“This has been, and still is, except what the lake took, in the Pennington hands since 1865. We wasn’t drifters, we was contented, and, pretty bad to have to get out as you get old and have to go huntin’ you a new place to roost… course, talkin’ about chickens. You can tear everything down, but the roost, but they’ll go back to their roost. Even if they ain’t no shelter, they’ll go back to it.”
– Fred Pennington, former Salt Creek Valley resident
At one point in time, the Salt Creek Valley existed as a rich bottomland that was home to hundreds of farming families. This folk community was close-knit and self-reliant, and its residents prided themselves on hard work, family values, and cultural heritage. In the early 1960s the Louisville branch of the Army Corps of Engineers began work on the Monroe County Reservoir, which effectively forced farmers off land that had been in their families for generations. When the reservoir was built, more than 300 homes—along with 3 schools, 10 churches, 8 cemeteries and the last 3 covered bridges in the county—were either relocated or washed away, only to become “drowned towns.” These displaced families were left to struggle with how to regain a level of normalcy and comfort after the tragic loss of their homes and livelihoods.
In 1986 Alice Morrison (née Mordoh), a doctoral student at the Indiana University Folklore Institute, published her dissertation entitled “Portrait of a Lost Community: A Folklife Study of the Salt Creek Valley of South Central Indiana and the Effects of Community Displacement Following Formation of the Monroe Reservoir.” While long, the title is a wonderful summation of the research Morrison conducted over the span of two years.
For her dissertation, Morrison collected the oral histories of past residents of Salt Creek while also exploring other fields such as local history, cultural geography, political influence, and the industrialization of agriculture. These oral histories, now housed in the Monroe County History Center Research Library, tell the stories of the people and places whose traditional ways of life were disrupted by the construction of Lake Monroe.
All the audio and research in this exhibit comes from Morrison’s fieldwork. Due to this, some of the audio may be less clear than is desirable and some locations may have changed since the 1980s.
Exhibit created for the Monroe County History Center Research Library by Delainey Bowers and Dorothy Berry. Edited by Emily Noffke. Huge thanks to Alice Morrison for the donation of her research materials and oral history recordings.