Fort Harrison: not your typical state park

 

In the heart of the great state of Indiana, there’s a tract of land that is home to a golf course, a museum, three hiking trails, a horseback riding trail, and an inn. At first glance, Fort Harrison State Park, located in Marion County, looks like every other state park in America. But Fort Harrison isn’t your typical state park.

Fort Harrison State Park got its name from the former military training camp that occupied the site. Opened in 1906 by President Theodore Roosevelt, the site was opened in honor of the former president and Ohio native Benjamin Harrison. Roosevelt was encouraged to honor the late president after the request came from Lieutenant Colonel Russell Harrison, President Harrison’s son. In June 1904, at the direction of General Order #117, the military was instructed to build a base nine miles from Indiana’s capital, Indianapolis.

World War II P.O.W. Camp in Indiana

Construction of the training fort was completed in 1908. The base had brick barracks, headquarters, horse stables, officer’s houses, and a hospital. It was first occupied by the 10th Infantry Regiment of the U.S. Army and provided classrooms, soldier support and troop reception for all major conflicts from World War I to Operation: Desert Storm. The camp served as a World War II Prisoner of war camp (P.O.W)., housing 350 wartime prisoners. Eventually, the base was modified to include an 18-hole golf course, special housing for very important persons and an officers’ club.

Fort Harrison State Park Inn. Photo credit E. Todd Fowler

Fort Harrison also served as the site for the athlete village during the 1987 Pan American Games in Indianapolis. Restaurants, housing, nightclubs, and practice facilities were constructed for use by the athletes during the quadrennial event, held the year before the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, South Korea. 

Due to the de-escalation of geopolitical tensions following the Cold War, the United States government determined that the base was no longer needed to defend the country from foreign enemies. As a result, the base was decommissioned in 1991, and the Department of the Interior transferred 1,700 of the site’s 2,500 acres to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources for use as a state park.

Original barracks. Photo E. Todd Fowler, Butler County Connect

The old officers’ club and the 18-hole golf course now serve the public as the Fort Golf Resort. The course was redesigned by PGA Tour course designer Pete Dye after the base was closed, modifying it to be a 72-par course. The VIP housing is now known as the Harrison House Suites, and the four homes used by officers are now available to the public as well. Former Indiana Governor Frank O’Bannon used the Harrison House as his official residence while the Indiana Governor’s Mansion was under construction in 2003. 

The Museum of 20th Century Warfare is located in the Camp Glenn section of the former base. It houses artifacts and technology from Fort Harrison, along with historic military uniforms. The museum is free and open to the public Wednesdays through Sundays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Fall Creek runs through the north side of Fort Harrison, providing a perfect stream for canoeing. In the springtime, the region is perfect for wildflower sightings. Proclaimed as “an oasis of green in an urban landscape” by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, the park has plenty of rich history, nature, and fun to offer. 

Fort Harrison State Park isn’t your typical state park, but that’s all the more reason to make the two-hour drive before the summer is over. For more information about Fort Harrison State Park, visit their site.

 

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