Northwest Indiana residents can get a glimpse of the area's agricultural history during a visit to Buckley Homestead County Park in Lowell. Part of Lake County Parks and Recreation facilities, the 575 acre-living history farm provides a snapshot of what life was like back in 18th -19th century Indiana.
As a living history farm, Buckley Homestead operates within the scope of the property that also serves as a park. The main area of the 'park' is the barnyard area and the house area. The cabin is set as it would have been in the 1910 period. There also is a pioneer farm in the back of the property that is representative of the 1850s era. The schoolhouse area is in the 1880s to 1910 period.
The Buckleys were Irish immigrants who moved to the United States in the mid-18th century. They first moved to Northwest Indiana in 1849, where they built their first farmstead. The Buckleys ended up turning their farm into a 150-head dairy farm, according to Chris Orange, park manager.
“When the Buckley family lived there, it was a very successful dairy farm,” said Orange. “In Lake County, it was an important time in history because they were able to sell their milk at a premium to Chicago because there were a lot of people and they had railroad transportation.”
“However, we do not have 150 cows here today,” Orange said. “We like to represent what they would have had, but to run at that sort of level would make this facility a production dairy. Living history farms are run for educational purposes. We work with livestock heritage breeds to try and preserve the animal breeds that were here in the early 20th century. We have gardens, orchards, a wide variety of livestock including cows, goats, pigs, sheep, chickens, turkeys, guineas, ducks and geese. We are always changing and adding other animals to keep our selection fresh and interesting for our visitors.”
Farming that is done on-site today is mostly educational, according to Orange.
“We do plant a lot of corn and oats,” he said. “A lot of it is used for animal feed, and some of it is used in our programs.”
Perhaps one of the most important features that has been preserved over time is the Buckley Barn. The barn is more than 100 years old.
“If you take a drive around southern Lake County, we are starting to lose some of that agricultural heritage,” Orange said. “This style barn, if there are any more in this area, is usually found in disrepair or has been replaced by a pole barn. Things change over time. To find a barn of this size and age still in really good condition and to save it for future generations to enjoy and witness is what I imagine the Buckley family would have wanted for their property.”
Through the homestead's history, the story of the Buckley property brings visitors a really important part of Northwest Indiana's heritage.
“It gives people a chance to be more connected to our agricultural roots,” Orange said. “They can come out and experience what it would have been like in those days. When the Buckley family was running the farm, about 75% of the Lake County population worked in agriculture. Now that number has dwindled down to only about 2 or 3%. We are lucky to be able to provide interaction with live animals and farming activities.”
Buckley Homestead County Park operates with three full-time staff members and seven to eight part-time programming or grounds crew members. Volunteers are additionally always wanted and welcome, according to Orange.
“We are always looking for volunteers,” he said. “A lot of our buildings are staffed by volunteer interpreters, and they do a wonderful job. We have some help from 4-H and scout troops, but as a service organization, we are always looking for additional volunteer staff.”
Buckley Homestead County Park offers something for everyone from history, to nature, cultural activities and the great outdoors.
“We are here to be good stewards of the property that was generously donated to us,” Orange said. “We offer as much community programming as possible, including field trips, hands-on workshops and special events. We have trails marked and there are usually animals out in the pasture.”
Bookings for rental space, shelter reservations and park tours including hands-on tours, are done through the Lake County Parks and Recreation corporate office, 219-769-PARK.
“While our historical buildings are not for rent, we do book regular park tours and hands-on tours,” Orange said. “Those tours need to be booked at least two weeks in advance and are only available part of the year. With our hands-on tours, we have stations set up at our pioneer farm and schoolhouse with activities such as milking cows, gardening and crafts.”
According to Orange, Buckley Homestead County Park tries to accommodate all age groups, and in particular, to middle and high school-age students with a different style tour geared just for them. Facilities and programming can meet with any group of more than 20 for a booking, and they try to be flexible to accommodate any specific needs.
The park is located at 3606 Belshaw Rd, Lowell, Indiana. It is open from 7 a.m. to sunset year round. Admission is free of charge. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. There is a gift shop and visitor's center (with flushable toilets). Call 219-696-0769 for more information, or visit online at lakecountyparks.com or on Facebook at facebook.com/BuckleyHomesteadCountyPark.