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McCormick's Creek State Park

Updated on December 15, 2015
Stone Arch Bridge in McCormick's Creek State Park
Stone Arch Bridge in McCormick's Creek State Park | Source

McCormick's Creek State Park became Indiana's first state park when it opened on July 4, 1916. As part of the state's centennial celebration, the state park system was initiated. It's still one of Indiana's more popular parks, ranking number seven in attendance.

Early Settlement

Because of the rugged nature of the terrain, it is believed that Native Americans primarily used this area as a hunting ground rather than for settlement. There is some evidence of prehistoric human activity at two locations in the park. One is where McCormick's Creek empties into White River and the other is close to the Redbud Shelter. Miami, Delaware, Potawatomi and Eel River Indians visited this area prior to the arrival of Europeans.

In 1816 John McCormick secured title to the land which includes the creek, lending it his name. He obtained the land as payment for his service during the American Revolution. He never actually visited the area, but two of his sons and a daughter lived on the property. The two sons operated mills on the creek, but they were not successful because of the limited water flow of the creek.

Limestone was quarried in the park beginning in 1878, and the old quarry can be seen along Trail 2. The stone was transported by rail from the quarry to its destination. Limestone from the quarry was used in constructing the present state capitol building in Indianapolis. The late 1800s were a good time for the limestone industry. After the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, there was greater demand for fire resistant materials like limestone. At its peak the quarry employed 50-75 people.

Frederick Denkewalter was a physician and minister. He came to the United States from Prussia. In 1888 he purchased land and built a sanitarium on the present day site of the Canyon Inn. The sanitarium was a place for wealthy clients to relax and get away from the stress of their daily lives. The building had long porches on all sides and the grounds were nicely landscaped.

Park Creation

Dr. Denkewalter passed away in 1914, and the property was put up for sale. Both Owen county and the state of Indiana contributed funds to buy the land. Indiana wanted to create its first state park in 1916, to celebrate the state's one hundredth birthday. Turkey Run was selected to be the inaugural park, but the deal went south. Instead, McCormick's Creek became the first park on Independence Day, and Turkey Run became the second later that year.

During the Great Depression, the Civilian Conservation Corps was created in 1933. At McCormick's Creek State Park, their handiwork included:

  • Stone arch bridge
  • Firetower
  • Front gatehouse
  • Trails
  • Roads
  • Shelters
  • Water system

Later during the Depression, workers from the Works Progress Administration planted trees, built the stairway to the falls, and the amphitheater. In the 1970s the campgrounds, swimming pool and nature center were added.

Visiting the Park

When you visit the park, I highly recommend hiking trails 5 and 3. Trail 5 is a two mile loop of moderate difficulty. It passes through the Wolf Cave Nature Preserve. Along the way you can see Wolf Cave and Twin Bridges (a couple of natural bridges). Trail 3 goes down to the Falls. The Falls are only about ten feet high, but that's pretty big for a state as flat of Indiana.

If you visit McCormick's Creek State Park, I recommend that you also visit the town of Spencer. It's only three miles west on Indiana 46. Ban Johnson, founder of baseball's American League, is buried there in Riverside Cemetery. Also interred there is James Archer, who was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions during the Civil War. The Canyon Inn at the park has good food, but I really like Chamber's Smorgasbord in Spencer.

The Falls in McCormick's Creek State Park
The Falls in McCormick's Creek State Park | Source

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