Visitors to this southern Indiana county will experience a rich history, outdoor experiences, local shopping, and more.
If you think about the history of wine making in the United States, you may be surprised to learn that the first commercial wine making operation was not in California, but right here in Switzerland County, Indiana.
In 1796, John James Dufour left his native Switzerland to seek a new life and opportunity in the United States. He settled in what would become the town of Vevay, Indiana, which was briefly a popular destination for Swiss immigrants fleeing revolutionary Europe. Dufour had done his homework, studying viticulture and working the family vineyards in Switzerland. When he arrived in America, he visited private vineyards, including Thomas Jefferson’s at Monticello, to study grape types, soil, and climate. He produced his first wine by 1807, and sold in frontier cities including Cincinnati, Louisville, and St. Louis.
In the end, the wine business was eclipsed by hay, which was in high demand and easy to load onto riverboats passing through Vevay on their way down the Ohio River. Today, the Musee de Venoge stands as a testament to southern Indiana’s once thriving grape culture. The farmhouse dates to about 1805 and is a rare example of French colonial architecture. The home is open for events and by appointment. www.venoge.org
And that wine history? The annual Swiss Wine Festival, on the last weekend in August this year, is the largest event in the county and Indiana’s fourth top festival, paying homage to John James Dufour.
The festival features a parade, live entertainment, arts & crafts vendors, great food, a grape stomp, and of course—a wine tasting pavilion. www.swisswinefestival.org
Vevay’s Ridge Winery, on the Indiana Wine Trail, commemorates that history with its Swiss Heritage red wine. The winery has won several awards; in fact, their Country White Wine earned Best of Class Double Gold Medal at 2019 Indy International Wine Competition, along with two Silver Medals. Their tasting room looks out over the Ohio River, and visitors can enjoy a glass of wine while they watch the tugs and barges make their way along the river. www.theridgewinery.com
The Ohio River is always a draw for visitors wanting to take advantage of boating, and fishing for bass, crappie, catfish, gar and more.
The Indiana Bass Federation will return to Vevay this year October 3-4 for their Forrest L. Wood Classic Tournament. Switzerland County’s other outdoor offerings include hunting; in fact, the area is consistently rated among the top counties for turkey and deer.
More county history and preservation stories can be found at the Switzerland County Historical Museum, “Life on the Ohio” River History Museum, Musee de Venoge, and the Thiebaud Farmstead. Learn about the history of the county’s Underground Railroad and how many slaves made their way across the river to hide in homes, barns, and even the Courthouse until they could be taken to safety farther North.
19th century homes, privately owned, line Market Street in Vevay. The Schenck Mansion Bed- and-Breakfast and the Pleasants Rose Mansion Inn share their histories with overnight guests. The Swiss Inn, Indiana’s Oldest operating inn, will also offer guests a stay in the heart of Vevay.
Ask about the popular and always-sold-out ghost tour; information is available at Vevay Vintage Prop & Shop, located in a restored 1940s Texaco gas station, and just one of the unique shops you’ll find in downtown Vevay.
Vevay Main Street was founded in 2005 to revitalize Vevay’s downtown area and, as
an extension, the entire county. Its mission: “To support preservation, beautification and improvement ….” Locals assessed the positives – small-town neighborliness, history, architecture, outdoor recreation, the river. Preserving rather than razing older buildings proved to be important. Grants and public/private partnerships provided funds to start improvements.
Other downtown shops include the Vevay Antique Mall, Cardinal Quilts and Fabrics, Ladies Bazaar carrying quaint accessories, Kooky Kokonut (health food and smoothies), and RV’rTown Retail where you can pick up Vevay and Switzerland County souvenirs, unique river related items, and unique grape related items. The Community Art Center offers unique handmade gifts from area artisans. After shopping, enjoy the famous breadsticks at Roxano’s Pizza, stop by Patron’s Mexican Bar & Grill, Ferry Street Fudo Japanese Bistro & Sushi or AJ’s Restaurant featuring home cooking with a small town flare. Don’t forget to ask for famous ‘waitress with an attitude’ Wendy at AJ’s!
More county history can be found in Patriot, 16 miles upriver from Vevay. It’s the only incorporated town in the United States named Patriot. Because of its name, it was one of the first places to receive a section of the Twin Towers after 9/11. It’s at Patriot’s Memorial Park, which holds an annual 9/11 candlelight walk each year. On the 4th of July, the big event begins with a parade which includes a community pitch-in after the parade for everyone, including visitors.
Another big draw for the area is Belterra Casino, located just seven miles out of Vevay and offers not only gambling, but also fine dining, a spa, a world-class golf course, and shopping. They have a line-up of live performances that include Tony Orlando, Boz Scaggs, Rodney Carrington, and more. www.belterracasino.com
Switzerland County Tourism
128 W. Main St.
Vevay, IN 47043