An 1838 Canal Town Comes Alive

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In times past, travelers made their way along the Whitewater Canal on horse pulled barges. It was, in the mid 1800s, a way for merchants and farmers to transport their products to market and for others to journey to the small towns and villages that dotted the Indiana landscape.

The Whitewater Canal, which, started in 1836 and finished ten years later, connected Hagerstown, Indiana to Cincinnati, Ohio, a 101 mile trip.

But the mania for building canals in Indiana was short lived. Like most of the canals in America, with the advent of the railroad as well as better roads, much of the Whitewater Canal disappeared, covered over by the tracks for the Indianapolis & Cincinnati Rail Road or were forgotten and just drifted shut over the years.

But two things saved the stretch of the canal that traversed through tiny Metamora, Indiana, about an hour’s drive southeast of Indianapolis.

The canal remained open to be used as a source of water for the town’s 1845 grist mill.

And a new road, built just north, bypassed the canal section of town here, known as Old Metamora, leaving it to languish. Many of the buildings in Old Metamora, which at one point during the canal heyday had a population of 200 (it is now 125), date back to those glory times in the mid 1800s.

They were never torn down because progress never came here and the old wood and brick structures were left to the ravages of time. This neglect became a historian’s boon.

And so more than three decades ago, when the State of Indiana decided to reclaim a stretch of the canal, which still existed, Metamora, flanking the banks of the canal, became what it once was—a booming canal town.

The buildings are spruced up and turned into bed and breakfasts, shops selling tourist goods such as candles and candies and restaurants.

The grist mill began grinding again. And a white and blue barge, a replica of a canal barge from 1800s, is pulled by two large Belgian horses, taking passengers just one mile on a round trip between the old grist mill and the Duck Creek Aqueduct, the only remaining wood aqueduct still working in the United States.

Salt Creek Ranch just outside of Metamora on Highway 52 offers guided horseback trips ranging from one hour to overnight.

The White Water Valley Railroad, which used to run between Connersville to Hagerstown until 1890, is up and running again, taking tourists from Connersville, Indiana to Old Metamora, a five hour round trip that includes a two hour layover in Metamora. The train trip follows both the Whitewater River and the canal most of the way.

At A Glance

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