by Ron Presley
The Ohio River runs boldly along the riverfront at Jeffersonville, IN. The city’s history is inescapably tied to the river which the city embraces for the wonderful asset that it is.
Back in the days when roads were few, the rivers were lifelines to the city’s residents and they are still today. The Ohio River provides transportation, power, and jobs to the area. In fact, the river contributes to the area economy in many ways. A growing part of that equation is tourism and recreation.
I had an opportunity to get a firsthand look at Jeffersonville while attending the Cabela’s 2018 King Kat Classic in October. Competing anglers could fish the Ohio River south from the Markland Lock & Dam, at Warsaw, KY to Cannelton Lock & Dam, at Cannelton, IN. That stretch of the Ohio River has produced plenty of big catfish.
Mother Nature had created a river that was wild and wooly for the visiting anglers. Recent rains had swollen the river to higher than normal level and it gave anglers reason to wonder. The swifter than normal current and the floating debris presented additional challenges that the anglers would have to face.
The current in the river is normally much less than it was on this weekend but savvy tournament anglers accepted the challenge and adapted to the conditions. When the two-day tournament ended it had produced a record weight for Cabela’s 2018 King Kat trail.
“The 169 pounds weighed in by Justin Cook and Gary Ryan on day one was a record,” reported tournament director Jeremy Coe. “That is the heaviest weight of a King Kat tournament all year when the one fish over 34-inch rule was in effect.”
That heavy stringer was just a start to the big fish that would come to the scales. By the end of day two, the top four teams had total weights of more than 200 pounds and the top 17 teams had more than 100 pounds of Ohio River catfish.
The team of Jeff “Big Daddy” Dodd and Roy Harkness had the Big Kat of the tournament. The big blue catfish came on day two and weighed 71.30 pounds.
Needless to say, the tournament was a huge success and it was the reason for being in Jeffersonville. However, fishing isn’t the only reason to visit.
Other than Fishing, What?
If your non-fishing companions and the kids are more into sightseeing, shopping, and eating, there are plenty of places for them to go. And, as far as a place to stay there are plenty of options too. Our base camp was the Sheraton Louisville Riverside Hotel.
We made our first non-fishing related visit to Portage House, a riverfront restaurant with a stunning view of the Ohio River. The menu consists of American Cuisine with a creative touch added by an award-winning chef. We chose patio seating on a gorgeous Jeffersonville evening. The food was delicious, the view was fabulous, and the desire to return is lingering still.
With our taste buds satisfied, a short walk along the riverfront prepared us for our first night at the Sheraton Louisville Riverside Hotel. As soon as we entered the lobby we were sure it was going to be something special.
We were not disappointed. Our accommodations were roomy, clean, and comfortable, and the Wi-Fi signal was strong.
The Sheraton view of the river drew me to stand in front of the floor to ceiling windows gazing out at the river flowing below and the Louisville skyline on the horizon.
“The Sheraton Louisville Riverside Hotel is conveniently located less than a mile from the downtown Louisville city center,” offered Terri King, Director of Sales. “The hotel features amazing views of the iconic Ohio River, our multiple bridges, beautiful skylines. The hotel is also just a short distance from the Falls of the Ohio, a geological and environmental treasure!”
Intrigued by King’s mention of the Falls of the Ohio we investigated further and discovered that the falls were a natural stopping point for travelers back in the day. The falls are caused by a 24-foot drop of the Ohio River that continues over long a stretch of rapids. At normal water levels, the flats are accessible to visitors wanting to search for fossils. However, you will only want to bring your camera because it is illegal to collect them.
Perched above the falls on the Indiana side of the river is the George Rogers Clark home site and the area that Meriwether Lewis and William Clark used as a base camp as they prepared their historic expedition to find a water passage to the Pacific Ocean. George’s cabin remains there today just a short distance upriver from a commemorative statue of Lewis and Clark shaking hands and symbolizing the beginning of their great expedition.
We also took the opportunity to visit the Howard Steamboat Museum. It stands as a monument to a family business that operated for 107 years and the construction of more than 1,100 vessels between 1934 and 1941. The inland river vessels were popular because of their quality construction and durability. All though they were built right there on the Ohio River, they were put to service all over the U.S.
The Museum was originally the home of Edmonds Howard’s family and later home to Capt. Jim Howard and his wife Loretta, the last family members to live in there. The accompanying photo is of the grand stairway in the Museum is much like what was found in the steamboats of the day.
During World War II the shipyard was purchased by the U.S. Government and ended ownership by the Howard family. It later sold to the Jeffersonville Boat and Machine Company. The name was shortened to Jeffboat and continued to operate until April of 2018.
Perhaps my favorite exhibits in the museum are the many model steamboats and other vessels that gave life and history to the river itself. The museum is also a treasure trove of carved wood furniture, mantels, and accessories that demonstrate the skills of the craftsmen of the day. It is a stop well worth making in Jeffersonville.
A few days is not enough to visit all the sights and stop at all the eateries. Good food abounds in the area and it will take more time to visit all of them. However, there is one other place that captured my taste buds’ interest completely. You may only want to stop for some candy, but Schimpff’s Confectionery on Spring Street is a must stop for a great lunch as well.
The doors of this Jeffersonville centerpiece opened in 1891 after many years at its original location across the river in Louisville. Schimpff’s has been providing the area with quality candy ever since. The current location offers candy-making demonstrations on century-old machinery that they still use today.
Jeffersonville is just a walk or bicycle ride away from Louisville over the Big Four Bridge which spans the Ohio River between the two cities. The bridge ends on the Indiana side at Historic Downtown Jeffersonville. (Jeff Caven photo)
There is so much more to see and do in Jeffersonville that a re-visit and a longer stay is needed. My host at the Sheraton, Terri King, said it best. “There are so many wonderful opportunities for you and your guests, the only challenge will be finding a way to stay a little while longer!”