Leaping the Dips at Mounds State Park
Today, visitors to Mounds State Park enjoy the quiet and serenity of the trails that wind through the beautiful landscape of the crown jewel of our county. However, visitors to the park in the early 20th century found a much different look.
Yes, the famous mounds, the stately trees and numerous hiking trails were there but, an amusement park was in the area around the Great Mound at the southern end of the park. Open only in the summer, it was extremely popular.
Located on scenic bluffs 75 feet above White River was an attraction that was the destination of people from, not only the local area, but also from Indianapolis, Ft. Wayne and Muncie. Some traveled there by personal transportation such as automobiles, which were not very numerous, or by horse and buggy while others chose to ride the interurban cars operated by the Union Traction Company of Indiana.
A round trip from Anderson was five cents and included admission to the park. The cars would stop across from the Great Mound to depart passengers and then loop around for a return trip to town. It began in 1897 when the traction company purchased the property and began installing attractions. For approximately the next 25 years, the park was a magnet for people seeking fun and relaxation. Over the intervening years, new attractions were added and others removed.
Several years ago, Jody Heaston, the former interpretive naturalist for the Indiana Department of Natural Resources assigned to Mounds State Park, conducted interviews with persons who remembered the early days of the park. From those collective interviews, a picture emerges.
Foremost in everyone's memory was the roller coaster called "Leap The Dips." The famous ride began in 1908. It was a wooden structure, painted white, and estimated to be three stories high. It was located between the Great Mound and the river bluff. Many who rode it tell of being able to see the river below as the cars raced around the track near the edge of the bluffs. In Lakemont Park, Altoona, PA, there is another "Leap The Dips" coaster which is, according to the current Mounds interpretive naturalist, Angie Manuel, a twin to the one that was once here. Built in 1902, it is a figure-8 type; 1,980 feet long, 41 feet high, and the ride lasts one minute with a top speed of 10 mph.
Another popular attraction was the musical merry-go-round. Located next to the carousel was a place where the rider could reach out and grab a ring. The rings were different colors but, if you got a gold colored one, you were entitled to a free ride.
The park featured a roller skating rink with wooden floors and music for the skaters. Present at one time or another during the park's operation was a shooting gallery, a bowling alley, a penny arcade and tub swings. Also a monkey cage with live monkeys was there for a short time.
A miniature railroad encircled the Great Mound and was very popular with children for years. Later, another miniature line was laid to encircle a greater part of the grounds.
On Sunday, May 29, 1910, visitors were thrilled when a balloon ascension was made by Roll Thurman of Anderson. After reaching the desired height, he parachuted safely to the ground leaving his assistant in charge of the balloon.
One of the first motordromes -a rounded track for racing cars and motorcycles - in the United states operated there for one season only.
During World War I, "Sock the Kaiser" was a popular feature. A figure of the German Kaiser was at the top of a striker pole and everyone was eager to hit the striker hard enough so that it would send up a weight to give the Kaiser a good stiff jolt. All of this was on the upper level while down by the river there was more to appeal to the visitor.
A rock dam had been built to dam up the water to allow rental canoe rides. The canoes were launched from a large wharf. Today's visitor can still see traces of the old dam as a few stones mark its location. Later, flat bottom boats replaced the canoes as too many tipped over providing occupants with an unwelcome bath.
A large flowing well-water drinking fountain refreshed all who ventured to the river bank. A wall was built around the fountain to contain the free flowing water. On top of the wall were tin cups attached by chains. Everyone was invited to drink from the cooling waters by dipping a cup and drinking their fill on a hot summer's day. The mineral spring water contained calcium and salts of iron, considered a fine tonic and desirable for people suffering from general weakness or impaired digestion.
Industrial days were very popular. These were days reserved for exclusive use by companies for their employees. They would gather in downtown Anderson and board the open city cars for the ride out Ohio Avenue to the park. Everything was free. Sometimes it was past midnight before the large crowds could get a car back into town. There were special events, too. On July 4th, 1908, a grand celebration for the benefit of the associated charities and industrial schools was held.
A year later on July 18, the old fiddlers of Madison County had a contest. And on August 15 of that year, an estimated 20,000 attended the old settlers' meeting to witness a sham battle between Indians and settlers. The battle was so popular that it was repeated in July, 1910, under the auspices of the Improved Order of the Red Men. The Fourth of Judy festivities always featured fireworks and band concerts.
In the early 1920s, business declined and the traction company discontinued service to the park and began to sell its equipment. In 1926, the Madison County Historical Society collected enough money to purchase all 384 acres. The society deeded the land to the county who in turn gave the land to the State of Indiana with the provision that it be made into a state park. This was accomplished on October 7, 1930, when Mounds State Park came into existence as we know it today.
If you know where to look in the park, there is evidence scattered around of the once popular entertainment. They are silent reminders of a time in our county when simple pleasures were the delight of all who attended.
By Stephen T. Jackson, Madison County Historian