Approaching the town of Ferdinand by car may be an awe-inspiring endeavor, especially if it takes you unawares. The town calls itself the “gateway to Dubois and surrounding counties;” a fair assessment when you first set eyes upon the place.
Ferdinand’s skyline is dominated by the impressive Monastery Immaculate Conception, home to the Sisters of St. Benedict. The Sisters first came to Ferdinand in 1867 with the goal of making a difference in the lives of local settlers by teaching the children of German immigrants. Nearly 150 years later, the Monastery is one of the largest Benedictine communities of women in the United States, having 163 members who continue to live the traditional Benedictine life.
The architecturally impressive Monastery Immaculate Conception sits atop a hill overlooking the town of Ferdinand, Indiana.
The Monastery and grounds are listed in the National Register of Historic Places as a historic district. Guided tours are offered Tuesday through Sunday and the grounds include gardens, an outdoor Stations of the Cross, a labyrinth, shrines, and a gift shop/bakery. This video will give you a sneak preview.
The St. Meinrad Archabbey complex in St. Meinrad, Indiana.
You can’t stop your journey here, however, because the town of St. Meinrad is only a short drive away. The town is home to the Sisters of St. Benedict’s “brother monastery” at St. Meinrad Archabbey. The Archabbey was founded in 1854 by monks of the Abbey of Einsiedeln in Switzerland. Today, about 100 monks pray, work, and live in the community. The Archabbey’s School of Theology provides education for priests, deacons, and lay students.
The St. Meinrad Archabbey Church in St. Meinrad, Indiana.
The Church was constructed between 1900 and 1907 by monks and area townspeople using sandstone quarried at Monte Cassino. The blocks were hauled by mule-drawn wagons and cut by hand. In 1996-97, the Church underwent a major renovation, including the installation of a new marble floor and new alter. Most of its stained glass windows were made in Munich, Germany and installed in 1908.
Inside the St. Meinrad Archabbey Church in St. Meinrad, Indiana.
Guided tours are given on Saturdays, but you can visit and take a self-guided tour at any time. A walking tour brochure and audio tour headphones are available at the guest house. Visitors can also stop by the gift shop and browse the many unique items for sale, including goods hand-made by the monks.
Hand-made goods by the St. Meinrad Archabbey monks are available in the gift shop.
Wait, don’t go yet! History lovers are urged to continue their journey south to Perry County. First, stop in Tell City to enjoy some famous Tell City Pretzels. The crunchy snacks were first made in 1858 by Casper Gloor, who baked the treats using a secret recipe he brought to Indiana from Switzerland.
Hand-twisted pretzels have been a Tell City fixture for over 150 years.
Tell City has a fascinating history. The city can trace its roots to 1856 when a group of Swiss immigrants from Cincinnati formed the Swiss Colonization Society (Schweizer Ansiedlungsverein). The Society was one of various societies organized in the United States to promote immigration and to provide aid to Swiss immigrants. In 1857, the group contemplated establishing a fifteenth community that would be its first planned community. The Society searched for a site located along a navigable river and having rich farmland and timber. They found what they were looking for along the Ohio River and purchased 4,152 acres for $85,429. In 1858, the Society moved its headquarters to the new town. Between March and October of that year, approximately three hundred houses were built for 1,500 inhabitants. The name “Tell City” was given to the settlement to honor the Swiss folk hero, William Tell.
From Tell City, continue south on State Road 66 to Cannelton, to see a National Historic Landmark up-close. The Cannelton Cotton Mill was established in 1848 and was the largest factory in Indiana (and the largest mill west of the Appalachians). It was designed by Providence, Rhode Island architect, Thomas Alexander Tefft, who worked for the architectural firm of Tallman and Bucklin at the time. Tefft’s mill design is credited with introducing the Romanesque style to Rhode Island industrial architecture, as it served as the prototype for similar factories there. A tramway to transport stone for the building’s construction had to be built and stone was quarried locally near the head of Washington and Taylor Streets. In 2003, it was adaptively reused as apartment housing.
The Indiana Cotton Mill in Cannelton, Indiana is a National Historic Landmark.
While in Cannelton, take some time to wander the streets to enjoy its many historic structures, including a handful of sandstone structures dating to the mid-1800s. St. Michael’s Catholic Church is one of these structures, built in 1858-59 and restoration activities are on-going. If you happen to be lucky enough to visit at noon-time, as I was, you will hear a number of hymns emanating from the bell tower.
Built from local sandstone, St. Michael’s Church sits on a hill overlooking Cannelton, Indiana.
Things to Do
If you still have time after all that, you might want to check out other area attractions:
Holiday World in Santa Claus, Indiana
Lincoln Boyhood Home in Lincoln City, Indiana
Marengo Cave, in Marengo, Indiana
From Indianapolis, Ferdinand is about a 2.5 hour drive. Take IN-37 south. In Bloomington, take IN-45 south, then US-231 south. Pass through Crane, Loogootee, and Jasper, and then take IN-162 south to Ferdinand. Click here for directions of the entire itinerary.
Archabbey Guest House; 200 Hill Drive, St. Meinrad, Indiana 47577; 800.581.6905; rates from $55/night.
The Archabbey Guest House and Retreat Center has 31 quiet guest rooms with private baths.
Blue Heron Vineyard Bed and Breakfast; 5330 Blue Heron Lane, Cannelton, Indiana 47520; 812.547.7518; rates from $125/night (2-night minimum).
The bed and breakfast is in a farmhouse that has two bedrooms and one bath.
Harvest Moon Bed & Breakfast; 210 Main Street, Ferdinand, Indiana 47532; 812.367.1881; rates from $75/night.
Housed in a historic Queen Anne/Free Classic house, the bed and breakfast has four guest rooms with private bathrooms, cable television, and wireless internet.
Kordes Center; Monastery Immaculate Conception; 802 East 10th Street, Ferdinand, Indiana 47532; 812.367.1411; rates from $52/night.
Located on the grounds of the Monastery, the center offers a quiet retreat.
Note: Please be sure to confirm all rates, hours of operation, and other details directly with the companies/organizations in question before planning your trip. The mention of and/or links to companies/organizations in this post do not constitute an endorsement.
Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana, Perry County Interim Report, 1992.
Michael E. Rutherford, Perry County Then and Now, 2000.
National Park Service, “Cannelton Cotton Mills,” http://tps.cr.nps.gov/nhl/detail.cfm?ResourceId=1523&ResourceType=Building, accessed 17 May 2011.
Sisters of St. Benedict, http://www.thedome.org/, accessed 17 May 2011.
St. Meinrad Archabbey, “A Visitor’s Guide to Saint Meinrad Archabbey,” 2008.
Photographs courtesy and © of author, except as noted.
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