Exploration of Rose Island (May 22)

Note:  The following was written in an offline format back in May but I’m finally getting around to posting online now.

Grabbing the dog and setting out shortly before 7am I had one destination in mind – seeking the remains of the Rose Island Amusement Park.

There isn’t a ton of information on the Internet about Rose Island – most of it rehashing the same points.  Originally known as Fern Grove in the 1880s it was located on a peninsula formed between Fourteen Mile Creek and the Ohio River.  Primarily used by churches for camps and picnics, it was only accessible by boat.

In 1923 David Rose purchased the land and built an amusement park and hotel on the site.  Alternate access was provided when a road was built allowing guests to access a foot bridge across to the peninsula from the mainland.

In 1937 the Ohio River flooded and destroyed the park.  The Indiana Army Ammunition Plant acquired the land and used it until the late 1990s when it was included in the newly formed Charlestown State Park. 

Much of what was written about exploration of the old amusement park site was pretty dated when I started my research.  Access was only by boat but when I read the State Park had built a bridge to Rose Island in late 2011 my odds of exploring the area improved greatly. 

I had two basic goals:  Find the original main entrance gates on the banks of the Ohio River and find the swimming pool.  Information I had read told me the pool was actually in good condition until the 1980s and still existed in 2004 but I was worried the potential danger and subsequent liability issues might have motivated the State Parks Department to remove the pool after building the bridge to the area.

I was a little disappointed at the very beginning.  The original road allowance which used to provide access to the area has now been paved and converted into a walking path.  Yes, it still follows the original steep decent to Fourteen Mile Creek, but as far as abandoned places exploration goes, it lost a lot of its appeal.

As for the bridge which now grants easy access to Rose Island?  Well, I am pleased it is located near (fortunately not on) the site of the original footbridge.  It also is somewhat historical in its own right.  Originally built in 1912 as the Portersville Bridge spanning the White River between Dubois and Daviess Counties, it closed to traffic in 1999, was purchased by the State Parks Department in 2008 and moved to its current location. 


Once on the island I used my camera to take a picture of a parks sign which included a photo of the amusement park, likely taken at some point in the 1920s.  It would become my reference and map for this trip.


I worked down towards the river and along the bank which would have been in front of the “summer cabins” in the photo.  I didn’t find anything of interest other than plenty of examples of modern-day partying.  I eventually reached the site of the original gates which achieved one of my first major goals.


I also was excited to discover remnants of one of the two large circular items which are clearly visible in the photo just up from the main gates.  I assume these were large planters or something – it’s kind of hard to tell from the old photo.


I decided to move my search off the path an towards the base of the cliff which, according to the old photo, would have been the site of the hotel.  I didn’t find any foundation or major remains, just a number of bricks and some broken pipes.



Moving towards what would have been the center of the park, I could clearly tell the land was unnaturally flat and had been the site of something manmade.  The trees were also thinner here than the areas surrounding the edges of the peninsula, clearly indicating I was in the right area to find the pool.

And, then, there it was.  At first I thought I had stumbled back onto the pathway because I could see a small fence next to an open area.  That open area was the water-filled and moss-covered pool.  The moss was so thick across the surface of the water I saw a mouse run across it without falling in.


The pool still holds water and has two ladders still intact.  A large tree has fallen into it and there is a fair amount of debris inside,  It is surrounded by a small wire fence and, in some sections, Caution tape which has bleached white over the years.  It is a remarkable location and the highlight of the exploration.


Next to the pool there are concrete remains of a building, the outline of the floor is quite obvious.


Only two more discoveries awaited me.  On the way back to the bridge I came across the remains of what was a fountain, its water pipe still very clearly present in the center of the ring.



The final find was my verification of the site of the old footbridge.  The grading for it is still quite obvious and I was also able to find a number of footings and pieces of concrete which proved I was right.



On my way out I reread the sign at the trailhead and noticed it container a picture of people using the swimming pool.  It clearly showed both one of the ladders and the building which would have been on the foundation I found.  Having now been to the pool site I was able to put the location into proper context. Very cool, I had stood on the same ground where that photographer had stood decades ago.


Overall, my exploration of Rose Island Amusement Park was a success.

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2 Responses to Exploration of Rose Island (May 22)

  1. Debbie says:

    what you thought was the fountain was the merry go round


  2. Dan Overes says:

    Thanks, that's good to know! I'd love to go back there one day.


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