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Rose Island Then and Now

In Charlestown, Indiana there is a small peninsula formed by 14 Mile Creek and the Ohio River. On this peninsula in the 1800s grew a large amount of ferns which contributed to its name, Fern Grove, and made it a great spot for a lazy afternoon picnic. The land was later purchased by the Louisville and Jeffersonville Ferry Company in 1881 and made this one of their stops for passengers which only added to its popularity. This went on for 42 years until a businessman from Louisville, David Rose, bought the land in 1923 and renamed it to what we know this peninsula as today: Rose Island. The renaming wasn’t the only change that he made to the area; shortly after his purchase Rose began transforming the land into an amusement park.

For a time business was booming at Rose Island with its swimming pool, dance hall, zoo, golf course, picnic area, cottages, and hotel accommodations. However, with the Great Depression beginning at the end of the 1920s, less than a decade after Rose bought the land, things began to slow down. The final blow to Rose Island came in 1937. Devastating flooding of the Ohio River swallowed up the park and left it in a state of disrepair. Initial announcements of repairs to the park were made but eventually the decision was made to close it to the public for good. In the years following the surrounding land housed an ammunition plant during World War II and then was eventually donated to Charlestown State Park in 1995.

A sign at the entrance to Trail 7 at Charlestown State Park gives information about the history of Rose Island

Today the abandoned Rose Island can be accessed by Trails 3 and 7 in Charlestown State Park. Be prepared for a steep climb back up to your car along the paved Trail 3, it’s a doozy! While today’s Rose Island lacks the splendor that it once held, remnants of the once popular amusement park and picnic spot remain on the peninsula and continue to draw visitors. A visit to Rose Island provides a short loop around with informative plaques as well as posts showing the locations that have been reclaimed by nature over the years. On these posts visitors will also be able to see the depth of the Ohio River during the 1937 flood that destroyed the amusement park. Keep scrolling to see a small selection of photos from the Indiana Room’s collection of historic photos as well as what the park looks like today. 


Footbridge access to Rose Island across 14 Mile Creek


Ohio River entrance to Rose Island


Rose Island Hotel just inside the entrance to the park from the Ohio River


Boat Landing on 14 Mile Creek where visitors could rent boats for the day


No day at Rose Island was complete without a dip in the concrete swimming pool

Interested in other historical photos that the Indiana Room has to offer? Check out the entire Indiana Room Special Collections catalog here.



By: Hanna Gish

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