Hammond Indiana Barrier

Coordinates: 41°35′43″N 87°25′59″W / 41.59528°N 87.43306°W / 41.59528; -87.43306

In Hammond, Indiana, where 165th Street meets the border of Gary, a barrier or dike was constructed in the early 1980s to keep toxic flood water out. The once controversial barrier remains there to this day.

Hammond/Gary Barrier on 165th Street as seen from Hammond side.
Hammond/Gary Barrier on 165th Street as seen from Hammond side. Photo taken on July 6th 2019.


In June 1981, excessive rainfall caused flooding in the Calumet Region of Indiana and Illinois.[1] The Little Calumet River overflowed onto streets and Interstate 80.[2] Parts of Gary, Hammond, and other areas were evacuated.[1] The floods swept through two industrial landfills and caused toxic water to flow into the residential Hessville area of Hammond.[3] The toxic water caused basements and streets to flood, and about 30 people suffered chemical burns.[3][4] In order to stop the flooding, Hammond officials built a 9-foot (3 m) sand dike on 165th Street, under Cline Avenue, along the Hammond-Gary border.[5][6] Several days later, the City of Hammond built a 4-foot (1 m) concrete wall across 165th Street to reinforce the sand dike, which had been eroding from people driving motorcycles and four-wheel drive vehicles over it.[7] Hammond's air pollution control director said the wall was a temporary solution and would be removed when the danger of chemical runoff ended.[7]

To Hammond officials and citizens, the majority of whom are white, the hill was a win-win. In 1988, Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Sr. said, "After seven years, people on this side just like the idea of the street being closed. There is less truck traffic and less crime."[8] In his campaign, Hammond City Council President Robert Golec promised to keep the wall and suggested making it permanent.[8]

The citizens and officials of Gary, the majority of whom are African American, saw it as a symbol of racism and called for it to be removed almost as soon as it went up. Mayor Richard Hatcher called it "an insult to every citizen in Gary" and ordered city workers to tear down the wall six months after its construction. This led to Hammond workers reconstructing the wall entirely on Hammond property. During his successful campaign for Gary Mayor in 1987, Thomas Barnes promised to remove the wall 30 days after his inauguration. [4]

In 1989, the federal government called for Hammond and Gary to develop an alternative to the wall or face reduced transportation funding. Alternatives were developed by engineers of both cities, but Hammond refused to cooperate due to the perceived high cost and impracticality of a new infrastructure project. There was also disagreement about who would pay for the new project; one of the cities or the Federal government.[9]

The furor appeared to have ceased in the 1990s as discussions of an alternative to the barrier stopped and Gary changed leadership.[10] Sometime in the 2010s, the dirt hill was replaced by a brick wall that remains to this day.

An Additional Controversial BarrierEdit

A curb opposed by Calumet City, Illinois was built by Hammond in 2006, north of 166th Place in order to restrict vehicular traffic between the two towns. Calumet City sued but lost its legal battle to block construction. In 2008, Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. built a 4-foot by 2-foot wall south of the earlier one that leads up to the little Calumet River, ostensibly for flood control. "It's a quality of life issue," Mayor Thomas McDermott told the Chicago Tribune at the time. "A lot has been made of race. It has nothing to do with that. It has to do with traffic."

Calumet City Mayor Michelle Markiewicz Qualkinbush told the Tribune in 2006, "It's unfortunate it's come to this. These two communities have co-existed side by side for many years. They'll be here many more years after we're gone, and this, it just sends a bad message." [11]


  1. ^ a b Hutton, Carole Leigh (June 15, 1981). "Floods Kill 2: Scores Homeless". The Times (Munster, Indiana). p. 1.
  2. ^ "Northwest Indiana Flooded". United Press International. The Daily Reporter (Greenfield, Indiana). p. 1.
  3. ^ a b "EPA Starting Probe on 'Chemical Flood'". The Times (Munster, Indiana). June 24, 1981. p. 2.
  4. ^ a b Zorn, Eric. "Gary's Symbol is Hammond's Reality". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved April 8, 2019.
  5. ^ Stoya, Geroge (October 30, 1989). "Gary, Hammond in Street Fight over Dike". The Indianapolis Star. ProQuest 1894484717.
  6. ^ "Little Cal Peril Stalls: Rainfall's Impact Mild". The Times (Munster, Indiana). p. 1, 8.
  7. ^ a b Finn, Thomas (July 2, 1981). "Dump Flow Results Are Near". The Times (munster, Indiana). p. 3.
  8. ^ a b Schmidt, William E.; Times, Special to The New York (1988-09-05). "Hammond Journal; Earthen Barrier Serves as Both Dam and Symbol". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved April 8, 2019.
  9. ^ Shnay, Jerry. "GARY-HAMMOND WALL WON'T FALL YET". chicagotribune.com. Retrieved 2019-04-08.
  10. ^ "Gary Elects ITS First White Mayor Since 1967".
  11. ^ "Residents learn to live with controversial barrier along state line".