Southern Indiana is a distinct subregion in the American Midwest, as I touch on in my novels Daffodil Uprising and What’s Left. Defined loosely as the third of the state south of Interstate 70 or the earlier National Road, U.S. 40, it’s hillier than the farmlands to the north, which had been leveled by glaciers back in the Ice Age. Besides, it was also heavily impacted by migration from the South, especially North Carolina and its Quaker stock fleeing a slaveholding culture.
Here are a few observations.
- It gravitates toward the Ohio River and its border with Kentucky. Louisville is as influential as Indianapolis.
- Much of it is forested and hilly, with Brown County as a kind of spiritual center. Many folks there live in log cabins. The county seat, Nashville, and the state park are tourist magnets. It was also influential in the development of bluegrass music, thanks to Bill Monroe and his festival at Bean Blossom.
- The region is underlain with limestone and caves. In fact, its quarries are legendary, just look at the Empire State Building, Pentagon, and National Cathedral.
- Evansville, on the Ohio River close to both Illinois and Kentucky, is the state’s third largest metropolitan area. Its impact is largely unseen.
- Columbus is a showpiece for contemporary architecture, thanks to J. Irwin Miller and the Cummins company.
- Terre Haute, on the Wabash River, is the birthplace of radical Eugene V. Debs. It has a liberal tradition.
- Basketball great Larry Bird was born in West Baden Springs and played college in Terre Haute, after moving on from IU in Bloomington. Basketball, we should note, is a religion throughout the state.
- Speaking of Bloomington. It’s the cultural and intellectual center of the state. Purdue up north prefers engineers and agricultural economists.
- It has a different dialect from the rest of the state, linguistically.
- Tornadoes are a distinct threat. On April 25, 2020, twisters killed 10 people in Bedford, 104 in Terre Haute, 48 in Mitchell, and 300 in Martinsville. Not your typical day.