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Meandering Indiana 15 – Posey County

August 4, 2009

LenzGardenHoosiers call it the Pocket or perhaps the Boot (although in that case it should be the Toe), the farthest southwestern corner of the state. The first time I went there, I was amazed by the fact that it was actually 20 minutes past Evansville, which scarcely seemed credible.

But New Harmony in Posey County is very popular with the history crowd, due to both its background and its facilities. The town had two lives in the nineteenth century. First, it was founded as a utopian religious community. At that time it was on the state’s main drag (the Wabash River), just a stone’s throw from the nation’s superhighway to the West (the Ohio River).

New Harmony originated as a German religious community, founded in 1814 and led by George Rapp. When the Harmonists decided to relocate to Pennsylvania, the settlement was bought by Robert Owen and William Maclure who brought in a “boatload of knowledge” (scientists and educators) and established a community of learning. In a sense that legacy remains today. With its nineteenth-century buildings and its conference center, Historic New Harmony (a program of the University of Southern Indiana and the Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites) is a prime destination for gatherings and for tourism.

Staying in the New Harmony Inn, I’ve enjoyed the period furniture and the peaceful retreat setting. Perhaps my favorite building, though, is the Working Men’s Institute, the oldest continuously operating library in Indiana (established 1838), which also has an archive, museum, and art gallery.

New Harmony, however, is not the county seat of Posey County. That distinction goes to Mount Vernon, one of Indiana’s three official ports. (The other two are Burns Harbor on Lake Michigan, and Jeffersonville, upstream on the Ohio River.) As a port, Mount Vernon is protected by the U.S. Coast Guard 8th District, headquartered in New Orleans, and it was one of 19 stops for the Indiana Humanities Council’s Always a River floating museum.

So while Posey County may seem to be tucked away in a remote corner of Indiana, from a maritime point of view it’s on the (water)way to everywhere.

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