Old Henderson Road

Indiana, Vanderburgh County and Posey County

800

Access to river: no. Tree cover: somewhat open. Impermeable surface: some. Landscape design strategy: organized. Information about the Ohio River: none.
Access to river: no. Tree cover: somewhat open. Impermeable surface: some. Landscape design strategy: organized. Information about the Ohio River: none.

In Indiana, the FHWA Scenic Byway program routes the Ohio River Scenic Byway from Evansville to Mt. Vernon via State Route 62, a 19 mile drive that takes about half an hour. For most of its length it’s a four lane divided highway, probably one created from an existing two lane road via the National Highways Program of the 1990’s, which converted roads from two lane to four lane with a median, but without limited access, in order to create the National highway network, after the construction of the Interstate highways system had been completed. It’s a fine road, and running through flat agricultural lands, it’s scenic enough.

Yet a far more interesting route, and one that tells the environmental history of the Ohio River in much greater detail is created if one tries to drive from Evansville to Mt. Vernon along the river itself. For most of the length of the north shore of the Ohio River it is possible to drive right along the edge of the river, on a road often named Riverside Road or Bluff Road or some similar appellation. That’s true most of the way to Evansville. After Newburgh, Indiana, the river makes a great loop. First it flows north, to Evansville, which marks the peak, then it flows south, past Henderson, Kentucky, then north again, to the junction of Vanderburgh and Posey counties, then more or less westerly to Mt. Vernon. Evansville is at river mile 793, and Mt. Vernon at river mile 829, so the river takes 36 miles to go that 19 mile distance. Looking on Google Earth at the great loop of land in between, one can see loop upon loop upon loop, as the river has changed its course and deposited silt over this lowest terrace for centuries.

Leaving Evansville, the research team drove along the river, first on Dixie Flyer Road, named for the famous passenger trains that ran from Chicago and St. Louis to the South, via Evansville, and then on Old Henderson Road. “Old” because at some time in the past it must have connected to a ferry across the river to Henderson, Kentucky. Now the ferry has vanished, but not the name. One definitely cannot get to Henderson from here. Much of this part of the route is a beautiful place for bicycling — paved two lane road with little traffic, following the river, sometimes under great arches of trees. In fact, Evansville Parks and Rec marks much of this as Route 4 in the Burdette Park Discovery Trail bike path. We drove by many quasi-towns, those kinds of temporary but permanent private towns one finds so often along the Ohio: shacks or mobile homes or RV’s parked or built as houses for summers along the river, some become permanent by adding more rooms; all defined by a dirt road with a sign reading “Private: Keep Out” or “No Trespassing.” Here, what defines them, and what tells the history of the river’s actions, is that they all are built high up in the air, mounted on stilts, to preserve them in high water. Mobile homes, too, stuck ten feet up in the air. In a dip to the right side of the road, a great mound of river trash, a mound made of logs, not branches. Then we must turn right, away from the river. The road has become a muddy track.

Suddenly we are in great fields: of corn and soybeans. Corn, corn, corn, on both sides of the road, here in August way above head high. We are in a corn tunnel. That’s not surprising. What is is that the farmhouses — the substantial stick built farmhouses, and their barns and their granaries and their farmyards — they too are up high. Not on stilts any more: they are too substantial for that — but on fortresses, great concrete walls eight or ten feet above the level of the land. Some of them are standing with robust buildings on them; some are decayed and broken, slabs of ancient concrete strewn around a mound in the cornfield. They look like medieval fortresses, but here the enemy is not the Celts or the Gauls or some other group of ancient Puebloans, but the river itself.

One of the research team threatens to become a serial killer and dump another one in these remote, desolate fields of corn. The Golden Rule Road. Then Seminary Road — to what no longer extant seminary? Many long thin private roads running off to the left, to the cluster of houses along the river. Roth Road. Shore Road — a “No Outlet” spur to another small settlement. Cypress Dale Road — and then suddenly we are in some of the sloughs and cypress swamps for which southern Indiana is famous. A southern tree, growing here in the lowest part of Indiana, at the most northern extent of its range. Acres of cypress knees sticking up from the mud. Luckily, the Nature Conservancy has protected some of them from ditching and from agriculture.

We pass some lakes — lakes surrounded by chain link fence — and lakes made to serve the needs of the power plant whose stacks we have seen for miles, wondering on which bank of the Ohio they are. Close to, but not on. We begin to pass by, but find we cannot continue because the county road we planned to use has been incorporated into the road system for the power plant. “No Trespassing” again, but for a different reason. The research team ends up losing the riverside road, driving up through corn and soybean fields to State Route 62 after all. Trying to go east again from Mt. Vernon we find the same: mostly a dirt track, and for much of this stretch, no road along the river at all.

Unfortunately the research team — countermanding our policy of making places out of places people do not think about — did not take pictures. We apologize.

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