The Whitewater Valley of eastern Indiana is a very scenic and historic region. In addition to being a great canoeing stream, the Whitewater is bordered by rolling, wooded hills and side streams that have waterfalls leaping over ledges of limestone that are often filled with fossils.
The Whitewater has two large forks, the east fork and the west fork, and drains a large segment of eastern Indiana. The side streams along the west fork have the most impressive waterfalls with Derbshire Falls and the Falls of Sanes Creek being the most impressive.
The east fork of the Whitewater has been dammed above the town of Brookville and has created the third largest reservoir in Indiana, Brookville Lake. This 5,600-acre body of water is 15 miles in length. It also is Indiana’s deepest lake with a depth of 125 feet in a few spots.
The dam that controls the water in the lake is very massive. It is 182 feet high and has a length of over 3,000 feet. A number of recreation areas around the lake provide a variety of outdoor activities.
The Whitewater River below Brookville Reservoir features a series of rapids and long stretches of fast flowing water. This makes for great canoeing and on weekends the river is often filled with canoes.
Brookville is a very historic town. It was founded in 1808 by Amos Butler and Jesse Thomas and soon became the most important town in eastern Indiana. It received its name from Thomas’ mother’s maiden name of Brooks.
Thomas became a famous man, but not in Indiana. He was elected to the United States Senate from Illinois. While in the Senate he helped craft the Missouri Compromise of 1820 that helped begin the long road to the Civil War.
Brookville was the early site of an Indian trading post and was a Federal Land Office from 1820 to 1825. It also had the second branch of Indiana’s first chartered bank. The main bank was in Vincennes.
The construction of the Whitewater Canal led to a boom in the Brookville area in the 1830s and 40s. An influx of German settlers helped to make this area a center of commerce for not only eastern Indiana but a sizable region of nearby Ohio.
Brookville has been called the birthplace and home of famous people and indeed it has produced more than its share of noted men. Let’s see who some of these famous people are.
It was the home of David Wallace, governor of Indiana from 1837 to 1840. His son, Lew, was born in Brookville in 1827. Lew Wallace went on to become a general in the Civil War, governor of New Mexico Territory, and is perhaps best known as the author of Ben Hur and other historical novels.
Abram Hammond, another native of Brookville, was governor of Indiana from 1860 to 1861. James Noble Tyner, also from Brookville, was the postmaster general under President Ulysses Grant.
James Ray was another Indiana governor from Brookville. He served from 1825 to 1841.
The Noble family had four brothers who all became noted men. Ben Noble was a physician and later a state representative. Lazarus became the director of the Federal Land Office. James Noble served both in the Indiana General Assembly and in the United States Senate. The fourth son, Noah, was another Indiana governor from Brookville. His term was from 1831 to 1837.
As can be expected with so many famous men, some impressive houses would also be found in Brookville. Such is the case with both the Hermitage and Howland-Goodwin-Strohmier houses.
The Hermitage is a 17-room mansion with a 100 foot porch. It once had 27 rooms until the terrible 1913 flood washed away 10 of the rooms.
The house was built by James Speer who ran a paper mill. Amos Butler, a grandson of the found of Brookville, bought the Hermitage in the 1880s and later sold it to T.C. Steele and J. Otis Adams, both noted artists. The house soon became a center for artists, including two very famous ones, William Forsyth and Otto Stark. Steele later moved to Brown County where his home south of Nashville is a state historic site.
The Franklin County Seminary ran from 1831 to the 1850s. John Tarkington, father of famous Indiana author Booth Tarkington, attended this school.
A second college in Brookville was established in 1852. Known as Brookville College this school was at first a female college until 1860 when men were admitted.
Several noted women attend what was at first known as the Brookville Female College. Among these were Julia Dumont and Elizabeth Wilson, both famous writers — Dumont as a poet, while Wilson is called Indiana’s first writer of short stories.
The Brookville-Whitewater area is indeed a rich historical site and is also known for its scenic beauty. It is well worth a visit.