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Vevay Local History

The following “Quick History” will give you a glimpse into some of our memorable happenings
and personalities of the past.

“New Switzerland” was settled 1802-1807 by John Francis Dufour and members of his family, who had relocated from the First Vineyard on the Kentucky River.  They raised grapes & produced wine, becoming the first successful commercial winery in the United States.  Several barrels were taken by horseback to our nation’s capital, where Thomas Jefferson declared it a “very good claret.”

Vevay was platted in 1813.  Switzerland County was formally organized in 1815. Indiana became a state in 1816.

Vevay was named after the Swiss town of Vevey in Canton Vaud, Switzerland, which had a population of 18,000 in 2013.  The Nestle Chocolate Company was founded there in 1867.  Vevey, Switzerland is mentioned in the book “Little Women.”

Vevay 2013 census population was c 2,400,   Switzerland County census was c15,000.

The “Vevay Historic District” has been listed on the Indiana Register of Historic Sites & Structures since 1981.   Nomination to the National Register of Historic Places is pending at State level.

Timothy hay was a major cash crop in the 19th century.  It was pressed into large bales & transported to distant markets by riverboat..  Ulysses P Schenck, who owned several steamboats, was known as the “Hay King.”  His house still stands on Market Street.

Ferryboats “Robert T Graham” followed by the “Martha A Graham” plied the river between Vevay IN & Ghent KY from the early 1800s until the Markland Bridge opened in 1978.

Great Steamboat Disaster:  The steamboats “United States” &  “America” collided near Florence, Indiana in 1868, claiming the lives of 74 people.  Norwegian violinist Ole Bull was marooned here after the crash, & played a concert at the George Knox house.

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 movie “A Girl Named Sooner” was filmed here in 1975, starring Richard Crenna, Chloris Leachman, Lee Remick & Don Murray.  Many locals appeared as extras.  The Courthouse the Sullivan House and the Slawson House on Market Street appeared in several scenes.

Famous natives: 
Dr. Elwood Mead, engineer:  Supervised the construction of Hoover Dam & Lake Mead.
Edward Eggleston, 19th century teacher & author, wrote “The Hoosier Schoolmaster.”
Lydia Moss Bradley, 186-1908:  Founded Bradley College (now University) in Peoria IL.
Will Henry Stevens, 1881-1949:  Artist & professor, collection of his work at our Museum.
Ken & Kermit Maynard:  Cowboy movie stars during the 1930s.  Collection of framed Maynard posters can be found at the Switzerland County Public Library in Vevay.

Visit our Library and Historical Museums for more fascinating history.