In a beautiful old river town in southern Indiana, there is a haunted mansion with a great deal of history. And because it is a beautiful bed and breakfast, it makes for a spooky (and awesome) place to stay!
“There are things that just…happen.” – Michele Thompson, Schenck Mansion Bed and Breakfast Innkeeper
One of the oldest regions in all of Indiana is along the Ohio River from Lawrenceburg to Tell City. In the days before paved highways, railroads, and airlines – people transported themselves and their goods on a myriad of waterways that connected Indiana to the larger North American continent. In the early years of the Indiana territory and statehood, Euro-American settlers established trading posts, ports, and commercial produce markets along the Ohio River. Farmers and later industrialists sent their goods down the Ohio River at these port-cities, with final destinations of Memphis and New Orleans. At New Orleans, the goods were sent to the rest of the world.
In Indiana, several communities established themselves as smaller centers of shipping and transportation along the Ohio River in and around the Cincinnati and Louisville areas including: Lawrenceburg, Aurora, Patriot, Vevay, Madison, Jeffersonville, New Albany, Cannelton, and Tell City.
Many of these smaller communities were often settled by Virginians, Scots-Irish, Germans, and African-Americans. In what is now Switzerland County, Swiss immigrants established the shipping village of New Switzerland in 1802. The Swiss immigrants chose this area because it allowed them to easily terrace the steep hillsides of the Ohio River Valley to grow grapes. In time, the vineyards were so prolific that settlers dubbed New Switzerland, The Vineyard. Along with wine, Switzerland County became an early center for the production of beer, brandy, and whiskey.
In 1813, New Switzerland was officially platted and renamed Vevay (pronounced VEE-VEE for the non-Hoosier), in honor of Vevey, Switzerland (a post office with the name Vevay had existed near present day Vevay since 1810).
In the years surrounding Indiana’s induction as the 19th state of the union, settlers poured into the southern part of the state across the Ohio River. Many of them were farmers and after establishing a homestead, they began sending their surplus produce down to ports along the Ohio River. From the 1850s until the early 20th century, Vevay – like many of its neighbors – became a significant port city relying on commercial river transportation of goods and people.
Many families and individual merchants grew extremely wealthy. One such early shipping magnate was Ulysses Schenck. Schenck was a farmer-turned-merchant who began sending hay down the Ohio River to ports along the Mississippi River and beyond. Schenck took advantage of new technologies in overland travel (railroad) and hay processing (Mormon Beater Hay Press) and cornered the hay market in Switzerland County. Schenck established the Cincinnati-New Orleans Express Line steamboat company and shipped an enormous quantity of hay…so much so that heâ€™s known locally as the Hay King.
Needless to say, Schenck became extremely wealthy. One of his sons, Benjamin Franklin Schenck, inherited both local prominence, but also his family’s wealth.
In 1874, this younger Schenck began construction on a palatial mansion that overlooked Vevay on a northern hill. Built in both Italianate and Second Empire architectural styles, the 8,000 square foot mansion rises four stories above Vevay and is nestled halfway up a forested slope. Schenck died before the mansion was complete, but his children and widow lived briefly in the home for a few years before moving.
The history isn’t entirely complete, but it appears as though the mansion sat mostly empty in the early decades of the 20th century before the family donated the home to the Indiana Baptist Convention in 1923. The mansion was given back to the family in 1928 and then sold to the Wiseman family in 1945.
For twenty years, the mansion was a home for the Wisemans and a clubhouse for the Switzerland County Saddle Club. In the later half of the 20th century, the property was sold a few more times before finally being bought, and most importantly, properly restored by Jerry and Lisa Fisher.
The Benjamin Schenck Mansion is the perfect weekend getaway…at any time of year…for a quiet reprieve in one of Indiana’s oldest small towns. The mansion is a destination in and of itself for those interested in history, architecture, and just peace and quiet. The mansion’s guest rooms are enormous, but visitors can also spread out around the place for a quiet drink and a good book.
The nearby Ridge Winery retains the historic Swiss winemaking tradition of the area. Vevay also hosts several big events throughout the year including the Swiss Wine Festival in August, the Sleepy Hollow Fall Celebration in mid-October, and the Original Vevay Ghost Tour on Halloween. For a full list of area events, visit Switzerland County Tourism’s website: SwitzCoTourism.com.
Speaking of ghosts...the Benjamin Schenck Mansion is supposedly one of the most haunted places in all of Indiana. Legend has it that the mansion was built on the ruins of an older structure that was lost in a fire that not only consumed it, but a couple that was trapped inside.
The living guests apparently note the “presence” of 6-7 “other” guests (perhaps non-living) and single male visitors are often awoken at night by ghostly kisses. Stories of lights mysteriously flickering and unsourced sounds throughout the mansion are persistent…or in the words of Michele Thompson, Schenck’s innkeeper, “There are things that just…happen.”
To book your stay at the Schenck Mansion Bed and Breakfast, visit their website and for updates, follow their blog here. A night’s stay is extremely affordable given the luxury, history, and and beauty of the place.