News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Valley Life

August 25, 2013

Points of interest along the Wabash: Small towns along southern stretch of river offer peaceful sights, historic stops

A drive along highways running parallel to the Wabash River’s southern miles offers peaceful sights.

The business route of U.S. 50 crosses the Wabash at Vincennes, with the George Rogers Clark Memorial on the Indiana side and a monument honoring the migration of Abe Lincoln and his family to Illinois on the western side. South of Vincennes, Illinois 1 leads to Mount Carmel, land of the riverside Hanging Rock formation, and Grayville, the town that watched the Wabash reroute itself during 1985 flooding. Indiana 69 skirts New Harmony, with its unusual architecture and history. Indiana 62 runs from Mount Vernon, along the Ohio River, to the Wabash, which marks the Illinois-Indiana border.

Maine native Frank Doughman, superintendent of the George Rogers Clark National Historical Park, came to Vincennes 18 years ago. Through 30 years of working for the National Park Service, Doughman had lived in five other states.

He chose to stay in a Wabash River town that preserves and celebrates its legacy, and enjoys it. “I could think of a lot worse places to get stuck,” he quipped.

The 26-acre park, and Vincennes itself, give visitors plenty to see. It’s been around awhile. When frontier legend Daniel Boone settled Boonesboro, Vincennes already had 600 residents. Clark scored a transformative Revolutionary War victory, capturing Fort Sackville from the British at Vincennes in 1779, an event commemorated by the monument, national park and annual war re-enactments. Over the past decade, the federal government has invested $10 million in improvements to the park, which sits right at the water’s edge, Doughman said.

Further downstream, New Harmony beckons for those fascinated by the concept of utopia. Two societies sought perfect harmony — one by a religious group, one by academics and intellectuals — on the banks of the Wabash. Elements of those communities, as well as the avant garde attitude they spawned, remain tourist attractions. The open-air Roofless Church fits that blend of religion, art, history and futuristic structures. So does the “Oculus” special effect — a real-life version of the way the human eye interprets images — added to a cabin by resident landscape artist and architect Jim Buchanan.

“You get all these angles,” said MeLissa Williams, visitor services coordinator for Historic New Harmony, “and we’re a small town of 1,000.”

Mark Bennett can be reached at 812-231-4377 or mark.bennett@tribstar.com.

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