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Old Timbers Lodge

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 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. Old Timbers is the only residence that remains, a symbol of the sacrifices endured by those forced to leave. Its past use by the Army and civilian staff as a recreational facility became its new purpose, and generations of local people have significant memories of gatherings, receptions, and other social events at the Lodge. 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; however, no government agency provides funding to provide the attention Old Timbers Lodge requires and deserves. Members of BOCS wish to provide a solution to this problem.

As non-profit entity the Big Oaks Conservation Society is able to seek funds for the Lodge 

and to hopefully preserve this landmark for future generations. The group does have members who are willing to donate their skills and 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.

Old Timbers Lodge is the site of several of the programs and activities sponsored by BOCS and the Refuge. It is the headquarters venue for the annual Outdoor Women at Big Oaks. It is a stop on guided tours of the Refuge. The Lodge is opened to the general public to enjoy each Lodge Day, annually in the fall. Big Oaks Conservation Society hosts its annual Holiday Party at Old Timbers Lodge.

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