Brown County Memories
Andy Rogers Recalls
by Bill Weaver
photo by George Bredewater
If any one person can be associated with contemporary Brown County that person is Andy Rogers, mover and shaker; father, husband, and citizen; owner of The Seasons, The Nashville House, The Ordinary, the Brown County Inn; and manager of the Abe Martin Lodge.
Yet, for all of his responsibilities the most remarkable thing about Rogers is his unpretentious and unassuming manner. He could be a barber, grill cook, or small businessman for all you can tell, instead of one of the most influential men in Brown County. He stands at the center of Nashville’s dogged attempt to satisfy a tourist industry while retaining its soul—the thing that people have lost in their own communities, the reason they come to visit in the first place.
So you can imagine my surprise when I discover that Rogers was not born in Brown County.
“I grew up in Bloomington but spent a lot of time over here,” he says quietly. “Especially in the summertime. We lived in a cabin at the Abe Martin Lodge in the forties when my father ran the lodge. I learned how to wash dishes in a restaurant when I was about 10, 11 years old. We spent all our summers over here.”
Rogers help haul ice, clean the cabins, wash dishes, anything his father needed done. “When you’re 11 years old you’re not a regular employee,” he adds laconically. “Later on, when I was older, I helped build some of these shops.”
I think of young Andy Rogers with a hammer in his hand helping to build shops he would one day own. I ask him what was it like to grow up in Brown County State Park.
“Wonderful!” he replies. “I’ve a great love of the park. My fondest memories are of Johnny Wallace, who was the son of a state entomologist. He was a Naturalist. I learned a lot about the park, the insects, animals, trees, undergrowth, wildflowers, birds—developed a great appreciation of the outdoors and what the park’s all about. It’s still one of my favorite places.”
Andy’s father, Jack Rogers, was one of the early operators of the Abe Martin Lodge, as Andy is today. “At that time people had kerosene stoves and ice boxes in the cabins, outhouses, and water spigots in the middle of the gathering of cabins. There was water and toilets in the lodge but if you wanted water in the cabin you had to take your bucket to the spigot and bring it in. Haul your own ice to the icebox.” Visitors didn’t seem to mind the inconveniences. “We were a popular park. We had a following from Chicago. It was a good place to get away.”
Rogers lives just outside Nashville in “A log cabin that was built in 1858. It’s the largest log cabin in the state of Indiana still on its original foundation and still used as a home. You’ve got to put all of that in there,” he adds with a slight smile.
Jack Rogers was one of the first to foresee the impact the new visitors would have on the county, and to take advantage of that opportunity with partners Fred Bates Johnson and Dale Bessire. “When they separated Dale got the orchards, Johnson got the land (which was several thousand acres) and my father got the hotel.”
The hotel, of course, was the original Nashville House. Built in 1867 by John Watkins, the building had many owners through the years, even serving for a time as the second Pittman Inn. Rogers bought the building in 1926 and completely remodeled it. He hired Portia Sperry and opened the first Nashville crafts shop. The hotel became a center for visitors to the county. Then, in 1943, fire consumed the Nashville House.
“Was the fire devastating to your family?” I ask.
“Yes, it was. There was a great deal of concern in the community.” Jack Rogers rebuilt in 1947, but only the restaurant and gift store.
I ask him about the great chronicler of Brown County, Frank Hohenberger, a man Rogers knew well.
“He was quite a character. I used to love to talk to him. He had a lot of tales to tell. He started a newspaper, put his opinions in it, which were extensive. He was a little controversial. He was a real artist when it came to pulling the character of the ‘native’ population into his photographs.”Hohenberger photos from Andy Rogers personal collection.
I mention that the Lilly Library has Hohenberger’s photographs and writing.
“Well, he was going to destroy all of that but Herman Wells talked him out of it.
“Herman had a real soft spot for Brown County. He had a cabin on the road out of town. He provided a great deal of financial support for some of the artists. He bought their paintings and hung them in the (Indiana Memorial) Union and other places at IU.”
I ask him about the Brown County art scene.
“I was a great fan of Georges LaChance. You see, I’m not a collector,” he says with a shrug. “I’ve had opportunities to buy all kinds of art through the years but if I didn’t like it I didn’t buy it. I enjoy art but I wouldn’t pay big money for it. That’s the way I am.”
And what about the future?
“The automobile really opened up Brown County. When we ran the park, they rebuilt this road between here and Bloomington. They built a bridge out in the middle of a field and we’d wonder when they were going to finish the road. Now it’s amazing to me how much traffic is on old Helmsburg Road. Lots of people have come into the county to enjoy what’s left of the rustic atmosphere and to build houses.
“People say, ‘Well, we can’t change.’ But we can change and still retain some of the flavor of Brown County. We need people to live here. I’m in the tourist business but we don’t want to turn this town over to the tourists. You can go to Gatlinburg if you want to see what happens to a town that turns it all over to business. It’s not a town anymore—it’s a shopping center. We need people here. This town needs to be alive.”