by Joanne Nesbit
You won’t find it on a map, but artists of the early 1900s from across the country knew how to find Peaceful Valley.
First get to Indianapolis and then take the train to Helmsburg. Hire a hack or start to walk the six miles to peaceful Valley most readily known as Nashville in Brown County, Indiana. Some have known Brown County as Indiana’s Switzerland. Others have considered the county to be the “Adirondacks of Indiana.” One newspaper writer of 1908 pointed out, “What Barbizon was to the artists of Paris in the days of Millet, Peaceful Valley will soon be to the painters of not only Hoosierdom, but the surrounding states as well.”
Peaceful Valley was christened in 1908 by a group of artists gathered in the twilight after dinner on the porch and grassy area in front of the Pittman Inn. The conversation quickly turned to comments about the beauty of Brown County. One painter said that in spite of his world travels he had never found such an ideal place for a painter as Brown County. “It is certainly in a class by itself. There is nothing like it.”
A landscape painter chimed in with, “I have never seen anywhere such fine old trees, such beautiful stretches of bottom lands or meadows all backed up by these hills. Hills? Why do they call them hills? They are little brothers to mountains. A man could paint for a lifetime in this spot.”
Another artist showed much more interest in the people of Brown County than its landscapes. “Where else can you find such fine people,” he said. “Why they haven’t been touched yet by the bane of the ultra civilization of the cities. These people are honest. Nobody thinks of locking up his things in his place. And see what fine subjects for a painter are these children, and look at the character in the faces of the old men. Here three generations are always in evidence, the elders, the children and grandchildren. There doesn’t seem to be much use for that little graveyard up on the hill.”
At about this time someone shouted out that this place so praised by the group should have a name that would indicate its characteristics. Another loudly suggested the name Peaceful Valley. And so it was christened.
For those disembarking the train at Helmsburg, George King would put you aboard his hack just after he unloaded the outgoing mail from the wagon onto the train platform. And he may have tied some incoming boxes of bread from the city to the back of the wagon.
For those choosing to walk from the train station to Peaceful Valley along the dirt road, after about three miles the hikers would come to a post topped by a mailbox that read “Alex Wilson #2.” This marked the half-way point of the trek. In another three miles one newspaper reporter wrote of seeing “in the distance a sweet little town lying asleep amongst surrounding hills. That spot marks the center of Peaceful Valley, and its name upon the county map, which, by the way, does not exist, would be Nashville.”
While most found the name Peaceful Valley appropriate to the town’s setting, there were some who found fault with the peaceful part. In the midst of a quiet afternoon the spell was broken by the exhaust from the planing mill. This was considered the only inharmonious feature of the town. The artists were of one voice declaring that the mill engine had no place in the picture. “It does not fit into the peace of Peaceful Valley in which Nashville reposes.”
The Peaceful Valley continues to draw artists and visitors. Some things still appear to break the peaceful spell, but they soon fade out of favor.