Projects aim to draw attention to history, culture

Brown County officials and volunteers are working on two projects to put the county on the map — or a couple of maps.

They hope to add Brown County State Park to the National Register of Historic Places, and to designate about 25 miles of road in Brown County as an official scenic byway.

The Hoosier Hills Scenic Byway discussion originated when members of both communities recognized how significant State Road 135 North was, after the Morgantown bridge was closed for two months in early 2016, said Diana Biddle, a Brown County commissioner and county historian.

After the bridge reopened June 10, officials in Brown County and Morgantown started talking about creating a scenic byway between Morgantown and Nashville.

But that stretch of road wouldn’t be enough to get a designation on its own. That was when they began inviting representatives from Morgan and Jackson counties to participate in discussions, Biddle said. Soon, Monroe, Bartholomew and Lawrence counties were also involved.

The route that emerged is about 200 miles, connecting Interstates 70, 69 and 65 using parts of State Roads 50, 58, 135, 46, 45, 252, 37, 446, 67 and 39, as well as several county roads.

If it is established, this scenic byway would be the eighth in the state, Biddle said.

The byway program’s purpose is to showcase scenery, history, culture and recreation along the route.

The program also places restrictions on billboards, which Biddle said are already met by Brown County’s own restrictions.

Having a scenic byway passing through Brown County would provide another way to market what is already here, Biddle said.

The Indiana scenic byways program already encourages travelers to check in along the routes by getting a “passport” stamped.

Biddle hopes groups involved in activities like preserving cemeteries and other historic sites will help identify them for inclusion as landmarks along the route.

There’s also potential to develop an application for cellphones that would allow people traveling the route to pick stops based on what types of sites they wanted to see, she said. However, this would require someone on the local level to develop it.

Once a nonprofit organization is created to administer the byway, the main cost would be creating and maintaining signs directing travelers, Biddle said. Each of the six counties involved would be asked to contribute about $1,000 a year for signs and promoting the byway, she said.

Biddle hopes to get the Brown County Convention and Visitors Bureau and local businesses to help cover the cost.

There would also be an initial cost to set up the byway; Biddle estimated Brown County’s share to be less than $250.

The six participating counties will need to apply to the Indiana Department of Transportation for the route to receive an official designation.

There is no hard deadline for the application; the steering committee will begin working on it at the beginning of 2017, Biddle said.

National Register?

With at least 46 sites and structures of historical significance inside it, Brown County State Park stands out as a showcase of state and local heritage, said Mark Dollase, vice president of Preservation Services at Indiana Landmarks.Yet, no part of the park is currently on the National Register of Historic Places.

In cooperation with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources and local preservation group Peaceful Valley Heritage, Indiana Landmarks is applying to have the entire park added to the National Register.

The sites Indiana Landmarks identified include those used by the Civilian Conservation Corps when they built much of the park’s early infrastructure in the 1930s, as well as the Abe Martin Lodge and other sites significant to the history of the park as a tourist destination.

The 1995 Brown County Interim Report noted 21 historically significant sites in the park, Dollase said. But additional research by Indiana Landmarks and DNR personnel has more than doubled the number of sites in the past 20 years.

The DNR and Indiana Landmarks are now working on a nomination for the National Register for Brown County State Park.

It could be another two years before any determination is made at the federal level, but it is still significant to have the process started, since 2016 was the park’s centennial and the Indiana’s bicentennial, Dollase said.

Currently there are only five sites in Brown County on the National Register: the F.P. Taggart Store building, better known as the Hobnob Corner restaurant; the Thomas A. Hendricks House and Stone Head road marker, which was vandalized in November; the T.C. Steele House and Studio in Belmont; the Brown County Courthouse Historic District in downtown Nashville; and Brown County Bridge No. 36, which crosses the north fork of Salt Creek on Hickory Hill Road.

How to help

Submit a letter of support for the Hoosier Hills Scenic Byway through Brown County Commissioner Diana Biddle:

Email: biddled@browncounty-in.us

Drop off: At the commissioners’ office in the County Office Building, 201 Locust Lane.

Mail: Brown County Commissioners, P.O. Box 37, Nashville, IN 47448.

Letters can include landmarks that the writer thinks should be identified in considering the byway application and in marketing materials.

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Ben Kibbey is a Brown County transplant from the cornfields of central Ohio. He covers county government, business, outdoors, sports and general news.