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Portage, Indiana
Downtown Portage
Downtown Portage
Official seal of Portage, Indiana
The Port City/The Port of Opportunity
Location of Portage in Porter County, Indiana.
Location of Portage in Porter County, Indiana.
Country United States
State Indiana
County Porter
Township Portage
 • Type Strong Mayor-Council
 • Total 27.65 sq mi (71.60 km2)
 • Land 25.55 sq mi (66.17 km2)
 • Water 2.10 sq mi (5.43 km2)
636 ft (194 m)
 • Total 37,926
 • Density 1,484.38/sq mi (573.13/km2)
Time zone UTC−6 (CST)
 • Summer (DST) UTC−5 (CDT)
ZIP code
Area code(s) 219
FIPS code 18-61092
GNIS feature ID 449815
Historical population
Census Pop.
1950 2,116
1960 11,822 458.7%
1970 19,127 61.8%
1980 27,409 43.3%
1990 29,060 6.0%
2000 33,496 15.3%
2010 36,828 9.9%
2020 37,926 3.0%
Source: US Census Bureau

Portage ( POR-tij) is a city in Portage Township, Porter County, in the U.S. state of Indiana. The population was 37,926 as of the 2020 census. It is the largest city in Porter County, and third largest in Northwest Indiana.


Pre-European settlement

Previous to European settlers arriving, Native American Indians lived in the area now known as Portage, Indiana. The first known group was the Mound Builders. The only known mound existed in the village of McCool. This mound was removed by the owner, Mr. J.S. Robbins in the early 1900s. Following the Mound Builders, the Wea Tribe inhabited the area. The Wea were forced south of the area by the Potawatomi Tribe.

Early explorers and settlers

It is speculated that Marquette, Joliet, Hennepin or De la Croix was the first explorer, however it is unknown exactly who it was. Despite the Potawatomi being a warring tribe, Chief Pokagon encouraged diplomacy rather than war when European Settlers wanted to settle in the area. The Potawatomi tribe sold land to the settlers in 1812 known as Garyton which was one of the first communities in Portage Township.

By 1833, there were many European settlers in the area. Samuel Putnam Robbins was among the first. He came from Hocking County, Ohio, and settled near modern-day Robbins Road between McCool Road and Indiana Highway 149. In 1834, Joseph Wolf, who was married to a Blake settled in the area, squatted on land currently near the modern-day community of South Haven and operated several dairy and beef farms there. Other known early settlers include Berret Door, Reuben Hurlburt, Wilford Parrott, The Spurloch brothers, William McCool, Benjamin James, his son Allen James, William Holmes and Jacob Blake. Jacob Blake came to Portage in 1833.The following family names are also among the first settlers: Blake, Palmer, Summer, Ritter, Curtis, Peck, Hurl, Lenburg, Fifield, Crisman, Krieger, Nicholson, Samuelson, Swanson, Lute, Hamstrom, McCool,and Wolfe.

Early communities

Before Portage became a town, it consisted primarily of three separate communities in addition to much farmland. They were named McCool, Crisman and Garyton. In 1950, those communities only had 2,116 residents. La Porte County maintained jurisdiction over Porter County in 1835, and founded Portage Township that year.


Portage Township was primarily a farming community until railroad development began in the 1850s and 1860s. The first railroad to build in the area was the Michigan Central, completed in 1852. The Michigan Central connected Detroit to Chicago. This enabled local farmers to easily ship livestock, dairy and crops to Chicago and any other stop along the way. It was a boon to the farmers of the area at the time and enabled them to buy more land for farming. The Michigan Central was later bought by the New York Central Railroad.

The next railroad to build through the Portage area was the Baltimore and Ohio in 1874. This railroad crossed the Michigan Central near the village of Crisman. Despite the apparent success of the early railroads, the area remained primarily agrarian and relied on the railroads to sustain its economy. Sand was also an industry in Portage due to demand in the growing city of Chicago. The railroads enabled sand to be delivered to Chicago more efficiently.

Depression era and War

Between the 1870s and the depression era, Portage did not grow very much. It has been estimated that between 1880 and 1950, the growth rate averaged only about 64 people per year. This is despite the growth of towns to the west such as Gary, Hammond and East Chicago due to the industrialization of steel mills. Portage was not unaffected by the Great Depression. Due to the steel mills being in economic trouble, the farmers of Portage did not have demand to produce their products. As a result of this, the farmers had food, but no money. Many even lost their farms.

Like many communities in the country, World War I and World War II affected the economy of Portage in a big way. Steel mills geared into high production and labor was in high demand, thus drawing many people to the area.

Post-World War II

After the war, the economy remained strong because of the high demand for automobiles and appliances, both of which the steel was produced at the steel mills. The population of post-war Portage grew very quickly. In the early 1950s, people came from Kentucky, southern Indiana and Illinois. Most were seeking the steady salary available in the steel mills and related industries.

National Steel opened a plant along the shore of Lake Michigan in Portage in 1959. This brought in about 1,600 new jobs. The Port of Indiana was also built in 1961 to accommodate trade with the world via Lake Michigan. In 1963, Bethlehem Steel began construction of a plant which was located partly in Portage. This project brought about 6,000 jobs to the area.

In 1959, Portage was incorporated as a town. Ogden Dunes and South Haven were excluded because the residents of these areas did not wish to be included in the town. Due to the surge of population after the war, many farmers were selling land to be subdivided into lots for families to build homes. In 1967, Portage officially became a city. During the 1950s and 1960s, the city of Gary was going through a time of racial strife. White people of Gary were seeking a way out of the turmoil, which drew many people to Portage during this time.

Present day

Portage is still a heavily industrial city. While primarily dependent on the Steel Industry, the 1980s brought a decline in the steel industry. As a result, C.O.I.L (the Community Organization on Industrial Location) was formed. This organization promotes diversified industry in the area. They have had part in developing the Coca-Cola bottling plant and further development of the Port of Indiana.

Very few farms are still active in the Portage area. However, many original descendants of founding families are still in the area.

Portage has seen many new green technology industries locate to the community since the early 2000s including Fronius USA. In 2016, the City opened a new Police Station and Fire Station in the downtown corridor. The new Police Station is triple the size of the former station on Irving Street.


Portage is located at 41°34′55″N 87°11′12″W / 41.581850°N 87.186553°W / 41.581850; -87.186553 (41.581850, -87.186553).

According to the 2010 census, Portage has a total area of 27.614 square miles (71.52 km2), of which 25.63 square miles (66.38 km2) (or 92.82%) is land and 1.984 square miles (5.14 km2) (or 7.18%) is water.


2010 census

As of the census of 2010, there were 36,828 people, 13,992 households, and 9,751 families living in the city. The population density was 1,436.9 inhabitants per square mile (554.8/km2). There were 14,807 housing units at an average density of 577.7 per square mile (223.1/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 83.6% White, 7.3% African American, 0.4% Native American, 0.9% Asian, 5.2% from other races, and 2.6% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 16.4% of the population.

There were 13,992 households, of which 36.3% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 49.0% were married couples living together, 14.6% had a female householder with no husband present, 6.1% had a male householder with no wife present, and 30.3% were non-families. 24.3% of all households were made up of individuals, and 9% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.61 and the average family size was 3.10.

The median age in the city was 36.4 years. 25.7% of residents were under the age of 18; 8.5% were between the ages of 18 and 24; 27.5% were from 25 to 44; 26.2% were from 45 to 64; and 12.1% were 65 years of age or older. The gender makeup of the city was 48.4% male and 51.6% female.


The commercial airport nearest Portage is the Gary/Chicago International Airport in Gary. Chicago's O'Hare International Airport and Chicago Midway International Airport are also in close proximity and provide the bulk of flights servicing Portage.

The Chicago skyline as viewed from the Portage Lake Michigan skyline.

Coach USA's Airport SuperSaver service stopped at Central & Irving intersection, connecting Portage to Chicago's airports and several other North Indiana cities and town. Riders used to take westbound buses to Highland, Crestwood and O'Hare and Midway Airport and eastbound buses to Michigan City, South Bend and Notre Dame. Buses ran between Westbound buses ran every hour. Eastbound buses to Michigan City ran every hour while eastbound buses to South Bend and Notre Dame ran every two hours. Coach USA ceased all operations of its Indiana Airport SuperSaver service effective January, 1, 2020.

Portage is also connected to Chicago, Illinois and South Bend, Indiana by the South Shore Line. Passengers can board the train at the Portage/Ogden Dunes Station, which is located immediately east of Ogden Dunes in Portage.

Portage is intersected by several major highways, including Interstate 94 and Interstates 80/90 (Indiana Toll Road) as well as U.S. Route 6, U.S. Route 12, U.S. Route 20, and Indiana 149 and Indiana 249.

Also located on the shores of Lake Michigan is the Port of Indiana.


List of parks

Park Size Features
Imagination Glen Park 256 acres (104 ha) Softball complex, Soccer complex, BMX track, Outback Trail mountain bike trail, Walking paths, Playground, Fishing, Picnic areas, Access to Prairie Duneland Trail
Woodland Park 64 acres (26 ha) Skatepark, Playground areas, Banquet halls, Dog Park, Horseshoe pits, Community garden
Lakefront & Riverwalk 57 acres (23 ha) Boardwalk, Pier, Beach area, Pavilion with cafe, restrooms, and an educational classroom
Countryside Park 33 acres (13 ha) Playground, Historical Museum, Sledding hill, Fishing, Hiking trails
Deer Trail Park 16 acres (6.5 ha) Hiking trails, Fishing
Olson Memorial Park 14 acres (5.7 ha) Playground, Sledding hill, Shelter with restrooms, Access to Prairie Duneland Trail
Wolfe Park 10 acres (4.0 ha) Softball field, Picnic areas, Shelters
Frank Gilbert Jr. Memorial Park 5 acres (2.0 ha) Gazebo and plaza, Walking paths, Memorial to firefighters and police officers
Perry Park 4 acres (1.6 ha) Picnic areas, Playground
Community Acres Park 1 acre (0.40 ha) Basketball court, Playground, Picnic Shelter
Harbor Oaks Park 1 acre (0.40 ha) N/A
Founder's Square Park 1 acre (0.40 ha) Splashpad, Festivals
Indiana American Water Amphitheater 1 acre (0.40 ha) Concert Venue, adjacent to Founder's Square Park and Fire Station No. 3
The Sammie L. Maletta Public Marina.

Portage Parks offer a wide variety of service, from sports leagues, to crafts, to hiking and water sports.

The Sammie L. Maletta Public Marina offers boat launch and slips for public use. The marina opens to the Burns Waterway and has access to nearby Lake Michigan. The marina's operating season is April 1 to October 31 each year. In 2016, the marina was named in honor of former Portage Mayor Sammie Maletta. Maletta was instrumental in securing funding and approval to build the marina in the early 1990s as Mayor.

Portage is also home of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore (Indiana Dunes), a beautiful showcase of land and lake on the south shore of Lake Michigan. West Beach, the largest beach in the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore system, is located within Portage.

Robbins Pond

Robbins Pond is located on Superior St. as well as Superior Avenue and Samuelson Road in Portage. The lake contains largemouth bass, bluegill, crappie, other panfish, and bullhead catfish, making it a popular fishing site. The lake is home to many turtles including snapping turtles . It also has a small drainage pond, which has most of the above-mentioned wildlife. The drainage pond links to Kevins Creek, which then runs to Salt Creek and out to Lake Michigan.


Public schools

The Portage Township School system comprises 11 public schools: 8 elementary schools (grades K-5), 2 middle schools (grades 6-8), and one senior high school (grades 9-12). Portage Township Schools is an Indiana Exemplary District and has two Four Star schools in the district.

Elementary Schools Middle Schools Senior High School
Aylesworth Fegely Portage High School
Central Willowcreek
South Haven

Private schools

There are 2 private schools in Portage:

  • Portage Christian School - A Christian school servicing children in grades Pre-K - 12
  • Nativity of Our Savior School - A Roman Catholic school servicing children in grades Pre-K - 8

There was a third private school, Marantha Christian Academy, but it is now closed.

Public library

Portage has a public library, a branch of the Porter County Public Library System.

Notable people

  • Gable Steveson (born 2000), professional wrestler and former freestyle wrestler
  • Darren Elkins (born 1984), Indiana State Champion wrestler; professional mixed martial artist for the UFC's Featherweight Division

See also

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