JD Dotson

Charlestown

Story and photos by JD Dotson

Once again, I am completely in awe of a place I thought I knew, only to be pleasantly surprised at every turn.  Charlestown quietly sits in Eastern Clark County and not knowing where I was going, I stopped in the first interesting place I came upon to ask questions and poke around. (By the way: Don’t forget to check out Charlestown during the Christmas season, beginning with Light Up Charlestown on the Friday after Thanksgiving.)

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The CHARLESTOWN FEED STORE 

11106 Dean St. | On Highway 62 Near Highway 3 | 812.256.2048 | charlestownfeedstore.com

Sitting outside the Charlestown Feed Store was an old giant wagon, shining with color, with row upon row of raw West Virginia glass. I took it as a sign to see what other things – beside feed – I could find at the feed store. I met a beautiful parrot named Goldie, saw the largest collection of vintage coolers and got some good information and stories from Luke, who works at the store. I heard the legend of the haunted Seven Penny Bridge, (or Ten Penny Bridge, if you search online) and got directions to the Nine Penny Branch Nature Preserve. Still, I was sure I had more pennies in the floorboard of my car, and I headed out to explore Charlestown.

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CHARLESTOWN STATE PARK 

12500 Indiana 62 | 812.256.5600 | www.in.gov/dnr/parklake/2986.htm | $7 entry fee

Charlestown State Park sits just off Hwy 62 on 5,100 acres of land formerly belonging to the Indiana Army Ammunition Plant, and on the banks of the Ohio River. The park boasts several marked trails rated moderate to rugged and ruins of ammunition plants in the hills.  I began my adventure at the Riverside Overlook and trail No. 6 which immediately had me running up a steep, rocky ascent. Once I cleared the climb, my run had me along the ridge of the woods with a steep drop-off and the most spectacular view in the park of the river. It was at once both terrifying and beautiful, quiet on the path and breathtaking. I kept the course which wound me back down to creek beds and back up. I was easily distracted by bits of a ruin which took me off trail and off course, just a bit lost but reveling in the adventure of trying to reconnect with my path. Eventually, I found my way back to my car and to my map to Rose Island. I have heard of Rose Island since my childhood. My Granny lived down the road, worked in the ammunition plant and told of picnics at the popular amusement park. In the 1920s, the park, only accessible by steamboat, ferry or a suspension bridge, boasted a small zoo, a pool, shooting gallery, dance hall, cafeteria, ferris wheel and roller coaster and hotel. The Depression closed the park temporarily and the flood of 1937 destroyed the park entirely. These days a short hike down the steep, paved hill and crossing over the Porterville Bridge will drop you at the entrance of Rose Island. There are a lot of really remarkable ruins and historic markers guiding you along the paths with photographs of what once belonged here. A bit of imagination helped to fill in the river banks with thousands of people bustling around the peninsula on a beautiful day. I explored Rose Island quite a bit, knowing I was stalling the run back to my car. At the end of this trip, I will have run 10 miles and the last leg was up another steep incline. As a reward, I asked some fellow explorers a bit of advice on what food I should stuff in my face.

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NINE PENNY BRANCH STATE NATURE PRESERVE 

3143, 3019 Tunnel Mill Rd

The back roads of Charlestown are peaceful, curvy and perfect for a gorgeous Saturday drive. I wound my way down Tunnel Mill Road and took in the sights, the hills and woods, farms and fields. The Nine Penny Branch Nature Preserve sits just off the road with a small parking lot and a path leading you away. A quarter of a mile in and you are really alone and seemingly far from civilization. The path curves and slopes down, winding back and forth between trees and vines. I came to a rough-hewn rock bench high above a creek below and spared a few minutes to sit and enjoy the solitude. Eventually, I made my way down the path across a bridge and eventually into the creek bed. It was an easy mile in and a rough run back uphill to get out.

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THE CHARLESTOWN PIZZA COMPANY

850 Main St. 812.256.2699 | www.ctownpizzaco.com

I met a trio in the ruins and immediately the Charlestown Pizza Company sprang out as the best pizza in the area. As if I need any more of an excuse to visit a good pizza place, the next bit of advice had me hooked instantly.: “You have to get the Mashed Potato Pie,” said Morgan Cooke, and I thanked her for ruining my diet because I was certain that is exactly what I was going to get. I ran extra hard off the paved path through the woods, pushing myself thinking about all those calories I was about to ingest. The restaurant sits off the square in the heart of Charlestown. The menu description is as follows: “The Mashed Potato Pie: sauced with garlic butter, then a hearty layer of mashed potato, bacon and cheddar cheese and finished with diced green onions. Served with your choice of one sauce on the side.” It is a perfect amalgamation of pizza and baked potatoes, and fell right out of comfort food heaven and into my belly.

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