A Covered Bridge Festival in Rockville IN amid the Fall Foliage!


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October 24th 2013
Published: November 28th 2013
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A Nice Quiet LocationA Nice Quiet LocationA Nice Quiet Location

The Private Residence Where The Pilgrim Found A Home - Rockville IN
After chatting with my brother and his family on the morning of Wednesday, October 9, 2013, I hooked the Pilgrim and got “On the Road Again” about 11 AM – an hour after my targeted time; but, “Hey, I’m retired!” The drive from Rockford IL to Rockville IN was almost exclusively on Interstate Highways – first south on I-39 to Bloomington/Normal IL and then east on I-74. Just after crossing the Indiana state line, my GPS (Informational Irene) directed me onto IN 63 south for several miles and then onto US 36 east for a short leg into Rockville. The weather was beautiful, the roads were very good for the most part and the drive was uneventful.

Parke County IN, for which Rockville is the county seat, heralds itself as the covered bridge capital of the world as well it should. There are 58, by my count, within “day-trip” distance of the village, and 39 within Parke County’s boundaries by their count. Additionally, there are many other historic residential, commercial, governmental and agricultural structures including a rotary jail, two grist mills, the courthouse and a round barn. There’s pretty much everything I love in Parke County except a lighthouse!

My experience (as well as common sense) equates covered bridges with streams or rivers which equates to trees which equates to (hopefully) brilliant colors in the fall. Because of the sheer volume of attractions and the unpredictability of Mother Nature, I planned a two-week stay in Rockville. As I was planning my visit, I learned of an annual covered bridge festival that was slated for the same time as my stay. I guess I wasn’t the first nuclear scientist to associate the items noted above!

My arrival at the Covered Bridge Campground in Rockville IN about 3:30 PM found the office locked so I noted that I would pay in the morning on the registration form and took a site. Not knowing which site I had reserved and expecting the campground would be mostly reserved, I left the Pilgrim hooked to the truck and performed a minimal set-up. In the morning, I learned the campground had been totally booked for several months but the campground owners had found an alternate camping site for me with a local homeowner. Apparently, a new employee was looking at the wrong month when I made my reservation. Self to self, “&$@#*&@$@
Monday After The Festival EndedMonday After The Festival EndedMonday After The Festival Ended

Covered Bridge Campground in Rockville IN
happens so keep the mind flexible, Larry – you might as well since the body doesn’t flex much anymore!”

The couple who allowed me to invade their “side forty” lived only a half block from the campground, had started the campground many years ago and recently had sold it to the current owners. The spot I got was one they had built for family and friends when they came to visit and was next to the garage. It was a full hook-up but had no cable TV and no Internet. Generally, that’s not a problem – I bring my own; however, trees obstructed my satellite dish, and my cell phone and Internet (I have the same provider for both) had no service. I understood the lack of service in the northern tip of Maine, but Rockville IN is about an hour west of Indianapolis. Oh well, it is what it is.

So, Thursday morning, October 10, 2013 was spent relocating, but I managed an orientation drive in the afternoon. I couldn’t believe the number of yard sales that were set up and the volume of merchandise that would be offered – i.e., lots and lots of tables that
The Courthouse During The FestivalThe Courthouse During The FestivalThe Courthouse During The Festival

Parke County Courthouse – Rockville IN
were already stocked and covered with plastic sheets. Many of the “home owners” or commercial enterprises (particularly those on the main streets) had tents erected. This makes sense for a 10-day event given the unpredictability of Midwestern weather. Many home owners near the downtown area had signs erected hawking parking with the price dependent on the proximity to downtown. Yet other home owners, with very large yards, had signs proclaiming, “Smith’s Camping” and apparently had turned their lawns into temporary RV parks! Self to self, “This is going to be interesting!” Fortunately, I was housed only three blocks from the epicenter – the historic Parke County Courthouse.

I had had minimal exposure to covered bridges until I began “The Great Adventure” in March 2010. Since then, I have seen over 100 of the structures but still find them intriguing. More importantly, I enjoy journeying on the “roads less travelled” that take me to the destination as much as or more than the objective itself. I bought a tee shirt in New England last summer that expresses my sentiment well, “The journey is the destination!”

Occasionally, the setting where the bridge is located holds a special beauty that adds
Tuesday After The Festival EndedTuesday After The Festival EndedTuesday After The Festival Ended

Parke County Courthouse – Rockville IN
to the appeal and sometimes I discover a diamond in the rough – as evidenced by the barn with the patriotic mural I discovered near Putnamville IN as I was driving to the Houck Covered Bridge. For me, there’s more to covered bridge hunting than merely seeing the bridge.

Not having the Internet or television to provide a weather forecast, I had to follow the age old technique of “gazin’ outta the winda” to determine the day’s agenda. I ended up spending five days stalking covered bridges. The first three days were chamber of commerce days, but, as my two-week stay neared its conclusion, I ventured out on two marginal days.

The communities of Parke County are well prepared to assist the covered bridge enthusiast in his/her quest. Maps with color-coded routes are available at most businesses and color-coded directional signs have been erected. For those with GPS capabilities, most covered bridge web sites include GPS coordinates – USE THEM! I found them to be spot on, and Informational Irene guided me through some great countryside. I also used Google Earth in my planning to “pin” the bridge sites and then plotted a sequence that saved time and
If Grandpa Could Only See Me Now!If Grandpa Could Only See Me Now!If Grandpa Could Only See Me Now!

West-Central Indiana Back Roads
fuel.

Instead of generating a catalogue of covered bridges, I plan to select unique, interesting photographs I captured for inclusion at the end of the blog – the different types of covered bridge construction, good fall foliage displays, bridges that have been reinforced in an effort to preserve the landmark, bridges with unique qualities or characteristics and the “America” I found as I travelled to my objectives.

I learned of several other interesting attractions to explore in western Indiana and incorporated then into the covered bridge itinerary. The most unusual is the Rotary Jail Museum in Crawfordsville IN. Although the actual number of rotary jails that were built is unknown (the numbers vary to as many as eighteen), there are eight documented rotary jail locations – four remain standing and four have been demolished. The Crawfordsville facility is the only one that is still operational.

The rotary jail was initially designed by architect William H. Brown and built by the Haugh, Ketcham & Co. iron foundry of Indianapolis IN during the late 19th century. The cells in a rotary jail are arranged to revolve in a carousel fashion – allowing only one cell at a time to be accessible from a single opening per level. The structure is supported on a ball bearing surface and is connected to gears beneath the facility which allows rotation of the entire cell block. That feat can be accomplished by a single man operating a hand crank. The pie-shaped cells rotate around a core that once housed a sanitary plumbing system - quite an unusual luxury at that time. The jails encountered problems almost immediately with inmates' limbs being crushed. Most of the jails were refitted with individual cell accesses and were welded in a fixed position.

The Montgomery County Rotary Jail, the first rotary jail constructed in the United States, opened in 1882 and operated as the Montgomery County Jail for 91 years, from 1882-1973. The sheriff's family lived in the attached home and shared the responsibility for care of the prisoners. After the jail was closed, the Montgomery County Cultural Foundation was created to run the jail and the sheriff's residence as a museum. The museum opened in 1975.

My tour started in the sheriff’s residence where the temporary exhibit portrayed weddings and wedding attire of the period. The docent related some stories about life as a
...And The Cell Door Aligns With The Cell Block Access Door...And The Cell Door Aligns With The Cell Block Access Door...And The Cell Door Aligns With The Cell Block Access Door

Rotary Jail Museum – Crawfordsville IN
member of the sheriff’s family – who had NOT been elected to the position of Chief Cook and Bottle-Washer of the Incarcerated – as well as some enriching anecdotes. After we completed the house tour, the docent and I went to the jail where the docent explained the step-by-step operation of the rotary jail. His presentation was one of the best I have experienced – interesting, complete, extemporaneous and lively.

Because of the singularity of the Rotary Jail Museum (remember, it is the only one that is still operational) and because of the quality of the presentation, I have given it a “must see.” In a day trip from Indianapolis (50 miles), one could see the jail and 6-8 covered bridges. Highly recommended!

I decided to make Saturday, October 12, 2013 my fist “covered bridge” day and, as part of that drive, to visit fourteen covered bridges plus two grist mills that are each adjacent to a covered bridge. My first intended “two-for-the-price-of-one” stop was the Mansfield Covered Bridge and the Mansfield Roller Mill in Mansfield IN. WOW!!! What a zoo. Traffic was backed up for about a half mile outside the village and was moving at a
From The Mansfield Covered Bridge With The Mansfield Mill And Dam In The DistanceFrom The Mansfield Covered Bridge With The Mansfield Mill And Dam In The DistanceFrom The Mansfield Covered Bridge With The Mansfield Mill And Dam In The Distance

Mansfield Covered Bridge and Mansfield Roller Mill - Mansfield IN - Built 1867; 275 Feet Long
snail’s pace. Parked cars began lining the shoulder of the road at least a quarter mile from town.

Once I arrived in town, a mass of humanity flowed across and alongside the road. I decided to revisit Mansfield when parking was simpler and my photographs would be more pristine so, during one of my several prolonged stops, I reprogrammed my GPS for the coordinates of the next covered bridge. Later, my itinerary took me to the 1823 Bridgeton Mill and the Bridgeton Covered Bridge in Bridgeton IN. Anticipating a scenario similar to Mansfield, I was not surprised and duplicated my earlier solution.

I returned to Mansfield and Bridgeton on Wednesday, October 23, 2013. For my regulars, I sorta messed up during the confusion at the beginning of my stay in Rockville and paid my gracious hosts for fourteen nights (my standard multiple of seven). After having spent one night at the campground, the result became a Thursday departure. Overall, the weather sucked – windy, cold and damp – but it is what it is, and my only other reasonable option was to skip the attractions.

The Mansfield Roller Mill is a gristmill that was built in 1820
From The Mansfield Mill With The Mansfield Covered Bridge In The Distance; Unfortunately The Mill Was ClosedFrom The Mansfield Mill With The Mansfield Covered Bridge In The Distance; Unfortunately The Mill Was ClosedFrom The Mansfield Mill With The Mansfield Covered Bridge In The Distance; Unfortunately The Mill Was Closed

Mansfield Covered Bridge and Mansfield Roller Mill - Mansfield IN - Built 1867; 275 Feet Long
and ran on water power from Big Raccoon Creek. The original mill was a 30-foot by 30-foot log building. According to legend, glacial stones from a nearby farm were used for grinding. In the mid-19th century a sash saw mill and a carding mill were added to the grist mill. The mill, now a state historic site, is still in operation but is now powered by water turbine engines. Unfortunately, I didn’t revisit the web site to update the hours of operation after the festival ended and found the mill closed.

The 1823 Bridgeton Mill, which is privately owned, was open and running. Miller and owner Mike Roe was a wealth of information and provided me with a great history of the mill. Visiting after the crowds subside has distinct advantages!

Sometime in the early 1820s, a sawmill was erected on the Big Raccoon Creek, and the small village that grew up around the mill became known as Lockwood Mills. Lockwood Mills could boast a distillery as late as 1840 with whiskey selling for twenty-five cents a gallon. The mill acted as the community’s social center, as did the taverns of the day, where people gathered to conduct
The Bridgeton Covered Bridge And Dam From The Bridgeton MillThe Bridgeton Covered Bridge And Dam From The Bridgeton MillThe Bridgeton Covered Bridge And Dam From The Bridgeton Mill

Bridgeton Covered Bridge and Bridgeton Mill (1823) - Bridgeton IN - Built 1868; Rebuilt 2006; 261 Feet Long
business and to exchange news and gossip. The mill had been designed for two saws, but only one was installed. Since the nearest gristmill was ten miles away and often was a week behind schedule, farmers in the township persuaded the owners of the mill to take advantage of the unused capability by installing equipment for grinding corn.

Initially, farmers paid for the mill’s services with one-sixth of their grain. (An 1853 state law, however, set the toll limit at one-eighth.) Over the years, milling grain overtook sawing lumber as the primary activity at the mill. In 1837, the mill and the land tract were sold for $1,600. In 1849, a bridge was built across Big Raccoon Creek linking those who lived on the north side with the south side where the mill was located. Lockwood Mills was renamed Bridgeton. After the mill burned in 1869, a new four-story gristmill was built for $14,000 and opened in January 1871. The sawmill capabilities were not included.

In 1886 the owner hired the Richmond Milling Company to replace the mill’s buhr stones with a more efficient series of rollers, sieves, and sifters, and the business became known as the Bridgeton
The Bridgeton Mill From The Bridgeton Covered BridgeThe Bridgeton Mill From The Bridgeton Covered BridgeThe Bridgeton Mill From The Bridgeton Covered Bridge

Bridgeton Covered Bridge and Bridgeton Mill (1823) - Bridgeton IN - Built 1868; Rebuilt 2006; 261 Feet Long
Roller Mill. It produced assorted brands of flour over the years, including Family, Anchor, White Satin, White Oak, Spring Wheat Patent and Snowdrift. In 1915, the mill was remodeled and a cement dam was completed.

In 1957, after the already declining water level of the Big Raccoon Creek was decreased even more with the construction of the Mansfield dam, the owners were forced to end the mill’s long history as a water-powered mill and convert it to electricity. They discontinued the regular production of flour and cornmeal but continued to grind livestock feed grain. Daily operation of the mill ended in 1969, but Parke County’s covered bridge festival found the mill back in operation.

Mike and Karen Roe purchased the 172-year-old mill in 1995 and continue to operate it today. Mike told me the dam and the foundation of the mill both were in dire need of repair. A contractor's repair estimate was $750,000 which was unfeasible; however, the landmark is such a symbol of community identity that volunteers pitched in with a "labor of love" between 2006 and 2009 and the repairs were completed at a cost of $50,000. Remarkable!

On April 28, 2005 an arsonist
Indiana ‘s Most Famous Covered BridgeIndiana ‘s Most Famous Covered BridgeIndiana ‘s Most Famous Covered Bridge

Bridgeton Covered Bridge and Bridgeton Mill (1823) - Bridgeton IN - Built 1868; Rebuilt 2006; 261 Feet Long
burned the Bridgeton Covered Bridge so the bridge is not original. The placement of the covered bridge over the mill pond and adjacent to the mill dam makes it "Indiana‘s Most Famous Covered Bridge." A brief aside – a placard in the mill lists 39 covered bridges in Parke County and an accompanying map provides a location for each. A few facts about the Bridgeton landmarks:

• The dam is nine feet tall and 220 feet long.

• The waterfall is 200′ long – the foundation of the mill is actually part of the dam.

• The covered bridge is 261 feet long in spite of locally sold postcards saying 245 feet.

• It is a double span Burr Arch type originally built by J.J. Daniels in 1868.

• The covered bridge was “Set Aside” or closed to traffic in 1968.

The 1823 Bridgeton Mill and the Bridgeton Covered Bridge definitely are worth a visit while in Parke County.

In spite of uncooperative weather and the traffic associated with any popular festival, I had a nice time in Parke County IN. Two weeks might be a little much for the average tourist but might be just right for the yard sale aficionado who wants to hunt for all the bargains offered during the ten-day marathon. The Rotary Jail Museum in Crawfordsville IN makes my very highly recommended list. A thought for those who want to avoid the crowds and don’t care about the yard sales – visiting during the spring when the wildflowers are in bloom might be as scenic as the foliage in the fall.


Additional photos below
Photos: 63, Displayed: 32


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The Docent Affixing The Turning MechanismThe Docent Affixing The Turning Mechanism
The Docent Affixing The Turning Mechanism

Rotary Jail Museum – Crawfordsville IN
Originally, The Toilet Occupied The AlcoveOriginally, The Toilet Occupied The Alcove
Originally, The Toilet Occupied The Alcove

Rotary Jail Museum – Crawfordsville IN
Rotate The Jail, Pass Through The FoodRotate The Jail, Pass Through The Food
Rotate The Jail, Pass Through The Food

Rotary Jail Museum – Crawfordsville IN
The Basement Of The Rotary JailThe Basement Of The Rotary Jail
The Basement Of The Rotary Jail

Rotary Jail Museum – Crawfordsville IN
The Base Of The Cell BlockThe Base Of The Cell Block
The Base Of The Cell Block

Rotary Jail Museum – Crawfordsville IN
The Gears That Turn The Cell BlockThe Gears That Turn The Cell Block
The Gears That Turn The Cell Block

Rotary Jail Museum – Crawfordsville IN


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