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What Ohio River History Tells Us About America

Rivers were the interstate highways of post-Revolutionary War era America. The network of rivers, streams and tributaries—which spider throughout the US—carried explorers first, and then settlers deep into the nation's heartland.

Today, groups could ponder the river and its history while at a riverside restaurant, park or attraction in the area of Southern Indiana we call "SoIN"—Clark and Floyd counties.

Just across the mighty Ohio River from Louisville, Kentucky, SoIN is an ideal spot to plan a group outing. If you want learn more about the incredible history of the Ohio River, keep reading for a guide to get you started in SoIN.

Falls of the Ohio State Park, Clarksville
Start your journey at the Falls of the Ohio State Park, which was once an area covered by a tropical sea 390 million years ago. While there, you could travel through historic milestones in the park's Interpretive Center. The Lewis and Clark Expedition also has roots here. It's the site where Meriwether Lewis and William Clark shook hands before recruiting their "Corps of Discovery" from the area.

Additional highlights include the nation's largest exposed Devonian fossil bed, which is visible when the river is low (typically during the period of July – September). The Falls are the only natural impediment on the river's 981-mile length! Notably, this site was added to the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail in 2019, as it was the place where explorers met up before embarking on their journey.

Underground Railroad Sites, New Albany
Escaped enslaved people sought shelter on the Underground Railroad, and there is evidence that New Albany, Indiana, played a role. Just north of Kentucky, the Ohio River was a dividing line, with many enslaved people journeying toward freedom into Indiana and further north. On this part of your journey, learn about the network of courageous men and women in two New Albany sites.

Hear stories of the Underground Railroad at the Town Clock Church, which is on the National Park Service's Network to Freedom. Groups could also explore the Carnegie Center for Art & History's exhibits: Ordinary People, Extraordinary Courage: Men and Women of the Underground Railroad and Remembered: The Life of Lucy Higgs Nichols.

Shipbuilding at the Howard Steamboat Museum
Finally, steamboat history abounds in Jeffersonville. Groups could visit the Howard Steamboat Museum and learn about the Howard family's Howard Shipyard, which produced a majority of the vessels during the storied steamboat era.

Among the things to do here is viewing the 22-room three-story Richardsonian Romanesque mansion where the Howard family lived. Taking a tour of the historic mansion is recommended, as it has welcomed two newly-opened rooms to the tour in 2021. Museum furnishings include those purchased at the 1893 Columbian Exposition.

Check out SoIN Tourism's itineraries or develop a custom one for your group. Contact SoIN Tourism's Sales Manager, Todd Read at [email protected] or 812.280.8082.

Courtesy of SoIN Tourism.

 Photos courtesy of SoIN Tourism.

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