VERSAILLES – "I'm an Indiana hound. I like to sniff out the interesting places in Indiana," reported Paul Wonning, Napoleon, one of several presenters at the recent 21st Century Homemaker workshop presented by Ripley County Extension Homemakers.
The author of numerous Hoosier travel and gardening books took attendees on an imaginary car tour of 10 southeast Indiana counties.
Versailles was the location of a dramatic confrontation during the Civil War, he recalled. Confederate Gen. John Hunt Morgan came across the Ohio River. The Indiana Home Guard saw him and the commander mustered 400 men, who hide behind stone walls and rail fences. When Morgan approached Corydon, they started firing. This became Indiana's only Civil War battle. Six or eight of Morgan's soldiers plus two Hoosiers were killed. That slowed down the general, who went across Crawford, Scott and Jefferson counties, then arrived in Ripley County near Michigan Road and County Road 600 South. When Union troops harassed him as Morgan came into Versailles, he threatened to shell the courthouse, which had just been built in 1863, if they didn't give him the county treasury. Townspeople surrendered the money to him. Morgan and his raiders camped south of Sunman in an open field near what is now State Road 101. After exiting Indiana, the Union Army caught him near Lima, Ohio.
Cliff Hill Cemetery, Versailles, has Hangman's Tree. After the Civil War, the U.S. went into an economic depression. Gangs operated locally. They made women stand barefoot on stoves until handing over the money robbers demanded. "People were afraid to go out at night," according to Wonning. The sheriff caught wind they were going to rob a store in Milan. One was shot and the others arrested. "People around Versailles said, 'This ends tonight.'" About 250 stormed the jail and hung all four. Gordon's Leap is the other cemetery marker. "If you were a doctor, if you wanted to study anatomy, you had to dig a body out of a grave and dissect it," he explained. In the 1890s, a doctor had two medical students try to grab a body, but they were discovered.
The speaker recommended viewing Busching Bridge, one of two covered bridges remaining in Ripley County. It is close to the Versailles State Park entrance. Of the park, he said, "There's a lot of good hiking there. You can rent a canoe" or try out horse trails. Look for the rumored eagle's nest near Versailles Lake.
The Osgood Museum, open on weekends, is located on U.S. 421. Persons may see Osgood's first fire engine and a restored Henry King steam car built in 1898. "The car escaped the scrap heap on at least two occasions." In 1960 when Richard Nixon visited Columbus, the vehicle was in that parade.
Moores Hill on State Road 350 has Carnegie Hall, which was restored and is open Sunday afternoons in the summer. It was the home of Moores Hill College, which admitted women in the 1800s, a rare occurrence. An Evansville group bought the college, which was the beginning of the University of Evansville
The Milan '54 Hoosiers Museum is worth a stop, he suggested. "They've got some booths in there where you can listen to interviews with the players." Visitors also can watch the famous 1954 game, the basis for the fictional movie "Hoosiers," when the Indians of tiny Milan High School (enrollment 162) defeated the mighty Muncie Central Bearcats (enrollment 1,662), to win the state basketball championship. It was one of the first state final games that was televised. Wonning marveled that two Purdue University students made brackets for the state finals, which included 750 teams. "If you could imagine the phone calls they had to make and radio broadcasts they had to listen to."
Greensburg has one obvious and one hidden attraction. The tree growing out of the courthouse first appeared in the 1870s. "It died once." That dead tree can be viewed in the Decatur County Historical Museum close to the courthouse. "When I was in there, they had an excellent World War I exhibit" that included weapons and uniforms.
Westport has directional signs leading to a covered bridge. "You can't drive across that bridge," but it is pretty and there's a park in which to relax.
Jennings County's Hayden, population 500, boasts the four-building Hayden Historical Museum "They really have done a fabulous job," according to Wonning. In addition to the expected town artifacts and photos, "what caught my eye was the Hayden Hall of Fame on the wall." An elementary school group called the Hayden Pioneers picks one person to interview each year. In the 1920s, eight professional baseball players hailed from Hayden. "Three of them made it to the majors." When INDOT widened U.S. 50, a neglected 1950s filling station was moved to the museum and restored. Another building displays "Things Remembered." A local firefighter started collecting everything from vintage music machines (including hand-cranked Victrolas) to almost every issue of Life magazine to album covers from the 1950s-1970s. "It was pretty wild." The fourth building, not restored yet, is the childhood home of Edgar Whitcomb, Hayden's favorite son and the late Indiana governor, who died in 2016 at 98. In World War II his plane was shot down, and his family thought Whitcomb was dead. After being a POW in the Philippines, Whitcomb swam about a mile across a bay to American forces and called his parents ("Mom, I'm coming home for Christmas"), who thought it was a hoax. He arrived Dec. 24, 1943.
Vernon, the smallest county seat in Indiana, features the Jennings County Historical Museum and its sizable collection of old washing machines. The speaker advised, "If you want to appreciate your automatic washer and dryer, go there."
An Indiana Historical Bureau marker in Scottsburg denotes the first documented train robbery in the U.S. May 22, 1866. After a man robbed passengers and took a safe, he was hanged.
The Falls of the Ohio State Park located in Clarksville, the second oldest city in Indiana after Vincennes, has two attractions. Visitors can walk on an enormous fossil bed that is 250 million years old and tour the home site of Revolutionary War hero George Rogers Clark. William Clark was living there when President Thomas Jefferson sent a letter authorizing the Lewis and Clark expedition, which began in Clarksville.
Some of the first fire engines in the United States are housed at the Clark County Historical Museum. An idea – put stickers on phones with correct fire department numbers – made a man rich, so he collected and restored vintage fire equipment.
"Refresh yourself at Schimpp's" Confectionery, Jeffersonville. Founded in 1891, it's the oldest continuously operating candy store in Indiana and still owned by family members. "It's a treat going in there." The city also has the Howard Steamboat Museum. James Howard starting building riverboats in the 1830s.
The Ohio River Scenic Byway goes past pretty Charlestown State Park, which has great hiking and several trails with views of the river and its bluffs. Remains of Rose Island Resort, an 1880s amusement park, also can be seen. Nearby Nine Penny Branch Nature Reserve offers a hike to a pretty waterfall.
Wonning likes to relax in a rocking chair at the Clifty Falls State Park, Madison, sunroom that overlooks the river and its barges. That city has the biggest collection of museums in the region. In addition to the Jefferson County Historical Museum, explorers may tour the luxe home of James Lanier, who loaned the state $1 million to help pull Indiana out of bankruptcy. Historic Madison owns about 15 properties and four are open on a regular basis.
Riverboat models and memorabilia can be seen at the Switzerland County Historical Museum, Vevay. A farm owned by the museum has an operating hay press and is open for special events.
The Markland Dam Park, Florence, observation deck is the place to watch how locks operate on the Ohio River.
The Ohio County Historical Museum, Rising Sun, also features riverboat models plus vintage agricultural equipment and special exhibits, such as a quilt display.
After Thomas Gaff started a distillery in Aurora, he built Hillforest Mansion around 1843. "It's beautiful on the inside."
Lots of birds and waterfowl can be observed at Oxbow Inc. wildlife refuge, Lawrenceburg.
The perfect place for a picnic is a small park in Guilford near the only remaining covered bridge in Dearborn County.
Go back in time at Metamora, home of the Whitewater Canal State Historic Site, which has an operating grist mill where tourists can buy fresh cornmeal and ride on the Ben Franklin III, a canal boat replica.
Debbie Blank can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 812-934-4343, Ext. 113.