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. Mrs. Harden has long been recognized as one of the most active members of the community, serving in positions on the local, state, and national levels. Mrs. Harden was the U.S. Congressional Representative for five terms beginning in 1949.
Cecil M. Harden Lake is located on Big Raccoon Creek in the rolling farmland in 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 following the signing of the “10 O’clock Treaty” in 1809 and the Treaty of St. Mary’s in 1818. By 1840, the settlement of Parke County was complete.
The Native Americans gave the name of “Pun-go-so-co-nee” 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 the water down 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 along Sugar Creek. 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 very 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. However, residents treasure a unique link to the past as the “Covered Bridge Capital of America.” A total of 37 covered bridges dot the countryside of Parke County, which is more than any other county in the United States. Because of their regional popularity, two master covered bridge builders, J.J. Daniels and J.A. Brittin, lived in Rockville, the county seat of Parke County. 35 bridges were built between 1865 and 1921. The two oldest bridges are still carrying traffic. An annual festival is held in mid-October to coincide with the fall color change and to view the covered bridges. Vendors display local arts and crafts. The visitation during this ten-day affair exceeds more than one million visitors.