The Herald Bulletin

July 21, 2013

Scott Underwood: Falls Park unites rich history, peaceful commune with nature

By Scott Underwood
The Herald Bulletin

PENDLETON, Ind. — The area in and around Pendleton's Falls Park is steeped in history, good and bad.

In 1824, white settlers massacred a Native American family near Pendleton. Three of the settlers were sentenced to death and hanged near the waterfalls of Fall Creek where the park now stands. Nineteen years later, Frederick Douglass and his abolitionist supporters rallied at the park despite threats of murder and mayhem.

The water that pools between the waterfalls in Fall Creek, which runs through the park and lends its name, has made it a favorite place for swimmers over the years. Photos through the middle of the 20th century show hundreds of people in the water and on the banks, diving in and cooling off in the heat of the summer.

Today, in a more cautious age, there's no swimming in the park — other than in a man-made, Olympic-size pool with a water slide. But there's still lots to do in this 150-acre slice of heaven.

For one, you can just lounge on a bench and simply enjoy the park's beauty. The west side of the park features a quaint gazebo that can be reserved for special occasions. On one side, the gazebo is flanked by enormous sycamores that sweep up your spirit with their elegant branches.

The park also boasts playground equipment, lots of shelters with benches, a walking trail with board walk, a history museum, ball diamonds and volleyball and basketball courts. But for many, the main attractions are still the modest waterfalls, as well as a fishing pond.

In the evening, street lamps illuminate the banks of the pond. An ornamental light tower and a colorful fountain stand sentry near the center of the pond.

Ducks and geese rest comfortably on the shore, ruffling their feathers and protesting quietly when people walk among them.

Rhonda Cantrell and Vicki Ball of Anderson can often be found here, fishing in the fading light of dusk. Vicki's son is married to Rhonda's daughter, and Rhonda and Vicki's friendship has been forged over the years through quiet times together fishing in Falls Park and other local ponds.

"Some days, we'll talk non-stop," says Rhonda. "Other times when we come out to fish, we can go for hours barely saying a word."

Lots and lots of hours. Several days ago, the evening was so pleasant and the companionship so sweet that they stayed until 3 a.m. The fishing wasn't great (they caught about eight) that night, but Falls Park cast its charming spell over the angling pair.

"It's so nice here," Rhonda notes. "And it's safe, too, with the street lights. And the police come around regularly."

Hang around the park for an hour on a nice evening, and you'll see retired folks walking dogs, children playing on the swings and slides, and young lovers meandering hand-in-hand on the walking paths.

However hectic your life at home or at work, Falls Park offers an escape for the mind, body and soul — and a window into the rich history of Pendleton.

Editor Scott Underwood’s Monday column will be devoted through the summer to Green Spaces of Madison County. Contact him at or 640-4845 to suggest topics for the series.