Today’s agenda calls for a trip to eastern Indiana. Pop quiz: What is Indiana’s easternmost county? It’s a bit of a trick question. Indiana’s eastern border runs as straight as a surveying team could make it from the Michigan line down to the Ohio River, where it begins to undulate along the river’s course. And, as people there will tell you with a grin, the boundary of Switzerland County sticks out a few miles farther to the east than that of any other Hoosier county.
This area was indeed settled by immigrants from Switzerland, led by Jean Jacques Dufour who in 1802 bought 2500 acres with the intention of planting a vineyard. The Swiss were soon operating the first commercially successful winery in the United States, shipping their product back to the East Coast.
A remnant of the colony is the Musee de Venoge, a historic farmstead and cottage 2 miles west of Vevay, the county seat. Here Donna Weaver and her colleagues care for the site and tell the story of the settlement.
During the “Always a River” project, I spent some time in Vevay, where our barge exhibition stopped on a carefree sunny day in summer. Proud of their heritage, eager to attract cultural and economic opportunities, and mindful of their disadvantages in a sparsely populated part of the state, the people of Switzerland County simply enjoyed coming down to the riverbank to see the show and join the crowd. As Monsieur Dufour had thought, it was a good place to be.