On the north bank of the Ohio River in Charlestown State Park, the remains of the Rose Island Abandoned Theme Park serve as a ghostly reminder of outdoor amusements from a century ago. Before Indiana Beach and Holiday World, Hoosiers (and quite a few Kentuckians and Buckeyes) visited the Rose Island property to swim, dance, play golf, and traverse a mini-zoo.
Today, the park lies in ruin – peeking through the dense southern Indiana woods as a spooky testament to an era gone by. Visitors can explore the ruins in the state park on a hiking path (Trail #7) with helpful signs identifying the remains of what once was. It’s definitely worth the trip this spring, summer or fall.
In the later-half of the 19th century, the peninsula between Fourteen Mile Creek and the Ohio River just east of Charlestown, Indiana was known as Devil’s Backbone. The area was quite popular for Victorian tourists because of the natural setting.
By the 1880s, the peninsula was known as Fern Grove because of an enormous amount of…wait for it…the ferns that grew in the area. It was also popular with picnickers and religious groups looking for a relaxing afternoon on Sundays, post-church.
Given the peninsula’s bucolic nature along the river, its popularity with tourists, and its proximity to Madison, Cincinnati, Louisville, and the other Ohio River towns – the Louisville and Jeffersonville Ferry Company purchased the land in 1881 as a stopping point for leisure passengers. Visitors would disembark and spend the day picnicking on the peninsula and frolicking amongst the ferns.
In 1923 David Rose, a prominent Louisville businessman, purchased the property with ambitious plans in mind. He added an amusement park, swimming pool, zoo, dance hall, golf course, dining facility, and cottages. Visitors could arrive by car, or boat – with departing points in Madison and Louisville.
The Great Depression slowed business, but the epic flood of 1937 pretty much ruined the park and the whole effort was abandoned. In the Second World War, the Indiana Army Ammunition Plant owned the land. When the plant closed, the land was donated in 1995 to the state as part of Charlestown State Park.
In the ensuing years, the state improved the area and added a walking path and interpretative signs. Trail 7 will take hikers through the abandoned park today, which is accessible from Trail 3 via a restored bridge from the White River (east fork).
Rose Island Abandoned Theme Park
Charlestown State Park
Charlestown, IN 47111