Bradford Woods is located on roughly 2,500 acres of heavily wooded land located in Clay Township in the southwestern corner of, Indiana, about 28 miles southeast of Indianapolis. The Joseph and Martha Bradford family acquired the land in 1887 and discovered valuable casting sand used for making molds in steel production on the property in 1888. The family established the Bradford Sand Mining Company and made a fortune from the sand’s excavation and sale. John Bradford, the last surviving member of his immediate family, entered into negotiations with Indiana University President Herman B Wells and transferred the deed to this land to the university in November 1938.
Reynold E. Carlson, an environmentalist and professor of Indiana University’s School of Health, Physical Education, and Recreation (HPER), visited Bradford Woods and persuaded University officials and Riley Memorial Association (RMA) (later renamed) leaders of the land’s great potential. Carlson prepared a master plan in 1950 for land use and created educational programs that became models for outdoor learning facilities in the United States and other countries.
A key part of the master plan was that Bradford Woods would provide the clinical facilities for training purposes for HPER students. The Indiana University Bradford Woods Outdoor Education and Camping Center is a result of Carlson’s vision and efforts. James W. Carr, executive secretary for RMA, shared the enthusiasm for the potential of Bradford Woods as a camping facility. In 1952, Carr and Carlson secured approval for Bradford Woods to provide outdoor education and recreation for children with physical challenges.
Bradford Woods became operational in 1953 and began a relationship with the RMA. In 1954, it hosted its first formal program when Bloomington’s University School visited the residential summer camps that are still used by Monroe County school children. Camp Riley for Youth with Physical Disabilities, operated by the Association in conjunction with the University’s Department of Health, Physical Education, and Recreation (HPER), opened in 1955 and remains in operation. Many smaller specialized camps designed to provide outdoor recreation for children with medical conditions or disabilities also are located at Bradford Woods.
Founded in 1910, the American Camp Association (ACA) moved its national headquarters in 1956 to Bradford Woods, which became the Association’s first permanent home. From its national headquarters in Bradford Woods, ACA serves and supports camp professionals nationwide by providing standards, tools, and resources for voluntary accreditation for registered day and overnight camps, and offering education, training, and resources for camp operation and evaluation.
The Indiana University Research and Teaching Preserve (RTP), established in 2001, maintains a green campus that includes 437 acres of the most remote portion of Bradford Woods to help enhance the University’s missions. Bradford Woods, recognized as an international leader in experimental outdoor education and summer camp programming, includes a camping and retreat center, residential camps, a year-round workshop facility, and a comprehensive outdoor education program for school youth.