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Traveling Around - Rising Sun, Indiana - Ohio County Historical Museum

Updated on June 24, 2016
Ohio County Historical Museum
Ohio County Historical Museum | Source

In the county seat of Rising Sun, Indiana, is the Ohio County Historical Museum. Rising Sun is the only incorporated municipality in the county and is located in southeastern Indiana along the Ohio River (for which the county is named). Although the town was registered in 1816, the county was officially established in 1844 and is among the last counties to be created in Indiana.

The museum is located in the downtown area of Rising Sun. It was established in 1968 and opened in 1972. They are located in the Clore Plow Works-J.W. Whitlock and Company historic buildings. They are two connected buildings on S. Walnut in Rising Sun. Walnut Street is Indiana Highway 56 on the south side of Rising Sun as it leaves the downtown area.

When you enter the museum, there is a large room on the right that serves as a meeting room that the museum rents for parties and receptions. To the left is the museum proper and it has two major exhibition area plus an area designed for genealogy research.

Two-Headed Calf, Oho County Historical Museum
Two-Headed Calf, Oho County Historical Museum | Source
James Whitcomb Riley Exhibit
James Whitcomb Riley Exhibit | Source

Just past the reception desk, the viewer is greeted by a glass display case enclosing a stuffed calf with two heads. It was born on an Ohio County farm in the 1980's.

Near this exhibit is an exhibit about the Rising Sun Indiana Teachers Seminary. It was established in 1827. Seminaries in those early days were there to prepare young people for further education. Tuition was what sounds ridiculously low - most courses were less than $5 a semester. Part of the exhibit is devoted to a brother of William McGuffey who lectured at the seminary. The seminary became owned and operated by The First Presbyterian Church in 1837 as The Rising Sun Female Seminary.

Another display case is devoted to the works of James Whitcomb Riley. A note in the display tells that the museum has all 15 of the Riley books in its collection. There is a old typewriter in the display that has a poem being composed in the vernacular and misspelling that made Riley the famous poet that he was.

On top of the display cases scattered throughout this wing are models of river boats that plied their trade on the Ohio River. In the 1830's, Rising Sun saw hundreds of flatboats pass or stop in the small town as they progressed down the Ohio River.

In the northeast corner of this room is the genealogical research area. There are several hundred books of cemetery and birth records as well as family histories.

Hoosier Boy, Ohio County Historical Museum
Hoosier Boy, Ohio County Historical Museum | Source
Trophy Case, Ohio County Historical Museum
Trophy Case, Ohio County Historical Museum | Source

The last room of the museum is devoted to the achievements of J. W. "Row" Whitlock. He was born in about 1872 and died in 1935. It appears that he was a tinkerer all of his life and had a shop on the river side of Walnut Street in Rising Sun. Eventually a tunnel was built from his shop to the factories across the street.

His most famous achievement was the "Hoosier Boy" a speedboat that still holds an unequaled record on the Ohio River. On October 9, 1924 he traveled round round trip from Cincinnati, Ohio, to Louisville, Kentucky, in 267 minutes and 49 seconds. The distance was 267 miles and he later claimed that if it hadn't been for the waves created by longboats, he would have pared off that 49 seconds and completed the journey at a mile a minute. The reason that the record is unequaled is that dams has now been built on the river that impede traffic.

He raced his boats over a period of years in major competitions. On display are some of the many trophies won by Row Whitlock while racing boats.

Hoosier Girl, Ohio County Historical Museum
Hoosier Girl, Ohio County Historical Museum | Source

Closely adjoining the Hoosier Boy in the museum is the Hoosier Girl. It was built in 1940 to replace the original that was sunk in 1908.

Ever the tinkerer, someone noticed an unused machine stored on a shelf in his workshop. It was obviously not being used or worked on and when someone asked what it was, Row responded that it was an electric starter that he had invented for Ford but someone else developed it first so his model was simply setting.

Sometime shortly after WW I, Henry Ford and other auto manufacturers were searching for a source of rubber. Row Whitlock designed a boat to be used for exploration in the swamps of South America. It had a very shallow draft and was powered by two airplane engines. The development of that "swamp buggy" was interrupted by the depression and was never completed.

Horse Racing Machine by "Row" Whitlock
Horse Racing Machine by "Row" Whitlock

About that time Row developed a coin operated mechanical horse racing machine. His family had much fun with it and several were manufactured. Someone suggested that a method of coin dropping could be developed that would provide even more excitement for the pickers of winning horses. Row didn't want to do that. He knew just how he wanted things and he lost interest in taking the machine further.

Coin Operated Automatic Harp, Ohio County Historical Museum
Coin Operated Automatic Harp, Ohio County Historical Museum

On display is also several coin operated automatic harps. In 1899 Row filed paperwork for his first patent - that of the automatic harp. In 1905 The Wurlitzer Company accidently heard one of seven harps that were located in Cincinnati and almost immediately placed an order for 1,000 of them. The factory was built to produce the harps (and that factory is today part of the Ohio County Historical Museum).

After a second order was filled for 500 harps, a third order was placed by Wurlitzer never took delivery. The harps were sold throughout the United States and according to a book published in the 1930's by Herbert Asbury "Most all of the Harps went to whorehouses, put there by Wurlitzer".

After production of the harp waned, the factory was dormant for a couple years and in 1914 Row decided that the Ohio County area had the skills necessary and the machinery necessary to build chairs. There are a group of the chairs on display at the museum. This led to financial success and a stellar reputation. It influenced furniture design and furniture making throughout the state of Indiana.

In the early 1920's he designed and built the Whitlock Skylark Radio and produced thousands of them.

The curator of the museum is Cliff Thies (a really nice guy). I had a little trouble figuring out the hours of the museum and emailed him at and got a quick response. There are more specifics on their website.


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    • ShepherdDon profile imageAUTHOR

      Don Rust 

      4 years ago from Shepherd, Michigan

      Thank you. We enjoyed it.


    • Stefa profile image

      Stefanie Groves 

      4 years ago from Eastern Washington

      Wow, lots of great history there! Good hub!


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