In the beginning of November, a brief but blistering Indian Summer hit and we were fortunate enough to be able to spend it at McCormick’s Creek State Park.
Our fist hike was to see the freshly restored fire tower which had been closed for renovation during our last visit. We parked at the Canyon Inn and started at the end of Trail 4, making a short trip to the fire tower and back. Built in 1935 by the CCC, the 86-foot tall fire tower, topped with a seven-by-seven-foot cabin, is one of the few still standing. The tower was officially listed on the National Historic Lookout Registry in 2018 and received a complete renovation in 2018-2019.
For our second hike, we made a loop that began at our campsite (Number 20) and headed southeast to Campsite Number 15 where Trail 8 begins. Trail 8 quickly intersects Trail 5 and if you turn right, you head north through a grove of beech trees and sink holes to Wolf Cave and the Twin Bridges. Many of the beech trees along the trail bear decades of inscriptions, as the soft bark of the beech makes an easy canvas for lovers and vandals alike.
Wolf Cave is a small cave open to the public and if you don’t mind tight spaces, has a narrow passageway that leads to an opening the other side where the twin limestone bridges stand. Once another section of the cave before part of the roof collapsed, creating the rock formations seen today. The corridor is fifty-seven yards long with a tight eighteen-inch opening on the other side. Bring a flashlight if you plan on exploring the cave.
Since the area was filled with tourists, specifically a couple from out of state who expressed their displeasure with the cave’s small stature, we cut through the woods to the west via a connector trail not shown on the park map, to the Youth Tent Area. Here we took a break at one of the picnic tables while admiring the peaceful rolling topography before we headed back to camp, going south along the paved road to Trail 6, which took us directly to our campsite.
Our final hike was a quick trip to the remnants of the Penden Farm.
The Penden Farm Historic Site, just a short distance from the parking lot by the Deer Run Shelter, reminds of us of the lives lived here long ago. The area was first home to Miami Indians and after their forced removal, white settlers attempted to tame the tough terrain. John McCormick had been a captain in the Revolutionary War and since the county was too poor to pay the veterans, they were given parcels of property as payment. John McCormick recorded his acreage at the Vincennes Land Office on September 1, 1816 without having seen or set foot on it. (Or September 20, 1916 depending on the source.) After his death, his two sons divided the property and gave their sister Nancy the land north and east of the creek. Nancy married Jesse Penden and together they built a log home and a log barn. In 1857 the log barn burned, and Jesse replaced it with a 64-foot-long barn with a limestone base. The barn eventually collapsed but the parts of the limestone base remain. Just east of the barn sits the spring house where the Penden family stored their perishable foods. The Spring House was completely restored in 2012 and a nice informative sign explains how the cold spring water was used to preserve eggs and milk before refrigeration.
The photos on the signage depict a different landscape when settlers like the Penden family clear-cut timber to graze livestock and grow crops. The hill behind the spring house shows a rolling pasture instead of the new growth of trees that have since reclaimed their forestry home.
The Canyon Inn also boasts a history that predates the park itself and signifies a turning point in the park’s history. In 1880 (or 1888 depending on the source), Indianapolis physician Frederick Denkewalter purchased 90 acres of McCormick’s land, including the area surrounding McCormick’s Creek Falls. During that time there was a booming craze for natural spring water and the restorative and therapeutic powers of nature, and Dr. Denkewalter felt McCormick’s Creek was the ideal location for a health resort. He then converted an old farmhouse into a “sanitarium” where guests could rest and relax while enjoying the beautiful natural areas of McCormick’s Canyon. After his death in 1914, the citizens of Owen County (or a reporter from a local newspaper depending on the source) reached out to Colonel Richard Lieber to assist in the fundraising and purchase of the property for a public park. On July 4, 1916, McCormick’s Creek Canyon State Park became the very first Indiana state park with Turkey Run to follow shortly. “Canyon” was later dropped from the name.
Since then, the Canyon Inn has undergone many additions and renovations. It received its first remodel from the State of Indiana in 1922. In 1932 a brick wing and entryway were added and in 1941 they stripped the original building down to the foundation and replaced it with the brick structure that continues to welcome guests seeking the restorative powers of nature to this day. In 1944, Richard Lieber, who believed our parks and preserves are “a solace to the aged and an inspiration to the young” passed away at the age of 74 in one of the guest rooms of the Canyon Inn.
Strange, Nathan D. The Complete Guide to Indiana State Parks. Quarry books, 2018.
Williams, Matt. Indiana State Parks: A Centennial Celebration. Quarry Books, an Imprint of Indiana University Press, 2015.
Department of Natural Resources. McCormick’s Creek State Park Property Map. Dec. 2017.
As well as information from the Department of Natural Resources signage.
Images Copyright © Lisa M Rosenkranz