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history and information


building the lake


Cecil M. Harden Lake was authorized by the United States Congress as part of the Flood Control Act, approved 28 June 1938. The Flood Control Act of 1936 recognized that flood risk management was, “a proper activity for the Federal Government in cooperation with states, their political subdivisions, and localities thereof.” Congress gave responsibility for federal flood projects to the USACE. One year later, one of the most damaging floods along the Ohio River occurred, causing widespread flooding and damage from Pittsburgh to Cairo, Illinois.


In the years following passage of the law, the USACE built, pursuant to congressional authorization and appropriation, close to 400 reservoirs that serve primarily to benefit flood risk management. The series of flood risk management reservoirs subsequently constructed by the USACE is estimated to have prevented more than $19 billion in flood damages in the Ohio River Basin since the 1930s.


Cecil M. Harden Lake, formerly Mansfield Lake, was designed and built by the Louisville District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The lake was renamed from Mansfield Lake by a bill signed into law on Dec. 14, 1974, by President Gerald R. Ford, in recognition of Mrs. Cecil Murray Harden for her role in obtaining funds for the project. She had long been recognized as one of the most active members of the community, serving in positions on the local, state and national levels. She was the U.S. Congressional Representative for the area for five terms, beginning in 1949.


The project was completed in July 1960 and went into operation in December 1960. The project reached seasonal recreational pool elevation of 661 msl for the first time on 27 April 1961. In 1993, the seasonal recreational pool was raised to 662 msl (USACE, 2000).


purpose and Design


Cecil M. Harden Lake is a 2,110 acre lake that provides flood protection to the lower Big Raccoon Creek Valley. The lake has 216 square miles of drainage area, beginning in Boone County, Indiana. As a unit in the comprehensive plan for the Ohio River Basin, it also reduces flooding at all points downstream along the Wabash River and Ohio River. Additionally, the lake operates for low flow augmentation and water quality control, while also providing opportunities for recreation and fish and wildlife management activities.

The USACE must release a minimum of 22 cubic feet per second (cfs) of lake flow when the reservoir is above an elevation of 640 feet above mean sea level (msl) in order to maintain low flow augmentation. This low flow augmentation should improve the water quality of Big Raccoon Creek.


The dam site is located at stream mile 32.4 of Big Raccoon Creek, which is a tributary of the Wabash River.

The maximum height of the dam is 119 feet and crest length is 1,860 feet. The top elevation of the dam is 712 feet above msl. The Mansfield Dam structures include a conduit-type outlet works and a spillway (with a dry tower), a public use road across the top of the dam, a USACE project manager office, and an operations building with a parking area and a gauging station. The outlet works consist of a dry tower and a reinforced concrete conduit. Flow is controlled by three service gates—each with 4 feet horizontal by 8.5-foot vertical dimensions. The conduit inlet invert elevation is 603.5 feet above msl. The emergency spillway is through a tri-level cut of the left abutment. The crest elevations of each level are 690, 695 and 700 msl. The width of the cut is 200 feet and the length of the cut is 2,000 feet. The spillway is designed to accommodate a maximum discharge of 134,100 cfs of flow.


The lake has a recreational summer pool elevation of 662.00 msl and a winter elevation of 640.00 msl. At recreational summer pool elevation, the lake is designed for 2,110 acres of surface area with a storage capacity of 51,347 acre-feet. At winter pool elevation, the lake is designed for 1,100 acres of surface area with a storage capacity of 16,145 acre-feet. The lake is designed to provide flood storage from elevation 640.00 msl to 690.00 msl with a total storage capacity of 132,800 acre-feet. The top of the dam and dike is 712.00 msl.


geology and archeology


Cecil M. Harden Lake is underlain with bedrock dating to the Pennsylvanian and Mississippian age— Approximately 290 to 350 million years ago. The Pennsylvanian bedrock is mostly shale and sandstone and is part of the Raccoon Group. The Mississippian age bedrock belongs to the Blue River group and is predominately limestone.


In 1969, a survey for archeological and historic sites was completed at Cecil M. Harden Lake. Five archeological sites were identified and surveyed; however, no sites were determined eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places


The Indiana State Historic Architectural and Archeological Research Database shows several cemeteries and historic bridges located in the vicinity of Cecil M. Harden Lake. The Mansfield Roller Mill is a state historic structure located five miles downstream of the dam and a historic marker commemorates the town of Portland Mills and former bridge that crossed Raccoon Creek.



area history


Cecil M. Harden Lake is located on Big Raccoon Creek in the rolling farmland of Parke County. Named for Benjamin Parke, the first judge of the U.S. District Court in Indiana, Parke County was officially organized on Jan. 9, 1821.


As with most of southern Indiana, Parke County was inhabited by several Native American tribes, primarily the Delaware, Shawnee and Miami. The Native Americans lost the area after signing the “10 O’Clock Treaty” in 1809 and the Treaty of St. Marys in 1818. By 1840, the settlement of Parke County was complete. The Native Americans gave the name “Pun-go-so-conee” to the largest stream in Parke County, meaning “Stream of Many Sugar Trees.” Early settlers translated that as Sugar Creek and followed the Native Americans in collecting sugar water from the trees each spring. They boiled down the water to syrup or granulated sugar for use as a sweetener during the rest of the year. Today, several active sugar camps still operate in the hard maple groves in Parke County. Equipment has been modernized, but the technique and spirit is the same as that of the pioneers more than 150 years ago.


Parke County is similar to much of southern Indiana, with its rich rolling farmland, mineral reserves, coal, natural gas and valuable forests of oak, walnut, maple and hickory. Residents also treasure the unique link to the past as the “Covered Bridge Capital of America.” A total of 31 covered bridges dot the countryside of Parke County, more than any other county in the United States. Because of covered bridges’ regional popularity, two master covered-bridge builders, J.J. Daniels and J.A. Brittin, lived in Rockville, the county seat. The remaining 31 bridges were built between 1865 and 1921. The oldest bridges still carry traffic.



Portland Mills was on an Indian trail that branched off of Tecumseh’s Trail at Montezuma and led northeasterly out of Portland Mills to a large Indian town north of present day Roachdale. Some believe that the first white families came to Portland Mills on this trail, entering the county from the southwest and the Wabash River bottoms, rather than the more direct line from Virginia or Kentucky.


Some of the first settlers were David Logan Cunningham in 1816, Moses Hart in 1820, Samuel Steele and son in 1821, and Alexander Harbison in 1830. One early settler stumbled over a rattlesnake so large he mistook it for a dead log. It was sluggish from a full belly. As he killed it, it disgorged a deer fawn. The rattlesnake was over eight feet long.


This bridge was one of the earliest Parke County covered bridges and was used for preinduction troop training during the Civil War.


The town of Portland Mills was to be covered with water as Lake Mansfield filled. The bridge was moved to replace the Dooley Station Bridge which was burned down in 1960. New abutments were poured so that the 130 foot long Portland Mills Bridge could be emplaced over the 73 foot span of Dooley Station. The movement was over 18 miles and was completed January, 1961.


It is also believed that John Dillinger used to have a hideaway near the old highway 36.



Info taken from: US Army Corp of Engineers, Parke County Tourism , and Raccoon State Recreation Area

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