2007 Hoosier Heritage Pilgrimage
Friday & Saturday, October 5-6, 2007
Evansville and New Harmony, Indiana
by Nelson Price
On October 5 and 6 – a Friday and Saturday – 20 Pioneers
and guests traveled to historic sites in Evansville and
New Harmony. The group of Hoosiers began the day by crossing the Ohio
River (and the state line) to Henderson, Ky., to visit the John J. Audubon
Museum, which honors the world-famous naturalist and ornithologist.
The museum is located on the lush grounds of a state park.
After the brief foray into our neighboring state, the Pioneers traveled
back across the Ohio River for lunch in Evansville at
a catering business located in a historic home (built in the 1870s)
that once was a brothel. From lunch, we traveled to The Pagoda, an Asian-style
structure that’s home to the Evansville Visitors Center.
A guide at the center gave us a walking tour behind The Pagoda, which
is located on the Ohio River shoreline. He shared city
history and took the Pioneers around the levee to the Four Freedoms
Monument, which honors the “four freedoms” outlined by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
The walking tour was followed by a motor coach tour of historic sites
in Evansville, including the old county courthouse (built in 1891 on
the site of the Wabash and Eerie Canal) as well as the city’s
historic riverfront neighborhood.
The next stop for the Pioneers was a truly historic site, the famous
Angel Mounds State Park. It’s the site settled by a pre-Columbian
group of Native Americans known as the Mississippians, whose culture
essentially vanished. The Pioneers visited the mounds (which were the
Mississippians’ residences), then were treated to a presentation
by a guide about various artifacts found at the state
The group returned to Evansville to check into our hotel, where we ate
dinner. Our evening speaker, Evansville Museum historian Tom Lonnegan,
shared photos and a fascinating presentation about a dramatic chapter
in Evansville history: During World War II, the shipbuilding industry
exploded as the city was chosen to make LST battleships. At maximum
production, the Evansville Shipyard employed more than 19,000 people
(the majority of the shipbuilders were women), making it the largest
employer in city history.
The next morning, the Pioneers began the day by touring Trinity United
Methodist Church, portions of which date to the 1860s – with a
congregational lineage that goes back even further, to
1819. The church tour was followed by a visit to one of the most majestic
restored homes in the state, the ornate Reitz Mansion in Evansville.
The Empire Style-mansion was built in 1871 for the wealthy Reitz family
of landowners and bankers.
Then it was back to the LSTs, as the Pioneers traveled to the site of
the Evansville Shipyard to tour the last surviving battleship. It was
de-commissioned in 1961, used by the Greek navy until the 1990s, then
brought back to Evansville to commemorate the World War II shipbuilding
Going from a war-related site to a place known for peace and harmony,
the Pioneers traveled to scenic New Harmony, the site
of two unusual experiments in Utopian living. The group’s visit
began at the well-known restaurant the Red Geranium, where the our hosts,
Dr. George and Peggy Rapp, met the Pioneers for a gourmet lunch. Also
joining the group was a surprise (and special) guest, legendary Jane
Blaffer Owen, the philanthropist and key figure in the restoration of
historic New Harmony.
During the afternoon in New Harmony, the Pioneers visited the Welcome
Center to see a film about the village’s unique history. Then
the group toured several historic buildings, including a cabin restored
by the Colonial Dames as well as a granary. A mnotor coach tour featured
sites such as the Roofless Church and the Labyrinth. Then the Rapps
treated the group to a wine and hors d’oeuvres reception at their
Hoosier Salon art gallery in New Harmony. That elegant
affair was the final stop on the stimulating, two-day exploration of
historic southwest Indiana.