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Thursday, April 18, 2024

Rolling on the River in Jeffersonville and New Albany, Indiana

Sunny side of Louisville shines in these neighboring towns.

Jeffersonville and New Albany, Indiana   |  118 Miles

The Jeffersonville-New Albany region is in many ways a cousin to Evansville. It’s nestled into a bend in the Ohio River, has served as an important shipbuilding hub, and boasts cozy downtowns populated with small businesses and innovative eateries. Leaving Evansville by car, it takes less than two hours to reach either city’s center. Whether you stop in for a day trip or a weekend, you’ll return inspired and with a new appreciation for the devotion to craftsmanship and thoughtful preservation of history that shape the community.

Leaven Bakery photo by Taryn Petrash-Hall

Begin in New Albany at Leaven Bakery, whose motto is “All from scratch. All of the time.” Chefs and former California residents Kimberly and Zechariah Maxey started selling baked goods out of their apartment in 2020. One year in, they’d garnered enough funds and community support to open a storefront. “We’re entirely self-funded — the bank said no to a loan,” Kimberly says. “Without the community, we wouldn’t be here.” The couple serves flaky croissants, cream cheese Danishes, breakfast sandwiches, avocado toast, omelets, and more.

Photo of Culbertson Mansion provided by source

William Culbertson was one of the richest men in Indiana and a renowned philanthropist who invested much of his wealth in his community. Built in 1867, his 20,000-plus-square-foot Downtown estate serves the public good by putting a slice of wealthy Victorian life on display to learn from and enjoy. After his death, Culbertson Mansion was auctioned off and served as a family home for 35 years. Now an Indiana Historic Site, the Second Empire mansion contains 25 rooms decorated floor to ceiling in ornate painted patterns.

Open since 1974, the Derby Dinner Playhouse in nearby Clarksville combines a homestyle buffet dinner and signature cocktails with theater in the round.  As two of the roughly 200,000 the Playhouse welcomes each year, we took in a delightfully funny and often moving play that included several nods to the Kentuckiana region and was written by Jim Hesselman, the former Dean of Arts and Letters at Indiana University Southeast in New Albany.

Back in New Albany, vegetarian sushi lovers will be pleased by the offerings of Asian fusion restaurant Dragon King’s Daughter, with 13 meatless rolls on the menu and several that include tofu. Carnivores will crave the Swanson Roll, which combines bacon, spicy shrimp, cream cheese, and roasted garlic.

Photo of Cultural Arts Center by Taryn Petrash-Hall

Connect with culture at the Cultural Arts Center, an art gallery featuring both rotating and permanent exhibits. We immediately were drawn to “Intentionally Intimate: The Choice to Work Small,” a temporary exhibit displaying beautifully crafted miniatures and nature-inspired prints and paintings. Deeper in the gallery, we followed the disturbing but enlightening narrative of “Ordinary People, Extraordinary Courage: Men and Women of the Underground Railroad,” learning about the role New Albany played in the escape, harboring, and sometimes return of slaves who managed to cross the Ohio River. The exhibit “Remembered: The Life of Lucy Higgs Nichols” is a multimedia exhibit telling the story of a slave who became a nurse to Union soldiers during the Civil War.

Photo of The Odd Shop provided by source

Downtown New Albany is a small business wonderland of various shops. Start with Dress & Dwell, a colorful fashion and lifestyle boutique, before visiting Him & Her Boutique, which positions trendy outfits in its beautifully decorated store. Raven’s Roost Boutique offers both the metaphysical goods and education to explore a spiritual path, with a focus on inclusivity and empowerment. The Odd Shop is a neighborhood staple and a feast for the eyes, with vintage clothes and toys, music, and many hard-to-describe oddities. Regalo is filled with fun and funky giftable goods. Wimsatt Soap & Soy Candle Bar provides tantalizing scents and classes where you can pick a vessel to fill with your own custom-created candle.

After shopping, settle in for dinner at Board and You Bistro & Wine Bar. The charcuterie and fromage board offers spicy soppressata, the bistro’s signature blueberry vanilla goat cheese, fresh fruit, and more little bites. The juicy bistro burger is accented with bourbon bacon jam and jalapeño aioli, and the four cheese pasta is coated in a decadent Boursin sauce.

Enjoy more than beer while taking in the riverside view at Upland Brewing Co.’s Jeffersonville, location. If you’re in the mood for a frosty glass before noon Sunday, try its brunch beer-mosa with the Big Nasty, a belly-buster featuring crisp fried chicken, sausage gravy spread on flaky biscuits, and an egg cooked to your liking.

Photo of Schimpff’s Confectionery provided by Clark-Floyd Counties Convention-Tourism Bureau

After resting at TownePlace Suites in Downtown Jeffersonville, take advantage of spectacular views from the Big Four Pedestrian Bridge, which links Jeffersonville, to Louisville, Kentucky. More than 1.5 million pedestrians and bicyclists cross the bridge every year.

The scent of hot cinnamon pours onto the street from the exhaust fan outside Schimpff’s Confectionery. “It’s free advertising,” says Jill Schimpff, wife of fourth-generation candymaker Warren Schimpff. Open since 1891, the confectionery is one of the oldest family businesses in the country. The Schimpff family’s love of candy and their community is reflected in their pristinely preserved historic building packed with historic candy memorabilia and colorful, edible displays, as well as their stories about their favorite moments with young customers who are by now adults and may have children of their own.

Howard Steamboat Museum Director and Curator Travis Vasconcelos speaks with palpable excitement about the legacy of the Howard family and the lore of the Great Steamboat Era, which was responsible for the spread of jazz from New Orleans to the rest of the U.S., and for Mark Twain’s nom de plume. The Howards’ 1894 mansion houses not only original furniture and wood floors that managed to survive the Ohio River Flood of 1937, but stories shared with help from historians.

Have you ever wondered what the Ohio Valley region looked like during the Precambrian period? Falls of the Ohio State Park’s interpretive center offers some clues. Learn how to tell a brachiopod fossil from a trilobite, rid yourself of spare change by using the coin-operated binoculars on the observatory deck, and explore the fossil beds on foot when the river is low.

Jodi Keen
Jodi Keen
Jodi Keen is the managing editor of Evansville Living and Evansville Business magazines.

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