Gateway to the South
by Mark Blackwell
Brown County has its own charm made up of equal parts of scenic beauty, outdoor activities, rusticality, and a laid back atmosphere. We’ve got good fishing and hunting, great trails for hiking and horse riding, and a fine little village for shopping. Although some northerners might argue that the South begins as you cross the Ohio River, I believe Brown County can claim to be the northern-most outpost of the South.
Brown County is unique piece of geography that has very little to do with most of the rest of Indiana. The most notable feature is the topography—we’re not flat. Morgan County and a couple of others could be said to be a little riffley but the rest of the state is pretty much on the level. Once you cross the county line things start going up hill or down hill. Except for the stretch of Highway 46 heading over to Columbus you’re not gonna find more than a quarter mile of straight road anywhere in the county.
But there’s more than hills and hollers that sets Brown County apart from the North—take our vittles for instance.
I have yet to find a place to eat north of Morgantown that offers true country cuisine. Down here, if it isn’t fried we aren’t sure it’s edible. We fry our chicken, steaks, pork chops, tenderloins, and catfish the same way. We’ve got six different ways to fry potatoes. We even fry cabbage. Brown County is one of the few places where you can even get fried biscuits and with a healthy dollop of apple butter or sorghum molasses.
We bake cornbread the right way in Brown County. I want cornbread made with corn meal and buttermilk but ninety per cent of the time when I eat it away from home I wind up with cornbread made with sweet milk and sugar. Somehow the idea of a good hot bowl of ham and beans is just not that appealing partnered up with sweet corn bread. It’s a form of false advertising—they ought to just call it corn cake and be done with it. Most everybody here knows that sugar goes in your iced tea and not in your cornbread.
And then there’s the service here in Brown County, you don’t just get a smile, you get called “Hon” (that’s short for Honey, by the way) as in, “What’ll you be havin’ today, Hon?” I’ll take a little sweetness in a waitress.
Most folks in around here prefer a dose of familiarity. If you’re the sort of person who rankles at being referred to as “Dear” or “Buddy” or if you think that passin’ the time is a waste of time, you will most likely be sized up as unsociable at best. Folks down south like to attend to “pleasantries” first before you get down to any business and you will find that same attitude right here in good old Brown County. If you stick around long enough you might get asked to trot out your pedigree or at least who you know in the county. You might discover some commonalities with the natives.
One of those commonalities could be an appreciation of good, down-home music. I expect that if a poll were taken here a good majority of local folks—just like the people on the sunny side of the Mason-Dixon Line—they would say they like both kinds of music: country and western. Everybody knows that Nashville, Tennessee is home to the “Grand Ol’ Opry” but Brown County, hosts the “Little Nashville Opry” and you can see a heap of “Grand Ol’” stars without having to drive 600 miles.
The most country of Country Music, “Bluegrass,” was created and developed by a man from Kentucky, Mr. Bill Monroe. He loved Brown County so much that he established the oldest, continuously operating Bluegrass Festival in the world right here at Bean Blossom.
You can find our own good crop of home-grown banjo and guitar pickers, fiddlers, and singers at the various eateries and saloons around the county.
Why would a place this far north manifest a bunch of down-south folkways? The answer is truly simple—our ancestors packed ’em up and brought ’em along when they immigrated up from the Carolinas, Virginia, Tennessee, and Kentucky. And with Brown County being land-locked by bad roads and rough terrain for almost a century, things didn’t have much of any reason to change. I still don’t see much of any reason to change—the countryside is beautiful, the music is lively, folks are friendly, and the food is good. That’s why folks come to visit and hate to leave.