Corey Hagelberg and Kate Land.
Updated: August 15, 2013 6:19AM
...Last night me and Kate we laid in bed talking about getting out
Packing up our bags maybe heading south
I’m thirty-five we got a boy of our own now
Last night I sat him up behind the wheel and said son take a good look around
This is your hometown”
— Bruce Springsteen
As part of the Study Abroad Program, Corey Hagelberg traveled to Italy in 2004. Later that year, he co-organized a volunteer effort to help rebuild Bosarge Park in Bayou La Batre, Ala. after Hurricane Katrina had destroyed it. In 2006, he earned his BFA in sculpture at Ball State University. In 2011, he received his master of arts in printmaking at BSU.
But Hagelberg’s hometown is Miller and he plans on sticking around. He just turned 30 on June 30 and lives on top of a dune overlooking Lake Michigan with Kate Land, two cats and a black lab pup named Rita.
I had to ascend 86 steps to get to the two houses Hagelberg purchased about a year-and-a-half ago for a total of $24,000. Every step of the way was a joy. The property is an ecological wonder.
“Andrean,” he said. “After earning my bachelor’s at Ball State, I took four or five years off to build commercial playgrounds for my dad. I worked in about 30 different states, spending almost all my time on the road.
“Our three- or four-person crews spent a lot of time in Louisiana, Alabama Texas, New York... . I worked on many Indian reservations. A lot of poor areas where we would kind of get the sense of community development happening as we were building a playground. You could see the energy that surrounded it. People wanted to talk to us. For the first time, I got a feel for working in a community and understanding what certain actions could do.”
It all ties into what is going on in Miller right now.
“Yes, we’re hoping the community develops around the art gallery we built on Lake Street. We’re beginning to see how people use those places that we’ve created to start conversations about the community, which is really what it’s all about.”
Tell me more.
“I get a good sense the people in Miller that are kind of running the arts and creative district are looking for youth to come in and join them. There’s a diversity in this area. Not only bio-diversity, but a cultural diversity as well, that is really unique, I think.”
These houses you’ve purchased?
“They’re both nice houses and you can tell they were extremely nice houses in their day. They were built for entertaining and they’re isolated. They were abandoned for five years. The people living here suddenly moved out leaving almost all their possessions, including a lot of antiques.
“During the five years they were abandoned, the houses were basically torn apart. Almost all the antiques were stolen. We did find a couple of really amazing objects. All the copper was taken out. The walls were tore out. There was a fire set in this house. All the windows were boarded up. I had to redo all the plumbing and heating systems.”
What were some of the treasures you did find on the property?
“A little creamer from the Hotel Gary, old sewing machines, silver... . The entire library was left untouched. This book is called ‘Cradled in the Dune Lands’ written and signed by Jeanette Vaughn Konley. She was the Indiana Poet Laureate from 1958 to 1959.”
Does the Miller Historical Society have its own museum?
“Not yet. There is talk of redoing the Miller Town Hall into a museum. They do have a collection of historical artifacts and documents.”
That really piques my interest about the original owners. I wonder what happened to them?
“Well, it was two gay guys and one of them eventually died. Then, I believe the other got sick and had to find another place to live. Those guys really cultivated this property. Everything was elegantly gardened. As we remove all the invasive plants, we find beautiful hostas, daylilies, flowering trees..”
Are you going to rent out the other house?
“Kate and I have made it into an artist’s residency. We feel that we were very lucky to get these houses. We feel that we should share them. We want to help artists and the community.”
Very nice. You know, Corey, writers are artists, too.
“The last two people who stayed here were writers. One of them is a poet and the other a writer of fiction. So far, we’ve had two writers and three painters stay here.”
How much does it cost to live here for a week or a month?
“At this point, there’s no charge. Some of the artists help us with our gardens. What we have here is a lifetime project.”
This place is an Eden, and you got it for a song, but you’ve put a lot of work into it.
“Our friends and family were generally very supportive when we took this project on. Our neighbors were ecstatic. Some of Kate’s friends from other parts of Indiana were very skeptical when she told them she was moving to Gary to buy and rebuild a couple of abandoned houses. But when they came to visit, they were shocked by how beautiful it is here and how amazing all the people are.”
You mentioned your neighbors.
“Right below me is a young artist named Cullen B. Daniel; you’ll have to meet Cullen. He runs the Miller Beach Historical Society. (Environmental activist) Lee Botts is one of my neighbors. That wooded area you see out the window is all Shirley Heinze (Land Trust). Green Heron Pond sits over there.
“A couple of years ago, there were quite a few abandoned houses around here. But in the last year or so, people are moving back in. People who have a passion for gardening and for focusing on the appearances of their houses. There’s a lot of good energy happening in this neighborhood right now. Artists have the ability to see possibilities that others sometimes can’t.”
“Do you know the process of wood cut? What I do is carve these blocks, then roll ink on the surface and then put the paper down and rub the back. It’s kind of like a big stamp. Most of my work intertwines industry and the Dunes. This specific wood cut book shows the Calumet River which starts in Marquette Park.”
Wow, a 12-feet long, hand-carved book. Read it to me.
“Sure: ‘The headwaters of the Grand Calumet River originate from a small lagoon in the pristine dunes near the southern shore of Lake Michigan. The word Calumet means pipe, and refers to the one the Ilihiwek Indians smoked with the French missionary Father Marquette as a universal sign of peace. Today, near the site of this historic ceremony, where the river enters into an area of heavy industry, the Grand Calumet River disappears into a pipe.’”
Elegance in simplicity. Corey, your book tells quite a story.
While touring the property, we munched on a few daylily blossoms as we meandered through lush ferns just below a canopy of pines and oaks. My mind drifted. And in my reverie, I thought about how lucky we all are to live in Northwest Indiana where what’s left of the Dunes and Grand Kankakee Marsh are but 45 minutes apart.
And it was good to feel the energy exude from young Kate Land and Corey Hagelberg.