Folklore holds that when John Marcus Dickey first stood on Bear Wallow Hill and surveyed the surrounding country — barren of much of its trees in the early 1900s — he immediately knew he wanted to build a home there.
Dickey was the biographer and secretary to famous Hoosier poet James Whitcomb Riley.
Whether or not the lore is true, build a house on the hill he did.
A local preservation group is trying to gather public interest in its future.
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That house at the top of Bear Wallow Hill Road is part of the 550-acre Lilly-Dickey Woods. Dickey donated it to Indiana University in 1942.
The university’s board of trustees recently declared the house and surrounding five acres on the west side of the road “surplus property,” said Jason Banach, director of IU’s properties.
That’s the first of several steps needed before the property can be sold, Banach said.
It would be some time — possibly years — before the property is actually offered for sale, he said. Selling it is only one possibility the university is looking at.
The action was taken because the university does not have an educational purpose for the house, and though the university maintains it, it is sitting empty, Banach said.
For many Brown County residents, the house and surrounding area are remembered as a Boy Scout camp. The house was leased for more than a half-century by Ken Tuxhorn’s nonprofit, Outdoor Educational Activities Incorporated, Banach said.Beginning in 1949, Tuxhorn built a 20-mile trail stretching from Morgan-Monroe State Forest to the house on Bear Wallow Hill. It was the first of many trails he would build and maintain over the years.One that stood out was the Flags of the Nations trail, which began on the opposite side of the road from the house in the area where Dickey had built an observation tower.
Tuxhorn sought the 112 flags from the countries directly, and was answered by many of them, said his widow, Barbara Tuxhorn.
However, none of the flags were of similar size. So, he went out and bought all the flags needed with his own money.
Yet, even hanging flags can have controversy, Tuxhorn said. He wanted to fly flags from all nations, feeling it was important for the boys who came to the property to be able to recognize the symbols of even unfriendly nations. But public outcry forced him to not fly the flags of communist countries, Tuxhorn said.
The house served as trail headquarters and as home to the Tuxhorns and their children, Bruce and Jenny.
Barbara remembers the early years in the house without much fondness. They had running water, but it was cold and from a cistern. It was about a year before a water heater was installed, and the house was not hooked to county water until the 1980s.
When they first arrived, heat came from small, wood-burning stoves around the house. In 2013, when Ken Tuxhorn died and Barbara Tuxhorn moved out, the house was warmed by small oil heaters in various rooms.
Wandering through the now-empty house, it is a maze of hallways and interconnected rooms of eclectic sizes and shapes.
Much of the house was only used on the weekends, Tuxhorn said. That’s when the hikers and campers arrived. The upstairs bedrooms would hold more than 30 Boy Scouts.
Downstairs, a community room was open to Scouts and other hikers.
“Meals were provided for those came up with the money for it — and would eat my cooking,” Tuxhorn quipped.
With the house potentially coming up for sale, the Peaceful Valley Heritage group has taken an interest.Banach said if the house is sold, it will come with a requirement on the deed that it not be torn down.But preservation involves more than keeping it standing.
Mark Dollase, the Indiana Landmarks central regional office director, suggested to PVH members that if they can come up with an appropriate, preservation-oriented use for the property, they might be able to persuade IU to donate it.
PVH member Terry Schultz said she would like to see some revitalization of the trails Tuxhorn created. If that were to happen, the house could once again serve as a hub for hikers and mountain bikers, locals and tourists.
She could picture a bed-and-breakfast or specialty restaurant there.
PVH member Vivian Wolff proposed tapping into the house’s literary roots. She envisioned it filled with books, serving as a retreat for book clubs and other literary enthusiasts to gather and stay.
PVH member Jim Schultz said that after talking with Dollase, the group is looking for a group or groups that would have the time and money to take on the house, which is in very good condition and well-built.
The key is finding a purpose that is sustainable, which preserves and honors the house’s history, Jim Schultz said.
Peaceful Valley Heritage Inc. serves to recognize and preserve historic, cultural and natural resources of Brown County.
Meetings are the second Tuesday of each month; the next will be at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 9, in a lower-level meeting room of the Brown County Community Foundation, 209 N. Van Buren St. All are welcome.
For more information, call 812-988-2377.