on the river
highlights life on the Ohio River
VEVAY, Ind. (December 2006) Switzerland County,
Ind., located at mile 537.6 of the Ohio River, has long been recognized
as one of the most important river communities of the 19th century.
Vevay, the county seat, became a major port of call for steamboats churning
up and down the river.
by Konnie McCollum
Life on the Ohio River History
Museum features replicas of steamboats
that once operated on the river.
The Life on the Ohio River History Museum, located at
208 Market St., documents the history of riverboats, from the earliest
flatboats to the steamboats, which traveled along the shores of Switzerland
The museum has been opened for about two years. Previously, many of
the exhibits were housed in the Switzerland County Historical Museum,
located on the grounds next to the river museum.
Thanks to money bequeathed to the Switzerland County Historical Society
by Doris Dupraz, officials at the historical museum were able to buy
on land contract the building that now houses the river museum. The
Paul Ogle Foundation of Jeffersonville, Ind., then stepped in and paid
off the $102,000 mortgage on the museum.
When the building next to the history museum became available,
we knew we had to get it, said Martha Bladen, the historical societys
president. She said the river history artifacts and documents were squeezed
into a corner of the history museum and needed their own building.
The Switzerland County Council and the Town of Vevay Council also granted
the museum money to help renovate the building. The Town of Vevay helped
fund the concrete sidewalks and the courtyard garden.
Local Boy Scouts working on an Eagle Scout project laid the brick sidewalk,
while members of the Junior Historical Society at the Switzerland County
High School helped with yard maintenance and other physical labors.
The exhibits in the new museum include rare flatboat and steamboat documents
not found in any other museum, such as passenger ledgers, shipping ledgers
and bills of laden that describe the historical story of both people
and goods that traveled along the river.
There is an exhibit in one section of the museum that highlights steamboat
disasters. There are even artifacts on display from the 1868 disastrous
collision between the two steamboats United States and America along
the Switzerland county shores.
Other exhibits include rare models of various boats that have played
a prominent role in river history. There is a large model of the famous
Ohio River steam packet boat, the City of Louisville, at the museum.
The model was built by a man who had once been a member of her crew.
Eleven smaller replicas of model boats made with matchbooks and other
small everyday items are enclosed in glass cases. The perfectly-detailed,
hand-crafted models were made by Switzerland County native Harold Patterson,
once an actor on Capi. Billy Bryants New Showboat.
Along the wall in the main exhibit room is a mural depicting the shoreline
of the entire Ohio River. A similar mural showing the shoreline of Switzerland
County runs along the wall in the entryway. Old photos, letters and
journals help reconstruct the life of riverboat workers and travelers.
Danny Back, a member of the Historical Indiana Speakers Association,
said, This museum tells the entire story of riverboat life.
Back helped conduct the feasibility study used in the application for
In addition to the funds for the new Life on the Ohio River Museum,
Bladen said the Paul Ogle Foundation also granted the Switzerland County
Historical Society $65,000 for renovation on its historical museum.
The building, which has housed the museum since 1970, needed major
work, she said. The building was formerly a Presbyterian Church.
Bladen said contractors lowered the ceilings, fixed the leaks, put in
new plaster, better lighting, new duct work for air conditioning and
heating, removed mold, fixed floors, and did other structural work on
The Community Foundation of Switzerland County paid for the flooring
and carpet, while the Vevay-Switzerland County Foundation paid for a
The Switzerland County Historical Museum highlights the Swiss families
who immigrated to the area, and the items in the museum have to have
some significance for local people. The first piano in Indiana is on
display in the museum. It was brought to Switzerland County in 1817
by concert pianist Mary Wright, who reportedly performed concerts for
people in her log cabin.
For more information about the Life on the Ohio
River History Museum or the Switzerland County Historical Museum, call
(812) 427-3560 or call the Switzerland County Welcome Center at 1-800-HELLO-VV.
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