Historic Hoosier National - Meet the Rickenbaughs

I’ve been writing Hoosier National history the past month – pioneer through today – and didn’t shoot a single nature image in June, save for the backyard fawn. Not that there weren’t subjects to shoot – like Carnes Mill and the Rickenbaugh House. A perfect nonstorm developed on Saturday, and granddaughter Raina and I headed to the mill on a bend in the Little Blue River in Crawford County. The 1874 sandstone house was Plan B.

I’m sure we reached the right parking lot for Carnes Mill, but there was no hint of a path through the undergrowth downhill to the river barely visible below. Conflicting GPS readings may have contributed, but I just think it’s a spring or fall hike. So we headed 15 minutes south to the Rickenbaugh House on the Indian-Celina Recreation Area in Perry County.

Here’s an excerpt from the first draft of the Rickenbaugh section of Rewilding Southern Indiana: the Hoosier National Forest. Next up: Brooks Cabin, which was built by Carnes Mill and now graces the visitor center at the Charles C. Deam Wilderness.


Throughout the latter half of the nineteenth century, life for the Hoosier National Forest area’s mostly Scots-Irish inhabitants persisted much as it had in pioneer days. For example, just as the Lincolns had done in 1816, the Rickenbaughs in the 1850s, the Waldrips in 1870s, and the Brookses in the 1890s lived in simple log homes constructed with neighborly labor and local materials. They farmed the ridge tops and valleys and raised livestock. They refashioned their homestead landscapes with native and non-native vegetation, such as daffodils, peonies, yuccas, and spruce trees, which are contemporary indications of old homesites.

Jacob Rickenbaugh, for example, was a tanner when he and wife Elizabeth purchased 320 acres of land in 1854 on what is now the shore of the Hoosier National Forest’s Celina Lake. They moved into a large, sturdy cabin that already existed on the site, chosen in part because of its white and chestnut oak trees, from whose bark Jacob derived tannin for the tanning process. Two springs with fresh water was another plus. Before their deaths in 1899 and 1910, the couple raised eight children on their Perry County homestead, which was located a mile and a half from the nearest town of Winding Branch. The nearest store was in St. Croix, three miles away.

Typical of the era, the Rickenbaughs tended to pastures, fields of annual crops, and orchards; raised chickens, sheep, and cows; and gathered hickory nuts, which they cracked on a flat rock. In addition to a privy, Jacob built a springhouse and several outbuildings for his hide tanning and farming pursuits. In his later years, he gave up the labor-intensive tanning and relied almost exclusively on farming.

In 1874, the Rickebaughs outgrew the cabin and hired Belgian stone masons to build a two-story sandstone home with rock cut from nearby outcrops and timber from local oaks, poplars, and walnuts. Shaped like a T, the Greek Revival house has an extension off the back, a full basement, and floors of hand-hewn timber. The front parlor served as the Celina Post Office from 1880 to 1951, with various Rickebaugh women serving as postmaster.

The Rickenbaugh cabin is gone, but the house remains and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places for its architecture and engineering and is preserved on the Hoosier’s Celina Lake Recreation Area.

Hoosier National Forest Photographs: Indian Celina Recreation Area - Top, Rickenbaugh House; Center, Celina Lake; Bottom, Rickenbaugh Cemetery



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