Rose Island: Take a walk back in time at this "ghost" amusement park in southern Indiana


It's always fun to discover something new - about ourselves, about where we live and about the lives of those who came before us. Going off the beaten path can be rewarding. You can find secret places that have a story all their own and story just waiting to be told.

A waterfall at Charlestown State Park is just such a place. Just when you think you have found the secret, you discover it really only leads to much more.

"Welcome to Rose Island.  Rose welcomed 135,000 people annually during it's heyday in the 1920's," a voice proclaims as you turn the handle to power a box at Charlestown State Park.

It was before the Depression and before World War II when 118 acres on a peninsula that was known as the "Devil's Backbone" along Fourteen Mile Creek was an entertainment mecca.

"Rose Island was the place to be in the 1920s with the pool, dining and dance hall, cottages, roller coaster and zoo," the cranking voice continues.

The voice boxes are strategically placed all around the park, so as you walk around you get background information to help you understand what you are seeing. 

Visitors danced to the Charleston as the billboard declared it was an ideal way to spend Decoration Day. To get there, you could drive and pay 25 cents to cross the swinging bridge into the amusement park or you could take the steamer from Louisville.

"I remember there was a big black bear called Teddy Roosevelt in a cage and they had alligators in a pit," another voice box around the park adds.

"This concrete swimming pool with dimensions of 110 feet by 42 feet was reported to be the first filtered water swimming pool in the Midwest," another voice proclaims.

"My biggest problem was keeping people from climbing the trees and diving in," yet another voice remembers.

"This was before shorts so all the women wore nice dresses. They had live music in the dance hall and we all danced," a woman's voice explains.

In its heyday, two stone columns on a hill formed the grand entry for the park. People would come over in the boats across the Ohio River from Louisville.  Ironically, it was not the Depression that put this place under. It was the flood that followed in 1937 when the water level hit 57 feet in Louisville. Over a million people were displaced in the flood and hundreds died.

The hotel, the cottages and good times at Rose Island were wiped out. Now only the remnants of that time remain. The wind and the sound of the birds drown out the Ferris wheel and wooden roller coaster screeches that once echoed here. The laughter is all gone but the well-worn path lined with the arches of yesterday is still here today.

"The 1937 flood destroyed the park and it was never rebuilt," a voice says.

The swinging bridge has been replaced by the historic Portersville Bridge. Visitors still come here, but it's nowhere near what it used to be. Now it is part of the park's mystique. You can stroll back in time, down the walkway of Roses and see the signs for the hotel, the pool which has now been filled in and the cottages and you have to wonder what it must have been like a hundred years ago.

It's a story waiting to be told.  It's a place waiting to be rediscovered.

Know before you go: Charlestown State Park