It would be hard to find a building, other than the courthouse and the Charitone perhaps, woven more deeply into the fabric of Lucas County than the old stone shelter at Red Haw Hill State Park. Other than a birth, maybe, I'm guessing that nearly everything that can happen to mark transition in human life has happened here --- romantic assignations and marriage, baptisms and worship, family reunions and picnics, solitary meditation and collective practice, death and funerals.
The old building, in as good a shape now as when it was built thanks to occasional renewal and good maintenance, will celebrate its 75th birthday this December. Somebody should bake a cake.
Construction of Red Haw Hill State Park (the "Hill" has by now been dropped) commenced with dam construction, launched during mid-September 1934. A crew of up to 75 young single men enrolled in the New Deal Civilian Conservation Corps program and housed at the CCC camp in Chariton built the dam, developed the park and, during 1939, built the shelter.
The Iowa Conservation Commission added the park name during late March, 1937, in recognition of the white-blooming American Hawthorne trees that flourished there. All those flashy pink redbuds are Johnny-come-latelies.
Construction of the shelter commenced during early 1939 under the careful supervision of foreman Francis R. Klima. All of the workers were CCC forestry division enrollees, for the most part untrained in this type of construction when the project began.
Stone for its walls, 280 cubic yards, was quarried near Osceola, then hauled to the park where it was chipped, shaped and hefted into place. The logs used as supports and in the framework were harvested by other workers in Stephens State Forest. Hinges and other hardware were forged by an enrollee blacksmith in the CCC camp.
By December of 1939 the project was complete and camp officials announced just after Christmas that the shelter was now ready to serve picnickers --- most of whom most likely would not start arriving until the spring of 1940.
Over the years, the shelter has been expanded to the east, maintained, repaired and when necessary extensively restored.
Red Haw is kind of a laid-back place now, as recreational priorities have shifted and more public areas became available, but at its height it was among Iowa's most popular state parks. An estimated 150,000 visitors used it during 1965 --- up to 3,000 on an average weekend.
But the old stone shelter still is there, ready to welcome visitors. If nothing else, take your coffee out on one of these fine fall mornings, sit at one of its picnic tables and admire the view out across the lake.