Mike Roe pours buckwheat into the grain hopper inside the 1870 Bridgeton Mill. The miller has to raise his voice for his narration to be heard above the whir of old machinery grinding the wheat into flour. By keeping his nose to the grindstones, as it were, Mike knows by the scent and the heat the stones emit when to stop the grinding.
“Too much heat destroys the grain,” he says. “To retain 100 percent of the flavor, it’s a slow and gentle process.” Slow, certainly. It’s not unlike his work on the mill as a whole. Mike and his wife, Karen Jean, have spent more than 19 years restoring the (now) picturesque mill set on the banks of the Big Raccoon Creek.
Bridgeton, Indiana, 75 miles west of Indianapolis, is designated a National Historic District thanks to the preserved mill. The handcrafted flours sold at the mill earn it a stop on the Rivers and Roads Artisan Trail, a collection of about a dozen artisans and interesting stops along US-40, US-41 and winding backroads. The trail centers around Terre Haute but stretches 30 miles north and east into the surrounding countryside, including portions of Parke County. It’s here that visitors find some of Indiana’s best metal, wood, fiber, paint, ceramics and culinary artists.
A weekend wandering the trail includes 31 covered bridges (many constructed in the 1800s) and the town of Rockville, known for its picturesque courthouse town square, Covered Bridge Art Gallery and jailhouse-turned-inn, where guests stay in old cells. Though standard cells aren’t luxurious—twin beds with a shared bathroom; privacy comes from black curtains pulled across the bars—the experience is one of a kind.
In Terre Haute, art museums, galleries and outdoor sculptures add an upscale, creative spirit to the home of Indiana State University and Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, which prides itself on displays of ceramics, landscapes and watercolors.
Seasonal events also showcase the culture of the region. During the 10-day Parke County Covered Bridge Festival (October 10–19, 2014; headquartered on the Rockville courthouse lawn), thousands come to see the bridges, trees cloaked in fall color, and more than 500 artisans, crafters and antiques purveyors.
Of course, travelers are welcome to see the covered bridges year-round. Over each entryway, a painted caution to horseback riders and buggy drivers from a century ago still reads “Cross the bridge at a walk.” A reminder that, in this pocket of the world, it’s most rewarding to move slow.
For more information: Parke County Convention and Visitors Commission (765) 569-5226; coveredbridges.com; Terre Haute Convention and Visitors Bureau (800) 366-3043; terrehaute.com; Rivers and Roads Artisan Trail (812) 237-4386; riversandroadstrail.com
What to do
Bridgeton This unincorporated town in Parke County maintains buildings dating from pioneer days. The operational 1870 Bridgeton Mill sells seven flours; the Artisans Barn at the Bridgeton Mill showcases local artwork; Collom’s General Store features blacksmith John Bennett’s fine metal art. (765) 548-0106; bridgetonmill.com
Covered Bridge Art Gallery The Rockville gallery displays paintings, photographs and drawings by 30 area artists, including Judy Ohmit’s ceramics, jewelry and wood crafts. (765) 569-9422; coveredbridgeartgallery.org
Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology A private Terre Haute college famous for its engineering graduates houses a robust art collection. Open weekdays. (800) 248-7448; rose-hulman.edu
Swope Art Museum The downtown Terre Haute museum’s collection includes works by Edward Hopper, Grant Wood and Thomas Hart Benton. (812) 238-1676; swope.org
Modern Charm Local fiber artist Gretchen Kraut is one of 50 artisans whose work fills this Terre Haute fashion boutique focused on handcrafted and one-of-a-kind pieces. (812) 223-6601; moderncharm.bigcartel.com
Clabber Girl Museum Explore Clabber Girl Baking Powder’s century-long history through vintage machinery and old-fashioned marketing materials in Terre Haute. Gallery space accommodates exhibits featuring Indiana artists’ works. Indulge in goodies from the on-site bake shop. (812) 232-9446; myclabbergirl.com
Vigo County Historical Society Replica storefronts loaded with period artifacts re-create a 1900s-era pharmacy, toy store and clothing shop in this eclectic museum. One gallery commemorates Terre Haute as the birthplace of Coca-Cola’s contoured pop bottles; another displays vintage military apparel. (812) 235-9717; vchsmuseum.org
Wabash Valley Art Spaces More than a dozen outdoor sculptures enliven Terre Haute locations, including Swope Art Museum and Gilbert Park. (812) 235-2801; wabashvalleyartspaces.com
Where to eat
Under the Arch Restaurant Stop into this diner in Parke County’s Marshall for giant pork tenderloin sandwiches, burgers, salads and cinnamon-buttery bread pudding. (765) 597-2235
Thirty-Six Saloon Taxidermied animals on the walls decorate Rockville’s happening restaurant and watering hole. Patrons dine on creative pub grub, hefty sandwiches, steaks and chops. (765) 569-9441; thirtysixsaloon.com
Saratoga Restaurant A neon sign welcomes diners to this authentically vintage (circa 1942) diner-slash-social hot spot. Twenty-seven sandwiches fill the lunch menu. (812) 234-1161; thesaratogarestaurant.com
Rock Run Cafe and Bakery Wood-fired pizzas accompany views of the 1910 Roseville covered bridge in Parke County. Onetime owner and Western movie villain Tex Terry’s memorabilia lines the walls. (765) 548-9282; rockruncafe-bakery.com
Boo’s Crossroads Cafe and Corner Grind Terre Haute locals love the turnovers, muffins and cinnamon rolls at this cozy restaurant and coffeehouse. (812) 234-2232; Boo's Crossroads Cafe and Corner Grind on Facebook
J. Fords Black Angus The Terre Haute steakhouse’s nondescript exterior disguises a clubby fine-dining room with stellar steaks, seafood, pasta and chops. (812) 235-5549; jfordsblackangus.com
Where to stay
Hilton Garden Inn Spacious, comfortable guest rooms make this standard hotel near downtown Terre Haute a good bet. Rates starting at $120 include Wi-Fi and parking. (812) 234-8900; hiltongardeninn3.hilton.com
Old Jail Inn Parke County For a completely nontraditional hotel experience, Rockville’s revamped 1879 Parke County Jail House offers lodging for all—no crime required. Single cells with shared bath, $69; cell “suites” with multiple beds and private bath, $89 a night. (217) 808-1309; oldjailinnparkecounty.com