Road Trips

The Wabash River bridge at New Harmony

New Harmony is a small village in Indiana’s southwesternmost county, right on the Wabash River. It’s surprisingly remote. You won’t pass through it on your way to anywhere else — especially since the bridge to Illinois was closed.

Closed: New Harmony bridge

Opened in 1930, the Harmony Way Bridge was built by a private concern and later managed, by no less than a 1941 act of Congress, by the White County (Illinois) Bridge Commission, to which three commissioners were appointed. Inexplicably, in 1998 Congress repealed part of that act that provided a mechanism for appointing commissioners. When the last commissioner resigned or died, there would be nobody to manage the bridge.

Closed: New Harmony bridge

I got to drive over this bridge once each way, in 2006, when I took my sons on a Spring Break tour of interesting and historic Indiana sites. We meant to spend a day in New Harmony, which has a fascinating history, but it rained hard when we got there with no end in sight. We drove around New Harmony in a few minutes. I decided we’d see if anything interesting was on the Illinois side of the Wabash. Naught but farm fields, for miles.

Closed: New Harmony bridge

It cost two dollars to find that out — this was a toll bridge, a dollar each way. The funds paid for regular operations with a little left over. But bridge maintenance costs serious money, and over time serious structural problems formed that the bridge commission couldn’t afford to fix. Indiana and Illinois officials closed the bridge permanently in May of 2012.

Closed: New Harmony bridge

The bridge carried about 900 vehicles a day, mostly farm vehicles and vehicles related to the farm service industry, plus some Illinois residents who worked in nearby Evansville, Indiana. Today to reach New Harmony from Illinois you have to drive up to Interstate 64 and then 14 miles down to this little town, or down to a bridge just west of the town of Mt. Vernon and then 22 miles back up.

Indiana SR 66 eastbound

The Welcome to Indiana sign by the closed bridge sure seems superfluous.

Some efforts have been made to reopen the bridge, but so far none have succeeded. While we visited New Harmony we saw posters for a proposal to reopen it for pedestrian use and as an outdoor event center. But the Federal law governing the bridge blocks action. The House of Representatives has passed H.R. 6793 (text here) repealing the 1941 act, creating the New Harmony Bridge Bi-State Commission, and transferring control of the bridge to the new commission. Here’s hoping the Senate takes it up and passes it as well.

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Preservation, Road Trips

Residential architecture of New Harmony

I’ll admit straight out that I know only a little bit about New Harmony’s history. Like every lifelong Hoosier I learned in the fourth grade about the 1810s-20s utopian experiments here. The first experiment, the Harmony Society communal religious sect, founded the town in 1814. Robert Owen bought the town in 1825 and tried again to build utopia around cooperative principles but after just two years he threw in the towel.

Around New Harmony

I suppose these log cabins represent the Harmony Society era. I have no idea if these are original or not but I’d guess not.

Lenz house property

Several brick and frame houses of the Harmonist and Owenite eras do survive. This white house, the c.1822 Lenz house, is from the Harmonist period. I thought surely I’d photographed it in good light, but this sunset photo is the only one I appear to have. Part of the very modern New Harmony Welcome Center is in the photo at left.

Sunset over the Lenz House

It’s not clear to me at all which brick buildings are Harmonist and which are Owenite, but the downtown district is full of them.

Around New Harmony

I wish I’d backed way up to bring the building below entirely into the frame, because I believe now this was one of the Owenite adult dormitories.

Around New Harmony

I gather that in the post-Owenite years, New Harmony tried to continue to lead in social and scientific concerns. It’s all fascinating, really, but more than I intend to cover here — check out the town’s Wikipedia page for a thumbnail.

I just want to show you pretty house pictures. I love an old house! This is the one we stayed in, the c. 1860 Orchard House, part of the New Harmony Inn. We had the place to ourselves for our long weekend. I’ll share interior photos in an upcoming post.

The Orchard House

Of all the other older houses in New Harmony this one’s facade appeals to me most. I love its porch!

New Harmony home

Many of the older homes are typical of other Indiana places.

Around New Harmony

I’m drawn to Victorians as I pass them on the street, but I’m not sure I’d want to live in one. They’re too fussy for me to look at every day.

New Harmony home

I couldn’t tell you the first thing about this house’s architectural style, but it sure has lots of interesting details.

New Harmony home

Finally, a Federal style house.

New Harmony home

As we pedaled our bikes around New Harmony we did see some newer homes, primarily in styles popular in the 1950s and 1960s. On the main drag I noticed at least one house that was probably no older than 1980. But for the most part, living in New Harmony means living in an older home.

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Around New Harmony

Margaret and I try very hard to get away four times a year for a three-day weekend, just the two of us. The concentrated us time really does our marriage good.

Chicago had become our default destination when we decided to mix things up a little. Our last trip, to Bardstown, Kentucky, showed us that small-town outings could be just as fun and much more relaxing.

I’ve always wanted to visit New Harmony, population about 700, in the southwesternmost county in Indiana. I tried once before, on an epic 2007 Spring Break tour with my sons of historic and scenic Indiana places. But it poured down rain the whole time. We drove around the town but never got out of the car.

New Harmony has a fascinating history. Twice in the early 1800s, groups tried to build utopian societies here, one religious and one not. Some of their buildings still stand. We didn’t dig into that during our stay — we wanted to experience New Harmony as it is now and just have a nice time. If you’re interested, this article tells the story in compact form.

A nice time we did have in New Harmony. We rented an 1840s cottage but due to something there being out of order found ourselves upgraded to an enormous four-bedroom house built in about 1860. I’ll share photos of this lovely home in an upcoming post. Renting a house let us bring food with us to make our breakfast and lunch, which let us save a little money, eat more healthfully, and relax through our mornings.

We brought our bikes with us and rode all over this little town, and then halfway through the trip decided it was no trouble really to walk anywhere we wanted to go. We serendipitously enjoyed live music two nights and met many interesting people, some from New Harmony and others visitors just like us.

The only things we wished were different about our trip related to restaurants. Only one restaurant is open in town on Sunday night, and it’s the town’s nicest and most expensive place; we really wanted a light bite in a cozy nook. We also wished menus more easily accommodated our various dietary issues, as we’re used to in the big city.

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Photography, Road Trips

single frame: Main Street, New Harmony

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Road Trips

Working on both the Michigan and National Roads

My new office is on Washington Street in Downtown Indianapolis — the only place where the Michigan Road and the National Road share an alignment.

My desk is on the 12th floor. Here’s the view from the nearest window, after a violent storm passed through. That’s the City-County Building at left, and the city’s new bus terminal at right. Between them, the National Road is headed east and the Michigan Road is headed south.

A portion of the roof is set up like a patio with outdoor furniture. Here’s the view towards Monument Circle at the heart of Indianapolis. The Monument itself rises above the Circle Tower building near lower left.

I’ve already taken a couple Downtown photo walks on my lunch hour. After I’ve fully settled into the new job I expect I’ll take many more.

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Preservation, Road Trips

Restored: Terre Haute’s 1930s Clabber Girl billboard

If you ever drive US 40 westbound into Terre Haute, you’ll find a great old billboard for Clabber Girl Baking Powder at the edge of town. Clabber Girl has been made in Terre Haute since 1899. The billboard dates to the 1930s. Here’s a photo I made of it way back in 2007.

Clabber Girl

It was in pretty good shape then, but time and the elements are not kind to anything left outside. Here are some more photographs I’ve made of it over the years, showing its slow deterioration. 2009:

Clabber Girl

2013, and notice the clock is different:

Five Minutes to Terre Haute

2014:

Clabber Girl
Clabber Girl

This billboard is on what was the property of Mary Fendrich Hulman, whose family owns the makers of Clabber Girl. Mary died a few years ago, and her sprawling horse farm was sold to neighboring Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, expanding its campus. Rose-Hulman got the billboard in the deal, and decided to have this Terre Haute landmark restored. The Terre Haute Tribune-Star tells the restoration story and shares a photograph of the refreshed billboard. Read it here.

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Photography, Road Trips

The giants at Bernheim Forest

Our last stop on our Kentucky weekend was to Bernheim Forest. We wouldn’t have known about it had several locals not told us about it. One of them all but implored us to go, just to see the giants.

The giants at Bernheim Forest

Danish artist Thomas Dambo likes to make big things out of wood. His signature work has become giants like these, which he’s built in forests around the world.

This is Little Nis, who is considering his reflection.

The Giants at Bernheim Forest
The Giants at Bernheim Forest

Danmbo built three giants at Bernheim, but spread them out in the forest so you’d have to hike a while to see them. This is Little Nis’s mother Mama Loumari, who’s expecting another baby giant.

The giants at Bernheim Forest
The Giants at Bernheim Forest
The Giants at Bernheim Forest

Deep in the forest you finally find Little Elina, who’s playing marbles with boulders she found lying around. Dambo builds his giants out of local wood. Unsurprisingly, given that this is bourbon country, the Bernheim giants are made in part from barrel staves.

The giants at Bernheim Forest
The Giants at Bernheim Forest
The giants at Bernheim Forest

I photographed these giants with both my Canon PowerShot S80 and my Nikon FA and 35-70mm Zoom Nikkor on Agfa Vista 200. I found the giants challenging to photograph. I couldn’t find good compositions that fully communicated their size and charm, and the reflecting sun played havoc with even exposures. If I spent more time with the giants, however, I’m sure I’d start to feel at one with them and better photographic compositions would follow.

Bernheim Forest is a gem, and it’s a little south of Louisville just off I-65. We went straight home to Zionsville from here, and the trip took us just 2½ hours. You can visit for free on weekdays, and there’s an affordable charge to visit on the weekends.

Us at Bernheim Forest

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