A Little History of The Inn at Aberdeen, Ltd.
The Inn at Aberdeen & the Fur Traders
The Inn and the surrounding lands lie less than 2 miles south of the Valparaiso Moraine, the furthest southern movement of the last glacier, and are part of the Kankakee River Basin known and respected for its bountiful harvests and rich trapping and hunting preserves for centuries. Flecks of flint stone and other artifacts found during the environmental assessment of the entire Village of Aberdeen point to the prior presence of Indians and trappers on these grounds, the most prevalent being Potawatomi. Their travels took them from the Kankakee River about 10 miles south of the Inn northward to the shores of Lake Michigan, the Calumet River, and trading posts like Baillytown settled by Joseph Baille (Bailly) near present day Chesterton and, of course, Fort Dearborn established in 1803 and later to become the City of Chicago.
The Inn's Home is Born - John Ritter
The town of Valparaiso was established in 1835 followed in 1836 by the establishment of Center Township where the Inn resides. The exact dating of the buttressed walls of fieldstone, brick and concrete which form the foundation and support the living area in the historic portion of The Inn is not known. Samuel B. Collins is listed in the 1857 Assessor's Book (80 acres, Section 11, Township 35, Range 6) along with James, John & Samuel Jr. as owners of the land. Samuel is still listed as the owner in 1876. In 1895, Frank H. Jones is listed on the Books as the owner of at least some of the Aberdeen land, but little else is known.
In 1906, John Ritter (7 family members pictured at the home [above] in the sepia photograph hanging in the Inn's old entry, today) is listed as the owner. John originally came to Porter County in 1845 at age 7 with his father Christian, mother Barbara Dowdell and six siblings - Sabina, Christopher, Anna, William, Mary and Melvina. They came via horse drawn wagon with most of the family traveling alongside by foot. The eldest two children were born in Germany and the remainder born in Erie County New York. They originally lived 7 miles SW of Valparaiso in an area called Horse Praisie on 160 acres. Christian died in 1882. Upon arrival in Porter County, John helped his mother plant her New York apple seeds producing 150 trees. In 1857, he left for Leavenworth, Kansas, to join General Harney for an expedition which was cut short by the Gold Rush. He proceeded to Pike's Peak where he remained until 1861. He then joined Company M of the 2nd Mexican Calvary under Colonel Kit Carson to fight the Indians in New Mexico, Arizona and Texas, the latter being in the Red River Valley against the Commanches and Kiowas. In 1871, John returned to Porter County and married Sarah J. Hesser and fathered 5 children: Merritt, Hattie, William, Ollie, and Grace. Grace passed away at age 4.
In 1878 John bought 160 acres where the Inn now stands adding additional tracts to a total of 334 acres erecting two large dairy barns. One other child died and in 1884 his wife Sarah passed away. John remarried Lottie M. Bradley (daughter of John B. and Almina [Smith] Bradley) December 23rd, 1886. The birth of four more children followed: Jay B., Ruth Ann, Lyman and Maurice. There is also mention of Harry. John was a Republican and served as Township Trustee and Treasurer of Porter County. John Ritter died at age 86 in 1924. Descendants of Ruth Ann Ritter Wilson live in the Valparaiso area today.
History indicates that the home was part of the Underground Railroad around the Civil War times linking a known site in Hebron with other sites to the north following Route 2 into SW Michigan and safety. The trap door in the old entry closet and wooden stairs leading to the root cellar and crawlspace under the original living room, today known as the Robert Burn's Library are part of this history of the Inn.. The rustic stone wall in front of the home along Indiana Route 2 still stands today with a wrought iron railing now fixed atop.
Over time, the original front door (NE corner of today's Library) was moved to its current location in the center of the old home. The original back door framing was uncovered during renovation in 1995 in the SW corner of today's St. Andrew's Retreat Center (Conference Room). The Powder Room (off the old entry) and the bath for the Aberdeen Suite (original master bedroom with fireplace) directly above were added sometime in the early 1900s to bring plumbing indoors. As you ascend the stairs to the Aberdeen Suite, there was a doorway at the top, to the left, into the home's second bedroom. During renovation, this doorway was closed off and the 18" masonry walls between it and the master bedroom were opened to place French doors and allow direct access to the Aberdeen's bathroom.
Also in the early 1900s, a second story was added to the home on its north end, over the original cook kitchen (today's Conference Room) which then adjoined the original bedroom through a double door. This is today's Dunnotar Suite which can serve as a stand alone Suite or an adjoining suite to the Aberdeen. Subsequent westward extensions of the home (at least 2) created the current kitchen allowing the original cook kitchen to become the dining room. The second floor above hosts the Alloway Suite, a kitchenette.
After the Inn opened in 1995, the dining room was expanded to the East to more than double its size at the request of guests who wanted to be able to hold larger functions than the original space would allow. The patterned carpet currently in the Conference Room marks about the limit of the orignal dining room. This expanded area has come to host many weddings, receptions, dinners, and special events over the years.
In the mid 1900s, Gene Glick bought the home and property, named it Timberlake Farms, and brought Charo King, a cutting quarter horse from Texas to breed quarter horses in the Midwest. Charo's grandfather was number 52 in the breed line of quarter horses. A painting of Charo currently is in the Library.
The horse theme continued at Timberlake Farms. J.M. Foster Construction Company, responsible for much of the early industrial development in northwest Indiana, was tied to the property with enjoyable hunting, fishing and parties in the woods, streams and grounds. The area of he Inn was deeded to the owner's daughter, Irene Lawson in 1971. Irene and Johnnie Lawson, had large pole barns as boarding stables and a limestone stable with party room immediately behind the Inn. Benchmark, Ltd., the developers of the Village of Aberdeen, purchased the land from the Lawsons along with other surrounding tracts in 1994 and subsequently the current Inn's owners, Linda & John Johnson, completed the purchase of the Inn's grounds from Benchmark in February 1995 and started developing today's structure which opened December 7th, 1995. The pole barns were demolished by Benchmark as the subdivision developed. The limestone stable was slated to become a restaurant as the Inn was being built, but was later demolished for the current condo unit and grassy knoll behind the Inn.
The Building of The Inn at Aberdeen, Ltd.
The architect for the Inn and for Aberdeen was Gary Weaver & Associates [Carmel, IN] and the Inn's general contractor was Drake Builders [Robert Vondracek, Valparaiso]. Building concept and design was overseen by John and interior design work by Linda and Vera Johnson [Embassy House of Design, Valparaiso].
Demolition work began in February of 1995. The goal was to maintain the overall integrity of the historic home and yet provide a safe, comfortable and functional facility for our guests. The ventilating, electrical and plumbing systems were replaced along with the windows. The creation of the Conference Center required the 18" thick bearing walls between the kitchen and dining room and the front porch to be removed and beams interposed to support the house above. The three dining room windows to the north became the double entrance way from the new entry into the Conference Room. Upstairs, two rooms were adjoined with the creation of a French door to create the Aberdeen Suite. All other structures were preserved to include the masonry fireplaces which remain functional
As the weather improved, site work began to the north and the north face of the home was never to be seen again as it was integrated into the new construction. The brick was cleaned back to its original red where tell tale signs of different vintages belayed the history of changed windows and doors in the 150 year old structure. A return to white was definitely planned.The Bristol Solarium became a labor of love, although tedious, it took over a month to create. The entry stairs were built in Sandwich, IL disassembled and then reassembled in only three days to fit the walls created onsite to exacting specifications.
The Timberlake Suites literally rose out of the ground in the new addition north of the historic home. Each takes on a name from Scottish history which is highlighted in each room's guest manual .On December 7th, 1995, a Chamber of Commerce Evening -After Hours was hosted at The Inn with almost 300 visitors in attendance. The entry and two guest rooms were completed. Although the remainder of The Inn did not fully look like Pearl Harbor 50+years ago, it was a far cry from how its looks today and the spirit of adventure caused many to wade through the construction debris for a look at things to come.
Guests stayed at The Inn over Christmas 1995 in the few rooms that were open and 31 enjoyed a New year's Eve party in the St Andrews Center. All of The Inn opened finally in late January 1996. Finishing touches, the Gazebo and the creation of the Dunrobin English gardens followed in the spring.
Decorating actually began with the demolition work. A color palate was carefully chosen and runs continuously throughout The Inn. See if you can determine the four predominate colors? (Hint: check out the custom patterned carpet in the Conference Center.) Queen Anne traditional furniture with a dark burgundy stain was chosen. The discriminating eye will find some exceptions to this rule if you look carefully. Harden and Lexington companies provided the majority of the furniture at The Inn.
Fabrics were chosen separately and sent to the furniture factories and also crafted into the many linens and window treatments that uniquely adorn each guest room. Created from 150+ years of antiquity and dedicated to the future comfort of our guests, we have tried to preserve much of the past and yet create an enjoyable retreat, a memorable and fulfilling experience be it only an evening or an extended stay with friends and associates.
In the Spring of 1997 an eighteen hole, championship golf course designed by Michael Hurdzan surrounding the Inn and Village was opened, the Course at Aberdeen. A large outdoor swimming pool and sporting fields (tennis, baseball, basketball, soccer) were also added near the pool. Lakes, streams and ponds were maintained throughout the Village whenever possible and make for an idealic setting, a quiet stroll with nature.
Thanks to the comments made by our many guests, both lodging, and banquet, in 2000, the Conference Room was expanded to double its size to accommodate a larger number of guests for luncheons, dinners, Supper Club, mysteries and business meetings.
The Inn at Aberdeen is dedicated to making your respite with us, be it for pleasure or business, both a memorable and fulfilling experience. Our staff is here to meet your every need.