Even in the 1890s, Devil’s Den — with its 60-foot waterfall — was known as one of the most beautiful spots in Tuscarawas County.
"This is one of the most picturesque places in the county and is a delightful place to spend a few hours in communion with the mysterious works and forces of nature," the Gilmore correspondent for the Tuscarawas Advocate wrote on Aug. 21, 1890.
"It is seemingly a vast U shaped amphitheater chiseled out of one solid piece of rock and its walls slanting inward at the top, so that there is only one way of getting out and that by a foot-path which might be called a giant stairway. ... The picturesque part of the valley is about three hundred yards in width. The many large trees whose tops reach the top of the walls are carved over with the names of visitors so that it is almost impossible to find a suitable place for another name.
"The polished walls are also written over with the names of visitors, making the valley a giant autograph album. Those who have never been in the mountains will feel richly repaid by visiting this, one of nature’s grandest works."
Devil’s Den, located in Perry Township between Westchester and Gilmore, gained famed in the 1960s as a park and campground and gained notoriety in the 1980s as the Whispering Winds nudist colony.
Legend has it that during the Indian wars of the late 1700s, Devil’s Den was the haunt of Lewis Wetzel, a frontiersman from the Wheeling, W.Va., area who had such a fearsome reputation that he was known as the "Death Wind" by the Delaware Indians. Zane Grey set a portion of his novel, "The Spirit of the Border," at Devil’s Den.
The first owner of the property was Isaac N. Roberts, a Fayette County, Pa., native who purchased it from the federal government in 1831. Roberts was the first plow maker in Perry Township, a justice of the peace and a prominent Democrat in Tuscarawas County who was active in the temperance movement. In December 1839 he was elected by the Ohio General Assembly to serve a seven-year term as an associate judge in Tuscarawas County.
During his term as judge, Roberts and his family suffered an unimaginable tragedy. Four of his children — ranging in age from 3 to 17 — died within days of each other in January 1846, likely of some communicable disease. They are all buried in the nearby Amity Cemetery.
Roberts sold the land in 1855 and moved with his family to Kansas, where he died in 1878.
By the latter half of the 19th century, Devil’s Den was a popular destination for picnickers and pleasure seekers. "Quite a large delegation from the northern part of the county picnicked at ’the falls" Saturday and Sunday," the Perry Township correspondent of the Uhrichsville Chronicle wrote on Aug. 24, 1892.
It had a variety of names in those years, including the Natural Penitentiary and the Indian Council Chambers. But by 1908, when the 1908 Atlas of Tuscarawas County was published, it was known as Devil’s Den.
D. Dale Condit, in his book "The Conemaugh Formation in Ohio," described the geology of the area in 1912, talking about a layer of sandstone that is prominent in southern Tuscarawas County:
"Its resistance to erosion has developed a rather rugged, bold topography, especially in the southeastern part where cavernous, overhanging cliffs are common in the hillside ravines. The ‘Devil’s Den,’ the best known of these, is near the center of Perry Township, and although rather remote from the main lines of travel is visited by people from miles around."
In 1913, Charles W. Sanders purchased the property and farmed it for the next 45 years. He allowed visitors to take in the falls at Devil’s Den and developed it into a picnic area.
On March 29, 1958, he sold it to Stephen Storad of Akron, who turned it into a popular destination for campers. Eventually, Devil’s Den Park had two stocked lakes, 125 campsites, three shelter houses and 150 picnic tables. An advertisement in the Dover Daily Reporter of May 25, 1967, noted that admission to the park was 50 cents for adults and 25 cents for children.
The park changed ownership a couple of times in the 1970s until Edith Church of the Toledo area purchased it in 1978. Church, who had been a nudist for more than three decades, converted Devil’s Den into Whispering Winds Park for nudists.
Membership was $200 a year for families and single males and $100 a year for single females.
That summer, the park was the location of the 25th annual National Nudist Council Convention, with people coming from Texas, Alabama, New Hampshire, Arizona and Minnesota. The highlight was the crowning of Mr. and Miss and Junior Mr. and Miss National Nudist Council. Contestants were judged on poise and their suntan by other nudists in attendance.
From 1982 to 1985, the Starwood Festival was held at Whispering Winds. The event was a clothing-optional, seven-day Neo-Pagan, New Age, multi-cultural and world music festival.
Following the death of Edith Church in the 1980s, the property passed into private hands and remains so today.
Jon Baker is a reporter for The Times-Reporter and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.