Destination Indiana: Owen County’s Cataract Falls

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OWEN COUNTY, Ind. (WTWO/WAWV) — A monumental site rests at Cataract Falls in Owen County, Ind., with three waterfalls lining Mill Creek: the Upper Falls, Lower Falls and Little Sister.

“The first thing anybody does is they walk up and they say, ‘wow’ and they want to take a picture of it,” Owen County Tourism employee Allison Staples said.

Waterfalls, wild animals and native flowers are all sites you’ll see while hiking at Cataract Falls in Lieber State Recreation Area.

“It’s a lot bigger than I thought it was,” Nicole Axelrod, a visitor from Georgia, said. “I didn’t know what to expect, I had seen some pictures here and there.”

Cataract Falls are the largest volume of water in Indiana. The upper falls are 20 feet high and the lower falls are 18 feet high. It is a sight that people have enjoyed over a century.

Staples said the falls belonged to Theodore Jennings in 1841. From there, a wealthy railroad man, John Steiner, and David Wallace purchased the falls in 1883. The falls were then donated to the state by Agnus Stuckey as a memorial to her mother in 1952.

More on Cataract Falls from Owen County Tourism below

“It’s always important for people to know history and appreciate history and know where it came from and understand why Indiana protects this piece of property,” Staples said.

The covered bridge at the falls is the last remaining one in Owen County. It was restored in 1995 by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, but the original bridge built in 1876 was open to traffic until 1988.

Getting out to the Cataract Falls was a first for Axelrod, a Depauw University graduate. She visited the falls with her and her former roommates for a COVID-19-pandemic delayed graduation ceremony weekend.

“The pandemic kind of uprooted our senior year because we were 2020 seniors, so coming back here,” Axelrod said. “Getting to graduate with our class, it means a lot to us.”

Depauw University grads take a trip to Cataract Falls for delayed graduation ceremony

The girls traveled back to the area from four different states.

“I was just surprised I had never been there before in my four years at Depauw,” visitor Sarah Hennessy said. “I really like getting out and hiking and being in nature. I live in Pittsburgh right now, and so I really love any chance I can to get like out of the city where there’s space and air.”

“If you’re in the area, it’s definitely a must-see in my opinion because the nature here is so beautiful,” Serena Jones, a visitor from Florida, said. “The trail has a lot of nice shady spots, so even on a hot day like this it’s really not that bad.”

Nearby is the town of Cataract, Ind., with a general store still in operation from the 1860s and an old school house turned into an ice cream shop.

A tour inside the Old Cataract Schoolhouse below

Old Cataract Schoolhouse hours:

Thursday 1-6 p.m.

Friday 1-6 p.m.

Saturday 1-6 p.m.

Sunday 1-6 p.m.

“It can almost feel like a step back in time a bit, when you go see this area,” Staples said.

“Schools have changed so much from what they used to be, and I think for children especially it’s very impactful for them to see something like that and to not just hear about it but to go and see it, to see that one room,” she continued. “They have desks and a chalkboard inside of it, so just taking a step back is almost like living in your history.”

General Store owner Cathie Kuntz said the falls are a savior to the town.

“The falls, that brought people in because there was a hotel there and then later on there was a horseracing track there and then when the railroad dried up, it dried up like a lot of little towns did,” she said. “But what has saved us is the falls.”

Kuntz has operated the General Store since she and her husband bought it seven years ago. In that time, she said she has seen a lot of people from all over travel to the falls.

Learn more history on the Cataract Falls General Store below

“People are really stunned by how pretty it is, by how they had no idea Indiana had those kind of waterfalls,” she said. “There’s been several weddings at the falls, a lot of family reunions lots of photography, especially senior pictures.”

For one group of friends, it was a spot to reconnect and build memories.

“Some of the stuff we would have done last year, but I’m glad we’re able to do it now before we go off into separate places,” Emma Nelson, a visitor from Wisconsin, said. “We all have different paths in life but I’m glad we were able to share this time together, walk around, get out in the sun.”

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