“Well I was born in a small town
And I live in a small town”
These are the places John Mellencamp has sung about, where it’s impossible to stroll down the street without seeing a familiar face and the town square is a one-stop shop for dinner, new shoes and a haircut. Despite the threats of big-box stores moving in and schools consolidating, small towns still exist. You’ll find them located off the main highways and tucked in the hills throughout Southern Indiana.
Small towns are the lifeblood of the country, says Dorothy Graham, owner of Persimmon Tree in Paoli. Here, face-to-face interaction is cherished, something you’d be hard-pressed to find in a big city. Quaker pastor, writer and small-town resident Phil Gulley appreciates that he can still ride his bike down the familiar streets and take his children hiking in the same places where he romped as a child. Gulley says some small towns may have dreams of becoming large cities, but sometimes that doesn’t happen. The result is planned out communities with established shops, churches and schools, hoping to grow and thrive.
The rich food, history and people in small towns make up for their lack of size. We’ve created day trips to three Southern Indiana towns in hopes that you’ll realize there’s always another delicious diner to find, a bit of hidden history to discover or a welcoming person to meet.
We mapped out the must-sees, must-dos and must-eats of Clarksville, Paoli and Salem. These destinations represent the best of small town culture that continues to thrive in Southern Indiana. Explore the river town of Clarksville, discover historical Salem and browse through the shops on Paoli’s town square.
Rediscover a simpler life and take a day trip to one, or all, of these small towns. “If you want a high action vacation, that’s one way to do it,” Graham says. ”But there’s natural beauty here. Sometimes we don’t move as fast, but we don’t lose as much either.”
It’s easy to overlook Clarksville. Miss the highway exit ramp, and you’ll find yourself crossing the Ohio River bridge into Louisville. When we first drove into Clarksville, we weren’t sure we were there, given its proximity to Jeffersonville and New Albany. Then we saw the giant Colgate Clock looming overhead, and we knew we’d arrived.
Clarksville is one of three Indiana river towns that make up the area called the “Sunny Side of Louisville.” The people of Louisville don’t seem too offended by this title, according to Linda Hughes, operations manager of the Clarks-Floyd Counties Convention-Tourism Bureau. The town was created when ships couldn’t navigate past the limestone fossil beds that make up the Falls of the Ohio, prompting people to settle along the river.
It’s a good thing we didn’t miss the exit because the breathtaking view of the Ohio was just the beginning of our Clarksville adventure.
FALLS OF THE OHIO
When you visit the Falls of the Ohio State Park, you’ll learn about the Devonian age at the Interpretive Center, experience the area’s thriving nature reserves and be taken back in time to the home of General George Rogers Clark.
The Interpretive Center opened in 1994 on a plot of land that used to be filled with trash and teaches paleontology, glaciers, converging cultures and conservation. When you enter the center, friendly staff greet you and offer their help and knowledge. Visitors can hear about when the area was a warm, inland sea with 20-foot-long armored fish, the formation of the fossil beds and the changes that occurred when the Native Americans met with the first European settlers. A wildlife observation room is a birders’ hotspot, where you might see any one of the 270 bird species in the area. You can also sign up for guided hikes out on the 220-acre Devonian fossil bed, one of the oldest in the world.
A quick five-minute drive or a one-mile trek along the Ohio River Greenway brings you to the home site of George Rogers Clark. The highest-ranking American military officer in the northwest frontier in the Revolutionary War, he was originally asked to accompany Meriwether Lewis on his famous expedition. Believing he was too old, Clark recommended his younger brother William to go with Lewis instead. Although other towns stake the same claim, historian Stephen Ambrose’s research indicates that Lewis and William Clark shook hands in Clarksville, marking the true beginning of their expedition. A statue of the handshake resides outside the museum.
The Clark cabin is not a replica but a representative cabin, meaning it is a real cabin from the same time period brought to the location. A smaller cabin on the property was built to look like Guinea Bottoms, where Clark’s indentured servants, the McGees, lived. Guinea Bottoms was one of the first free African American settlements in the Northwest Territory.
Guided fossil bed hikes from August-October or as scheduled; visit website for park hours, fees and special events http://www.fallsoftheohio.org/index.html
- Clarksville is home to the original Texas Roadhouse. Now, it’s a chain with 320 locations in 46 states and one international restaurant in Dubai. If you’re hankering for some fluffy rolls, personable service and a juicy steak, head down to Green Tree Mall.
- You’ll find the second-largest Bass Pro Shop, at 280,000 square feet, here. (Only the Springfield, Missouri, store is bigger.)
- The Ohio River Greenway, a seven-mile path along the river, winds through Clarksville, Jeffersonville and New Albany. Restaurants, parks and the George Rogers Clark home site are along the trail.
- A shady bench at Ashland Park on the Greenway offers a great view of Louisville. If you’re a storm chaser, Hughes says it’s a great place to watch a thunderstorm roll over the river.
- People in Clarksville never have to wonder what time it is because the seventh largest clock in the world sits on a building that was once the Colgate-Palmolive Factory and a state prison. At 40 feet in diameter, Colgate Clock was once the second largest clock in the world.
Adrienne and Co. Bakery Café — Kings Island calls on this Italian café in downtown Jeffersonville for special-occasion cakes, and Buddy from TLC’s “Cake Boss” used Adrienne’s cupcakes for a segment in Louisville. Co-owner Bernie Pasquantino used many of his mother’s Italian recipes when he opened the café in 2001. Italian wedding cookies, coconut macaroons and amaretti cookies are just a few of the tasty treats. Fresh-to-order lunch is served daily, and a new cupcake is featured each week.
Don’t leave without tasting a cannoli. “You really can’t get a cannoli like that anywhere in Louisville,” Bernie claims.
Open: Mon.-Tues. 7 a.m.-5:30 p.m.; Wed.-Fri. 7 a.m.–8 p.m.; Sat.8:30 a.m.–3 p.m.; closed Sun. Adrienne’s Café will host the annual Jeffersonville Italian Festival on Sept. 27-29 this year. Described by Pasquantino as a “big street party,” this event outside their storefront features food and drink from local vendors, music and games and attracted more than 8,000 people last year.
Widow’s Walk Ice Cream — Take a break on the Ohio River Greenway and grab an ice cream cone at Widow’s Walk Ice Creamery. Open from mid-March through mid-October, the ice creamery has outdoor seating and boasts one of the best locations to enjoy the Louisville skyline. The creamery shares a Victorian-style house with the Widow’s Peak hair salon. Co-owner Bryan Farley recommends the Proud Mary Peanut Cup Sundae: a warm brownie piled high with peanut butter cups, drizzled hot fudge, whipped cream, nuts and a cherry on top.
Derby Dinner Playhouse — If you’re looking for a great show and excellent meal, Clarksville’s Derby Dinner Playhouse can provide both. Opened in 1974, the playhouse is one of the oldest continually running dinner theaters in the country and the only professional theater in Southern Indiana. Now in its 39th season, it attracts visitors from all 50 states and Canada. Passionate performers, clever costumes and an orchestra liven up every performance.
Located on Marriott Drive; tickets can be ordered online or via phone. Visit the website for additional information http://www.derbydinner.com/
WHAT SURPRISED US
Clarksville is expanding. A building plan called Clark’s Landing will revamp the town’s center with more restaurants, shops and the Colgate Center, a large convention center.
WHY I LOVE THIS TOWN
Kelley Morgan is the interpretive manager at the Falls of the Ohio Interpretive Center.
“It’s really a million-dollar view,” she says. “You’ve got the river, and in the evening we have the best view of Louisville. The sunset is beautiful. You can appreciate what you’ve got right outside your window.”
It’s hard to get lost in Salem. As we drove into town, we saw the quaint downtown and the tip of the courthouse poking through the clouds in the distance. Dawn Powell Camp, the tours and library assistant at the John Hay Center, remembers jumping up and down when the Salem courthouse came into view because that meant they were almost to Grandma’s house. As we continued our drive, we spotted the welcome sign boasting Salem as “A great place to live and make a living.”
Salt licks and lush land originally drew the first European settlers to the area, where the four-season climate was ideal for farming. The railroad attracted business and more newcomers. The town of Salem soon flourished.
You don’t have to venture too far off the square to find what you’re looking for. As Camp says, “If you’re looking for history, you’ve come to the right place.”
JOHN HAY CENTER
Located in downtown Salem, the John Hay Center includes the birthplace of its namesake, the Stevens Memorial Museum, the pioneer village and the Depot Railroad Museum. The Stevens Museum is named for Warder Stevens, who wrote the first 100 years of town history. It includes many artifacts of John Hay, an attorney born in Salem in 1838 who became Abraham Lincoln’s right-hand man. A genealogy library draws people from all over the country to trace their ancestry. Camp even discovered she is a Daughter of the Revolution, a descendent of someone who helped America achieve independence. Museum exhibits include Native American artifacts from the Delaware, Shawnee, Miami and Piankashau tribes, old-time fashions and careers and a military room commemorating local soldiers.
The John Hay House in the pioneer village was built in 1814 as a schoolhouse. Families lived there until 1969, and it’s now on the National Registry of Historic Places. The recreated pioneer village has hosted Old Settlers’ Day on the third weekend in September every year since 1875. The festival celebrates the lives and contributions of the town’s forefathers. The Depot Railroad Museum, behind the pioneer village, recognizes Salem’s role in organizing the Monon Railroad Line between Salem and New Albany.
- Salem resident Sarah Parke Morrison was the first woman graduate of Indiana University, but she was not allowed to walk in the graduation because it was thought “unseemly.” Parke attended IU for her third degree in an effort to lobby for other women to attend, and Morrison Hall on IU’s Bloomington campus is named after her.
- One of Salem’s most famed residents, Everett Dean, 1920s IU basketball player and coach and 1940s Stanford coach, was influential in creating the pioneer village at the John Hay Center.
- The Carnegie Library, just off the town square, was built in 1905. Andrew Carnegie established 2,800 libraries across the United States, and Indiana is home to 135, more than any other state.
- Becks Mill is the only surviving gristmill in Washington County. The first corn was ground in 1808, and was powered by the Blue River. Family members continued to operate it for 200 years before donating it in 2005 to the Friends of Becks Mill, who restored the structure.
H&R Bakery — Tucked neatly behind a building about a block from the town square, it features baked goods in a display case spanning the length of the shop. Most of the goodies are less than a dollar. Local residents rave about the glazed donuts, and you can satisfy your sweet tooth at nearly all hours of the morning or night.
Located on East Walnut Street; open round the clock from midnight Monday to 8 p.m. Saturday
Christie’s on the Square — A charming red, green and orange awning hangs over the storefront of Christie’s on the Square, with large windows looking out to the courthouse. Step inside and you’ll discover tables and chairs that you’d find in your own kitchen, colorful artwork hanging on the walls and an accommodating staff. Lunch entrees, made to order, are reasonably priced (starting at $6.99) and different desserts are offered daily (Don’t miss the carrot cake!) The chips are fried and tenderloin breaded right in the store. Tara Klinglesmith, a waitress at Christie’s for five years, says you can’t go wrong with anything on the menu. Be sure to get there early for a table – this place is a lunchtime favorite for Salem residents.
Visit the website for menu options and hours http://www.christiesonsalemsquare.com/
Salem Speedway — Calling all Speedy Gonzaleses! The Salem Speedway opened in 1947 and can accommodate speeds of almost 140 miles per hour. The hilly, oval-shaped track has challenged some of the top racers of all-time, including Mario Andretti, A.J. Foyt, Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson. Even if you don’t purchase tickets, stop by the track and get a good look at this historic speedway.
For tickets and an event schedule visit http://www.salemspeedway.com/
Knobstone Trail — The longest trail in Indiana, the Knobstone Trail ends nine miles northeast of Salem at Delaney Creek Park in Washington County. The Delaney Creek Park Trailhead has parking, camping, cabins and showers. The trail is 58
miles long and demanding. Serious hikers often tackle the Knobstone in preparation for the Appalachian Trail.
WHAT SURPRISED US
In downtown Salem, you can pick up your prescription and get a drink from an old-fashioned soda fountain in one location. Pharmacist and owner Rebecca Marshall has been running Salem Apothecary for more than 27 years. The site has been a pharmacy since 1876, and in 1985 Marshall took out the tobacco section of the store to add the soda fountain. Healthy lunch options, such as Cuban sandwiches and couscous, are now being served at the soda fountain every weekday.
WHY I LOVE THIS TOWN
Rebecca Marshall was born in Salem, moved away to attend college and has since returned.
“It’s just a nice, small town. You don’t find independent pharmacies anywhere else. People come here because we know each other.”
Time slows down in Paoli. When we drove in on a Friday afternoon, the downtown was calm and peaceful. Cars filtered through the town square, driving in, around and off to other destinations. A few parking spaces surrounding the courthouse were filled. Shopkeepers glanced out their windows, waiting for customers to visit.
In 1809, a group of Quakers, led by Jonathan Lindley, were the first to settle in Orange County. The group migrated up from North Carolina, then a slave state. The Quakers opposed slavery and suffered economically as a result. Southern Indiana provided fertile ground and a chance to start over. “It promised to be a new territory where they wouldn’t have to compete with slave labor,” says Chris Lindley, social studies teacher at Paoli Junior-Senior High School and a descendent of Jonathan. “We’ve been here ever since.”
Lindley remembers a time when the town square was the place to be on a Saturday: It was the town’s social network.
In recent years, Paoli has had its fair share of setbacks. An electrical fire in November 2010 burned through an entire row of shops on the square of downtown Paoli. The following November, a tornado swept through town. Many shops are closing their doors for good.
Despite these obstacles, the town is starting to write their comeback story. And Roslyn Alvey, the owner of Roslyn’s Corner Gift Shops and Antiques, is content. “We’ve had good days, and we’ve had bad days, but we’ve loved all the days.”
TOWN SQUARE SHOPS
Take a walk around the Paoli square and you’ll discover a couple restaurants, a barbershop and small shops that sell this and that. But something is missing. No antique stores, Alvey says. Step into her store and you’ll smell the WoodWick candles on display. Alvey, who’s lived in Paoli for 32 years, celebrated her store’s 20th anniversary in 2012 and hopes to start incorporating more antiques into her inventory because “people are really looking for them.”
Despite Paoli’s small-town charm, Alvey admits that many of the storefronts need some up-do, and a grant from the Hoosier Uplands Economic Development Corp. will help fund the renewal. “When things are bad, people come together,” Alvey says. “We’re hanging in there, and we’re going to get it done.”
Take a left out of Alvey’s shop and stroll down the sidewalk. Pass the barbershop and cross the street, where you’ll find Persimmon Tree Gifts. Dorothy Graham, a friend of Alvey’s, owns the shop that sells plush animals, jewelry and Christmas items year round. “We all work together,” Graham says. “We’re not competing with each other, but complementing each other.” Persimmon Tree’s building, owned by Graham and her husband for the past 15 years, was once a Model T garage, a dress shop and a skating rink.
Follow the sloping side street away from the square and you’ll discover the Lost River Market & Deli. Alvey jokes that her store, Persimmon Tree and Lost River are the “three best stores on the square.” The food co-op has been in business almost six years now. Over 100 local vendors contribute to the co-op, which employs eight people full-time and has 896 members. Co-op member Debbie Turner volunteers whenever she can and recommends the deli in the back, which provides a quick snack or an excellent lunch. Stick around for the Wednesday night “jammers” who appear on the front steps and porch of the deli. Their impromptu concerts are usually from 6-8.
At first glance at Paoli, you see a town square that could benefit from a facelift. But look closer and you’ll see more: the rolling hills that envelop the town, the Greek-revival courthouse standing tall and white in the center and a new sense of purpose. You’ll see the beauty of a town in transition.
- Big Locust Farm Bed and Breakfast, located across the street from the Pioneer Village, sits on a plot of land owned by the Lindley family since the 1930s. The B&B offers a large country breakfast, comfy rooms and is a home base for anyone visiting the Hoosier National Forest, Paoli Peaks or French Lick.
- A white-and-blue old-fashioned drive-in sits on the side of the road heading toward French Lick and Paoli Peaks. Shakeburger, known for its to-die-for malts, burgers and tenderloins, is worth the pit stop.
- Meat lovers take note: Porky’s BBQ serves hearty ribs, tangy BBQ sandwiches and more. The restaurant is located just outside of the town square. Look for the pig with sunglasses.
German Café – Across from Wal-mart and down the street from Wendy’s, you’ll find a top-notch German restaurant, recently featured in Indianapolis Monthly. Owner Ramona Muenzer and her family opened the restaurant shortly after moving to the United States four years ago. They offer authentic German dishes made with ingredients imported from their home country. Be sure to order Muenzer’s “German Bratwurste” and the delectable goulash. Decorated with quirky items scavenged from German flea markets, the restaurant has a homey feeling. “We can be fancy,” Muenzer said. “It’s eclectic, but people like it.” The restaurant has regulars who venture here from all over the state for a taste of Germany. Muenzer says they have yet to serve a celebrity guest, but she secretly hopes one day her crush Rod Stewart will drop in and enjoy some of her goulash.
Visit http://www.thegermancafepaoli.com/ for hours and additional information.
Paoli Peaks — Most people wouldn’t peg Southern Indiana as a ski area. Nevertheless, Paoli Peaks thrives throughout its mid-December to early March season. With two terrain parks, 15 trails and nine snow-tubing lanes, Paoli Peaks has options for skiers of every level of expertise. The Peaks also offers equipment rentals and ski/board lessons and has a shop and food venues on site. There’s no lodging at the resort but patrons can find nearby options.
For events, lodging options, trip planning and more visit http://www.paolipeaks.com/
Springs Valley Trail – Looking for a fun day of activity and beautiful scenery? The Springs Valley Trail, part of the Hoosier National Forest, is 12.7 miles long, open year round and welcomes hikers, mountain bikers, backpackers and horseback riders. Remnants of the old Buffalo Trace, a land route paved by migrating buffalo and used by early settlers to travel west, can be seen from the trail. Enjoy the views of Springs Valley Lake along the way. If you are looking for a longer route, you can take country roads to connect to Youngs Creek Trail.
WHAT SURPRISED US
The view of the town from the third-floor balcony of the courthouse. Make sure you take the stairs to the top.
WHY I LOVE THIS TOWN
Turner, a volunteer at Lost River Market and Deli, owns a farm with her husband in Paoli.
“We have made the best friends of our lives. We are having a ball here.”