Parke County: The Covered Bridge Capital of the World
There is something quaint and romantic about stumbling upon a covered bridge during your ramblings, and each one has its own unique history to be celebrated. Parke County, located about 60 miles west of Indianapolis, boasts an impressive 31 covered bridges – more than any other county in the nation.
The county celebrates the history and nostalgia of the bridges every October at the Parke County Covered Bridge Festival.
Once called “kissing bridges” for their reputation as a place where courting couples could steal a kiss, covered bridges attract nearly 2 million people to Parke County each year during the 10-day festival.
“Visitors come from all over the country and the world to visit these bridges,” says Kelsey Canfield, executive secretary for Parke County Inc., the nonprofit tourism centerfor the county. “Some people visit to appreciate the history, others for nostalgia, photography and engineering studies. The bridges are universally interesting no matter what the visitor’s background.”
Make plans to attend the Parke County Covered Bridge Festival, slated for Oct. 11-20 in 2019. Headquartered on the courthouse lawn in Rockville since 1957, the festival delights visitors with old-fashioned foods (try the homemade apple butter, caramel corn and famous “buried beef”), crafters and vendors, free entertainment, antique shops, and guided bus tours of the covered bridges (reservations are encouraged). Be sure to stop in the Covered Bridge Art Gallery on the north side of the Rockville square to browse the work of local artists.
“These bridges are obviously very important to our county for their usability and transportation, but also for the revenue they provide from tourism,” Canfield says. “Visitors stay overnight in family-run hotels, eat at locally owned restaurants and buy gifts and essentials from our mom-and-pop shops. Every visitor helps our community grow and thrive.”
Historic Mills, Agritourism and Recreation
Two historic mills also give visitors a taste of times gone by. Take a tour of Bridgeton Mill and pick up some cornmeal, flour, grits or baking mixes to take home. Historic Mansfield Roller Mill, a gristmill built in 1820, is another sight to see. The state historic site runs on water power from Big Raccoon Creek and is still in operation today.
Pick your own apples or choose the perfect pumpkin at Ditzler Orchard, a family business in Rosedale that offers tours as well as fresh apple cider, caramel apples, apple chips and other seasonal treats. Take the whole family to Hobson Family Farm in Rockville, a favorite destination among locals for its corn maze, pumpkin patch, hayrides and homemade fudge.
Get in touch with nature at Turkey Run State Park, where you can hike miles of trails, explore deep sandstone ravines and marvel at beautiful rock formations. Loved by many for its scenic views along Sugar Creek, Turkey Run has a staffed nature center, planetarium, an inn for overnight accommodations, swimming, fishing and the Colonel Richard Lieber Cabin, which recognizes Lieber’s contributions to Indiana state parks with a small museum. Three covered bridges also flank the state park’s property.
If you enjoy being on the water, go for a swim or rent a boat at Raccoon Lake State Recreation Area. You can also canoe or kayak down Sugar Creek or at Rockville Lake Park.
Dining in Parke County
When all that exploring leaves you hungry, make a beeline for Rockville’s Thirty-Six Saloon, a laid-back roadhouse serving American comfort food and barbecue.
“Thirty-Six Saloon is a very popular dining location,” Canfield says. “In the evenings, they have live music in the outdoor ‘Hog Pit’ area of the restaurant. It’s a fun, rustic atmosphere.” The menu features pulled pork, chicken, fish, burgers, steaks, pastas, desserts and more.
The Flour Basket Bakery and Cafe in Rockville is sure to satisfy even the strongest sweet tooth with freshly baked cookies, muffins, cupcakes and pies. A variety of hot foods and lunch specials are also served at the homestyle cafe.
Also in Rockville, Wheel House Donuts lets you design your own made-to-order doughnut, and the possibilities are endless. Stop in for a cup of coffee and order up a doughnut topped with Fruity Pebbles, M&M’s, sprinkles, nuts or whatever brings a smile to your face.
Did You Know?
Covered bridges were built with roofs and siding mostly between 1820 and 1900 (before the advent of iron and steel) to protect the wooden bridges beneath from snow and rain, which helped them last longer. Uncovered wooden bridges typically lasted only 15-20 years, but covered bridges have lasted more than 100 years.