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Bradford Woods, Indiana University’s Outdoor Center, has a rich and interesting history. It is thanks to the generosity of the Bradford family, who called this area home in the late 1800s and early 1900s, that we are Indiana’s largest preserved natural area outside the state and national park systems, and a national and international leader in outdoor education and summer camp programming! Click here to read through Bradford Woods’ history:

Below you can also view a brief (5-minute) video about the history of the Bradfords, created by an IU student.

The Early Years (1860-1880)

The story of Bradford Woods began long before written records of the region were kept. The earliest recorded people to live in this area were the Algonquins, a group of Native Americans that was part of the Miami Confederacy. For the most part, these people were semi-nomadic hunters that roamed the woods and the river valleys, making their livelihood from the forest.

The arrival of the first settlers in what is now known as Morgan County started around 1818. Documents reveal that fifteen families came into the area and settled in the flats of the White River, just beyond the southeast boundary of Bradford Woods. While the river was being used for transporting goods and furs, the land was being cleared for farming and small villages.

In 1855, Martha and Joseph Bradford and Marcia and Joseph Campbell journeyed from Chillicothe, Ohio to Morgan County (Marcia was Joseph Bradford’s sister). The two couples settled in the area; the Campbells here at Bradford Woods and the Bradfords seven miles away in Green Township. After the Bradfords established a home they had five children: James (Perry) in 1859, Eliza in 1860, John in 1864, Clara in 1865 and Albert in 1868.

For nearly twenty years, the Bradford family farmed the land and raised animals. Joseph died of unknown causes in 1873, leaving Martha alone with five children. For the next few years, the family lived in Indianapolis, where Perry sold newspapers to help support the family.

A Great Discovery (1880-1900)

In 1877, Martha moved the family back to Morgan County and into her in-laws’ previous home (now labeled as the Bradford Homestead). This house was built by the Campbells in the mid-1850s, and is the last remaining structure of a village called Campbell’s Junction. In 1887, Martha purchased the house and 10 acres of land for $50. The family grew corn and raised hogs and sheep. The original furnishings of the Bradford home were meager: cooking was done on a large wooden stove, while heat for the house came from the stove and a fireplace.

In late 1887 or early 1888, the boys made a discovery that would forever change the family. Family legend says that one day while hunting, their dogs caught the scent of a fox and chased it into a burrow. As the Bradford brothers began to dig for the fox, they found unusual sand. They sent some of the sand to the Malleable Casting Company in Indianapolis for identification and learned it was a valuable form of molding sand, used to make molds for steel production. The company additionally told them that they were willing to pay the Bradfords for each wagon load of sand they could deliver. After only a few wagon loads of sand, the M.E. Bradford Sand Mining Company was incorporated.

The Bradfords began to excavate and market the sand. At first, the sand was hauled to Indianapolis in wagons hauled by a team of 28 mules. But because of the tremendous demand for the sand, Perry bought a small train engine and installed a narrow-gauge rail track on the property, later connected to the nearby spur of the Pennsylvania Railroad. Eventually, a sorting plant was built in the Tipple Field area (this area was where the cars were “tipped”) to make it possible to process the sand on a large scale. Records show that the company mined up to 14 different grades of sand on the property.

Prosperity (1900-1930)

The Bradfords became quite prosperous, and with their increased wealth, began to acquire more land. They were able to purchase all the surrounding lots by offering each neighbor willing to sell their land a job with the Bradford Sand Mining Company. An employee earned an average wage of $1 a day. While not a bad wage for the time, there was no work in the winter.

During the next 20 years, the family’s wealth continued to increase. They decided to move from the small house into a large white house located about 100 yards directly to the east.  This house (marked on the map as the Campbell House) was built in the 1880’s, most likely by the Campbells, and was located where the Manor House sits today. A Carriage House was built in 1909, and was used as living quarters for household employees. The Carriage House was also home to a white 1910 Buick, the first automobile in the Morgan County.

In 1910, the Bradfords decided to build a larger, more luxurious house. Unfortunately, the Campbell House occupied the ideal location for the new house – overlooking the highway, where every passing traveler could see it. The Bradfords wanted to display their family’s success, so they had the Campbell House moved to its present location, where it remained the Bradford’s living quarters while the Manor House was being constructed. Perry was extremely particular about the construction of the Manor House, and insisted that each brick be handmade from native clay on the property. Most of the hardwood used in the house and the sand used to make the decorative glass also came from the property. In 1912, the Manor House was completed at a total cost of $75,000. Eighty-two years later, it cost nearly 1 million dollars to renovate the house.

In 1913, just before the start of World War I, the sand operation reached its peak in both profits and volume. With the increased need for sand, as much as 25 to 30 feet of topsoil were removed to expose the valuable commodity. During this time, the sand was so valuable to the foundries that armed soldiers were stationed on the trains to keep various companies from stealing each others’ sand. In 1913, over 453 cars of sand were shipped from the Bradford property, with an average load of about 40 tons per car. Foundries in the city were paying $.90 per ton, which provided the Bradfords with an annual income of more than $16,000, making them a very wealthy family for the time. By the early 1920s, the sand business had started to decline. After Perry’s (the businessman of the family) death in 1921, the once-lucrative operation that employed the majority of the people in the area declined to such a point that it was leased to Abe and Don Hart in 1933.

In the late 1920s and early 1930s, Albert and John renewed their interest in farming, and also tried their hand at manufacturing bricks and bottling mineral water. The farm’s apple orchards, located where the lake is today, proved to be successful. At its peak, the orchard produced 140,000 bushels of apples, sold across the country. Unfortunately, the brick manufacturing was not as successful as the apple orchard and was soon abandoned.

Even though the two Bradford sisters, Eliza and Clara, got married, the three brothers remained confirmed bachelors. John, Albert, and Perry spent most of their time on the farm and seldom went to town. As the years went by, the family got smaller. Eliza died in 1933, and three years later, in 1936, Albert died at home. In 1937, Clara was killed in an automobile accident, leaving John as the sole administrator of the property, which had expanded to approximately 3,000 acres.

Leaving a Legacy (1930-1950)

By the end of 1937, John was concerned about what would happen to the family’s large estate when he died. The three brothers left no heirs. Clara, though married, had no children, and Eliza’s two daughters showed no interest in the estate. John hoped to keep the property intact, but was unsure how to go about securing that legacy.

Between 1938 and 1941, John Bradford donated his home and 2,300 acres of pristine land to Indiana University for the benefit of Riley Hospital’s children with disabilities and other “charitable, educational, and recreational purposes.” The property was named after the Bradford family in honor of their generous gift to Indiana University and the children of Indiana.  This was one of the first major gifts received by Herman B. Wells, then president of Indiana University (1938-1962).

Bradford Woods Today (1950-)

Within 14 years of John Bradford’s death, his hopes for his beloved estate had started to come true. In 1950, Dr. Reynold Carlson, a professor in Indiana University’s Recreation Department, worked with students to  develop a master plan for Bradford Woods to utilize the property as a camp for children with disabilities, and a recreation center for all of Indiana’s children.  Shortly after Bradford Woods became operational in 1953, the Outdoor Center began a relationship with the Riley Children’s Foundation (formerly the Riley Memorial Association) and became the official site for Riley Camp just two years later. In 1957, Bradford Woods forged a partnership with the Monroe County School Corporation (MCCSC) to host environmental education programs for all its fifth grade students.

Many other organizations enjoyed the Bradfords’ generous gift as well. The Campfire Girls and the Girl Scouts leased land to create Camp To-wa-ki and Camp Tulip Trace, now known as Krannert and Griffith Villages. The northern part of the property was leased to the Boy Scouts, and for 50 years was known as Camp Bradford. The American Camping Association moved their national headquarters to Bradford Woods in the late 1950s.