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A Taste of Lincoln and Historic Southern Indiana
Friday, May 14, 2010

By Nelson Price

A filled-to-capacity motor coach trip to historic sites in Corydon on a balmy May 14 became a stimulating and memorable Spring Pilgrimage. The eventful day, a Friday, included a tour of a historic African-American school that a Pioneers board member has restored; the re-enactment of a landmark trial involving slavery in Indiana, and a luncheon talk by the author of a new book about Abraham Lincoln’s youth in the Hoosier state.

Most of the trip to Corydon – with side visits to New Albany and Leavenworth – was put together by historic preservationist Maxine Brown, a Corydon native who is a board member of the Pioneers as well as of Indiana Landmarks Foundation Inc.

Indiana’s first State Capitol Building in Corydon

The motor coach departed from Indianapolis and headed directly to the Ohio River. The first stop was a buffet lunch at the Overlook, a scenic restaurant in Leavenworth that overlooks the river. The Pioneers savored a captivating presentation about Lincoln’s youth by William Bartelt, a historian and retired educator with a long affiliation with the Lincoln historic sites in southwestern Indiana; he is the author of There I Grew Up (Indiana Historical Society Press).

View of the Ohio River from the Overlook Restaurant
William Bartelt, luncheon speaker, with Nelson Price, Pilgrimage Chair

The next stop was Corydon. Following a brief driving tour of landmarks, including the state’s first Capitol building, the Pioneers visited a historic site built in 1891 known for generations as the Corydon Colored School. Thanks to a restoration project initiated by Maxine Brown, the historic school today is a cultural and educational center known as the Leora Brown School. It is named in honor of Maxine’s late aunt, a former student and long-time, beloved teacher at the school, which closed in the 1950s with integration.

Restored Leora Brown School – formerly Corydon Colored School

At the school and under Maxine’s direction, two local re-enactors, Lance Ponder and Lanisha Gholston, portrayed the major figures in State vs. LaSalle, a case decided in 1820 by the Indiana Supreme Court. A slave owner was taken to court by a teenage African-American girl whom he had enslaved before Indiana achieved statehood. He argued that the state Constitution prohibiting slavery could not be applied retroactively.

Actors Lance Ponder (as Justice Isaac Blackford) and Lanisha Gholston (as Polly Strong)

The re-enactors won applause for their compelling portrayals of Polly Strong, the young protagonist, and the Hoosier judge who ruled in her favor. The Pioneers were joined in the audience by dozens of Corydon-area residents as well as TV crews from Bloomington.

After the trial re-enactment and a question-answer session with Maxine and the performers, many Pioneers enjoyed informal tours of historic cemeteries near the Leora Brown School.

Then, the group boarded the motor coach to travel to New Albany. The Pioneers toured the Carnegie Center for Art and History, which is located in a former Carnegie library. Exhibits featured local artwork. At the center, the Pioneers also watched footage from a documentary about the Underground Railroad, with a particular emphasis on aspects related to southern Indiana.

The return trip to Indiana involved a boxed dinner, followed by a stop for ice cream at a Russell Stover outlet as the Pioneers savored the highlights of an unforgettable pilgrimage.