Destination Indiana: Visiting Parke County

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PARKE COUNTY, Ind. (WTWO/WAWV) — Through Parke County’s enchanted rolling hills, you’ll find 31 covered bridges still in use over a century later.

“Somehow it worked out that we saved ours and many other people either destroyed them or they didn’t take care of them and we’ve preserved ours … And we want to keep those 31,” Randal Wright, Parke County historian said.

It’s Parke County’s claim to fame, one reason that makes the covered bridge festival the biggest in Indiana.

Though the pandemic canceled the festival this year, travelers can still find that sense of nostalgia in Parke County.

Wright says covered bridges were constructed for preservation. The county had two main builders in the 1800s.

“The oldest is at Portland Mills built in 1856 and the longest one is Jackson Covered Bridge.”

“We have a lot of creeks, in the county which necessitated, lot of bridges, covered bridges were fairly common … I think that the, they can kind of connect it with Indiana as it used to be, riding around in the country roads and seeing those covered bridges and seeing the date of 18 whatever,” Wright said.

The public’s interest in navigating Parke County to find the covered bridges was the driving force behind the start of the covered bridge festival in 1957. Today, the visitor’s bureau helps with that.

“They have maps, they have tours. You can take, the roads are marked with the tourists and we have different colored tours, depending on what bridges and what things you want to see,” Parke County commissioner Jim Meece said.

In some spots, it’s almost as if time stands still, whether it’s landmarks or landscapes. Parke County Commissioner Jim Meece tells us there’s plenty to make a day out of exploring.

“If you want to do a come in and do an adventure thing like canoeing or boating, then there are places did you do that well.”

Parke County is home to Raccoon Lake, Turkey Run, most of Shades State Parks and the beloved Billie Creek Village. A living history village that typically closes after Labor Day.

Meece says the county’s scenery serves as inspiration to many artists and crafters.

“You know the people selling the items made those things themselves.”

Couple Austin and Courtney Cook handcraft and glaze clay mugs for their business Clay Plant Road. It’s been a hobby of Austin’s after watching instructors growing up in Parke County.

“Local artist Chuck Wagner, he used to throw a lot down at the Billie Creek Village. I went there as a kid on field trips and such and saw him making things with his hands and, and it really kind of inspired me,” Cook said.

Parke County couple shows off handmade pottery business Clay Plant Road

Another trip to Parke County could have you locked up for the night.

“So this building was built in 1879. It is the third jail to the county,” Debra Olson, owner of the Old Jail Inn said.

One of Parke County’s first jails, now serves as Old Jail Inn and Drunk Tank

Now, the cells are rooms to the Old Jail Inn and Drunk Tank. Owner Debra Olson says people from all over have traveled to spent the night in the joint.

“We’ve had some really cool, unusual guests. We had … The great, great granddaughter of Bonnie and Clyde who killed Bonnie and Clyde. She came in 2013.”

Something to see for all in Parke County.

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