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Discovering Indiana’s “Drowned Towns”

At one point in time, the Salt Creek Valley was a rich bottomland that was home to hundreds of farming families. This folk community was close-knit and self-reliant, and its residents prided themselves on hard work, family values, and cultural heritage. In the early 1960s the Louisville branch of the Army Corps of Engineers began work on the Monroe County Reservoir, which effectively forced farmers off land that had been in their families for generations. When the reservoir was built more than 300 homes—along with 3 schools, 10 churches, 8 cemeteries and the last 3 covered bridges in the county—were either relocated or washed away, only to become “drowned towns.” These displaced families were left to struggle with how to regain a level of normalcy and comfort after the tragic loss of their homes and livelihoods.

A home in Elkinsville, Indiana after the start of the reservoir construction.

In 1986 Alice Morrison (née Mordoh), a doctoral student at the Indiana University Folklore Institute, published her dissertation entitled “Portrait of a Lost Community: A Folklife Study of the Salt Creek Valley of South Central Indiana and the Effects of Community Displacement Following Formation of the Monroe Reservoir.” While long, the title is a wonderful summation of the research Morrison conducted over the span of two years.

For her dissertation, Morrison collected the oral histories of past residents of Salt Creek while also exploring other fields such as local history, cultural geography, political influence, and the industrialization of agriculture. Through this endeavor Morrison was able to create a narrative that reflects the complex physical, social, and emotional components of a “drowned town.” While her dissertation is over 400 pages long, the box that was deeded to the History Center is significantly smaller. The contents include 8 audiocassettes, aerial and topographic maps, black and white photographs, letters, newspaper clippings, personalized files, and perhaps the most helpful element: handwritten transcriptions of every recorded interview.

Supplemental materials  including the title page from a family history, a handwritten card, and a newspaper article.

Supplemental materials including a title page from a family history,
a handwritten card, and a newspaper article.

After all the items have been digitized, the History Center plans to turn this oral history collection into an interactive online exhibit where patrons can listen to colorful interviews, browse photographs, chart the progress of the construction of the reservoir, and learn more about towns that now rest at the bottom of the lake.

Submitted by Delainey Bowers (Library Intern)

Comments (0)

  1. Heiko Muhr

    Reply

    This also happened in several other areas of Indiana when the Army Corps of Engineers build reservoirs, chiefly in the 1960s. Newton-Stewart, a Crawford County crossroads, located very close to the Dubois county border, is now a “drowned community” underneath Patoka Lake.

  2. Jeneva

    Reply

    This sounds so interesting! Can’t wait to view the interactive exhibit, since I no longer live in Bloomington.

  3. T. Fagan

    Reply

    The town of Fairfax and the Nancy Jane covered bridge was affected also. Does anyone have a photo of the town ?

  4. T. Fagan

    Reply

    Very-well done, I remember Oscar Curtis telling me about helping the DNR find and and relocate some of the graves that had markers in the Salt Creek area. Oscar was a local Genealogist. ( 1902- 1996)

  5. Valerie Edmonds

    Reply

    The flooded farm and house in the picture belonged to Albert H and Kathryn Mae (Stogdill) Cross. They were my maternal grandparents. They raised 9 children, entertained the neighborhood and rode out the “Great Depression” in that farm house.

  6. Beatrice A. Braun

    Reply

    I would appreciate any information you have about the farm of Tom and Maude Harold. I spent many happy days there. I remember Mr. Harold showing my dad where the lake was going to cover his farm.

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