Lets talk about the largest park in Indiana and one of the most visited state parks in Indiana, with at last count of 1.2 million visiting the natural beauty that makes this park so loved.
Lets talk about 15,252 acres of Brown County State Park being on the National Registry of Historic places.
Lets talk about names. The Brown County State Park's 15,776 acres are in the county it is named after. The county was officially named in 1836, in honor of Genral Jacob Brown, a hero of the War of 1812.
Richard Lieber, an Indianapolis businessman, was the first director of the Indiana Department of Conservation. During a visit to Brown County in 1910, Lieber was so impressed with the beauty of the land that he built a cabin near Nashville and suggested that a portion of the county should be set aside for a state park. Lieber eventually became known as "the father of Indiana's state parks",
Lieber had the idea but it took a local Nashville resident to start the process. Lee Bright was working as an Indiana agent and knew that state funds could be used for a game preserve but not to purchase land for a state park. This was the beginning of the area becoming the vision Lee Bright had dreamed of and a game preserve was created. During November, 1924, the Indiana Department of Conservation appointed a game warden to manage the preserve. The new manager was a resident of Nashville, and familiar with the area. It was also announced that much of the land would be reforested. A total of 7,680 acres of Brown County land was designated for the propagation of wildlife. Plans were made to surround the reserve with wire fencing, and game wardens patrolled the area. Deer and small game were brought in to propagate. Additional acreage was added in 1927, increasing the reserve to over 10,000 acres. During the same year, an observation tower was constructed on Weed Patch Hill, the highest point in the area. A dam was constructed in 1928 to create an artificial lake that was expected to cover 10 to 15 acres. It was planned to stock the lake with game fish then allow fishing after two or three years. The lake was completed by the spring of 1929, and plans were announced to build a second (and larger) lake. By January 1929, the preserve covered about 12,000 acres. Funds from the sale of hunting and fishing licenses were used to acquire the additional land.
In 1941 the game preserve and the park were unified into one, what we know as Brown County State Park. But something major happened between those years. In the 1930s the country was trying to recover from the Great Depression. President Roosevelt created the Civil Conservation Corps and whoever wanted to work was sent to camps to work on our State Parks and other projects needing laborers. The pay was $30 a month for single young men. Company 517 sent the first young men from Fort Benjamin Harrison under the command of Captain William S. Evans, with instructions to make improvements to the Game Preserve. It was destined to be one of the biggest and best in Indiana.
The CCC boys arrived at Camp S-53 in June of 1933, but they could not begin building their new homes/barracks until they cleared the weeds, man-high briars, undergrowth, and sassafras. They began their task by setting up a temporary camp in the settlement of Kelp. After a month they had to move on to Jackson County but were soon replaced. A group of 133 men arrived in July of 1933 from Company 1561., war veterans sent by train from Fort Know, Kentucky under the command of G.S. Burket. The train took them to Helmsburg. We find their opinion of their new job in a quote from one of the men when they arrived to be a "more desolate or forsaken spot could not have been found anywhere.' Fittingly, this area became known as Weed Patch Hill. Eventually these veterans cleared enough space to unload the Company's temporary home tents, bedding, food, stoves and supplies. Soon more men arrived under the company of Major Hanley. Water was the biggest problem and had to be hauled in, nearby creeks provided a place to bath until bath houses could be built along with other permanent buildings such as barracks. Water was pumped in from a nearby lake. Vocational training was offered to the workers during the winter.
These men were appointed various projects that included erosion control, equipping the recreation buildings, planting 20 acres of seedlings, a new two-way highway around the loop, look-out towers built of logs, rearing pens for game birds. Pens for animals such as fox, raccoon, mink and walking trails were constructed. Raising and restocking fish in the lakes was on their list; laying pens raising pheasant for release was another. By the late 1930s the CCC men had built most all the park features, the walls, the walks, lakes, buildings, trails and roads.
By 1942 the CCC had employed over 3 million men. "One of the very special things about our state park system and its rick history lies in the work of the Civilian Conservation Corps. Many roads, shelters, restrooms, gatehouses, and bridges still in use today were built by these young men during the Great Depression. We still marvel at the craftsmanship, the simple, rustic design and the way these facilities have remained to set the tone for all that has followed. "
Rhonda Dunn, Archivist
Brown County Historical Society
Self Guided Tour Stop # 9