By: Caroline Wickes, Bicentennial Intern, Class of 2017, History and Environmental and Sustainability Studies, Bloomington
Let’s go for a drive. We’re going about twenty miles or so from IU’s campus. It’s a sunny spring day—the kind of day that feels sacrilegious to spend inside. We are headed through the hills of Brown County, just beyond Greasy Creek on Bear Wallow Road. We arrive at a place you’ve probably never even heard of, much less visited. Step outside, close the car door behind you, and breathe in the beauty of the Lilly-Dickey Woods.
Mushrooms seem to spring from every crevice, a thick underbrush carpets the forest floor, and proud oak trees soar like giants to the sky. As you look out on the world beyond the bounds of the trail, you might think you had stumbled into some prehistoric forest or at least some swathe of nature untrammeled by man. That is, until you catch the glimmer of a tree band or a marker from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.
You see, even though we seem to be in a secret world, we are still sort of at IU, because this 550 acre plot of land belongs to the IU Research and Teaching Preserve. IU owns a lot of land, but this land is something extra special.
The trees here are some of the oldest in Brown County, with the most elderly canopy trees clocking in at around 150 years old. Because this forest was allowed to age without much logging we can see in these woods a natural history of the land. As we continue our hike we come across an old fire tower, a large white house on a hill, and cement blocks where flags used to stand. There is a deep human history here as well.
In 1942, J.K. and Lila Lilly sold 374 acres of their property to the university for $1. Eleven days later Marcus and Julia Dickey sold their adjoining 151 acres to the university at the same price. The Lillys and the Dickeys gave their land with the agreement that it was to be kept in a natural state and used for botanical research and art studies. Indiana University accepted the land with this understanding.
That is not where our story starts, however. The Lilly-Dickey woods have been important to many people and its history is an integral part of Brown County lore. Lilly’s land was called “Hamblen Forest” after Jesse Hamblen, who settled in Brown County in 1825 and lent his name to nearby Hamblen Township.
The Dickey property was called “Bear Wallow Orchard” because it is said that bears used to ascend the highest hill where a depression at the top collected mud. The bears would wallow in the mud puddle to cool off on sticky summer days.
Local lore states that the first visitor to these woods was a Native American chief named Kind-eye, from the Kanawha river region in West Virginia, who pitched his tepee there atop Bear Wallow hill. Reportedly, Kind-eye found the area so abundant and beautiful that he stayed and was visited by the Delaware tribe from Muncie every year so that they could also hunt the verdant hills. However, this story is largely unsubstantiated and no evidence of Native American activity has been found on the property.
The Delaware tribe of Muncie has no record of continually venturing much farther south than Marion County, and the story of Kind-eye as a chief only appears in Brown County legends.
Why then does this story continue to be told? Perhaps it speaks to the significance of this land to the people of Brown County. There is a sense that it must have always been significant to someone. There is pride associated with the history of the people and the land we love. Though it is not likely that these legends are true, it is important to recognize the way they have shaped the local understanding of Bear Wallow’s importance.
We do know, however, that the first settlers arrived in Brown County around 1820, and that by 1830, the 400 people living there decided to form Hamblen Township. Settlers continue to move into the area and its population boomed to 2,364 in 1840. Leonidas S. Alders was the first person to make a home on Bear Wallow hill.
He was born in 1819 in Virginia and moved to Hamblen County in his twenties where he became a school teacher in the town. He was engaged once, but his sweetheart reportedly died the night before the wedding, and so he lived out his days there alone. Alders surrounded his cabin with spruce trees and lived there until his death in 1893.
In 1905, the Dickeys acquired the Bear Wallow property. The next year they built their own home on the top of the hill and dubbed it the “House of 30 Windows.” The house, which still stands, served as a getaway for Marcus and Isabelle Dickey.
Marcus Dickey was the personal secretary of Indiana poet James Whitcomb Riley. Dickey, born in 1859, met Riley when they were both in school at Fairmount Academy in Grant County.
He spent much of his time booking Riley for speaking engagements and traveling the country promoting his poetry. After Riley’s death in 1916, Dickey spent more of his time in Bear Wallow writing a two-part biography about the deceased poet.
The Dickeys spent a great deal of time around artists. During their time in southern Indiana, the Dickeys became close friends with famous Indiana artist T.C. Steele and his wife Selma.
T.C. Steele wrote in a May 6, 1907 diary entry that, “Mr. Dickey is over at Bear Wallow for two or three days, and learning I was here, sent over his ‘Hello! And good luck.’ I only wish he were nearer to us. We do not want many people though. We are running away from towns and people, for the hills and woods and the sky, and we can get people when we want them.”
The Dickeys identified with the Steeles as they regarded their rural lifestyles as a refuge from their busy professional lives.
Selma Steele and Isabelle Dickey both decried the cutting and hauling of timber in Brown County which was reflected in the maintenance of the Dickey property. The trees at Bear Wallow were considered virgin timber and there is no recorded cutting of any of the forest since the Civil War.
The Dickeys were exceedingly fond of the trees in the area, naming many of them. Thirteen of the Norway spruce that Leonidas Alders planted around his cabin were still living when they moved there.
The Dickeys named them after the thirteen colonies, calling the smallest “Little Rhoda” for Rhode Island. They also named the tall soaring beech trees the ‘Cathedral Beeches’ because they created a veritable outdoor church.
In 1921, the Dickeys transferred a portion of Hamblen Forest to J.K. Lilly who built a road and a fire tower on the property. The fire tower, which remains standing, provided a bird’s eye view of the property and allowed a watcher to survey the area for any potential fires.
Another 200 acres were purchased from the Brummett family. Several railings on the fire tower bear the inscription “From Mr. Lilly c/o Mr. Dickey” and it appears as if Dickey acted as a sort of caretaker of the Lilly property as well.
The Lillys never built a house on the land, but J.K. Lilly is noted to have enjoyed hiking in Brown County. In 1938 when hiking in southern Indiana with his associates, Lilly came across a clearing at the top of a hill with a beautiful view. He advised his associates, “Always cut a place for a lookout. Always have a vista.”
The advice to always find high ground in order to understand the whole picture is still a guiding principle of the Lilly Endowment, which is a charity foundation established by J.K. and his sons.
The land meant a lot to the Lilly’s and the Dickey’s and to the people of Brown County who visited the land for hikes, gatherings, and parties. When the Dickeys and the Lillys decided to transfer the land over to the university, it was understood that it would be kept natural. This was important to both families, who saw the beauty of the woods.
Indiana University was held to this promise in 1972 when Indiana Bell Telephone planned to construct a phone line running through the property. The line would provide Nashville, Indiana residents with better connectivity and the most expedient route cut straight through the property.
Lilly wrote Herman B Wells, saying that the line “might very well spoil the purpose of the gift of this land, which was to preserve the ecology and the wildlife of this area.” The university had already granted an easement of the land to the telephone company, however.
There was an uproar among environmentalists, the people of Brown County, and the IU community. Protesters claimed that building a power line would spoil the pristine setting of Lilly-Dickey Woods and that instillation on steep slopes would cause erosion damage.
The telephone company decided not to use the easement after meeting with environmental groups and cited ecological reasons for the halt in construction. Again, the value of this land to the local people of Brown County became apparent in their willingness to fight for it.
Part of that love for the Lilly-Dickey Woods might have been spurred by its use as a boy scout retreat and hikers haven. After the land was transferred to IU, it was leased to Ken Tuxhorn from 1949 to 2013 through his company Outdoor Educational Activities Inc. The Dickey house was used as a hostel for large groups and Tuxhorn designed many unique trails including the Flags of the Nations trail which included flags from every country.
Tuxhorn encountered public controversy for including all flags and was pressured into removing flags of communist countries, which he begrudgingly did. He saw the trail system as a way to inspire unity and to expose young children to the broader world. Tuxhorn also provided small prizes for completing hikes, with some of his trails clocking in at over 20 miles in hilly terrain.
The House of 30 Windows served as a home to the Tuxhorn family of Ken, Barbara, their two children, and to countless boy scouts and hikers who populated the main level on the weekends. For many children, it was the first experience they had with hiking.
With Tuxhorn’s passing there was increased interest in the future of the Lilly-Dickey woods. In 2001 Indiana University established the Research and Teaching Preserve with the purpose of providing field-based formats for environmental research and experiential education.
In 2003 the Lilly-Dickey woods were incorporated into the preserve. The pristine land provided a unique opportunity for research, and in 2009 it became a part of the Smithsonian Institute’s Center for Tropical Forest Science database that provides models for understanding carbon storage and regeneration dynamics. Such research is made possible by one factor—the advanced age of the forest.
Throughout the years, so many different populations have fought for the preservation of the Lilly-Dickey Woods. Whether we look to Isabelle Dickey’s hatred of logging, to the environmental groups who protested any alterations, or to Ken Tuxhorn who introduced generations of youth to the beauties of nature, there are many who saw the value in leaving the trees as they were.
Their efforts have produced a scientifically significant forest ecosystem that can help us to understand the world around us. The information held in the trees allows for a glimpse into the past, and possibly into the future as well.
But, even without all the data sets, this land is a window into the past. The old telegraph lines, the inscribed fire tower, the house full of windows, and the land so lightly touched but so beloved.
The Lilly-Dickey woods serve as an example of a symbiotic relationship between the forest and us. This special piece of Indiana University’s campus may be far from the Old Crescent, but it is just as much a part of us and our Hoosier identity.
Read more about the creation of IU’s natural spaces here: https://blogs.iu.edu/bicentennialblogs/2017/04/13/the-creation-of-ius-natural-spaces/
All images are courtesy of Frank M. Hohenberger Collection Lilly Library unless otherwise noted.
U.S., Civil War Draft Registration Records, 1863-1865, Leonidas S Alders.
U.S., Find A Grave Index, Leonidas S Alders.
Lilly Endowment, Executive Message, Lilley Endowment Annual Report 2013.
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Perry, R., Steele, S., Steele, T., Peat, W. (1966). The house of the singing winds: The life and work of T.C. Steele. Indianapolis, IN: Indiana Historical Society Press.
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IU Real Estate. (2/16/42). Lilly-Dickey property.
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