It’s really quite hard to fully and accurately describe the uniqueness of Metamora, if you’ve never paid the community a visit. The historic village is a genuine, one-of-a-kind Hoosier destination with so many distinctive amenities, I’m not even sure exactly where to begin.
Nestled in the Whitewater River valley in eastern Indiana, Metamora boasts numerous shops, museums, restaurants, antique stores, and a hiking/biking trail. While these attractions are enough to warrant a trip, this Franklin County village is home also to religious shrines, the United State’s only functioning wooden aqueduct, a working grist mill, a horse-drawn canal boat, and is serviced by a passenger railroad!
Metamora is also one of Indiana’s oldest communities, having been platted in 1838 by David Mount and William Holland. Named after a Native American character named ‘Metamora’ in the popular early 19th century play, Metamora; or, The Last of the Wampanoags, the town of Metamora became a prominent trading and early industrial center along the Whitewater Canal during Indiana’s canal heyday in the 1830s and 1840s. The Whitewater Canal was built over an eleven year period from 1836 to 1847 and ran seventy-six miles from Lawrenceburg/Ohio River to Hagerstown in east-central Indiana.
Canals were mostly man made waterways that connected with larger natural rivers and streams. Canals operated with a horse or horses that pulled flatboats filled with goods or people along an adjacent ‘towpath.’ Indiana at one point had hundreds of miles of canals. Along with the Whitewater Canal, the massive Wabash and Erie Canal ran from the Ohio border near Fort Wayne all the way to Evansville. A proposed Central Canal began construction in Indianapolis, but was never completed.
Eventually, the canal system in Indiana was replaced by railroads and roadways, with only a few vestiges left scattered about Indiana today. However, The Whitewater Canal in Metamora is the only functioning canal in Indiana and open to visitors! Although closed currently until the fall of 2017, visitors can travel on the Ben Franklin III the exact same way Hoosiers did almost 200 years ago! The canal and flatboat operation are run by the Indiana State Museum as part of the Whitewater Canal State Historic Site.
The canal also has several unique structures that placed it on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973 including the Metamora Roller Mill, several dams, locks, and America’s only wooden aqueduct – the Duck Creek Aqueduct.
These locations are listed on the registry as the Whitewater Canal Historic District.
After the viability and popularity of the canal waned, the Indianapolis and Cincinnati Railroad laid track and operated a train along the towpath next to the Whitewater Canal. The I&C, as it was abbreviated, created a subsidiary the White Water Valley Railroad (WWVRR) that operated the route between Cincinnati and Connersville beginning in 1867.
The line rain for almost a hundred years, having passed through several companies before being solid to the non-profit tourist/heritage railroad Whitewater Valley Railroad (WVRR) in 1984.
Based in nearby Connersville, the modern-day heritage WVRR offers fun train rides to passengers of all ages, including special event trains throughout the year. Between May 1 and October 31, the WVRR runs a train, The Valley Flyer, from Connersville to Metamora at 12:01PM sharp on Saturdays and Sundays.
The The Valley Flyer leaves Metamora at 3:30PM for the return trip. Roundtrip tickets are $25 for adults and $15 for children, one-way tickets are $16 and $9.
Visitors to Metamora can also take a short train ride on most Saturdays and Sundays for $5 (this smaller train travels outside of town for a few miles and returns. The entire trip lasts about 30 minutes).
The village itself is full of numerous historic structures including the aforementioned Grist and Roller Mill – now operated as the Whitewater Canal State Historic Site, the Banes House, the Canal Dry Goods Store, the Odd Fellows Lodge, the Blacklidge General Store, the Leaning Gallery, and several others. The Metamora Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1992.
Many of the historic structures are currently inhabited by restaurants, shops, museums, and antique stores. A few are actual residents, so visitors should be mindful of where they enter, even if the building is an historic structure.
There are seven places to get snacks, meals, and other treats including Mr. Fudges Confections, Grannies Cookie Jar and Ice Cream, the Snack Bar at the Metamora Gem Mine, Smelly Gourmet Café, the Barnstable Café, the Duck Creek Restaurant, and the Farmhouse Restaurant.
The mill is operated by the Indiana State Museum as an official state of Indiana historic site. Visitors can actually see how the water-powered mill works and purchase grains produced by the 19th century machine! The Metamora Grist Mill is open April – November, Wednesdays through Sundays from 9AM to 5PM.
So if you are looking for a truly unique, Hoosier afternoon adventure, Metamora is definitely a place you should stop. Consider traveling along the entire Whitewater Canal Scenic Byway – one of the most beautiful places on earth, especially in fall as the leaves change.