Spring Mill, a Special Place


Some memories endure to the end of a person’s life. They might be pleasant or disturbing, and their images could possess life-shaping power.

Driving to Spring Mill State Park in Lawrence County, Indiana, revives indelible half-century memories for me. Mom and Dad nearly always packed up the car with food and their four children on Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, and Labor Day during my youth to go to this place. The drive seemed agonizingly long, although it was right at an hour from our home on Maple Street in Sellersburg.

Once we arrived, though, the park did its magic work of forging memories.

There is something about the area which I did not know or understand at the time, but of which I am now aware, and the explanation for its whispering to me of “Welcome home” is simple. Although I knew my dad was born nearby, I did not know or did not understand the extent of the Burton family, which had arrived in Lawrence County in 1826 and filled Lawrence and Orange counties with 1700 Burton family members by the mid-1800s. I know this seems remarkable, almost unbelievable, but the records exist to attest to the fact. Apparently there was a Burton around every corner, some of them well-liked and respected, others not so.

Spring Mill used to have a huge lake for swimming, fishing, and boating, constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corp in the 1930s, and which was fed by a spring of cold water that emanated from a cave. We always parked and picnicked at the lake area, went swimming in the greenish water, which took forever for the body to get accustomed to because it was so cold, and then hiked to the pioneer village. The sand at the beach could be so hot a body could scarcely walk on it bare footed, while the water was so cold a person had to catch his or her breath when going under the first time.

Dad grilled hamburgers, and we usually had watermelon except on Memorial Day. I do not remember any other food we may have had; hamburgers and watermelon could well have filled the entire menu, but I can still taste them in my memory. A stream runs through the village, along with ample picnic areas, and people often chilled their melons in the creek while cooking their food. My family never did this then because we always had our picnics at the lake area, but I always marveled at it.

The pioneer village was a fascinating place to a child. I could walk through the old buildings and could picture what life might have been like in the 1800s. The musty smell of the structures, even when I visit today, floods me with those memories.

My favorite part of the village was a small souvenir stand. My parents probably could not afford it, but they always let my younger brother and I purchase something from there, usually a rubber tomahawk or knife, some stones, fake money, a pinwheel, a bird call, or some other inexpensive trinket. Sadly, that souvenir stand has been closed for a number of years, but I still look longingly at the structure whenever I visit.

The stream through the village is fertile ground for the imagination. After heavy rain it can be running so rapidly and so high that it is not safe to get into, but during a visit in the summer months children can usually be found playing in it, and its cold nature turning feet blue. I recall one time when the stream was up and flowing swiftly that a couple of children were on inflatable rafts, careening down the stream, barely able to float underneath two bridges which connect the parking lot to the main picnic area.

In the heart of the village stands a water powered gristmill, fed from the same cave that fed the lake. This is an amazing stone structure which, according to a park employee, took 100 men a year to build. There are three stories to the building, and the mill still grinds corn hourly. It is not difficult to stand mesmerized while the mechanism is in operation. Attached to the gristmill is a water powered saw, which I never remember operating in my youth, but it operates during the summer months now. Each of these things is amazing in its design.

The second and third floors are like a museum, filled with items from pioneer days. The park used to have parts of it set off to appear like old businesses. For years there was a spot on one of the floors that had a sign on it that read “Burton Blacksmith.”

Hiking through the vast woods at Spring Mill was full of adventures. There are marked trails throughout, and a person could spend a couple of days of days walking the park in its entirety. In one particular section are huge, ancient trees. Like the rest of the county the park also contains numerous caves which can be reached via the trails. Up hills and down the trails wind, frequently taking the breath away from adults, but children are usually found running them.

Autumn in southern Indiana equates to beautiful foliage, and the park overflows with visitors. Crisp air, breathtaking colors in the trees, family gatherings, and demonstrations of pioneer days in the village make for a wonderful afternoon here.

There is a Burton family cemetery about four miles from Spring Mill, and that is where I intend on being buried. I think I should like it if, before my remains are taken there to rest, my family would drive me one last time around the park in the hearse. I know it will only be my body and I will not really be there with them, but in honor of the memories this special place put in my heart, I would like that very much.

There is a song that makes me think of Spring Mill every time I hear it and would be appropriate to play in the automobile during my final procession around the park. This was the lead song for the movie Gods and Generals and was written by Mary Fahl, Byron Isaacs, and Glenn Patscha.

Going Home

They say there’s a place
where dreams have all gone
They never said where
but I think I know
It’s miles through the night
just over the dawn
on the road that will take me home

I know in my bones
I’ve been here before
The ground feels the same
though the land’s been torn
I’ve a long way to go
The stars tell me so
on this road that will take me home

Love waits for me ’round the bend
Leads me endlessly on
Surely sorrows shall find their end
and all our troubles will be gone
And I’ll know what I’ve lost
and all that I’ve won
when the road finally takes me home

And when I pass by
don’t lead me astray
Don’t try to stop me
Don’t stand in my way
I’m bound for the hills
where cool waters flow
on this road that will take me home

Love waits for me ’round the bend
Leads me endlessly on
Surely sorrows shall find their end
and all our troubles will be gone
And we’ll know what we’ve lost
and all that we’ve won
when the road finally takes me home

I’m going home
I’m going home
I’m going home

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