Chances are you've been to Falls Park or at least know someone that has. Known in history and literature, Falls Park has been the jewel of the area since it began its transformation from public dump into public park in 1920.
It is said that Mr. B.F. Phipps, hardware store owner in Pendleton, felt the falls area should be more than the town dump. His vision was to clean it up and create a beautiful place for the townspeople to gather, relax, and swim below the falls. Being on the Town Board, Mr. Phipps brought his idea of transforming the town eyesore into the jewel of the town. Impressed with the idea, the Board voted to create a tax levy to fund the development of a park.
The creek was cleared of years of rubbish and discarded implements. The banks were smoothed and made suitable for lounging in the sun and a dam was built to form the pool below the falls. Surrounding land was donated by the Fall Creek Cannery along with additional space purchased by the Town Board. The stone quarry was cleaned, a bath house built and the "new" park opened in 1920 with the name “Falls Park”.
The swimming hole proved successful, with enough continual revenue to make improvements each year. The original dam was removed and a new one was constructed downstream to allow a larger swimmer capacity. Other improvements include a tourist camp, cast iron fountain, and playground equipment. The Lighthouse was constructed in the pond in 1928.
The 1930’s & 1940’s
The 1930's brought rock planters built by the Works Projects Administration (WPA), a part of President Franklin Roosevelt's "New Deal", and more sidewalks through the park. Despite the United States engagement in World War II, Pendleton residents were able to construct the shelter on the south end of the pond.
The 1950’s & 1960’s
Little league baseball came to the park in the 1950’s, an activity that has endured and grown into a Town tradition ever since. More property was acquired to accommodate the new activity. Falls Park had become both a visitor destination and a prime location for local events.
By the end of the 1960’s, Little League Baseball was well established and growing each year. The Century and a Half Club was formed to plan Pendleton's Sesquicentennial to be held in 1970. However, what was about to happen to Falls Park would be a total shock to the local community: Harmful bacteria was found in Fall Creek, necessitating the permanent closure of the beloved natural swimming hole.
The 1970’s saw tremendous progress at the park. Property at Water Street and Pendleton Avenue was purchased. The site of an old DX filling station, the small area was landscaped and benches and lights were installed, transforming it to "Charlene's Corner."
A weeklong celebration, much of it held in Falls Park, commemorated the Town’s 150th birthday. Building on the excitement of the earlier Sesquicentennial celebration, the Century and a Half Club forged the beginnings of the Heritage Fair in 1976. A two-day celebration of local history and arts & crafts, the Heritage Fair continues to be a favorite community event held each September.
As the decade closed, the Park Board addressed the need for a new swimming facility. Working diligently with multiple entities and private parties, the pieces came together to build the Alvin D. Brown Memorial Swimming Pool. The Town of Pendleton and Fall Creek Township funded the new facility, which opened to great fanfare in the summer of 1979.
By the 1980’s, the park had grown to the point that a full-time Park Superintendent was hired to managed the substantial grounds and facilities. More equipment was added to the playground and talks of Pendleton Baseball running out of room began to surface.
In 1981, The Pendleton Historical Museum Board was established, and the old bath house overlooking the Falls was converted into the Pendleton Historical Museum. A popular local attraction, the Museum works to preserve the history of the South Madison County area.
The new pool proved to be so successful that the existing deck was too small to accommodate the huge crowds. The fence was moved outward and more concrete poured to the present configuration. With more activity needed to entertain the crowds of swimmers, Park Board members approved the addition of the still popular water slide.
Activity continued unabated through the 1990’s with improvements to existing facilities, property acquisitions, and addition of new attractions.
The two park buildings available for rent to the public, the Community Building and the Conservation Building, were both updated. The 40 acres north of Fall Creek were added and new trails and bridges were built throughout this addition, and plans for more trails spanning Fall Creek became a priority. The 55 acres east of the CSX railway was purchased and talks began to build a new Baseball/Softball/Football/Soccer facility.
Much of Pendleton was added to the National Register of Historic Places with the earliest areas of Falls Park included in this prestigious designation.
With eight decades of history, Falls Park continued to change and grow, with many organizations contributing time and resources to Falls Park improvements. Trails were extended, and local Boy Scout Troop 232 made trail improvements.
The 1928 lighthouse, which had been leaning and showing its age, was restored, funded by the Pendleton Historic Settlement and the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. The Pendleton MOM'S Club raised funds to replace much of the old playground equipment with brightly colored, sturdy new equipment that would serve children of all ages.
Additionally, the new sports complex was completed with modern facilities, numerous larger fields, and ample parking and lighting. At more than 20 years old by this time, Brown Pool received much needed renovations, including repair of a major leak in the pool floor. Land acquisitions during this period brought the total area of Falls Park to 144 acres.
2010 and Beyond
More recent years are no different at Falls Park, with restorations and growth continuing throughout the grounds and facilities. In the early years of this decade, the restoration of the J.W. Fiske ornamental fountain was completed, and a new concession stand at the football fields was built. The Park’s acreage grew by 40 acres with two land acquisitions. Twenty acres of property was purchased with four dedicated to a new park office, storage building and tree farm. An additional 20 acres of forested wetland was purchased from South Madison Community Foundation with a Bicentennial Grant through Indiana Department of Natural Resources.
The biggest changes came in 2014 with the paving of the sports complex parking areas and the construction of the new park office and storage building. Most notably, the Town of Pendleton transferred the Fall Creek Golf Club to the Park bringing the total Falls Park acreage to 284.
One of the favorite recreation spots in the community for decades, Alvin D. Brown Memorial Swimming Pool, found itself in need of upgrades in recent years as well. In 2015 a citizen-led effort “SPLASH,” for Save Pendleton’s Last Active Swimming Hole, raised funds to make needed repairs and cosmetic upgrades to the area’s only outdoor public swimming pool. The iconic water slide was painted bright orange, picnic tables with umbrellas were added, and fences were updated, creating a fresh, fun feel the pool.
Fundraising efforts continued into 2016 and 2017 with the “Dive in 2 Swim!” campaign that brought additional funds for repairs to vital pool systems, locker room, and sound system upgrades, and new signage.
None of these efforts would have been possible without the help of volunteers and local businesses and organizations like Community Hospital Anderson, St. Vincent Regional Anderson, Ring Construction, Lion’s Club of Pendleton, Pendleton Kiwanis, Payne Technologies, Quack Daddy Donuts, and many others who donated funds, materials, and time to this important community resource.
For nearly 100 years, Falls Park has been and continues to be home to many community gatherings, festivals, farmers markets, sporting events, and family reunions. The birthday parties are countless as well as weddings The love of Falls Park by the community shows, it holds a special place in the hearts of the residents and visitors alike.
If you've not visited, please take some time and spend it here. We are sure you'll agree, Falls Park is the "Jewel of a Wonderful Community!"