Old Timbers Lodge



By Big Oaks Conservation Society (BOCS)




  Mission…To preserve this historic

    structure and use it as an educational

    facility for those who visit the Big

    Oaks National Wildlife Refuge.




Old Timbers Lodge is located in the northern end of the Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge near Madison, Indiana.  The lodge sits at the top of a 90-foot limestone bluff and is the largest structure within the refuge boundaries.  It reflects the dream of Alexander Thomson, a Cincinnati industrialist and conservationist.

          Work began in 1929 with the opening of a quarry 100 yards northeast of the home site.  August Rahe was hired as the head stone mason and was directly responsible for cutting and shaping the unique spiral staircases as well as the three ton stone mantels and the window sills.  The beams and yellow poplar siding for the interior walls came from a planned mill that was never constructed and eight dismantled barns.  The door hinges and other unique hardware were handmade by students at Berea College, Kentucky.  Old Timbers Lodge was completed in 1932 at a cost of $75,000.  Thomson had three dams constructed which resulted in a lake system nearly surrounding the lodge.  He also had the Civilian Conservation Corps plant half a million white pine seedlings west of the lodge.  The Thomson family resided in the lodge until 1940. Today, trees continue to grow and the area abounds with deer, turkey, squirrels, and great blue heron.

     Old Timbers was a unique structure when completed by the Alexander Thomson family in 1932.  After the Army established the 55,000+ acre proving grounds, it removed almost every structure and remnant of the communities and people who lived there.  Seventy-five years later, Old Timbers is the only residence that remains, a symbol of the sacrifices endured by those forced to leave.  Its use by the Army and civilian staff as a recreational facility became its new purpose, and in that capacity, generations of local people have significant memories of gatherings, receptions, and other social events.  Since then, it has been difficult for many to use or visit the lodge.  Modern building codes, handicapped-access constraints, and sanitary issues are additional reasons that the lodge, as it now stands, sees infrequent use. The Fish and Wildlife Service appreciates the unique historic and cultural attributes of the lodge, but their charter does not include the personnel or funds to operate this facility. All parties agree that Old Timbers is a precious asset, and its position on the National Register of Historic Places confirms this.  But no one has the funds or manning to provide the attention Old Timbers Lodge deserves.  Members of BOCS wish to provide a solution to this problem.


           As our membership application explains, the Big Oaks Conservation Society (BOCS) is a nonprofit support group formed to support the Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge (BONWR).  The purpose of the BOCS is to support the goals of wildlife conservation and habitat restoration at BONWR and to enhance public awareness, use, and appreciation for the natural and cultural assets unique to Big Oaks.  BOCS promotes public awareness of the refuge and develops environmental education and support for school and youth groups.  BOCS develops public-use facilities in cooperation with refuge staff.  BOCS supports the continued existence of the refuge and the appreciation for the natural and cultural features of the area. 



          BOCS interest in Old Timbers Lodge is directly related to the purposes and goals expressed in our membership brochure:  “…to enhance public awareness, use, and appreciation for the natural and cultural assets unique to Big Oaks.”  The story of BONWR cannot be understood without an understanding of Jefferson Proving Ground’s history.  The story of JPG is well told by the story of Old Timbers.  BOCS would like to preserve this landmark for future generations. The group does have members who are willing to donate their efforts to preserving and maintaining Old Timbers Lodge, allowing the BOCS to preserve a valuable part of BONWR/JPG cultural history and providing a place where educational and environmental programs may be held.  


     Big Oaks Conservation Society’s Old Timbers Lodge     Priorities:


1.    Preservation of the lodge.   If BOCS does nothing else but maintains the lodge at its current level for another seventy-five years, that in itself will be a successful outcome.

2.     Increase use and public knowledge of Old Timbers in a way that honors its unique history and architecture.  BOCS exists to assist BONWR.  Activities which support the refuge and educate refuge visitors will be pursued.

3.     As funds become available, upgrade and improve the lodge.  This includes utilities and the development of exhibits that tell the story of the lodge, the military use of JPG/BONWR, both past and present, and the sacrifices made by the communities displaced at its founding.  


       In conclusion, it is the hope of BOCS and its members that all of those with an interest in Old Timbers can come together and save this unique historic structure.  BOCS’s intentions in this matter are altruistic.  Several of our members have strong emotional ties to the lodge, and all of us want Old Timbers preserved. 


© Big Oaks Conservation Society P.O. Box 935 Madison IN 47250