Fox Lake is a national historic district located in Steuben County, Indiana. Established in 1927 with a rich history of black families for three to four generations, it developed between 1928 and 1950 as a vacation resort for middle class African Americans. The cottages are primarily one-story frame dwellings with gable roofs and concrete block foundations. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2001.
Many families from Fort Wayne, Indianapolis, Detroit, Toledo, and Chicago have, at some point, been a part of the growth of the Fox Lake community.
In an interview with Dr. Robin Newburn, she shares her experiences with her grandparents growing up owning a property at Fox Lake, and she is now a property owner herself.
Dr. Robin, born in Indianapolis and grew up in Fort Wayne, vividly remembers summers at Fox Lake with her brother and cousins. Her grandparents, who were also from Indianapolis, had a place at Fox Lake and during the summers of 1970s-80s, as a child and then teenager, Dr. Robin spent many summers with her grandparents at the Lake.
When asked what it was like, Dr. Robin described Fox Lake as amazing! She said, “It’s hard to describe but as a kid it was like paradise.” Dr. Robin excitedly shared the history of Fox Lake including a story about businessman Carl Wilson Sr. who is also known as the “Father of Fox Lake” and the person who built the first three cottages which are still there. Fox Lake was different. It was a place families could swim, fish, boat, and ride horses, which were luxuries only afforded to certain families at that time.
My grandparents would let us hang out late, and felt safe letting us do it. At that time there was a Rec Center that was open for young people and there was bowling, a snack bar, and even a jukebox. Dr. Robin remembers Sunday school on the beach, they would ring a bell and you would see families headed towards the beach to participate. People would take turns leading and the superintendent would prepare the lessons.
She also recalls, over the years, many restaurants, a large motel, and even a clubhouse close to the community. Also, as you entered the main road, the community people would wave and smile. They call it the “Fox Lake Wave” and people still do it today. Dr. Robin remembers asking her grandmother about it when she was young because she noticed people didn’t do that when she was home on the main roads in Fort Wayne.
Dr. Robin’s grandparents were hardworking people but not college educated and many of the families there at that time were. She remembers a neighbor who was a Podiatrist and in her words, “Each summer when we came, he would ask us about our grades and how our school year went. I remember that feeling of education and people wanting you to succeed and excel. It seemed to be a general consensus around the lake with families.”
When asked how the Fox Lake community operates, Dr. Robin said it’s a microcosm and a self-governing entity. There is a Fox Lake Property Owners Association which was established in 1938. The Association has a president and board and they come together to raise money for road repairs, the Thomas Lodge, and more. We all worked together then and now to keep the community going. Dr. Robin participates in the Fox Lake Property Owners Board of Directors and the Preservation Foundation Board of Directors. They know that the community is a hidden gem, and they work very hard to preserve it. In addition, they work to upgrade dilapidated properties that no one lives in, but the families haven’t sold. Through the Preservation Foundation, they seek and receive grants for improvements and programming.
They are also seeking realtors to support them in the process of preserving some of the homes and selling them to families who are interested. Due to the cost of the properties being lower than Lake James, over the years and during the early 90s, various new families have moved into the community. Today, Fox Lake is still a successful community. Its traditions are still maintained by many second- and third-generation owners who occupy a large number of the cottages.
Check out the website for more history and information at foxlakein.com.
This column is sponsored by The Fort Wayne Ink Spot, a black-owned Indiana newspaper focusing on regional and national stories, especially those impacting African Americans and minorities. This collaboration with The Waynedale News aims to promote diversity, inclusivity, and appreciation for the local black community. By representing all residents’ voices, unity and understanding flourish.
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Written by M. Todd Manuel & Tabitha Ervin