As the Jackson-Washington State Forest’s museum shelter house was disassembled five years ago, a limestone etched with the year it was built was discovered embedded in sandstone covered in concrete.
After the building was completed by a Civilian Conservation Corps group in 1934, it was used to house historical items of the county.
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Later on, those items were moved to another location in town, and the area that housed them was boarded up, while the lower ground level was used as a public shelter and became known as the museum shelter house.
When the building was torn down in 2013, the cornerstone made of limestone was placed in the Brownstown forest’s office.
Recently, when it was ready to be inserted in the fireplace of the new shelter house, a copper box was found in the limestone.
What was determined to be a time capsule from 1934 had various items in it, including a copy of the Oct. 3, 1934, Seymour Daily Tribune, documents from local organizations and a coin from that year.
Those items now are with the Indiana Division of Forestry’s historic preservation office in Indianapolis.
“We had no record that it was a time capsule there,” said Brad Schneck, property manager of the forest and Starve Hollow State Recreation Area in nearby Vallonia. “They are going to try to preserve it the best they can, and then hopefully, if they allow it to come back, we’re going to display it at the nature center at Starve Hollow.”
The fireplace was the only portion of the old shelter house that wasn’t torn down during the reconstruction process.
“With these shelters, we put a lot of time and effort back in them, and we decided to honor that limestone and put it back in there somewhere,” Schneck said. “We weren’t sure about redoing the whole (fireplace) how safe it would be, so we just incorporated (the limestone block) as an insert.”
Reconstruction of the shelter house began in late 2013. Schneck said modification and vandalism over the years changed its appearance, and it had reached a point where logs and supports became unsafe.
“The reason the building never really was a historic stature is it had been modified over the years so much,” he said. “When I took over, it was close to having to be condemned. It was in that bad of shape. The timbers were rotten and had really seen better days.”
Jeremy Steinkamp, the forest’s sole maintenance foreman, worked on the project with help periodically between other duties.
“Some parts of it were challenging, but I’ve done it so long I know little tricks and stuff to help out,” said Steinkamp, who has more than 25 years of building experience. “It was fun. I liked doing it.”
All of the concrete was torn out, and the new concrete was formed and poured. Steinkamp installed all of the logs, walls and rafters by himself.
“Whatever he didn’t do by himself, we pulled somebody from Starve to come over and help,” Schneck said. “There’s a variety of help that went into make it all happen because obviously, one person trying to do some of that would be impossible.”
The shelter house was made of oak and poplar wood before, and those were used for the new structure, too. All of it came from mills in Indiana, Schneck said.
The building is about 40 feet long and 18 feet wide, and each end had another 20 feet added to it to make covered space for picnic tables.
The fireplace can’t be used, but there are grills nearby, and Schneck said they plan to add a fire ring.
Accessibility to the shelter house also was improved with a new parking lot, a sidewalk and an Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant water fountain.
“We had this parking lot built so that now, someone with a wheelchair could actually get down there and go straight in,” Schneck said.
A concrete retaining wall also was built, and the playground was replaced with equipment from Spring Mill State Park in Mitchell.
The shelter house can be reserved for $50. When it’s not reserved, it is available on a first-come, first-served basis for free.
Not long after reopening to the public in mid-August, it was being reserved.
“They like it a lot better,” Steinkamp said of the people who have rented it. “The one that was here was pretty bad, and I had never really seen too many people up here in the old one.”
Vandalism, however, recently occurred at the shelter house. Someone spray painted two interior walls and carved a word on a doorframe. The spray paint was sanded off of one wall, and the boards on the other wall were turned around.
“It’s a constant battle,” Schneck said. “If people witness vandalism going on anywhere between the properties, notify law enforcement. If you don’t want to be known, write a license plate down and stop at the sheriff’s department or they can give us a call and say, ‘I saw this car. This is the people who did it.’”
The property’s other shelter houses, Pinnacle, Skyline Drive and White Oak, also are available for reservations.
A new roof was put on White Oak a few years ago, and Pinnacle is the next one up for renovations, Schneck said.
They also have discussed running electricity to the campground. If that’s done, Schneck said he thinks the shelter houses would be used more, and more people would camp at the forest.
“Right now, for us to get electricity, it’s pretty costly,” he said. “It just takes a funding process because you wouldn’t run it just for the shelter. You would look at the big picture. It’s something we’d love to do down the road.”
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The Jackson-Washington State Forest is at 1278 E. State Road 250, Brownstown.
The forest, which encompasses nearly 18,000 acres in Jackson and Washington counties, offers hiking trails, horse trails, camping, fishing, hunting, an archery range and picnicking.
Also, the Museum, Pinnacle, Skyline Drive and White Oak shelter houses are available for reservations.
For information, call 812-358-2160, email [email protected] or visit in.gov/dnr/forestry/4820.htm.