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19th Century Overview of Vevay, Indiana

The Indiana Territory was declared separate from the Northwest Territory in 1800.  Vevay was platted in 1813.  Switzerland County was formally organized in 1815.  Indiana became a state in 1816.

The early history of this region of the Northwest Territory reveals an indigenous population of Indian tribes, who were joined by white settlers in the early 1800s, many originally from Europe, coming from the upland south or down from the northeast via the Ohio River.

The Greenville Treaty established the Indian Boundary line, which ran north from what is now Lamb, Indiana, just 8 miles downriver from Vevay.  This boundary was drawn in 1795, after the Battle of Fallen Timbers, dividing the lands of settlement from Indian lands to the west.

Thomas Jefferson was president during the years of early settlement by the Swiss in what is now Vevay, Indiana.  In 1802, John James Dufour petitioned Congress for a land grant to establish vineyards on lands along the Ohio River, in the newly created Indiana Territory.  Congress agreed in 1802 “by a special act to encourage the introduction, and to promote the culture of the vine within the territory of the United States….”  When the Swiss had produced a wine they considered worthy, they took several barrels by horseback to President Jefferson, and he declared it “a very good claret.”

In October of 1803 Meriwether Lewis guided his keelboat along these shores between Big Bone Lick, Kentucky and Clarksville, Indiana.  He was on his way to meet William Clark at the Falls of the Ohio for rendezvous and recruiting for their trek west.

Ferryboat service between Indiana & Kentucky began in 1824.  The “Eva Everett”,  “Robert T Graham” &  the “Martha A Graham” plied the river between Vevay Indiana and Ghent Kentucky until the Markland Bridge across the dam opened in 1978.  These ferries formed an important link between the two states, and points north and south.

Switzerland County had serious anti-slavery activity as far back as 1825.  The county was important in the Underground Railroad effort for many years.  Several documented trails, stations & churches were involved in transporting slaves to freedom.  The Ohio River was a main conduit for slaves in their perilous flights for freedom.

Ironically the Steamboat “Switzerland”, owned by Ulysses P Schenck of Vevay, was commandeered by the Unites States for use as a fighting vessel during the Civil War.  Rebuilt as a Ram, the “Switzerland” saw action at Vicksburg on the Union side of the conflict.

The Civil War closed the Mississippi River to traffic for nearly four years.  Ohio River ports had been stifled by this embargo on the Confederate South, and never fully recovered their economic prominence.

The town of Vevay had a thriving mercantile and industrial base, however, and continued to grow.  U P Schenck explored markets on the river to the north with his fleet of steamboats.  Overland travel was developed with the building of roads and turnpikes.  Agriculture continued to thrive.  Towboats and barges gradually became the preferred method of river commerce in the twentieth century.