Southern Indiana (Regions 8,9,10,11,12)
Where the Upland South meets central Indiana, cafes serve buttermilk biscuits and sausage gravy, and musicians gather in living rooms to play old-time fiddle tunes. Southern Indiana’s distinctly regional flavor is woven into the fabric of its traditional arts. Primarily white and rural, most of southern Indiana’s residents have roots that bind them to their neighbors to the south. Farmers host hog-butcherings, giving neighbors and friends an opportunity to pitch in, drink a few beers or homemade wine, and tell stories. From blood sausage to liverwurst, very little of the hog goes to waste.
Others maintain ties to Old Country ways. The German influence in Vanderburgh county and surrounding areas is still evident in Evansville’s Germania Maennerchor, established in 1900. The 300-member club is one of the most active men’s choirs in Indiana.
Limestone veins run deep beneath the timbered, rolling hills of Owen, Monroe and Lawrence counties. Fourth generation family quarries extract huge blocks of quality Indiana limestone from open-pit and underground mines. Chip Fell, great-grandson of the founder of Hoadley Quarry south of Bloomington, describes limestone extraction as art, just as carving in stone is an art. Chip and his brother (who oversees the milling operation) are heirs to an intimate wisdom of the land, passed down to them by older family members.
Indiana University exerts a strong influence in Monroe and surrounding counties. Students from all over the world bring musical talent, cuisine, customs and outlooks. While accomplished native performers lead such local bands as Afro Hoosier International, Capoeira Angola Kupe, and Alma Azul, other members come from a variety of ethnic backgrounds. Several singer/songwriters in the acoustic “folk” world have made Bloomington their home. Nationally-known musician Grey Larsen tours the country with his Irish flute and fiddle, but also plays regularly in and around Bloomington.
Music in the southern most part of Indiana is strongly influenced by Kentucky and Tennessee. Bluegrass and old-time music dominate at events like the annual fiddle contest at the Mitchell Opera House, the Lotus Dickey Hometown Reunion in Paoli, and smaller jam sessions hosted by the Norman Conservation Club every Wednesday and Sunday evening in Jackson County.
Woodcarvers, rag rug weavers, and quilters make up many of the artists in southern Indiana. Don Pacey, wildlife wood carver from Freetown in Jackson County, learned to carve as an adult. Pacey, now deceased, was recognized as one of the best wildlife carvers in the state. He spent hours carefully measuring feathers to achieve a realistic and exact replica of a cardinal or a red-tailed hawk. Bob Bruner, a woodcarver, knife-maker, and inventor, lives in Martin County, three miles south of Shoals. Bruner makes his comical carvings and elegant knives in what was his father’s workshop. He even fashioned two of his false teeth out of porcelain and Teflon in this shop, securing them with superglue.
Southern foodways are at home throughout Indiana, but especially in its southernmost counties. Evansville, just inside the northern edge of the BBQ belt, is home to some of the finest BBQ masters in the country, many of whose families migrated north in search of better employment.
Fiddlers (catfish) are served in restaurants along the Ohio River along with sweet tea. At the Headquarters, a tavern/restaurant located in downtown Jasper, co-owner Lavella Singer’s homemade rhubarb pie and German stuffed cabbage is a regular feature. Singer’s father caught and delivered turtles to the Headquarters when she was a little girl. Turtle soup, a local specialty, used to be on menus until the state outlawed turtle hunting.
St. Mary’s Catholic Church Annual Picnic (located in Ireland, Dubois County) raises more than $100,000 each year for the parish. Over eighty quilts are raffled off for $1 chances. Additional booths line the churchyard, enticing people to buy chances to win a ham, soda pop, or embroidered pillowcase. The family-style chicken dinner is worth the trip.
Orange County, in addition to nurturing a vibrant old-time music scene, is a county of beauty pageants – festival queens, homecoming and prom queens, princess contests for pre-adolescent girls and participants in state-wide beauty pageants are key elements in Orange County’s celebrations.