If you are looking for roads that wind through fantastic, hilly scenery and want to encounter a little history every few miles or so, then start making plans to ride in southeastern Indiana. You'll find Native American trails, the route of Indiana's only major Civil War episode, the road to the cabin where Lewis and Clark began their epic journey in 1803 and many more rewarding sights within the area between Louisville, Indianapolis and Cincinnati.
The Area is Alive with History
The southeast Indiana tour begins in Richmond, Indiana, an historic town on US 40 - the National Road. In addition to the National Road, two other designated highways provide links to the past in this corner of Indiana, the John Hunt Morgan Heritage Trail and the Chief White Eye Trail.
The John Hunt Morgan Heritage Trail recognizes Indiana's only major event of the Civil War. In July 1863, Confederate Brigadier General John Hunt Morgan led 2,000 cavalrymen across the Ohio River. He followed the highways, came upon a town, captured and then plundered it before moving on. Food and fresh horses were their main targets. Some believe Morgan was heading to Indianapolis to free nearly 10,000 Confederate prisoners of war. The Indiana Militia gave pursuit, and at times were only hours behind, as they wound through southern Indiana. Eventually, the chase proceeded northeast into Ohio where Morgan was captured.
If you are a serious Civil War buff, consider riding this route. The 27 heritage sites along the trail provide a wealth of historical information about Morgan's raids. Much of the 185-mile heritage trail is on narrow, low-speed roads, but some are gravel and vision is limited at times. Historic Hoosier Hills RC&D, managers of the route, cautions travelers that restaurants and restrooms are few. Plan accordingly to visit and stop in larger communities on the route.
State Route 62 between Madison and Dillsboro is the Chief White Eye Trail, designated a state historic route in 1983 by the Indiana General Assembly. Chief White Eye - so named because his eyes were blue - was a member of the Delaware Tribe that lived in and roamed the surrounding area. If you're planning on riding the tour during the second weekend in September, plan on stopping at the Canaan Fall Festival when the community pays homage to its Native American heritage.
There is one other historical site you might want to consider visiting. It is not on the tour route, but Lewis and Clark history buffs may want to take a short detour to Clarksville, just across the river from Louisville.
Meriwether Lewis was commissioned by President Thomas Jefferson, in 1803, to travel up the Missouri River, map the area and determine if there was a water route to the Pacific. The expedition began with Lewis in the east. William Clark, Lewis's long-time friend agreed to "partake of the dangers, difficulties, and fatigues" and met him in Clarksville, in October 1803, at the home of Revolutionary War hero George Rogers Clark, William's older brother. Clarksville is where Lewis and Clark and the first crewmen boarded their keelboat and launched into history.
The expedition is heralded as an incredible journey of exploration in North America, and is celebrated with the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial, 2003-2006.
Madison is a divided town the locals say. There is the old historic town, built on the river and hemmed in by bluffs with no room for expansion. It is a wonderful sight of excellently preserved buildings and homes. Then there is the newer part of town on top of the bluff, complete with all the franchised stores you are accustomed to seeing and shopping.
Founded in 1809, the town established itself as a major port on the Ohio River. The wealth created helped build homes like the Lanier Mansion with its gardens overlooking the big river, and the Jeremiah Sullivan House, built in 1818 and considered the first mansion in Madison. The streets are lined with magnificent and modest homes valiantly restored to make the town a must visit. Some, like the Lanier and Sullivan buildings, are open for tours.
The Historic Broadway Hotel and Tavern, near the corner of Main and Broadway, about three blocks up from the riverfront, is a favorite hangout for the biking scene on weekends. Considered Indiana's oldest, still operating, family tavern, it started serving customers in 1834.