Harrison County Indiana: Caves, Canoes, History and Wine
By Marcia Frost
It’s a clash of the South and the Midwest in a piece of American history.
Harrison County (named for the ninth US President William Henry Harrison), is such a mixture of variety in an unexpected land.
The center of this unusual area is Corydon, Indiana, which was the state’s first capital before Indianapolis. It was where I began a journey through many different worlds without having to drive very far.
Indiana’s First Capital
The Kintner House Bed & Breakfast is actually right in the center of Corydon. It is everything an old-fashioned B&B is supposed to be, complete with the four-poster beds, stand-alone bathtubs, and fireplaces in the rooms. There are 15 rooms in this two-story building that has antique furnishings, yet modern amenities like central air conditioning and cable television.
Innkeeper Dee Windell and her staff keep the place worthy of its placement on the National Register of Historic Places and it deserves that place.
During my visit to Kintner House, I enjoyed the morning breakfast casseroles (ham and cheese are always the main theme) and unique loaves of bread (zucchini and banana are just the start) with a group of travelers from as far as California and as close as the next county.
While we all had different reasons for being there, we were definitely in agreement that we couldn’t get enough of the lemonade and warm cookies that seemed to always be baking regardless of the time of day.
Main St. Corydon
Just across the street from Kintner House, is the main street of Corydon, which spans over decades of time and the cultures of two U.S. regions. Within a square mile, one can walk through the state’s first capital as if it was still the 1800s, checking out such historical sites as the only spot in Indiana to see Civil War action (1863), at the Battle of Corydon Memorial Park.
If you get tired of walking, the John Hunt Morgan Heritage Trail can take you through a driving tour that follows the same path as Confederate General John Hunt Morgan and his raiders.
The history of Corydon fades into the present before you know it. As you head down Chestnut Street from main, you will wander into Butt’s Drugstore for a soda fountain with homemade ice cream and candy that looks like it belongs in the 1950s.
It actually was built in 1952, by pharmacist William (Blackie) Butt, whose granddaughter still runs the store.
In between the clash of the centuries, there’s Frederick’s Café, a delightful restaurant with good Southern cooking (arrive early if you want Debi Frederick’s biscuits and sausage gravy, because they always run out) and an oatmeal pie you won’t find anywhere else in Indiana.
Caves, Canoes, and Kayaks
Corydon is just the start of Harrison County because yet two more worlds are nearby. The first is an adventure as it’s about a half-hour drive to Marengo Caves and Cave Country Canoes. The two entities share the same property, yet offer different experiences of their own.
The Caves are a national landmark, and they run deep and beautiful, with unique formations that change in color. (Just dress warm – the cave temperature is in the 50s even in the height of the summer.)
Its entrance was man-made in 1910 after two kids discovered the site while exploring and the tours navigate you through every nook. It is a favorite of local school groups who enjoy the “cave simulator” that allows them to crawl through a cave-like maze. Gemstone mining is also a popular attraction for kids of all ages to pan for treasures. Marengo Caves website.
Kayaking the Blue River
Above the caves, the Blue River beckons adventurers on kayaks and canoes. Though the water level was too high for me to experience the excitement, I got a good description from former participants of the trips past the caves, bluffs, and rapids.
The half and full-day adventures take you alongside the wild turkey, beavers, otters, and deer. And, for those who just can’t get enough in one day, there are campgrounds to stay and experience it all. The site is open all year round with 11 sites (four of which offer electricity). Squire Boone Caverns are another popular local attraction in Harrison County.
Tasting the Wine
Between the windy roads between the Blue River, the caves and historic Corydon lies yet another culture in this small hamlet – wine. This is not Napa or Finger Lakes, this is Southern Indiana, and each winery is in an area of its own, with an experience to be had (though you will find a raspberry hint in every vineyard in this area).
There are more than three dozen wineries in Indiana with more opening all the time. There has been an increase of 300% in the number of acres being used to produce wine in Indiana since 1991. I was able to visit four completely different wineries on my trip — Scout Mountain, Indian Creek, Best Vineyards and Turtle Run.
Scout Mountain Winery not only has an assortment of wines, but it has its own Hideaway cabin for a wine getaway. The house sleeps six and has become a favorite in the area for girlfriend getaways and romantic weekends.
There is even has a backyard jacuzzi where you can sip their apple-cherry wine – if you can get it; it sells out faster than they can make it.
At Indian Creek Winery, Mark and Mary Jane Kendall pour and chat with each guest like it was their living room. The winery just opened in 2008 so they are still experimenting with the blends. The Sweet Creek Rose is a favorite, but the Kendalls are looking to produce some German-style wines in the future.
Turtle Run is yet another family own vineyard, but the enthusiasm here even goes into the wine names themselves.
The unique selection prides itself on constantly changing. Since they can’t actually be involved in the wine-making, Jim and Laura Pfeiffer keep their children part of Turtle Run through the wine names, (“Max’s Small Batch Red,” “Catherine’s Blend,” “Joe’s Jammin Red”). Jim is directly involved in the blending and it has paid off. The Catawba, with a hint of pineapple, is an especially popular wine.
The most popular selection at Best Vineyards is definitely the peach wine and I was pleasantly surprised at how far from what you would expect the fruit-named wine to be.
On a Sunday afternoon, this place was packed with samplers (and buyers). And it all started with some bored farmers. Wilbert, Rachel, and Beretta Best grew corn, wheat, and soybeans until one day they attended a meeting of the Indiana Wine Grape Council and the farm would never be the same.
Harrison County, Indiana, is a great weekend destination that is within a few hours’ drive of Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee, Missouri, and Illinois.
In the fall, Harrison County is also home to Deere Farms Haunted Corn Maze. In the holiday season the “Light up Corydon” is a month-long celebration.
And for those looking for a bit more civilization any time of year, it’s a stone’s throw to the roulette table at the Horseshoe Casino — which houses the award-winning Jack Binion’s Steakhouse, in case you’re ready to leave history behind and return to the meat and potatoes of the Midwest.
Scout Mountain Hideaway
Scout Mountain Winery
Indian Creek Winery
Marcia Frost is a travel writer who specializes in wine and liquor travel.