The old rock house on the banks of Celina Lake was built by Jacob Rickenbaugh, who came to the area in 1854. Rickenbaugh, who was born in 1822, acquired 320 acres of land here that year. He had selected the land for its abundance of fine old white oak and chestnut trees. As a tanner of hides, he needed a substance called 'tannin' from the bark of these trees to use in the tanning process. The site also had springs and fresh water which was another requirement of the tanning business.
He brought with him his new bride, Elizabeth Kerr from Ohio. They moved into a log cabin which had come with the property. The large sturdy cabin was located where the parking lot for the boat ramp is today and served as the family's home for 19 years.
In 1874, after the cabin had become too small for their 8 children, Jacob hired three Belgian stone masons to build this large sandstone home. Rickenbaugh paid $3/day for the stone work and the construction took approximately one year. These masons, the George brothers, also built the stone church in Leopold and the second church of the Abbey at St. Meinrad.
The house was built out of sandstone blocks cut from rock outcrops near the house. The massive blocks were moved into place using oxen and ramps. Floor joists were made from hand-hewn beams.
The house was built in Late Greek Revival style. It was constructed in the shape of a "T" with the extension in back over a full basement. There were sandstone chimneys at each of the three ends. There were three bedrooms upstairs and two parlors downstairs in the main house, with a kitchen in the rear extension. The kitchen fireplace which is 5½ feet high has a 6 foot long oven built into the rear of it. From the back of the house the oven looks like another small stone room.
The building is constructed entirely of local materials: sandstone, oak, poplar and walnut. All windows and doors are exactly 1 meter in width. Unlike other stone buildings in the area which have a double wall (a stone block exterior and crushed stone inner wall) the Rickenbaugh house and the St. Meinrad Abbey have single 3' thick stone blocks that serve as exterior and interior walls. The interior walls are covered with lath and plaster.
Note that every room had a fireplace.
The parlor to the left also served as the post office.
The Rickenbaugh's descendents remember the house being sparsely furnished. Built-in walnut cupboards were used for storage space (the house has no closets). In each room (except the back bedroom) there are two cupboards - one had shelves and walnut doors, the other had hand carved peg boards, used for hanging clothes.
This is the William Rickenbaugh family. William was one of Jacob's sons.
Besides serving as a dwelling place for the Rickenbaugh family the house also served as a post pffice. The Celina Post Office occupied three shelves in one of the large cupboards from 1880 until 1951. The position of postmaster was held by various women in the family (for more information on the Celina Post Office click here.) The parlor also served as a meeting place for worship services until a church could be constructed at the nearby town of Winding Branch.
The town of Winding Branch, where the school was located, was about 1½ miles from the Rickenbaugh's house (where the Celina Dam is now located). A blacksmith shop was also built not far from the Rickenbaugh house. During the early 1900's the nearest store was in St. Croix, about three miles away, and the closest doctor was seven miles away in Bristow. Jacob Rickenbaugh's daughter Ella was the local midwife and helped care for the sick.
Jacob was a tanner by profession. Like most families of their time however, the Rickenbaughs also farmed and were largely self-sufficient. The memory map shown here, drawn by a granddaughter, shows the layout of their farm. There were once several buildings associated with Jacob’s tannery, farm buildings, a spring house, the privy, apple trees, cane fields and garden spots. Today, although only the main house remains, visitors may imagine how much different this site would have looked in the 1800’s to those traveling the road to the community of Winding Branch.
Barn and corn crib with children on the Rickenbaugh farm.
Tanning was a hard, laborious occupation, as hides had to be turned continuously and lifted from one vat to another. As he got older, Rickenbaugh gave up his tannery business and devoted more of his time to farming and the old tannery fell to ruin.
Shown here is the house in the 1920's.
Elizabeth Rickenbaugh died in 1899, at the age of 66. Jacob Rickenbaugh lived to be 88 years old and died in 1910. Both are buried in the family cemetery located about 100 yards west of the house.
A map drawn from memory by Anna Beard Lasher, who grew up in the house, is shown below.
The house stayed in the family through four generations before it was sold to the Forest Service in 1968. It is now on the National Register of Historic Places. The Forest Service has rehabilitated the property with the cooperation of many local partners and grants. Donations for restoration of the house may be made to the Forest Service - Tell City District Office.The donations are kept in a seperate account and used only for restoration expenses. Contact Nancy Myers at 812-547-9241 for more information.
The Forest has also developed an educational curriculum around the Rickenbaugh House for 7th grade students. Copies of this curriculum are available in local libraries or may be downloaded here (pdf is 3.83 MB).
A program under the auspices of Hands-on-the-Land operated at the house in 2007 and was featured in the April 2007 issue of the Hands on the Land national newsletter.
The house is open regularly for self-guided tours in the spring-fall season. See information on interpretive programs for the days/ hours it is open.