Indiana’s Historic Pathways National Scenic Byway
- DesignationNational Scenic Byway (2009)
- Intrinsic QualitiesHistoric
- Length250 miles
Traveling the hills and farmlands of southern Indiana, Indiana’s Historic Pathways is comprised of two separate but closely interrelated corridors, US 50 and US 150. Each has profoundly influenced the people and communities through which they pass. Together they represent the region’s strikingly varied land forms, wealth of natural resources, small and distinctive communities, and role in national transportation and commerce.
Story of the Byway
Indiana's Historic Pathways comprise two historically interconnected routes that total 250.2 miles in length: The first pathway is US 150, which encompasses portions of the old Buffalo Trace. This ancient path carved by the hooves of bison as they traveled on their annual migration to winter feeding grounds stretches from the interior of Kentucky to the Mississippi River. Parts of it parallel or overlap US 150, which is roughly the Vincennes to New Albany stagecoach line, first developed during Indiana Territory days. One of the oldest roads in the Midwest, US 150 has had various names—Vincennes Trace, Clarksville Trace, Harrison Road, and Kentucky Road, among others.
The second pathway is US 50, stretching from Lawrenceburg on the Ohio state line to Vincennes on the Illinois state line. US 50 is one of the major east-west federal highways. It links Ocean City, Maryland, with Sacramento, California, and touches fifteen states and the nation's capital. In Indiana, it closely parallels in all but parts of Lawrence County the roadbed of the Ohio and Mississippi Railroad (later the B and O and now the CSX). Like the railroad, US 50 was the first and remains the most vital east-west land corridor in southern Indiana.
Indiana's Historic Pathways and the Buffalo Trace route pass through sixteen counties and numerous communities. It originates in the east in two major urban areas (Cincinnati, OH and Louisville, KY), and both routes end at Vincennes, one of Indiana's most historic cities. Travelers along the Byway experience natural landscapes of hills, valleys, and agricultural fields, as well as small-town main streets, unique architecture, metropolitan communities, and river life.
Visitors can explore history and architecture at historic sites like Howard Steamboat Museum, Hillforest Victorian House Museum, Veraestau Historic Site, and Culbertson Mansion State Historic Site. If you're a history buff, don't miss Indiana's oldest city, Vincennes, which was the capital of the Indiana Territory before the state was created. This historic town is now home to the Indiana Military Museum, George Rogers Clark National Historical Park, Vincennes State Historic Sites, and Grouseland, home of William Henry Harrison, first governor of the Indiana Territory and ninth president of the United States. The byway is also home to several covered bridges, including the Medora Covered Bridge, which claims the title of the longest historic covered bridge in the United States.
Step back in time and stay in unique world-class accommodations like French Lick Resort & Casino and West Baden Springs Resort. Or tour Schimpff's Confectionery, a 130-year-old candy shop and museum in Jeffersonville famous for their old-fashioned candies. Indiana's Historic Pathways also has lots of unique family activities like train rides aboard the French Lick Scenic Railway, feeding giraffes and elephants at Wilstem Ranch, and exploring the fossil beds of Falls of the Ohio State Park.
Looking for adventure? We have you covered with plenty and state and national forests, rivers, caves, wildlife refuges, and attractions like Paoli Peak, Perfect North Slopes, and Lawrenceburg Speedway. Our unique cave system is home to Indiana Caverns, the longest cave in the state, and Marengo Cave, a US National Landmark, among many others.
The byway begins in Vincennes at the Illinois-Indiana border. Visitors will continue east through Washington and Loogootee to Shoals. From Shoals, visitors will have two options. The northern spur travels through Bedford, Seymour, North Vernon, and Versailles to Aurora on Route 50. The southern spur travels though Frenchlick, Paoli to Clarksville on Route 150.
Points of Interest
Vincennes State Historic Sites
Founded in 1732 in a part of the Midwest that belonged to France, Vincennes is Indiana’s oldest city. Over time, ownership of this town and area changed hands from France to Great Britain, and ultimately America following the Revolutionary War of 1776. In 1800, Congress created the Indiana Territory and named Vincennes its capital. The new territory was much larger than the State of Indiana today, including what is now Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin and part of Minnesota. Here in Vincennes, Governor William Henry Harrison and others made important decisions that would influence the future of the entire Midwest.
George Rogers Clark National Historical Park
Park dedicated to a Revolutionary War hero, with a rotunda decorated with murals & a 7.5-ft. statue.
Indiana Military Museum
The IMM is home to one of the most unique collections of military artifacts and memorabilia in the United States.
French Lick Resort & Casino and West Baden Springs Resort
Full service resorts.
French Lick Scenic Railway
Railway museum, including reenactments, a scenic 20-mile ride on a historic train & periodic events.
Medora Covered Bridge
The Medora Covered Bridge spans the East Fork of the White River one mile east of Medora, Indiana, on State Road 235. It was built in 1875 by J. J. Daniels using the Burr (Arch) design at the cost of $18,142 and took nine months to build. It was covered to protect the wooden structure from the weather. Before the bridge was built, the river was crossed by ferry.
Hillforest Victorian House Museum
The charming Ohio River town of Aurora is home to Hillforest Victorian House Museum, a stately 1855 Italian Renaissance mansion just blocks from the river and downtown historic district. Home to industrialist and financier Thomas Gaff and his family between 1855 and 1926, the mansion is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1992.
Howard Steamboat Museum
The 1894 home of a steamboat-building family is open for self-guided tours of exhibits & artifacts.
Falls of the Ohio State Park
Park on Ohio River featuring ancient fossil beds, nature-discovery center, hiking, fishing & more.
Culbertson Mansion State Historic Site
Tours are offered of this 1860s mansion with frescoes, marble fireplaces & other ornate details.
Riverside park offering a playground, picnic shelter for rent & city panoramas.
Hickory Ridge Lookout Tower
The Hickory Ridge Lookout Tower, now standing guard over the Charles C. Deam Wilderness was once a sentinel built to protect a fledgling forest from wildfire. Today, it stands as a tribute to its builders, the last lookout tower remaining on the Hoosier National Forest. The Hickory Ridge Tower was built in 1936 by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). It was manned and used for fire detection until the 1970's.
Veraestau Historic Site
Set high on a bluff above the Ohio River, Veraestau captures a long sweep of Indiana’s architectural history and exemplifies the historic preservation practiced by generations of two families—the Holman/Hamilton clan and the O’Brien/Gibson family. The estate’s name comes from the combined Latin words for spring, summer and fall—no winter allowed.
Overlook Park offers must-see views of the winding White River, farms, and valleys. A shelter house and picnic areas provide for a great stop along the way.
Lesko Park must be the pride of Aurora. It has lots of amenities: a water fountain, flush toilets in a building, a playground, picnic shelters and picnic tables. There’s even an Ohio River beach down the slope of what might be a boat launch if one were intrepid. The most marvelous part, however, is the memorials. There are memorials to veterans of various wars. More unusually, there are plaques on the street lights, remembering those who have supported the park, and those who are remembered by park supporters.
A History Lover's Dream
Start your visit at Mansion Row in New Albany at the southern end of the byway, where more than 40 majestic homes showcase a range of old-time architecture. Mansion Row will inspire you with historic mansions from the Italianate towers of Masonic Hall to the elaborate and elegant Second Empire style, represented by the Washington C. DePauw House. Several mansions are now restaurants or offices, some are bed and breakfasts, and others stand ready to tell their stories to visitors through tours of their lovingly preserved interiors. Inside of these mansions you’ll find period furnishings, grand fireplaces, detailed ceiling frescoes, hand-carved staircases, and more. In Jeffersonville, also near the southern end of the byway, go back to the Steamboat Era and explore the Howard Steamboat Museum. The museum hosts exhibits of several ship models, paintings, shipbuilding tools, and more.
Be sure to check out the many historic sites in Vincennes, at the western end of the byway. One historic site that remains in spirit if no longer prominent in life is the old Buffalo Trace. Buffalo (bison) first broke this trail through the native hills and prairie. Native Americans then followed in their tracks as they hunted the buffalo. Today, the byway itself retraces this route. Travel the byway from Vincennes to the Falls of the Ohio near Louisville, Kentucky, and you are treading the same route as centuries of Native Americans. Very little of this “road” remains, but parts of it can still be seen from the byway.
The Old State Bank in Vincennes was designed in the Greek Revival architectural style and is the oldest bank building in Indiana. Inspect the birthplace of Maurice Thompson, the author of the best-selling romance novel, Alice of Old Vincennes, first published in 1900. A local high school team is known as “the Alices,” named after the character in the famous book. You can also visit the capitol of the old Indiana Territory, a small red building that housed the first legislative council of the territory. This council met in 1811 to determine the best type of government for the territory and its citizens.
The George Rogers Clark National Historic Park, also in Vincennes, has the largest war memorial in the nation outside of Washington, D.C. It commemorates an important battle in the Revolutionary War, where George Rogers Clark and his men forced the surrender of the British at Fort Sackville.
Stop in Aurora on the eastern tip of the byway to see the Veraestau Historic Site. Named from the Latin words for spring (“ver”), summer (“aestas”), and fall (“autumnus”), Veraestau is open for touring on weekends from April through November. Also, be sure to stop by for their annual Derby Day, held on the day of the Kentucky Derby. The fun includes a ladies’ hat contest, Dixieland music, Derby games, and more.
While in Aurora, don’t miss the Hillforest Mansion. Built by Thomas Gaff, this mansion was constructed in a style sometimes called “Steamboat Gothic.” Come see for yourself how the circular porches, coupled columns, and round cupola combine to resemble a steamboat pilothouse.
Historical markers in the town of North Vernon, near the eastern end of the byway, immortalize important happenings in the area, such as the attempt by Confederate General John Hunt Morgan to capture Vernon during the Civil War. Met with force by a detachment of the Indiana Legion under the command of Hugh T. Williams, Morgan and his troops retreated across the border into Ohio. This was one of the most important encounters of the war for Indiana, as it was vital in driving the Confederates out of the state. Explore the Butternut House or the Vinegar Mill, two of 100 or more structures built in the Greek and Federal architectural styles prevalent in this National Historic District. In Seymour, which is close to North Vernon, the Freeman Field Army Museum hosts exhibits on Freeman Field’s history and military aviation.
The landscape today shows few signs of the area’s turbulent past. As you stroll through the tree-lined neighborhoods of Vincennes or attend the vibrant activities at Veraustau, imagine a not-so-distant past when opposing armies fought in the gentle hills and forests of Southern Indiana. Travel Indiana’s Historic Pathways through centuries of American history.
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