documents memories of Rose Island,
legendary amusement park
site is near Clarksville
on the Ohio River
CLARKSVILLE, Ind. (January 2005) Like many
who grew up in the Louisville area, professional videographer and amateur
historian Tom Chapman often heard from others about the wonderful place
that used to be Rose Island. Many area residents used the resort style
amusement park as a day, week or even summer getaway through the 1920s
and 30s until the 1937 flood destroyed it with up to 10 feet of water.
1930s photo shows the steamboat entrance to Rose Island, located
on the Ohio River in southern Indiana.
I always wondered what it was like, and my curiosity
got the best of me, so I went out and got a camera and found people
who were there, Chapman said. Rose Island on a Summer Day
was the result of his curiosity.
The film documents memories of people who recall visiting Rose Island
as a child more than 70 years ago. Nearly 200 people attended a Dec.
14 showing of the film at the Falls of the Ohio Interpretive Center
Although complete with historical photos, maps and images of the earlier
Fern Grove Picnic Area and Rose Island, it is not a definitive
history of the park, but rather a collection of remembrances of people,
Chapman said. I dont know about anybody else, but I have
trouble remembering what I did yesterday. Imagine asking people what
they did 70, 80, 90 years ago, and for details. Well, thats what
Purchased in 1886 by the Louisville and Jerffersonville Ferry Co., the
118 acres of land was primarily used by church groups for picnics and
outing's. Guests could stay overnight at the Fern Cliff Hotel.
Louisville businessman David B.G. Rose in 1923 purchased the park, originally
named Fern Grove. He renamed the already popular picnic location Rose
Island, and as it grew into a major attraction during the 1920s, more
than 135,000 visitors made their way to Rose Island.
The popular tourist attraction, which officials say was actually more
of a peninsula than an island, was located along the Indiana banks of
the Ohio River just 14 miles north of Louisville.
by Debra Maylum
from Clark's Grant Historical Society,
and Tom Chapman (right).
The primary mode of travel to the park was by steamboat.
Visitors traveled on the Idlewild (now the Belle of Louisville) to Rose
Island on the 1 1/2 hour trip from Louisville on a daily basis. One
could catch a boat ride from Madison, Ind., to Rose Island for 50 cents
round trip. The America, the Liberty and the
Sunshine all provided shuttle services from the Falls Cities
and the Kentucky side of the river. A ticket on the America cost 25
cents for adults and 15 cents for children.
Those traveling by car could enter the park on the Indiana side of the
river. Visitors traveled along a steep and winding road from Hwy. 62
across the west side of Fourteen Mile Creek. They parked outside of
the resort area and had to walk across the rocking bridge into
the park, recalled many individuals in Chapmans film, referring
to the 400-foot swinging bridge that led across Fourteen Mile Creek.
Those he interviewed speak of the fun they had as children at the resort
that was known as a playground for adults and children alike. The resort
included a luxurious hotel and cabins, a dining room, dance hall, swimming
pool, orchestra, merry-go-round, baseball fields, zoo, miniature golf
course, shooting gallery, bird shows and rowboat rentals. There were
picnic tables for 1,600 people, hiking trails that included a set of
wooden steps up to lovers lane on the Devils Backbone
and a pony track complete with 15 Shetland ponies.
Many families lived in the cabins on Rose Island through the entire
summer and many made several trips to the resort each year. Rose Island
may have disappeared decades ago, but it lives on in the hearts and
memories of those who visited the park repeatedly or even just once.
I think that most of the guests either had memories or their parents
who had memories had told them about it, and they were curious,
said Bett Etenohan, Interpretive Naturalist at the Falls of the Ohio
In the first two weeks of the films showing at the park, more
than 300 copies of the video were sold.
The park will live on in more ways than one it seems, as the Clarks
Grant Historical Society was recently instrumental in securing a $330,000
grant through the Indiana Department of Natural Resources for archeological
work at Rose Island.
We are pleased we have been able to preserve this piece of history,
especially to get such acreage, said Bob Gallman, President of
the Clarks Grant Historical Society. The grant was approved a
year ago, however, there is no time set yet for when work will begin.
Hopefully, sooner than later, said Gallman. Things
turn pretty slowly on these kinds of issues though.
With the grant, officials plan to hire an archeologist and exhibit designer
to survey the land and develop an interpretive walking trail and display
for Rose Island. They will make use of the few remains and artifacts
left behind from the flood and incorporate new signage.
Another grant is being sought to save a local, historic iron tress bridge
and have it re-assembled over Fourteen Mile Creek, most likely in a
location near where the rocking bridge originally sat. The
historic bridge is not related in any way to Rose Island, however, the
two historic sites will group together nicely.
All proceeds from Chapmans video, Rose
Island on a Summer Day, support the Clarks County Grant
Historical Society in Charlestown, Ind. The video can be purchased for
$12 (VHS) or $15 (DVD) online at: www.roseislandvideo.com.
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