When I was a teenager considering what to do with the rest of my life, I thought that I might want to be a high school history teacher. That is until my mom said that those jobs always go to the football coaches. So I moved on to journalism and public relations, but I’ve never lost my love of history. That love was re-kindled by a recent trip to Vincennes, Indiana in the southwest corner of the state.
I was invited to visit Indiana’s oldest city by the Vincennes/Knox County Convention and Visitors Bureau. Because my boys were on Spring Break, I took them with me. Truthfully, as we drove through town, I wasn’t sure what I’d gotten myself into.
When we arrived at the George Rogers Clark (GRC) National Historical Park, we parked in front of the visitors center and went inside. Admission is free and the exhibits inside were few enough to keep the boys’ attention and plenty enough to satisfy my taste for history. The attendant offered to show us the movie that depicted Clark’s efforts during the American Revolution that led to the defeat of the British and the extension of the United States north of the Ohio River.
The story of Clark and ragtag band of 170 men defeating three British strongholds was fascinating to me. I was especially struck that Clark fought as much with words through negotiation as with guns and cannons. After the film was over, we looked over the indoor exhibits again, understanding them much better for having the information provided in the film.
Then we went outside to let the boys run off their 3+ hours of sitting in the car and the movie. The view was something for postcards.
Just beyond the GRC visitors center is the memorial that towers above the Ohio River, which runs next to it. We didn’t go inside the memorial, opting instead to enjoy the sun and warm weather outside. Though, from checking out the website linked above, I found that the inside of the memorial offers large-scale paintings of scenes from Clark’s adventures.
On the other side of the memorial is the Lincoln Memorial Bridge, which marks the point where Abraham Lincoln crossed the Wabash River on his way to Illinois in 1830.
Adjacent to GRC is the Old Cathedral Complex, site of the Basilica of St. Francis Xavier and resting grounds for more than 4,000 French and Indian soldiers and early citizens of Vincennes. Most of the graves are unmarked, though the few that are there date back to the mid 1700’s.
Inside the Basilica is a stunning display of art and craftsmanship. I wished I were visiting during a Catholic Mass so I could hear the massive organ, housed in the choir loft. The tours of the Basilica are self-guided. Somehow I forgot to visit the basement of the building where four bishops are buried in the crypt.
With my hunger for history somewhat satisfied, it was time to give in to the boys’ hunger for tasty treats. So we walked several blocks down 2nd Street to Charlie’s Caramel Corn and Candy Shop, a Vincennes institution for nearly 60 years!
Of course, as soon as we entered, my camera went dead, so you’ll have to imagine a small house with a first floor filled with bags of caramel corn, hand-made chocolates, caramel suckers, gumballs decorated to look like tiny animals, and Easter treats galore. My favorite were the white chocolate deviled eggs, complete with red sugar “paprika” sprinkles.
There is still so much more of Vincennes I plan to go back to discover, including the Indiana Military Museum — moving to a new location in May 2012, and Grouseland — the home of William Henry Harrison when he was governor of the Indiana territory and before his election as the 9th president of the United States.
Have you been to Vincennes? What are some other places I shouldn’t miss?