Abraham Lincoln and Bicentennial Heritage
Tuesday and Wednesday, September 13-14, 2016
By Nelson Price | Photographs by Julie and Tracy Newhouse
Like the Spring Pilgrimage, the two-day fall trip had a Bicentennial theme and featured visits to sites intertwined with Indiana’s deepest history. They included sites associated with Abraham Lincoln’s youth, who moved with his family at age seven to the Hoosier wilderness shortly before Indiana became the 19th state in 1816. Also like the spring trip, the Fall Pilgrimage drew a maximum-capacity group of 55 Pioneers on the motor coach.
En route from Indianapolis to the southwestern region of the state, the Pioneers stopped in Dubois County, which has a deep German heritage. (As Indiana was settled, Germans became the most populous European ethnic heritage group in the state, followed by the Irish.) In Jasper, the first destination was the massive Dubois County Historical Museum, which opened 12 years ago in a former furniture-making factory. The museum, which has 50,000 square feet, is the largest county historical museum in the state.
The Dubois County Historical Museum is almost overwhelming, run exclusively by local volunteers, with a life-sized replica of a small town’s Main Street that includes recreations of a barber shop and candy store. Other exhibits include displays of desks, cabinets and other furniture made in the region; memorabilia of local sports teams and athletes, and uniforms worn by local Korean War veterans, nurses and others who served in various capacities.
The Pioneers’ immersion in the German heritage of Jasper included a buffet luncheon at the Schnitzelbank Restaurant, which is well-known for its German cuisine.
The Pioneers were welcomed by historian William Bartelt, regarded as the top expert on Lincoln’s 14 years as a Hoosier. Mr. Bartelt, the author of “There I Grew Up”, escorted the group to various sites at the Abraham Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial in Spencer County. They included the Pioneer Cemetery, where Lincoln’s mother, Nancy Hanks Lincoln, is buried, as well as the site of the family’s cabins in what was called the Little Pigeon Creek community.
In the nearby town of Gentryville, the Pioneers toured a little-known Indiana State historic site. It is the restored home – built circa 1834 – of Col. William Jones, a friend and mentor to Lincoln. Col. Jones hired a teenage Abe Lincoln to work in his general store; later in life, Jones served in the Union Army during the Civil War. Bloomington-based philanthropists Bill and Gayle Cook restored his brick, Federal-style home and then transferred ownership to the state of Indiana’s Department of Natural Resources.
The next destination was a historic gem, the unique village of New Harmony on the Wabash River. It is the only site in the country of two experiments in Utopian living. The first wave of Utopia seekers were the Rappites (or Harmonists) from Germany who created the village in the 1820s. Many of their cottages and other structures have been preserved and restored – and were toured by the Pioneers.
The group enjoyed a cocktail party at the historic home of Pioneers board member Dr. George Rapp, who grew up in New Harmony, and his wife Peggy. Parts of their elegant home date to the 1820s. After the cocktail party, the Pioneers savored a catered dinner at a special venue: The Granary, which was used to store grain and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is the oldest German granary in the country. During the dinner, Dr. Rapp spoke to the Pioneers about the heritage of the distinctive building.
The Pioneers spent the night at the New Harmony Inn, then reconvened in the morning at the Athenaeum, the cultural and welcome center of the village. Staff and volunteers with Historic New Harmony answered questions about the evolution of the village and showed a film about the Utopia seekers. The second wave was led by Scottish industrialist Robert Owen, who brought a “boatload of knowledge” (scientists, philosophers, and educators) to New Harmony.
Tours of historic sites in the village followed, including the Roofless Church and the Workingman’s Institute, which houses the village library and artifacts ranging from fossils to oil paintings. The Pioneers also toured an exhibit about the expedition during the 1830s by German explorer Prince Maximilian and Swiss painter Karl Bodmer, who created illustrations of Native Americans and other people he encountered.
Following a luncheon at the award-winning Red Geranium restaurant, the Pioneers visited a Hoosier Salon gallery Dr. and Mrs. Rapp owned. An array of paintings by contemporary Indiana artists was displayed at the gallery.
On the return trip to Indianapolis, the Pioneers stopped in Vincennes, the state’s oldest city, to visit Grouseland, a mansion built in 1803-04 by William Henry Harrison, Indiana’s territorial governor. A costumed docent greeted the group on the porch of Grouseland, considered the first brick house in the Indiana Territory.
Inside the historic home, the Pioneers enjoyed tours as well as a reception of heavy hors d’oeuvres. It was the final highlight on a Bicentennial tour full of highlights.