Historical Experience

Tunnel Mill Living History Center
takes visitors on trip back in time

Special events thrill, scare
and encourage visitors all year long

CHARLESTOWN, Ind. (December 2013) – John Work arrived in southern Indiana with a dream and a little bit of money. Among his legacy was the first working grist mill in Indiana that created the foundation for Charlestown, Ind., to flourish. Nathanael Logsdon, curator of Historic Tunnel Mill Living History Center, said he hopes his preservation of Work’s home and history offers visitors insights into the crucial role Work played and the benefits we all enjoy as a result.


Photo provided

The John Work house at
Tunnel Mill was built in 1811.

“The number one goal of Tunnel Mill is to get people excited about their history through a hands-on approach,” says Logsdon. “Unlike most museums, with the velvet ropes across the doors where you can’t touch anything, this house is filled with reproductions so that people can see what life was like, but also touch and experience life from 200 years ago.”
John Work moved to southern Indiana from Pennsylvania, where he had owned an iron foundry. On arriving in Indiana, he engaged in a variety of businesses, including a gristmill, a blacksmith shop where they specialized in flintlock rifles, a distillery and a general store. To create the gristmill, Work had to blast through a ridge of solid rock to connect one side of the creek to another to generate enough power to run the mill. In so doing, he created the first tunnel built west of the Allegheny Mountains.

Holiday Tours

• Christmas Candlelight Tours are planned Dec. 6-7 and Dec. 13-14 at Tunnel Mill’s John Work House. Call (812) 606-1264.

The project took five men more than three years. Using only rudimentary tools and self-made gun powder, the crew blasted through 300 feet of rock, and, when they met in the middle, were only two inches off. It became the most powerful mill in Indiana, turning out about 300 pounds of flour per hour.
Near the site, John and his wife, Sarah, built the house that now serves as the centerpiece of the living history center and raised their family. The house is listed on the national register of historic homes.
The listing, however, did not save the home from falling into disrepair. After the Work family stopped living in the home, it remained empty for about 60 years. The Boy Scouts of America purchased the house and surrounding property to use as a camp. At first, the house was used as a ranger station but was vacated after the Scouts built a new station. Vandals and ghost hunters took over, hastening the decline of the property.
Then, Logsdon stepped in.
“Nathan offered a plan for restoring the house, the mill site, and the surrounding area and putting it back to use,” says Bryan Rosbottom, counsel staff for the Scouts and volunteer for Tunnel Mill. “He wanted to turn it into an educational entity within the community to keep alive the history of this area. Nathan saw the house for what it was – a historic treasure – and offered a plan. The Scouts were thrilled because the vandalism not only threatened the house, but the camp security when scouts were on-site. We saw Nathan had a vision, and we ran with it.”
Rosbottom and other staffers became volunteer labor for the restoration efforts as well as helping with security to protect the work, once completed. Rosbottom also became involved in the re-enactments and special events.
Tunnel Mill plays host to several themed weekends throughout the year. The second weekend of August features “Brigands Grove,” an event focusing on the bad guys of Indiana’s history – river pirates, highwaymen and others. Logsdon describes it as “a lighthearted event where everyone can come and have a good time finding out about the villains of southern Indiana.”
The third weekend of October brings creepy fun to the site as the “Legend of Sleepy Hollow” becomes the focus. Re-enactors interpret characters from the book throughout the day. Just as everything is winding down, the headless horseman rides through the camp.
During the first two weekends of December, Tunnel Mill offers candlelight tours of the home. “We share Christmas traditions of the early 1800s, some of which are still celebrated today and some which have faded into history,” says Logsdon. Re-enactors bring the traditions to life as well as leading Christmas carols.
The rest of the year, Tunnel Mill focuses on the War of 1812 and the history of that period.
Adam Mudd, a regularly appearing re-enactor at the site and history teacher at Presentation Academy in Louisville, said he hopes more people will take advantage of this unique piece of history. “The house is one of the few remaining examples of architecture from the federal period. It even still has the timbers.  There are children’s names on the walls. When you come here you really get a sense of people’s lives as they lived it in the middle of nowhere.”
Mudd takes part primarily in the Civil War re-enactments and avidly supports the mission of Tunnel Mill. “The variety of events tells different pieces of the story. The Civil War events tell what it might have been like if Confederates made it to Charlestown. The Brigands event tells about one of the dangers of the frontiers – the bad guys. Sleepy Hollow brings a different aspect of history here. Ultimately, our goal is to teach history and bring it to life.”

• Tunnel Mill, located at 3709 Tunnel Mill Rd., just outside Charlestown, is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday through Sunday. Daily tours are free. Tunnel Mill also offers a variety of special events and re-enactments throughout the year that are priced independently. For more information, visit HistoricTunnelMill.org.

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