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Photograph by Jacque Bradford
A Visit to Spring Mill State Park
submitted by Jacque Bradford

The next time the kids want to go to the movies, save yourself $50, hop into your car and drive fifty minutes south of Bloomington to one of the best kept secrets in Indiana, Spring Mill State Park (Lawrence County). For an admission of $2 per carload, you will get many hours of priceless fun and Hoosier history. There are caves to explore by foot and boat, hiking trails, a beautiful inn with an indoor/outdoor pool and the jewel of the park (in my opinion), the restored pioneer village, highlighting life in the mid- 1800's. Many of the buildings are manned by craftspeople who demonstrate their crafts and share their view of life in this period of history.

My family made the two hour trek the last Saturday in September. It was another gorgeous Indian summer day with the sky the color of blue you only see in Indiana. We packed up the proverbial station wagon and left our house just south of Broad Ripple in Indianapolis just before noon. With our children, Paige and Alec (7 and 5 years), up to the normal sibling activity in the back seat, I was able to keep my cool, knowing how much fun we were going to have.

Here's a little history on the park's origin: Spring Mill was a thriving community in the early to mid-1800's founded around 1814, two years before Indiana became a state. Its main commerce was connected to the three-story limestone grist mill, powered by water that was run through wooden flumes from a cavern in a nearby hillside. In its heyday, 1850, the census showed the village and outlying areas housed 377 families.

Spring Mill's population slowly eroded after 1850 from the railroad bypassing the village and the appearance of mills powered by steam instead of water. The mill closed in 1892 and lay in ruins until the construction of a string of state parks during the Depression. Over the years, the village was reconstructed as historically correct as possible, giving Hoosiers one of the best pioneer villages I have seen.

As you approach the village, you begin to sense the kind of life enjoyed here. The hills surrounding the village are covered with native trees, a stream shoots out of the hill in the flume, through the huge mill and meanders its way through the rest of the village. Children run through the center of town, enjoying a game of "Graces" with 2 sticks and a ribboned embroidery hoop.

Our children immediately stepped back in time as we explored the first few buildings: family dwellings. Anything kid-related grabbed their attention, like the small chairs, carriages, pony wagons and cradles. My husband, Mike, and I collect antiques and really admired the collection of furniture and accessories used by Hoosier families at that time. As we toured the saw mill, distillery and tavern, I was amazed at what self-sufficient and innovative people the villagers were. The resident carpenter, Don Ingle, from Lawrence County, showed us some of the tools and techniques used by carpenters. Some of the elaborate tools were works of art in themselves.

Photograph by Jacque Bradford
Paige and Alec couldn't resist the fun everyone was having with the game of "Graces". We were shown by the volunteers to cross two 15" sticks or dowels, one in each hand, put a 12" embroidery hoop over the crossed sticks, and as you uncross them, the hoop flies in the air. We took turns tossing it to each other seeing how high and far the hoop would fly.

The grist mill has three floors full of Spring Mill and Indiana history with collections of documents, Indian artifacts, doll furniture, tools, etc. We found out that we had just missed the last corn grinding of the day, running every hour on the hour with the last at 4:00. We comforted ourselves by buying a bag of freshly ground cornmeal for $1 and beeswax candlesticks dipped earlier in the week. The first floor is set up like a working mill and the two top floors house the collections. By this time, the kids had noticed that almost every building had a game of checkers set up and asked us "why?". Mike and I looked at each other and laughed. It's interesting how television has changed our lives!

We toured the gardens, nursery and spring house before meeting up with Wanita, a housekeeper in the Summer Kitchen. She had made corn chowder and pumpkin muffins that morning and shared the recipe with us. She also shared a tip to "always cover your deeper pots with a dish or lid so you don't find mice in them in the morning!"

As we left, we stopped at the blacksmith shop and chatted with him. He is a "retired" gentleman who enjoys sharing his talents and the history of his craft with the school group tours. That comment made me think how we all share in this responsibility, to expose our children to their Hoosier heritage and give them an appreciation of the past. We can all learn from the first Hoosiers, to embrace life's simple pleasures.

Pumpkin Muffins

1 3/4 C flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1/2 C sugar
2 eggs beaten
3/4 C milk
1/4 C butter, melted
1 C pumpkin

Combine all ingredients and spoon into greased muffin cups. Bake @ 400 for 20-25 minutes.