The gas boom impacted not just the economy of east-central Indiana, but also the communities and even the landscape. People followed the jobs and money. As the city of Kokomo more than doubled in population, community leaders began to look for ways the residents could enjoy their leisure time. In 1892, the city bought the first parcel of land that was to become Highland Park, a small plot of rough woodland and creek bed southwest of the city. The Kokomo Street Railway Company agreed to run a trolley line to the site if the city would establish the park.
The oldest building in the park, Rodgers Pavilion, was originally a trolley station. Originally an open shelter, it has since been remodeled and enclosed. Not far from the pavilion was an artesian well. It no longer flows, but a well-house remains. Also, nearby is the Vermont Covered Bridge, built across the Wildcat Creek in 1876 near the small farming community of Vermont in eastern Howard County. The bridge was scheduled to be demolished to make way for the Kokomo Reservoir, but the Howard County Historical Society intervened. The structure was relocated to Highland Park.
The park is famously home to a huge Sycamore stump and a stuffed steer known as Old Ben. Both have attained iconic status due to their unusual size and long residency in the park. The Sycamore stood on the banks of the Wildcat in western Howard County and somehow managed to survive the logging of the late 1800s. Its trunk was 50 feet in circumference and it was said to be a hundred feet tall before storms broke it down in 1915. The following year, the stump was moved to the park as an attraction and it is now housed in a custom shelter house. Old Ben has a shelter, too. He was a massive animal, weighing over two tons and six-and-a-half feet tall at the shoulder. His owners exhibited him at fairs and festivals until he slipped on ice and broke a leg. His stuffed remains came to the park in 1919. He was listed in Ripley’s “Believe It Or Not” in 1968 and remains a unique attraction for visitors.