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Finding Joy in Wandering

While I can wander by myself, my best wandering was done with my late wife Beth. Since her passing I have been sharing wandering experiences with family members and friends. Just yesterday, I took three family members on a trip to one portion of the Whitewater Canal Scenic Byway and on The Old National Road All-American Byway to get there. Along with me was my sister, one remaining aunt, and a dear cousin who is losing her mobility to a degenerative nerve disease. We had known for a long time that we needed to take a trip, so we finally picked a date for two of us and invited others to join us if it fit. We headed out from Carmel and Indianapolis early on a Friday morning. While I took some pictures today, I didn't have as many sites to capture as I do many places because I have consulted in this region for 17 years on numerous projects and byway applications and have a large catalog of images.

Today’s weather was perfect, cool in the morning (50º) and rose to 75º by mid-afternoon. The skies were Autumn blue with wispy clouds and criss-crossing jet trails. It couldn’t have been better. The reds and golds of the Sugar Maples popped against the green shades of other trees. Our group was not short on conversation. We discussed church, minimal politics, family history, and our life experiences. It was a nice pace throughout the day. This historic route is lined with beautiful homes, former commercial buildings and others reused.

From Broad Ripple we took Kessler Blvd. (which has a wonderful story of its own) east to 56th Street and then onto I-465 then south to US40/National Road. Drove east along the old highway, the nation's first 'interstate' highway. Shared some tidbits about settlements along the route as we drove through Cumberland, Gem, and Philadelphia. In Greenfield, we admired downtown architecture and I pointed out James Whitcomb Riley’s home and ‘The Old Swimmin’ Hole’ along Brandywine Creek. On ahead we crossed Nameless Creek (which is a name, isn't it?), drove through Cleveland and Charlottesville before entering Henry County and Knightstown.

Highway crews were paving US40 through Knightstown which made decision-making more difficult. I was able to relocate the beautiful historic home of my nephew and his family, which I’d been to once before, and show it to our crew. Just past Big Blue River east of town, we followed the signs for the official Old National Road Scenic Byway route, a paved road that runs parallel to US 40. and rejoins US40 five miles farther. We enjoyed passing the farm fields where farmers were harvesting corn and soybeans. Nice to be away from the crush of the Indy metro. We drove five miles through Raysville, Ogden, and Dunreith before rejoining the main highway.

We returned to US40 and continued east through Lewisville and Straughn. Once we reached Durbin we were within the region that I showcased in the Whitewater Canal Scenic Byway Driving Guide (available free at We drove slowly to look at buildings and stopped to read every historic marker. I shared stories of the Huddleston House in Mount Auburn which is available for purchase from Indiana Landmarks. Cambridge City is the third of three towns that all run together along US40 here. In town we looked at murals, read historic markers, and I shared stories of the Overbeck Sisters Pottery, Solomon and Virginia Meredith, the first Danner’s Department Store, interesting Knights of Pythias building, old school building, historic houses (1), warehouses, churches, and the old canal basin at the Vinton House. We left town following the signed route under the railroad viaduct and onto SR1.

Turning south, we headed through Milton and I saw that the former school building was torn down. What a loss. Pointed out other sites along that short stretch to Connersville — Beeson Cemetery and the road to the platted, but never built town of Lockport at a Canal feeder dam that supplied Connersville downstream.

Once in Connersville, we drove down Western Avenue to the cemetery with the dollhouse instead of a gravestone for a deceased child, America’s first industrial park, the six-story former Connersville Furniture Factory that was hydraulically-powered by the Canal (now apartments), and St. Gabriel’s Catholic Church (2) and School. We stopped for a much needed stretch break at the depot of the Whitewater Valley Rail Road, an excursion train that makes 19-mile trips to Metamora and then returns. We drove around looking at more buildings and houses and then agreed to get lunch there. We settled on the Old Rooste, a restaurant that established in 2019 and is highly rated. The eatery's decor was inspired by Chip and Joanna Gaines and HGTV. The food was very good and somewhat different. Among us we enjoyed a Caesar salad, fried chicken dinner, bone-in chicken wings and vegetables, and spaghetti (muffin-shaped) balls with meatballs. Service was good and we enjoyed our time.

South of Connersville on SR121, I pointed out the Railyard, Elmhurst mansion and continued through Nulltown on the Whitewater River West Fork and Alpine with its lovely views of the surrounding valley. As we entered Laurel, there is a cemetery on the hilltop with a Confederate General’s historic marker and a gravestone of Aunt Nell, slave who was freed who was at 85 years old and lived to be 115 years old, both buried here. In town, I pointed out historic buildings while on our way to the Feeder Dam. I was unsure whether my cousin would be willing to navigate the walk up to and over the railroad track and down to the rock wall and vista looking over Feeder Dam #4 (Berlin) and the sluice gate.

She had two canes but gave me one and just held on to me for stability. We took it slow and she worked hard and then we made it to the wall. This was the highlight of my day to get her there and find joy in our wandering. It was little breezy on the riverbank, but the sun was out and the skies were crystal blue. I shared stories about the dam, the national byway application process and many other aspects. We enjoyed watching the water cascade over the dam (3), the afternoon sun reflecting on the water downstream (4) and we took some pictures along the river (5). We returned to the car, noting the lock ruins next to the train tracks, drove around Laurel a little more, got a few pictures and passed the Whetzel Trace marker on our way out of town.

Next stop was Metamora. We got gas at the convenience store then we went to the Whitewater Valley Gateway Park. We stopped in the parking lot and I shared stories of the buildings, campgrounds, depot, and recent flooding. We drove through town but the Canal Historic Site is somewhat dormant as the Grist Mill's water wheel was just removed to be refurbished (after 40 years). The boat has been in dry dock for a while, so there is a lot to be done. The Canal has a mixture of empty and filled buildings like most small towns. town. It was dressed up for Halloween. We drove on the north side of the canal and noticed homes and buildings needing some TLC.

We moved to the south side and I shared stories as we drove to the Duck Creek Aqueduct (6), a National Civil Engineering Landmark and the only original covered wooden aqueduct in the U.S. My sister and I got out and went to get pictures of the aqueduct inside and out. We then drove back through town, past the fraternal lodges, Grist Mill, more-recently-built Duck Creek Village, and out Pennington Road. Drove east of town on US52 to Gordon’s Lock and told stories of it, the former Hearthstone Inn (used in a scene of the movie Rain Man. and then headed east towards Brookville. Continuing east towards Brookville, I pointed out the road leading to Twin Locks and the historic marker on Boundary Hill.

Once in Brookville, we headed up to the vista overlooking Brookville Dam, the Lake (7), and the town below. From this vantage point it is easier to understand why the dam was built. The town sits is sandwiched between two forks of the state’s steepest and fastest flowing stream. When rain is heavy, especially in the Spring, there’s simply too much water and not enough space. The flood control dam regulates the Whitewater River East Fork which runs through town and connects with the West Fork on the south side of town.

We went back into town and drove down SR1/US52 admiring houses, buildings, and noticing numerous markers. We drove through the town park along the dam's tailwater and then to The Hermitage, a B&B, that was built as the retreat of J. Ottis Adams and T.C. Steele, two leading members of the Indiana Group of painters. I shared stories I learned while creating the byway’s driving guide and byway applications.

We left town on St. Mary’s Road which winds southwest towards Oldenburg. We passed more markers and them stopped in Oak Forest for pictures of St. Philomena and St. Cecilia Catholic Church (L), an oratory (place of worship without a designated parish). A few miles farther in St. Mary's was St. Mary’s of the Rock Catholic Church(R), which closed in 2013 except for special masses.

We entered Oldenburg on the country roads. Showed them the amazing brick Sisters Cow Barn(L) at Michaela Farm (R). Drove through the Oldenburg Academy (a private co-educational high school) then went to see the exteriors of the Sisters of St. Francis Convent and its Chapel (L), Holy Family Parish Church (R) which stood across State Route 229. Behind it was the Old Stone Church and Town Hall across the street. The late afternoon sun cast warm light on the bricks and stone structures. It was easy to see why the town is called the 'Village of Spires.'

We stopped for dinner at Wagner’s Village Inn. The crowd grew as the evening approached, and we enjoyed conversation as we waited for food. Lots of fried foods. The group got an interesting mix of coconut shrimp, Nashville Hot Chicken strips, onion rings, and I got a pan fried chicken dinner, the house specialty. It was very tasty and peppery, just the way I like it. Afterwards, we drove to Batesville and hopped on I-74 and sped home. We arrived in Broad Ripple and dropped off my cousin. I got home at 9pm.

I keep a daily journal to capture my days, continuing the legacy of my wife who kept journals throughout her life. At the end of each day, I make a short list of things I am grateful for. I find gratitude helps keep my head focused on life's positives and the gifts with which I am blessed. After the day's trip, the list included these:

  1. Grateful I could help my cousin find some joy.

  2. Grateful for a wonderful day of wandering.

  3. Grateful to bring my sister and aunt along for the journey.

  4. What gorgeous Autumn weather we had.

  5. Enjoyed good food and good conversation.

  6. Grateful to share the stories I learned about the Byway and the Valley.

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