Vevay, Indiana kicked off it’s milestone birthday this year with the shot of a cannon at midnight. At 12:01 am on January 1, Switzerland County began the countdown to the Bicentennial honoring its county seat.
Located between Jefferson and Ohio counties, Switzerland County is known for being the “Birthplace of the First Successful Commercial Winery in the U.S.” The town of Vevay was established in 1813 by John James Dufour and his countryman of Vevey, Switzerland. (Spelled with an “e.”) Dufour’s wine-making operation was moved from KY after his vines were overcome with disease and his investors waned. In what would become “Switzerland County” the vines prospered, bequeathing the town its wine-making history and the origin of one of Indiana’s Top Ten Festival’s, The Swiss Wine Festival (Aug. 22-25, 2013).
Vevay has been recognized as one of the most important river communities of the 19th century. Both flatboats and steamboats shipped produce, manufactured goods, and hay both in and out of the area by the Ohio River. The Life on the Ohio River History Museum in Vevay (208 East Market St.) is an excellent source of photos, artifacts, and models of how the river played a role in the area’s economic development.
Some lesser known historical tidbits about Switzerland County include boasting the birthplace of a champion and trick rodeo rider, Ken Maynard, who worked with the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show and later Ringling Brothers. Maynard was dubbed as the first singing cowboy in the movies. The Switzerland County Visitors Center has a scrapbook dedicated to the actor/singer.
Located in Vevay, the Switzerland County Courthouse was the backdrop of the 1975 movie, A Girl Named Sooner. Starring Cloris Leachman, Lee Remick and Richard Crenna, a young abandoned girl is raised by a bootlegging old woman, later taken in by the authorities and made the ward of a childless couple.
Along with Vevay’s numerous historical buildings (check out their walking tour map when you’re there) the area has lots of history to celebrate during their Bicentennial. Stay tuned as the observance nears, which plans may include a revival of the “Swiss Belles” and “Brothers of the Brush” from the town’s Sesquicentennial, activities at Paul Ogle Riverfront Park, a play at the Historic Hoosier Theater, and more to be announced.
In the meantime, a glimpse of the area’s history is available through a project of the History Committee of Vevay Bicentennial 2013–a limited-edition of 500 calendars. Designed by Ripley Co. resident and “Midwest Stories” website creator Soh Fong Ung, the calendar was a collaboration between she and Martha Bladen, president of the Switzerland County Historical Society. Having become fond of Vevay through her husband—a Switzerland County native—Fong donated her services for the project.
Searching through the Switzerland County Museum’s collection of photographs and from borrowed postcards, Bladen and Fong selected themes for each month. Fong organized the materials in an “artsy” way, collaging them to best showcase each month.
The calendar is available for $14.95 at the Switzerland County History Museum gift shop or on-line for $20 (includes shipping) at switzcomuseums.org. Located at 210 East Market Street in Vevay, the gift shop is open noon-4pm daily. The money raised will go towards a 1917 old-fashioned tent Chautauqua in the museum yard during the Bicentennial event.
Tax-deductible donations for the Bicentennial are appreciated, and can be made payable to the Community Foundation of Switzerland County, P.O. Box 46, Vevay, Indiana, 47043. Include “Vevay-Switzerland Bicentennial” on the memo line.
For more information on the calendar, contact the museum at 812.427.3560. Information on Switzerland County, contact the Switzerland County Visitors Center at 812.427.3237 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Join the Switzerland County Tourism-Vevay, IN, Facebook page for up-to-the minute information on county events and more.