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Why cross the Ohio River? To learn the history, see the art of Southern Indiana

Patti Nickell, Lexington Herald-Leader on

Published in Travel News

JEFFERSONVILLE, Ind. -- For years, the small communities on the north bank of the Ohio River across from Louisville, Ky., could have been compared to Brooklyn, seemingly forever in the shadow of its glamorous fellow borough, Manhattan.

That is until Brooklyn -- much like a rebellious stepchild -- broke free and came into its own in spectacular fashion. Now, Jeffersonville and neighboring New Albany, Ind., are hoping to do the same.

Cross the Big Four Pedestrian and Cycling Bridge linking Louisville to Jeffersonville, and you might be in another time, miraculously transported to the type of small town America chronicled by playwright Thornton Wilder and novelist Sherwood Anderson.

The Jeffersonville area's main attraction, however, goes back even further -- some 390 million years to be exact. The Falls of the Ohio River are a series of rapids flowing over limestone ledges making this stretch of the river impassable for boats -- the only natural obstruction along its entire 981 miles.

In this area, once covered by a shallow tropical sea, is one of the largest exposed Devonian-era fossil beds in the world.

The Falls of the Ohio State Park was the nation's first conservation area, and the best place to start a visit is at the award-winning Interpretive Center. Next, head down to the fossil beds where you can see the outlines of corals, mollusks and sponges that once thrived here still embedded in the shale.

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Historical fact: In 1804, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark (younger brother of Louisville's founder George Rogers Clark) started out from the Falls of the Ohio on their journey to explore the lands acquired in the Louisiana Purchase.

After a couple of hours spent with fossils, you'll be ready for communing with live folk. There's no better place to start than at Schimpff's Confectionary where husband and wife owners Warren and Jill Schimpff take visitors on a tour of the old-fashioned candy store, treating them to their famous cinnamon red-hot drops, and entertaining them with a repartee worthy of a vaudevillian act.

After you've sampled the candy, take a short drive to Huber's Orchard, Winery and Vineyard to enjoy some liquid sweetness. Among the distillations available for tasting in the state-of-the-art tasting room are Blueberry Port, Applejack and Peach Brandy and Blackberry Whiskey. Indiana's largest estate-bottled winery now also distills whiskey at its recently expanded Starlight Distillery.

More than a winery and distillery, Huber's has a marketplace where visitors can shop for baked goods, fresh produce and homemade ice cream, or they can experience the "Pick Your Own" activity -- everything from apples and peaches to pumpkins and Christmas trees.

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