Start: Salem, IN
Finish: Markland, IN
Weather: 70 degrees, cloudy
Distance to date: 1,849
Greetings from Switzerland County, Indiana, the birthplace of American winemaking! Could I make that up? Switzerland County is in the southeast corner of Indiana, tucked amidst many turns of the Ohio River. It was first settled in 1800 by a Swiss immigrant who thought the steep hills facing south would make good vineyards. He established the first commercial vineyards in America and produced wine that Thomas Jefferson drank. The industry tanked during Prohibition, but has been resurrected with micro-vineyards. There are wine tasting places all along the banks of the Ohio that look quite nice. Unfortunately, they are all wasted on me. Now, if it were beer…
The day began with overcast skies and a boring 20 miles along a too wide highway between Salem and Scottsburg. Each of those towns have lovely squares, though, as do most of the Indiana country seats. Unlike town squares in Oklahoma and Texas, where the courthouse occupies a central block, in many Indiana towns the courthouse is set right in the intersection of the two main roads. The roads turn around it, with the commercial buildings in four L’s defining the town square. It is very nice because the courthouses,
which are in every conceivable style and often have tall towers, can be seen from great distances since they are on axis with the main roads. The one in Salem is a beaut.
Past Scottburg the road got tighter and rolling, the farms got more picturesque, and the sky showed spots of sun. By eleven it was a pretty day and I rolled into Madison, IN, on the banks of the Ohio
River, an antebellum river town with an incredible assortment of Italianate architecture. It was one of the earliest towns to pursue historic preservation of an entire area; the downtown is the largest historic district in Indiana and one of the largest in the US. The town is absolutely beautiful. One striking thing to me was the mix of northern and southern styles. Many of the prominent buildings, three story brick with tall narrow windows and articulated cornices, could sit just as comfortably in upstate New York, which experienced economic prominence in the mid-nineteenth century as well. But the smaller dwellings are mostly shotguns, long and narrow with full width front porches; traditional southern forms.
After the blue plate special lunch at the Hammond Family Restaurant, which I chose because it clearly predated preservation mania, I cycled on to Vevay, a smaller town of the same vintage. The twenty miles between the two towns was a wonderful ride with tall hills (remember its Switzerland) to my left and a drop-off to the Ohio on my right. There were few buildings between the road and
the river, I assume due to flood plain issues, but there were dozens of RV parks with trailers parked for the season along the shore. Vevay’s preservation is less precious and the town is less affluent than Madison, but I liked the more casual feel of the place very much.
My resting place of the night, the Fairway Inn, is an exceptional value. It is located across the highway from the BellaTerra, a riverboat casino that consists of a simple boat tied to an immense tower.. My, how we can contort a concept. My motel must cater to gamblers who don’t want to pay for swank rooms. It is probably steep on the weekends, but on a Monday night, they are glad to
see even me. As I am in the middle of nowhere, the only place to eat will be at the casino. Hope they have one of those huge buffets!
Courthouse Salem, IN
Ohio River Madison, IN
Mansion Vevay, IN