This small town in southern Indiana was once called an "art colony in the wilderness." Nashville is still a popular spot for travelers.
Southern Indiana is hilly territory in an otherwise flat Midwestern state. In Brown County, the twisting, two-lane roads take you on a roller-coaster ride along creek beds and back up again onto ridge tops. Tiny communities with funny names such as Bean Blossom, Needmore, and Gnaw Bone are tucked in among the rolling landscape.
Long known for its remarkable fall foliage, the little town of Nashville, located just a short hop from Gnaw Bone, began as an artist colony in the early 1900s. Artists came to this region to capture the bold scarlet, orange, and yellow hues of autumn leaves against a backdrop of clear, Midwestern skies. T.C. Steele, Adolph Shulz, and Marie Goth, among others, moved permanently to the area to paint the countryside while savoring the serenity. The first art gallery in Nashville opened its doors in 1926.
T.C. Steele continues to be one of the Midwest's most honored artists. Steele, along with wife Selma, purchased 211 scenic acres in Brown County in 1907. You can tour his home, called the House of the Singing Winds, some ten miles from Nashville. At her death in 1945, Selma bequeathed the home and grounds to the state of Indiana, and it's now preserved as a state historic site; guided tours are available. Along the trails that wind through the woods and wildflower patches, you can sample both the tranquility and the inspiration the artist found here.
Ironically, when Steele and the other artists arrived, there were far fewer trees than there are today. The woodlands had been cleared to make way for farming, but that industry was short-lived, as the steep hills proved unsuitable for agriculture.
Over the decades, Nashville has managed to keep its easygoing pace and true artistic heritage although not without some struggle. The city attempts to keep a balance of commercial, mass-produced merchandise in addition to its locally made, original artwork. Residents proudly point out there are no billboards or neon signs to mar the special environment they have worked diligently to create.
The term "specialty shop" could have been coined to describe some stores in Nashville. Today, there are over 300 such shops, art galleries, and studios in a town with a population of less than a thousand people. The shops contain a wide range of items, from fine oil paintings and antiques to apple butter and dulcimers. Hand-crafted jewelry and decorative pottery are favorite items found in Nashville.
A number of the artisans work on the premises before the watchful eye of visitors. Seeing these craftsmen assemble an intricate work of stained glass or skillfully shape a full-size bear from a solid block of wood is an exceptional experience.
James Wittwer, a master wood carver, now calls Nashville home. A dedicated artist, Wittwer often puts in ten-hour days at his studio. His portfolio of commissioned and original wood carvings delight the eye with precise detail. His creations include wild animals, flowers, birds, and caricatures of friends, as well as narrative fantasy pieces depicting scenes from the Wizard Of Oz and Jonah And The Whale, among others.
Nearby, the Little Nashville Opry has been presenting top-name country music performers for well over twenty years. The Opry seats 2,000 people and runs from March to the end of November. Popular performers such as George Jones, Kathy Mattea, and the Oakridge Boys often sell out months in advance. The Opry has always been a family oriented spot, happy to welcome children. In accordance with this, no alcohol is served. Tickets are between $15-$30 each.
If you prefer the theater, the Brown County Playhouse is located in the heart of downtown Nashville. Operated by Indiana University's Department of Theater and Drama, the playhouse presents stage productions during the summer and early fall. Popular actor Kevin Kline is an alumni of Brown County Playhouse.
The largest state park in Indiana, at roughly 16,000 acres, Brown County State Park has been called "one of the most popular" parks in the nation. Opened to the public in 1929, it offers hiking, fishing, swimming, trail rides, and year-round camping. It's known especially for the scenic vistas that give a panoramic view of the surrounding woodlands. This park attracts an incredible 3.5 million visitors each year.
Brown County came to be known all over the country thanks to Indianapolis newspaperman Kin Hubbard who invented a cartoon character called Abe Martin just after the turn of the century. Abe and his sayings embodied what came to be known as the "Brown County Way."
From 300 newspapers, coast to coast, readers laughed at Abe's brand of homestyle wisdom and country philosophy. Hubbard drew over 8000 cartoons during a 25-year period. In the beginning, Brown County folks were somewhat slow to get the joke. But since then, residents have made peace with fictional Abe, and his likeness shows up frequently around Nashville. Abe Martin Lodge in Brown State Park was named for him.
Nashville is most popular in the summer and fall. It's located about one hour south of Indianapolis. For more information, call the Brown County Convention & Visitors Bureau at 1-800-753-3255, or you can write them at P.O. Box 840, Nashville, Indiana, 47448.