid-back lakeshore suburbs of "Lithuanian Riviera", Indiana's Lake Michigan shores also has several historic industrial cities that had strong Lithuanian heritage (Gary, East Chicago).

Lituanica park memorial stone

Lituanica park memorial stone in Beverly Shores

Lithuanian Riviera of Indiana - Beverly Shores, Michigan City

The heart of Lithuanians in Indiana and the whole "Lithuanian Riviera" is the resort town of Beverly Shores near the famous Indiana Dunes of Lake Michigan. 12,5% of its ~700 inhabitants are Lithuanians. In 1968 a local park was renamed after Lituanica plane; a symbolic memorial dedicated to Darius and Girėnas who piloted that aircraft in a doomed first air mail voyage across Atlantic also stands here in a middle of a pond (1971, author Juozas Bakis). It represents the broken wing of the downed Darius and Girėnas's aircraft "Lituanica". Beverly Shores also has a Lithuanian club, however, it has no building of its own.

Lituanica Park in Beverly Shores

Lituanica Park in Beverly Shores

Lituanica memorial (broken wing) in the Lituanica Park of Beverly Shores

Lituanica memorial (broken wing) in the Lituanica Park of Beverly Shores

Beverly Shores is also unique among the US cities and towns in that, while it has no Lithuanian church, it has a Lithuanian mass celebrated in the local parish. As by the time Lithuanians moved into Beverly Shores many of them were older, they did not build their own church, however, they were able to make significant alterations to the St. Ann of the Dunes church in 1970 (originally, the church has been built in 1950). Its wings and the unique glass wall behind the altar were designed by a Lithuanian architect Erdvilas Masiulis (who also designed numerous homes in Beverly Shores) while its interior eventually received Lithuanian donations of Rūpintojėlis (traditional sculpture of a sad God) by Daugvila and an altar cross made of amber (a material traditionally associated with Lithuania).

St. Anne church of Beverl Shores with the Lithuanian amber cross visible, as well as Masiulis-designed window behind the altar that shows nature (God's creation)

St. Anne church of Beverl Shores with the Lithuanian amber cross visible, as well as Masiulis-designed window behind the altar that shows nature (God's creation)

In the nearby Michigan City International garden various sections are dedicated to various ethnicities. There is also a Lithuanian section. After spending decades of being quite derelict, the gardens were restored in the 20110s and now also host annual ethnic festivals, including a Lithuanian one. At the heart of the park's Lithuanian section is the historic Lithuanian presidents memorial, began in 1941 as interwar Lithuania's final president Antanas Smetona (who fled Lithuania to the USA in 1940) planted a tree there. Later, the Smetona's post has been joined by two more posts for the two other interwar Lithuanian presidents: Aleksandras Stulginskis and Kazys Grinius. Other ethnic gardens in Michigan City are dedicated to Poles, Romanians, Norwegians, Native Americans, Germans, and Scotts.

Lithuanian garden in Michigan City

Lithuanian garden in Michigan City. Each post is for a president of Lithuania

Antanas Smetona plaque on one of the posts

Antanas Smetona plaque on one of the posts

Recently the Lithuanian section was expanded with a traditional Lithuanian chapel-post (a.k.a. Wayside shrine, koplytstulpis) that was donated by the Knights of Lithuania in 2016.

Lithuanian sites in the industrial cities of Gary, East Chicago and South Bend

The cities of Gary and EastChicago that are located between Chicago and the Lithuanian Riviera have a very different history: they were industrial powerhouses that housed many Lithuanians before the World Wars but became Black-majority since then, with nearly all Lithuanians leaving them behind.

Once Gary had a Lithuanian St. Casimir church (constructed, 1927, closed 1998) and St. Casimir school (located in the first church building, built 1918). Both buildings survive (1368 West 15th Avenue) and are now used for the same purposes by the Black-majority Power and Light church. In the church, two Lithuanian stained-glass windows survive. The one on the left side near the altar inscribed with letters "Moterų dovana" (a gift from women), while the one on the right "Vyrų dovana" (a gift from men). Both have been created by famous specialist A. Valeška.

Gary St. Casimir Lithuanian church

Gary St. Casimir Lithuanian church

Gary Lithuanian school (old church)

Gary Lithuanian school (old church)

As most of Lithuanians have left the area and the church suffered a fire in 1970, the parishioners tried to relocate the parish to the suburbs and even got a donation promise for a lot as well as found a buyer for their church. Diocese, however, forbade the relocation, essentially condemning the parish to closure on the long run.

East Chicago also had its Lithuanian church (erected 1913, since demolished, formerly 3903 Main Street) and still has a street named after Lituanica airplane.

Location of the Lithuanian chucrh of East Chicago

Location of the Lithuanian chucrh of East Chicago

Deeper inland, the industrial city of South Bend never had a strong Lithuanian community, however, one Lithuanian has made enough impact there to have a sculpture erected to him. That was Edvardas Kraučiūnas, brother of Feliksas Kraučiūnas (a basketball star who helped Lithuanians win the 1937-1939 European basketball championships). Like Feliksas, Edvardas was very capable in sports and coached the team of South Bend's Notre Dame University. With the importance Americans put on varsity sports, the university has erected sculptures for many of its famous coaches; a nearby street is named after Kriaučiūnas as well. However, instead of using the Lithuanian name "Edvardas Kriaučiūnas", the name "Moose Kraus" he adopted later is used. Kriaučiūnas adopted that name because, while he still was a player in the university, his own coach was unable to spell his Lithuanian name. Edvardas Kriaučiūnas (Moose Kraus) sculpture is sitting on a bench on the side of Notre Dame University's stadium.

Edvardas Kriaučiūnas (Moose Kraus) sculpture in South Bend (Notre Dame university)

Edvardas Kriaučiūnas (Moose Kraus) sculpture in South Bend (Notre Dame university)

Union Pier and Michigan's Lithuanian Riviera

One of the most Lithuanian resort towns of the Lithuanian Riviera was Union Pier, which at one time had 7 Lithuanian resorts that would have hosted the Lithuanian men visiting from Chicago for weekends and Lithuanian women/children for prolonged times in summer. As these practices declined and many older Chicago Lithuanians bought their own summer homes in the Union Pier, just a single Lithuanian resort remains: Gintaras Resort on the Lake. It is located at a magnificent spot atop high dunes; most of its customers today are non-Lithuanian, however. There is also a Milda Corner Market that is a Lithuanian shop in Union Pier.

Gintaras Resort on the Lake sign

Gintaras Resort on the Lake sign

Gintaras Resort on the Lake room

Gintaras Resort on the Lake room

One of the most famous Lithuanian resorts in the "Riviera" actually used to stand inland: that was the Tabor Farm that used to be owned by the Adamkus family (who later became the president of Lithuania) and attracted much of the Lithuanian-American elite. However, Tabor Farm has been sold and demolished since, leaving no traces.

Click to learn more about Lithuania: Indiana, USA 16 Comments

Map of Lithuanian heritage in western Midwest

Map of the Lithuanian heritage in Western Midwest (Illinois, Wisconsin and Indiana).

More info in Lithuanian heritage in Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin.

Click to learn more about Lithuania: Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin 2 Comments