October 7 & 8
With a seven hour drive the next morning we didn’t dawdle, particularly as Bev needed to leave early to get back home and go to work. It would be another easy, though longish, day on the road and nothing got in the way, so we soon enough arrived for two nights at Cathy and Bob’s place at Racoon Lake about sixty miles west of Indianapolis.
I’ve known Bob for many years, having met him through the Association of College Unions International (ACUI), the professional organization we both belonged to when we were working, he as the Director of the Purdue Memorial Union. He retired a few years back but has been working part time gathering material for a 100th anniversary publication on the history of the Purdue Memorial Union and so life has been good for he and Cathy, who has yet to retire. The house at the lake is a refuge, that place that brings a peaceful mood with each visit.
I’d been at the lake once before years back when I was on the Board of Trustees for ACUI. Each July the members of its leadership team (Board of Trustees, Regional Directors, and many other ancillary volunteer positions) would gather in Bloomington at the University of Indiana for 3-4 days of working together to further the aims of the organization, which is:
“ACUI is the professional home to thousands of campus community builders around the world. Primarily focused on the work of those within the college unions and student activities field, the Association strives to provide an inclusive, welcoming community for all those who choose to belong.“
Having made that trip many times, I would sometimes combine it with a side visit once to see Bob at Purdue (I stayed in the Union’s hotel then), once more at his lake house and one other time when I visited Larry, the former director at Valparaiso. These were great short opportunities to stay in touch with colleagues I know and like.
We arrived later in the afternoon and after unloading the car, convened on the outside deck for a beer or two. A simple and relaxed dinner would follow as we prepared for an outing the next day, this to the annual Parke County Covered Bridge Festival. The county touts itself as the “Covered Bridge Capital of the World”, claiming to have more covered bridges than any other county in the United States. This is due to several reasons, mainly due to the numerous streams and creeks in the county, and having the natural resources and designers to build the bridges.
Most were constructed with poplar wood and built Burr Arch style. The main designers of the bridges were J.J. Daniels, J.A. Britton, William Hendricks, and Henry Wolf. At one time, as many as 53 covered bridges existed (wholly or in part) in Parke County. Today, 31 of those bridges survive, 10 of which have been closed to vehicle traffic.
The Jackson Covered Bridge is the longest single span covered bridge in Indiana. The Portland Mills Covered Bridge is the oldest of the county’s covered bridges. In 1978, all covered bridges still standing within the county went on the National Register of Historic Places. The festival began in 1957, when a group of local women decided to hold a three-day festival to accommodate the many interested tourists looking for information about the bridges. Now the festival is thriving having grown from the first which was rather small and occurred only in Rockville.
Ten towns in the county participate to some extent by holding fairs and events and we would visit two, starting with nearby Rockville. Compared to some of the other towns, the festival here is on the smaller side but impressive none-the-less. We parked and walked to the town square, stopping to grab a cup of coffee, some corn fritters, and a couple of orders of crullers, then walked through the big tent that held all of the craft vendors where Joanna would pick up a children’s book for Gemma and a birthday gift for her mom.
We left Rockville and made our way to Bridgeton, which besides its bridge, boasts a scenic historic district that includes the Bridgeton Mill, Collom’s General Store, the 1878 House, Case Log Cabin, and Bridgeton School. From a size and scope perspective, Bridgeton was leagues bigger than Rockville, more the size of a large city county fair than your typical local fair.
We each got orders of the Deep-Fried Walleye and walked over to the large seating area where a multitude of food vendors trafficked. We’ve not experienced this particular fish before but found it mild and tender, much like catfish. We spent another hour or so walking around the fair with Bob focusing on different food products that they would save and use as holiday gifts later in the year.
We thought it interesting that in the first week or so of our journey we would run into two separate festivals, but then again it is the fall when so many of these types of events occur. We returned to the house early in the afternoon with just enough time to take out their boat for a couple of hours on the lake.
We’d been blessed with good weather so far and this afternoon would be no exception, still warm for the season but without the oppressive humidity that summer so often brings in this part of the world. When we realized that we’d consumed all of the liquid refreshments we’d brought aboard, it was time to turn the boat around and head for shore.
That night Cathy and Bob would fete us with a feast of epic proportions, filet mignon and shrimp on the grill, orzo, and fresh asparagus. We’d contribute two bottles of Foris wine we’d brought along (a Maple Ranch Pinot and a Cab Franc) and we dined outside with a sinking sun lighting the meal. Our drive to Erie, Pa the next day would be a long one so an early night to bed was in order so that we could head out in the morning.
It had been a fine visit, with good company, food, and festivals to keep us occupied. It’s part of why we travel, seeing new things, keeping close contact with distant friends, and the lure of the open road beckoning us onward.
Parke County Covered Bridge Festival: https://www.coveredbridges.com/