For generations from the late 1920s into the 1970s Northern Beach Park was a mecca for summer fun for youngsters and often their families. The privately owned park, located near 116th Street and White River, drew large crowds from Hamilton and Marion counties at a time when there were few public parks in the area.
But, Northern Beach has reached the end of its run. The property is being sold to a Kansas City developer of retirement homes which plans to build a new facility on the the former parkland. The park's fate was clearly evident last month when all the equipment, fixtures, playground pieces, catering supplies and other items were sold in an on-site auction.
The park was built in the 1920s by Herman Merklin. Some say early patrons could swim at a beach on the river, but by 1930 there was a state-of-the-art swimming pool installed. There were tennis courts, baseball diamonds, a dance floor with a jukebox and food service area and a playgrounds. For residents of southern Hamilton and northern Marion counties it was a favorite. Over the years it became popular for company picnics, family reunions, etc. Seven cabins in the park were available to rent by the week. The park was mostly on low ground and subject to flooding so the cabins were elevated on stilts.
Members of the Merklin family lived in a house on higher ground, a house that reportedly had served as the 1940 Indianapolis Home Show house. As the years passed the park was sold to a series of owners, one being Jim Steckley who opened a successful banquet center in what is called Oak Hill Mansion. The mansion house had been moved onto the property from a nearby parcel. The Oak Hill site has now been split off from the park property and will continue to operate after the retirement home is built on the adjoining ground.
The former Merklin home is part of what is being sold, and it will be razed to make room for the new facilities. Another portion of the former parkland has been sold to the City of Carmel and is the site of new wells to supply the growing demands of the city water utility. So, the former park has now shrunk in size to only about nine acres.
In recent years the park lost much of its popularity to the growing number of public parks, country clubs and recreational facilities. The once, -popular pool has been gone for many years and other features were gradually discarded. The most recent owner, Bob Zehr advertised the property for sale earlier this year for $590,000, and with its sale came the end to the 85-year history of Northern Beach; truly the end of an era in Hamilton County recreational parks.