ROSE ISLAND REVISITED
State to open interpretive trail on Rose Island site
By JOHN L. GILKEY
Senior Editor, The Evening News
Saturday, January 17, 2004
In the 1920s, and 1930s the Rose Island Amusement Park was one of the top destination attractions in the Midwest. It offered a hotel, cottages, Indiana's first in-ground Olympic-size swimming pool, a dance hall, animal exhibits and trails. Paddle wheelers from Louisville carried as many as 4,000 persons a day to the site on weekends as the operation flourished until the 1937 flood. The flood destroyed the park and it was never rebuilt. The site was ultimately acquired by the federal government in 1940 as part of the Indiana Army Ammunition Plant, but memories of Rose Island lived on. The property was one of the first parcels conveyed to the State of Indiana under federal legislation to close down unneeded military bases in the 1990s. Since then, the state obtained 760 acres of land including the old Rose Island property. The state as since acquired additional land, raising the total acreage to around 1,200 acres. A pending conveyance from the Department of the Army will nearly double the size of the park when it occurs possibly as early as this year. From the inception of the state park, the Department of Natural Resources has wanted to provide interpretation of the Rose Island site, but has had to fit that work into a series of priorities with the park's overall development. Now, a joint effort of the state and the Clark's Grant Historical Society could make that project a reality. Bob Gallman, president of the Clark's Grant Historical Society, said his organization is partnering with the Department of Natural Resources in a $337,000 project to do an archeological reconnaissance of the area and erect interpretive signage about the site. The Department of Natural Resources applied for and received a $270,000 transportation enhancement grant from the Indiana Department of Transportation last year to cover 80 percent of the project cost. The remaining 20 percent or $67,000, will come from DNR funds. "The archeological interpretation of the site has great tourism potential," said Gallman. "The Rose Island site has a tremendous amount of history attached to it." The Clark's Grant Historical Society official said, "When Charlestown State Park is fully developed, it has the potential to attract as many as 500,000 visitors a year. The interpretation of the Rose Island site will be a major attraction for the park." The application will lay the foundation for another grant that will be sought for the project; one to relocate an historic iron frame bridge to the park as a means for pedestrian to cross Fourteen Mile Creek and gain access to the old Rose Island park site. At present, access to the site is not generally available. The archeological reconnaissance will identify a location where the bridge can be placed without destroying artifacts, Gallman said. In addition, the project will take a look at the geological formation known as the Devil's Backbone and look into assertions that it was the site of an encampment of Welshmen led by a price called Madoc. Local legend suggests the Welsh were absorbed into native Indian tribes. "We would also like to see a tower constructed in an old quarry atop the Backbone to provide a panoramic view of the area including the Louisville skyline," said Gallman. "It's very scenic." Chris Baas, a landscape architect for DNR's Division of Engineering said the grant received last year by the state will accomplish two goals. "At some point, we want to provide access to the Rose Island Site across Fourteen Mile Creek," he said. "The archeological reconnaissance will allow an archeologist to look at the site and decide where to locate that bridge." He said the state wants to place the bridge at the site of an old suspension bridge that crossed the creek, but said that location must be inspected to ensure that there are no artifacts that would be destroyed in placing the bridge there. "The second thing we accomplish with the grant is getting an archeologist to look at the site and identify foundations, walkways and other things that were part of the park," Baas said. Baas said the iron bridge relocation will be sought under a separate grant. In addition to the other work being done at the site, he said the reconnaissance will help establish eligibility of the old Rose Island site for the National register of Historic Places. "That will help facilitate funding in the future for the bridge," Baas said. Mike List, a DNR park planner responsible for the Charlestown State Park, said the development plan for the property has always included some type of interpretation of the Old Rose Island property. "It's an incredible site and something we want to make available to the public. The pending conveyance of land from the Department of the Army is largely along the Ohio River. It will allow development of a boat ramp and picnic sites on the riverfront. "Those areas will be in close proximity to the old Rose Island site and it makes good sense to be looking at development of that project as we get ready to take over control of the additional land from the Department of the Army," List said. Charlestown State Park Property Manager Larry Gray said he was excited about the project and what it will mean to park visitors. "This is one of a number of projects we have been talking about since the park opened," Gray said. "There was a lot of activity on the Rose Island site and a big story to tell." Gray said the site remains intact partly because the property was acquired by the government shortly after Rose Island closed and consequently, was protected from vandalism or development. "We're glad we can have this sort of project take place. We're going to be able to lay the foundation for getting a bridge and making the site accessible to the public, and that's what this park is all about," Gray said.