History of Bendigo State Park
The Bible, boxing, and a mystery named Bendigo State Park.
William Abednego Thompson (1811 - 1880) was born into a poor family in Nottingham, Britain. The last of 21 children, Thompson was one of triplets named for three young men who escaped a fiery furnace in the Book of Daniel.
Thompson began bare-knuckle boxing as a way to make money. Due to his bobbing and weaving style, he was nicknamed Bendy Abednego, which eventually evolved into Bendigo. He was popular with fans because of his wild behavior in the ring, like doing flips, taunting his opponent, and avoiding punches. Thompson became the champion of all of Britain, before retiring and becoming a Methodist preacher. There are no records of Thompson ever leaving Britain.
In 1895, fifteen years after Bendigo’s death, a lumbering operation began on a small creek in northwestern Pennsylvania. The operation was built and operated by Alfred Truman, who also built a small town named Bendigo. After five years of business, the operation exhausted the available timber. The mill and town disbanded and the lumber company razed the facilities.
It is still a mystery how a mill town and creek in Pennsylvania came to bear the name of a left-handed boxer from Britain.
Early European settlement in the area was centered on the abundant timber of northwestern Pennsylvania. Towns and services sprang up around the lumbering industry. Starting in 1887, the towns and mills were linked by the Johnsonburg and Clermont Railroad that carried timber to the market. When the timber was exhausted, the railroad, sawmills and towns slowly disappeared. The old railroad bed is now the main park road.
In the 1920s, the townspeople of Johnsonburg joined together to form a community park for swimming, picnicking and outdoor recreation. The lumber company that owned the former village of Bendigo gave 100 acres to the county to be a park.
In 1936, during the Great Depression, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) began building roads, a dam and a pool at Bendigo Community Park. However, there were not enough funds to complete some projects and the pool and other facilities remained unfinished. Visitors to the park in that era were able to swim in the river behind the dam and enjoy the picnic tables and grills.
Floods destroyed many of the facilities in 1942, but the stone wall and dam on the East Branch of the Clarion River survived. Due to the debris, most of the park was unusable; however, visitors still frequented the swimming hole and picnic area.
In 1948, the late State Senator George B. Stevenson introduced a bill that transferred the property to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Now a parcel of the state park system, improvements were made to the park facilities, including the building of a swimming pool. Bendigo State Park opened in 1954, completing the vision that the community began.