Rose Island Walkway of Roses

Nestled within the picturesque Charlestown State Park in Southern Indiana, sits the remnants of the Rose Island Amusement Park. This former amusement park, located on the banks of the Ohio River just 14 miles from Louisville, was a beloved destination for families in and around Louisville, Kentucky.

Today, it stands abandoned and overgrown, having been reclaimed by Mother Nature. However, The Indiana Department of Natural Resources has provided access to the site of this once-thriving park and provides insight into what it would have been like to enjoy a day at Rose Island.

Rose Island
Visitors are greeted with information telling the story of Rose Island with signage that resembles the original Rose Island sign where guests arrived by boat.

Rose Island Amusement Park was established in the early 1920s by David B.G. Rose who bought the land which was once known as Fern Grove. Of course, he renamed the area and quickly upgraded and improved the amenities that already existed at Fern Grove. In addition to the picnic areas and hotel, Rose added cottages, a dance hall, a merry-go-round, a Ferris wheel, a shooting gallery, pony rides, and even a roller coaster called Racing Derby.

There was also a zoo that housed animals such as raccoons, wolves, monkeys, alligators, and a bear named Teddy Roosevelt. However, the standout attraction in the hot summer months was the large pool. It was the first filtered-water swimming pool in the Midwest. The concrete pool remains, although it has been filled with gravel for safety reasons.

Rose Island Swimming Pool
The once bustling swimming pool still remains. 

The park's location along the banks of the Ohio River not only provided breathtaking views but also facilitated easy access for visitors from across the region. Locals would come by steamboat from Louisville to Rose Island for 25 cents. The ride would take about 90-120 minutes. There was also a ferry that would bring guests from across the river.

However, Rose Island is not an island, it is a peninsula. However, David Rose would not allow guests to reach the park by car. They had to park their vehicles along Fourteen Mile Creek and walk along a wooden suspension bridge that would lead to the amusement park. This suspension bridge no longer exists; however, a new walking bridge was built in 2011 to allow visitors to enter Rose Island in the same way they did in the past. This bridge, however, is much sturdier and features much less bouncing than its predecessor.

Portersville Bridge
The Portersville Bridge transports visitors to Rose Island today.

The Great Depression took a toll on the park's finances and attendance in the early 1930s. It was the devastating 1937 Ohio River flood, however, that inflicted severe damage to the park, washing away some of its key structures. Many areas of Rose Island were covered in up to 10 feet of water.

Following the destruction, the park would never reopen. Since then, the park has been left to be reclaimed by the forest around it. Only a few structures remain including the pool, the iconic Walkway of Roses arches, and some other smaller structures.

Rose Island Entry
Image: University of Louisville Photographic Archives
Rose Island
Three pillars are all that remains from the grand Rose Island signage that would have greeted guests arriving in droves by steamboat.

Efforts have been made to preserve and protect the remains of Rose Island, as it serves as an important historical site. Guided tours are occasionally offered, shedding light on the park's history and the people who once enjoyed its attractions.

It should be noted that the hike to get to Rose Island is not necessarily an easy one. There are two trail paths that lead to the bridge that carries guests to Rose Island. One path is very steep. There is a strenuous incline for about half a mile. This cannot be stressed enough; it is a difficult hike back.  The second path is less strenuous and more scenic, but much longer at over 1 mile. If you plan to visit the abandoned amusement park, be sure to plan accordingly. There is also ADA assistance available for those who require it.

The abandoned Rose Island Amusement Park in Charlestown State Park is a symbol of a bygone era. Once a vibrant and beloved destination, it has now become a place of eerie beauty and historical intrigue. As time marches on, the efforts to preserve and share the park's rich history will ensure that the memories of this lost amusement park continue to captivate and inspire generations to come.


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