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.
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.
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)
Beatrice A. Braun