An end of an era in the rual cornfields and Amish country of Indiana. The carousel leaps in one last circle and the Tilt-o-Whirl's clowns smile one last time as the merriment of the small amusement park silences itself to progress. But progess brings a first-of-its kind Indiana indoor water park, more craft shopping and buffets. There's more to do than ever at Bearcreek Farms.
Bear Creek Country Fair
Bryant, Indiana, Nestled in the Limberlost on a road grooved by the constant horse-drawn traffic lays Bearceek Farms. Rural Indiana at its best.
Started in 1971, Bearceek Farms was the creation of owner Don Strong, also owner of food chain Richard’s Restaurant, as a hobby. “I needed a place to escape the Rat Race and business for a while. I had this farm, but I wasn’t meant to be a farmer. I would do things at the wrong time,” Don proceeded to say with a friendly laugh, “My crops wouldn’t grow!”
Deciding that farming just wasn’t his forte, he decided to focus on his children Carla and Deeda. The restaurant business had taken up most of his time, and he wished to do something that the whole family would enjoy. That being said, he bought a horse. “It started with a pony… all of the sudden, we had bears, lions and tigers.” Keeping up with the truth behind the zoo he confessed, “I thought animals would be better to have around than teenage boys.”
“Bureaucracy helped end the zoo. They said that it didn’t match the Cincinnati Zoo…which this is not the Cincinnati Zoo, so I closed it.” Closing the zoo lead to his greatest passion, the county fair.
“The fair was the highlight of the year in my childhood. The first ride I bought, was the C.P. Huntington Train because I wanted to drive one, and I did. I then bought the carousel.” The carousel, a 1950’s Allan Herschel piece, sits proudly at the front of his self-made country fair. It is a 28ft piece with a Chance scenery update. The horses are aluminum and rise above the wooden flooring. “I’m going to make a new oak floor for it. I can do anything with wood, but carve. I have an Amish friend who is great at woodwork who could help build it.”
“All my rides are kiddie rides because my grand children were small. Every year, I would attend an auction and buy a new ride. I acquired the carousel at an auction in Georgia 10 years ago. I did a lot of looking around before I bought one and became educated enough at what I was looking for to be dangerous” he said with a laugh. The Country Fair consists of all Allen Herschel pieces from the 1950’s. It is a great nostalgic trip for those who are still young at heart.
The small country fair consists of a boat ride, planes, balloon ride, parachute drop, spin the apple, tilt-o-whirl, tin lizzie, pony cart and a train that etches through the whole farm. This is the last year for his childhood love. “I’ve decided to do away with the Country Fair. Due to insurance hikes in Indiana and continual growth (at Bearceek Farms), I will be selling off the rides at auction. Norton in Cold Water, Michigan will hold the auction October 16, 2001. I am selling all but the carousel.” After a brief pause, “The carousel is going in the lobby of my new hotel (to be built in its place).”
This owner will miss the Country Fair. The experience is something that he will never forget, along with another story, which remains with him. “About ten years ago, the Carson Barnes Circus rode in here. They needed a place to set up that day. They came in early in the morning and used the elephants to construct this huge tent. It was amazing. That was an experience that I will take to my grave.” The circus had set up in a corner of his land. Though not enough time was given for advertisement, it was something that he will never forget. “They were so methodological when taking things down. I’m amazed how people can do that work.”
Another amusement accomplishment, the first of its kind in Indiana, is The Ol’ Swimming Hole. At first, I believed that I was going to be led to some kind of lake dug out, or perhaps a swimming pool. I was surprised what the swimming hole consisted of. With keys in hand, Don unlocked a massive building and led us inside. Engulfing the entire building was an indoor water park. Two slides take the rider and their inner tube through 80 twisted feet and lands them into 4 feet of water. There is a therapeutic bench inside the pool where jets come out, a lazy river that flows around the pool and through a hall deemed “Loblolly Swamp” (after the Limberlost writer, Gene Stratton Porter’s creation) where the ambience convinces one of the bayous. There is also a smaller pool for children that contains interactive water toys and bubbles that flow from the bottom. Along the perimeter of the roof, are a putt-putt course and a great view of the pool below.
Bearcreek Farms also provides:
The Barnyard Mall-Gift Shop offering souvenirs, gourmet foods, furniture, pictures and much more.
Tin Lizzie Museum
Bloomfield Village a turn-of-the-century square. Gift shops, coke memorabilia, baked goods and much more.
Teddy Bear Factory where you can create your own Bearceek Farms and learning a bit of history
Good Times Theatre providing visitors with many local and national talents
You can also rent a swan boat and peddle across a duck-filled pond, rent a cabin, or take a leisurely walk.
8339 North 400 East
Bryant, IN 47326
Written by: Lori S. Maynard