The Port of Indiana-Burns Harbor lies on the shores of Lake Michigan in the State of Indiana. The Port of Indiana-Burns Harbor is a short eight nautical miles (15 kilometers or nine miles by air) east-northeast of Gary, Indiana. The Port of Indiana-Burns Harbor is also just 20 nautical miles (34 kilometers or 21 miles by air) from the Port of Chicago, Illinois. The Port of Indiana-Burns Harbor is part of the Great Lakes - St. Lawrence Seaway System. A part of Westchester Township in Porter County, the Port of Indiana-Burns Harbor is also a part of the Chicago metropolitan area. The Port of Indiana-Burns Harbor provides public access to Lake Michigan through the Burns Waterway Small Boat Harbor. In 2010, the US Census reported that just over 1150 people lived in the Port of Indiana-Burns Harbor.
Before the Port of Indiana-Burns Harbor existed, the indigenous Miami Nation inhabited a large area of what is now Indiana, southwestern Michigan, and western Ohio. These people had a highly developed culture that included stockades that protected their towns.
The Miami Nation took part in the 1764 Pontiac's Rebellion, the American Revolution, and the War of 1812. In the latter two, the Miami fought for England, and their population decreased dramatically. Today, the federally-recognized Miami Nation occupies a reservation in Oklahoma. The Miami Tribe of Indiana is not federally recognized. Operating as a non-profit organization, the Indiana Miami tribe lives in Wabash County.
The drive to establish a public port in Northwest Indiana was discussed for years by the State's businessmen, lobbyists, and legislators, but nothing happened until the manager of the Valparaiso Chamber of Commerce came up with a plan. In 1937, Representative Charles A. Halleck added a survey of Burns Ditch to the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1937. In 1939, the Indiana Board of Public Harbors and Terminals (IPBHT) was created. Although the Board did little during World War II, it led an effort to convert Burns Ditch into the deep-draft Port of Indiana-Burns Harbor on Lake Michigan's shores.
Until the Port of Indiana-Burns Harbor was officially incorporated, the Westport Community Club was the center for community activities. Bethlehem Steel offered help to the citizens of the Port of Indiana-Burns Harbor incorporate a new town in 1966. The company made legal help and funding available for a year. The residents selected the name of Burns Harbor after Randall Burns, an important person in the developing town.
The Port of Indiana-Burns Harbor's petition for incorporation was approved by the Porter County Commissioners in 1967. The following year, the population of the Port of Indiana-Burns Harbor included 1,263 people. Bethlehem Steel Corporation soon received a building permit for their main office building and seven other projects in their plant at the future Port of Indiana-Burns Harbor. The company also offered to construct a Town Hall for the Port of Indiana-Burns Harbor on farm land it had already bought.
The proponents for the creation of the Port of Indiana-Burns Harbor got a boost from Indiana Governor Matthew Welsh who recognized that a port on Lake Michigan was critical to economic development in the State, especially after the St. Lawrence Seaway was completed. He knew that Indiana's agricultural and industrial products would find large national and international markets. He also knew that the establishment of a port on Lake Michigan would create badly needed jobs.
Largely because of Governor Welsh's public statements, the Rivers and Harbors appropriations bill was passed in 1965, and construction of the Port of Indiana-Burns Harbor began. The Port of Indiana-Burns Harbor opened and welcomed the first cargo vessel in 1970. By 1975, a dozen tenants occupied the Port of Indiana-Burns Harbor.
As soon as the town of the Port of Indiana-Burns Harbor was incorporated, it began to lose population. By 1970, it had dropped from the initial 1263 to just 920. In 1990, the population was 799, and it was 766 in 2000. Many homes and a couple of mobile home parks had been displaced when the right-of-way was acquired for Interstate 94 and for improving US Route 12 and Indiana's Route 149.
Since its incorporation, the vast majority of the revenues received by the Port of Indiana-Burns Harbor came from property taxes paid by Bethlehem Steel. In 2001, the company filed bankruptcy, dramatically reducing the Port of Indiana-Burns Harbor's income and forcing severe reductions in staff and benefits so that the town could maintain municipal services.
Relief came in 2003 when the International Steel Group (ISG) committed to buy Bethlehem's assets in the Port of Indiana-Burns Harbor. ISG also agreed to provide annual payments to the Port of Indiana-Burns Harbor in lieu of taxes and to forgive the outstanding balance on the purchase of the sewage treatment plant. In 2006, the Burns Harbor treatment plant was included when Mittal Steel acquired ISG.