BACK TO A BY-GONE ERA
Speakeasy at the Spa holds a rich history dating back to the colonization of Porter. Yes, there was illegal casinos. Yes, there was gang relation. No, there was never a spa to get
pedicures at. The name sounds confusing but there was purpose and meaning. The Spa Restaurant was originally opened by Harry Leroy Day in 1933. Current ownership dates to 2021 but saying some business went down in between would be a massive understatement.
So, what is the deal with Mineral Springs Road? Kimbell, commonly misspelled as Kimball, bought the land, and wanted to put Kimbell Mineral Springs on the map. Oil was discovered while drilling and it bled out until mineral water turned into an artesian spring. Sold to the Knotts brothers and developed around 1903, the mission was to become a medicinal resort location, like French Lick, Indiana’s Pluto Water. Thomas Knotts was the first mayor of Gary when it officially became a city in 1906. Armanis Knotts was mayor of Hammond from 1902 – 1904. Both were crucial people in the formation of the city of Gary and the Indiana Dunes. However, due to poor capitalization, the idea of a medicinal resort was failed and efforts were abandoned. Plans were also tied about with a troubled horse racing track that kept getting caught up with gambling. It was shut down numerous times. Small town Chesterton/Porter did not want to become a Chicago influenced Hotel/Bar/Gambling center.
So where does the Spa come in to play of all this? Harry Leroy Day born on September 23rd, 1886 in Missouri had property in Porter. Right on Mineral Springs Rd where the old Spa stands today. IN 1927, he wrote himself as a Salesman on census documents. Day sold bottled water from his house out of artesian mineral springs. The Spa restaurant opens officially in 1933 in Harry Day’s former house and this is where the story gets interesting.
Upon conducting the research for this article several conflicting “open” dates were found ranging from 1927-1933. Prohibition era lasted from 1920 – 1933. Rumor has it Al Capone was responsible for supplying the Spa with liquor. Afterall, during the great depression most clientele was from the wealthy, including gang members that could afford a high-priced meal. Police heavily monitored Mineral Springs Road and The Spa restaurant for smuggling booze but there was always a way to get around the law. Most alcohol during the prohibition era came from Canada, where it was still legal. Water ways were a safer bet when transporting illegal product. Conveniently located on the Little Calumet River, The Spa restaurant was perfect for smuggling in booze. A pier which partially still stands today was used to sneak in alcohol through the restaurant. The wooden original double doors of the walk out basement are still in place nearly 100 years later. Al Capone was also rumored to stay at the Coronado Lodge, which opened in 1933 and was on the Little Calumet River between Howe Road and Mineral Springs Road.
Rumors cannot really solidify information as concrete evidence but at the beginning of 1933 an alarming event occurred. Across the Dune’s Relief Highway, not more than a minute drive from The Spa and in the same area of the Coronado Lodge a body was discovered. The news was published in the Valparaiso Vidette January 7th, 1933. A male in his early 30’s, well dressed, “battered” in bullet holes, dumped into a ditch. Local media providing extensive details in identifying the body that included a code book with names and addresses, along with dental records of gold molars. Not even a day later the body is identified as Ted Newberry, a notorious gang leader. The give away was the diamond belt around his waist. It was a gift from Al Capone.
Past prohibition the Spa had a series of mishaps. In 1946 it was raided by local police and three slot machines were removed from the basement. In 1951 the entire building burnt to the ground in a fire. The total loss is valued around $250,000. However, it is immediately rebuilt and continues service. The Harry Day era of the Spa ends in 1959 after he sells it and retires. The legacy is far from over though.
The next owner of the Spa is Thomas Kerrigan. He was an Irishman and a former FBI officer. He ran it until he passed away in 1967, but his wife continued to run the establishment. Dates are fuzzy but a for sale ad for the Spa was found in 1975. Henry Burgess (BG) Snyder Jr. was the next owner. He was a Dune Acres resident with family connection to the Gary Post and WLTH local radio station. BG owned the Spa for 8 years. Chris May was the next person to have possession of the Spa. Around 1986, the banquet and conference center were built, along with the Springhouse Inn. The Spa restaurant closed in 1999.
The building sat vacant for about 12 years and was owned by the bank. The plans were to demolish the historic building. Jeanne Hoyle and Ed Kis stepped up to preserve history. The famous raccoon shows of displaying stale bread around the river backfired and attracted the raccoons inside. They overtook the place and wreaked havoc. Kis had an extensive background of experience in the restaurant industry. He had affiliations with Lighthouse Restaurant, Top Dog, and Great Lakes Catering. Kis opened the SOB restaurant (Sons of the Boss) in Crown Point which held a Speakeasy vibe. He wanted to bring the same energy to the former Spa. After several extensive renovations, time unfortunately ran out for Ed Kis’s vision, and he lost his battle to cancer in 2018. Jeanne ran it until 2020 and the Spa shut down upon the rise of COVID.
Holy history. So, what is next? Around 2018 a family invested in the Springhouse Inn and purchased the building. In 2021, the Spa building was purchased by the same family. Almost a century later, we are ready to keep the Spa legacy going. In the utmost respect to the original restaurant, we will continue serving dinner for the first time in about two decades. Musicians will continue to fill the room with live entertainment every weekend. Great drinks will be poured. Laughs and conversations will continue in the walls that I wish could speak. Best of all, the history lives on.