By Wade Coggeshall
NORTH SALEM — McCloud Nature Park turns 10 this year. Paul Miner has been researching that area's history for the anniversary celebration planned for May 4.
The Hendricks County Parks Board vice president plans to touch upon some of the earliest-known accounts of the area that became McCloud. That includes Native American encampments and a mill that once operated there. Of all Miner's research, though, the era he found the most information on was of Frank Davidson.
Davidson was a Danville-based attorney who bought hundreds of acres — including where McCloud is now — and built a resort-like setting around the turn of the 20th century.
He was born in Ladoga but grew up in North Salem. A football star at the then Butler College, when its campus was in Irvington, Davidson was on the team that beat Purdue for the state championship. He graduated in 1892 and earned his diploma from the Indiana Law School in 1896.
Davidson went to become a prominent Indianapolis attorney in the early 1900s. Some of his bigger clients included Western Union and Indiana Bell.
Such prestige allowed Davidson to buy large amounts of farm land in the 1930s, including where McCloud Nature Park is now. He eventually owned some 500 acres in both Hendricks and Putnam counties — much more than McCloud's 232 acres.
Over time Davidson built a lodge and cabins, and added walking trails, a driving range, and tennis courts. Over the years thousands of people visited there for everything from class and family reunions to weddings. Despite that Miner never found one photograph from that era.
Much of his information was gleaned from a North Salem correspondent's column printed in the Danville Republican newspaper. Miner still holds out hope of finding a photo, but isn't overly optimistic given the passage of time.
"Anyone now who would've been out there when it was first open would be quite a senior citizen by now," he said. "But at the time, it was very popular."
Plenty of mysteries still abound, one being how the area came to be known as McCloud. Miner can only speculate.
"On both sides of County Line Road in that distinct area, there were a lot of McClouds who had settled," he said. "It was called McCloud Valley. I assume (Davidson) called it McCloud Park because there were McClouds that lived there."
Morphew was another family that settled there, along with a few others. At times it was referred to as Davidson Park, but there are pillars still standing with "McCloud" etched on them.
"I was stymied in my quest," Miner said. "I found no documents, no records, no photographs. It's quite frustrating because that's what you'd expect an attorney to have kept."
Davidson's original lodge is still standing, as are some of the cabins he constructed. Miner also found the remains of three grilling sites that were made of brick, though they're on private property now.
Other information that Miner found on Davidson is that he was a trustee for Butler when the school moved its campus to its current location. Davidson's wife also was highly educated, and they traveled extensively. The couple had three daughters and one son, the son dying young. Only one daughter had a child, and she died soon after of complications from appendicitis surgery.
Much of what Miner learned on Davidson came from Butler University's archives. He was able to find Davidson's great-children, but they didn't know him very well. Their father was Davidson's only grandchild.
"They had spent time out (at McCloud) but there were no photographic records," Miner said.
He also learned that Davidson's sisters lived in North Salem. Davidson and his wife moved there from Irvington in 1933. His wife died of cancer early on and didn't really get to enjoy their resort. Davidson eventually lived in an apartment on Danville's square. He died in 1951.
His resort reverted into private hands after that. Hendricks County acquired the property that would become McCloud Nature Park from multiple owners.
"It had gone through a variety of hands," Miner said. "I don't know if Davidson lost the property or sold it. I know a great chunk of it reverted to a trustee by the late '30s."
It's been known as McCloud Nature Park for 10 years now. A county park board was established in 2000. For the next three years it worked with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources to acquire acreage for the park and construct a nature center. Last year it welcomed 33,000 visitors.
Jana Gilbert, marketing coordinator for the Hendricks County Parks Department, says they formed a committee that met monthly to plan McCloud's 10th anniversary celebration. The process began last fall.
"We wanted to have a unique event, something we'd never had before," Gilbert said. "And we wanted to incorporate all our partners. We've called upon everyone who's ever done something with us. We're putting it all together in one all-star event. It will have something for everyone."
Festivities commence 9 a.m. May 4 and conclude at 9 p.m. Highlights include birding, eco and GPS scavenger hunts, and fishing — all of which have equipment available for checkout from the nature center. Fishing participants must have a valid fishing license.
Visitors also may hike the 6.5 miles of trails at the park, including participation in a history walk, and bring a canoe to travel down Big Walnut Creek. Throughout the day numerous community partners will conduct seminars in their field of expertise. They include Hendricks County's Solid Waste District, Partnership for Water Quality, Soil and Water District, and Health Department. Other organizations include Wild Birds Unlimited and the Indiana
Food and refreshments also will be for sale.
"We're hoping to use every corner of the park and make it one of the most well-rounded things we've ever done," Gilbert said.
It's not just McCloud that's celebrating a birthday. An iron Bolted Warren Through-truss bridge spanning Big Walnut Creek in the park turns 100 this year. It was originally built in 1913 and spanned Big Monon Ditch in Pulaski County. Eventually it was retired and abandoned in a field. After Hendricks County officials learned that their Pulaski counterparts were going to raze the structure, they set about rescuing the bridge. In 2010 it was installed over Big Walnut Creek in McCloud, giving park visitors access to an additional 110 acres of woodlands and trails on the park's north side.
Even after 10 years, Gilbert says they still encounter many people who are just finding out about McCloud.
"We have a loyal following of people who know it and love it, but it's still being discovered every week," she said. "We're trying to get the word out to reach more areas, because it is a little bit hidden."
The luxury of this event is that people can participate in structured activities or self-guided stuff at their own pace.
"We invite families to come out and tailor it to what they're interested in and celebrate the park with us," Gilbert said.
Admission is free to the anniversary celebration. McCloud is five minutes south of North Salem at 8518 N. Hughes Road. For more information, including a schedule, visit the website HendricksCountyParks.org.