Originally known as Bloomingdale Glens, the rugged land straddling Sugar Creek in northern Parke County, the west central portion of Indiana, boasted a thick old-growth forest. After the death of the property’s eccentric owner, John Lusk, in 1916, the Hoosier Veneer Company purchased the land in order to harvest the trees, but public outcry persuaded the new owners to sell the property to the state. The land then became Indiana’s second state park.
Lusk had cherished his trees, and while he gladly shared their beauty with visitors to his camping resort on the property, he steadfastly refused to sell even a small parcel to lumber interests. Lusk had lived a hermit's life in the substantial two-story brick house that his father, Salmon Lusk, had built in 1841 above his mill on the Narrows of Sugar Creek. Foundation remnants of the mill are all that remain today, but the Lusk House still stands, open for tours in season.
The original entrance road was west of the stream for which Turkey Run State Park is named. It led straight to an inn via a concrete vehicular bridge over Turkey Hollow, built in 1914. Today, sections of that road and the bridge are part of a hiking trail. A questionable hanging bridge over Sugar Creek was replaced with a cable suspension bridge in the park’s early years. The inn provided food service only; overnight accommodations were limited to canvas tents on wooden platforms. After World War I, park employees razed the old inn and built a new hotel, which proved inadequate its first year. Following some temporary solutions, in 1922 the Department of Conservation constructed a two-story brick annex, soon enlarged, just south of the earlier hotel building. The facility has been remodeled and enlarged several times over the decades.
The Department of Conservation’s director, Richard Lieber, originally envisioned a collection of pioneer structures at Turkey Run to educate visitors about early-nineteenth-century life. Beginning with an 1848 cabin he had moved onto the property shortly after the park was acquired, Lieber added a log church in 1923, relocated from a site about five miles away. However, a few years later a newly acquired property in Lawrence County, which included a three-story mill and other surviving dwellings, seemed a more suitable place to pursue this idea; that site evolved into the village at Spring Mill State Park. The cabin at Turkey Run served as a museum for many years, housing mostly pioneer implements, and today features exhibits about Lieber. The log church in its wooded clifftop setting holds Sunday services in the warm months.
During the 1920s the State acquired more land for the park, mostly north across Sugar Creek, including Rocky Hollow, which is now a nature preserve. The Depression slowed further development at Turkey Run, but in 1933 a Civil Works Administration (CWA) project employed men from the region to work on service roads and to quarry stone. In 1934, a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) group completed a gatehouse and landscaping on the new main entrance; a new campground (now the Canyon Picnic Area) with modern improvements; and three shelter houses. In the next two years, Works Progress Administration (WPA) laborers, as part of the New Deal program, built trails, a log shelter house, dozens of picnic tables, thirty ovens, and several comfort stations. The CCC Camp reopened in 1938 with a new contingency of young men who constructed a service building of stone and the stone-and-timber saddle barn; the CCC laborers also completed five overnight cabins adjacent to the inn and began work on a new commissary building before the Camp was abandoned in March 1942. Park employees were able to complete the commissary building the following year. Now much remodeled, it houses the park's nature center, which was dedicated in 1986.
Traffic on the county road forming the east boundary of Turkey Run traveled over the Narrows of Sugar Creek through a picturesque covered bridge built in 1882—not surprising in Parke County, which calls itself the “Covered Bridge Capital of the World.” In the late 1950s, the county constructed a new concrete bridge just east of the old one and west of the Lusk mill site, which effectively placed the covered bridge in the park. Otherwise, little changed at Turkey Run in the 1950s and 1960s, except greater crowds and clamor for more campsites. In the early 1970s, Turkey Run established a youth camp area on land once occupied by the privately owned Ravina Lodge, which the park razed when it acquired the property. To the west was built a much-needed large new campground on relatively treeless land. The idea was to preserve the forest areas, since a heavily used campground takes its toll on the forest floor, its root systems, and its drainage. In the park's early years, people swam in Sugar Creek, once a delightful (but now forbidden) temptation for many on simmering summer days. It was not until 1975 that a swimming pool was added to Turkey Run's amenities.
Two sculptures at Turkey Run commemorate persons especially significant in the history of the state park. In 1921 the Women's Press Club of Indiana commissioned the well-known Indianapolis sculptor Myra Reynolds Richards to commemorate newspaper columnist Juliet Strauss, “the Country Contributor,” for her hard work in saving Turkey Run. The following year saw the dedication of the bronze sculpture, Subjugation, which depicts a classical female figure raising a chalice above several allegorical creatures, symbolizing the triumph of the spiritual over the material. Although originally placed near the inn, it was moved and stood for over forty years within Turkey Hollow, an unsuitable location. Finally, in the early 1990s, the sculpture was refurbished and placed on a new base toward the rear of the inn. Not far from the old log church is a bronze bust of Richard Lieber by E. H. Daniels, unveiled in 1932, the last year of Lieber's directorship. Lieber died in 1944, and the sculpture now marks the location of the ashes of "the Father of Indiana State Parks.”
Greiff, Glory-June. People, Parks, and Perceptions: A History and Appreciation of Indiana State Parks. Indianapolis: Trafford Publishing/Woodsprite Press, 2009.