Parke County pursues tourism through covered bridges

There are eight antique stores, including this one on the east side of the square in downtown Rockville, home of the Parke County Covered Bridge Festival. This year's countywide festival will be held Oct. 13-22.

Monte Martin, Times Correspondent

ROCKVILLE — About 250 people probably attended the first Parke County Covered Bridge Festival on the courthouse grounds in 1957, said Jim Meece, president of the county's convention and visitors commission.

A letter from Mrs. Charles Sanders to the editor of the Rockville Republican weekly newspaper in 1956 was the catalyst for the event. She had moved from Rockville many years before and wished to show her grandchildren where she grew up. She asked if there were any maps of the covered bridges in the area, according to Meece.

Like most of the country at the time, Rockville was experiencing hard times after the 1953-55 recession. William Hargraves, the editor, credited her letter with giving a planned festival its focus. The fest has provided bus tours of the covered bridges along specified routes since its inception.

Churches and nonprofits set up food booths on the courthouse lawn. The festival's ground rules for vendors specified all items had to have been produced in Parke County, which allowed farmers a chance to sell some newly harvested crops and others to proffer some quickly hatched ideas for making money.

As well as homemade jams and locally grown produce, there were such disparate items as spray-painted pussy willows and other weeds, Meece recalled.

“Around 1960 or so” officials decided to go two weekends. Since it made more sense to leave tents set up throughout the week, Meece said, the event grew to 10 days, starting the second Friday of October, which means this year's festival is Oct. 13-22.

Since that first festival, Parke County has hosted an annual Maple Fair at the 4-H Fairgrounds (the next is Feb. 24-25 and March 3-4), the Official Pow Wow of the Miami Nation of Indiana (June 2-3) and will hold a Simply Spring Market on May 5.

Other upcoming events are the Summer's End Market on Aug. 24 and the Covered Bridge Christmas Market on Nov. 25-26.

Call 765-569-5226 or contact info@coveredbridges.com for information.

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