Canal Keeps Community Spirit Flowing

History, Iconic Communities, On the Road, Traditions
on December 10, 2000

Few people might list canal boat as a good way to travel, unless of course they live in Metamora, Ind.

A restored 14-mile stretch of the Whitewater Canal, dating back to the 1830s, cuts through the middle of this picturesque town, a reminder of the former importance of this outmoded form of transportation.

Today, Metamora (an Indian name meaning beautiful woman) is a community of retirees, artists, and shop owners who take great pride in the towns 1838 canal and collection of historic buildings, which attract hundreds of thousands of visitors each year.

We really have two worlds, says Pat Rogers, president of Historic Metamora Inc. and one of the towns 100 full-time residents. On the weekends we have the hustle and bustle, and thats nice for business, but during the week we have our quiet times. Its a quiet, peaceful, friendly lifestyle.

In addition to its canal and pre-1900s buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Metamora is the site of the nations only remaining covered aqueduct (a bridge carrying canal water over a river or stream).

In its heyday, the 76-mile long, manmade canal, with 56 locks and seven feeder dams along its path, was heavily trafficked, explains Rogers. Mules walked alongside the waterway pulling flat-bottomed boats. Farmers used the canal to send livestock and produce to market, she says. When the railroad came, the canal became obsolete, and its use switched to powering nearby grist mills.

In the early 1900s, the population of Metamora dwindled, and the town might have disappeared had it not been for the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, which, in 1947, renovated the Metamora grist mill, a portion of the canal, and the aqueduct to establish the Whitewater Canal State Historic Site.

Visitors come to watch corn being ground into meal and grits in the 1857 mill; ride the Ben Franklin III, a replica canal boat pulled by draft horses; browse more than 100 specialty shops clustered in the center of town; and walk along the canal feeding the geese and ducks that live there.

We are truly unique because of our history, says Tim Miller, who opened his Horseshoe Bend Gift Shop seven years ago. When you come here, you step back into time. Miller lives in nearby Cedar Grove, Ind., but is one of a tight-knit group of residents and retailers who believe Metamora is special and strive to keep it that way.

Its a place where everyone knows everybodys name, says Annabel Looker, 82, who greets customers from behind the counter of her business, The Fudge Shoppe. If anybody gets sick or needs something, there is always someone interested in helping.

This neighborly philosophy is most evident during Canal Days, an annual event the first weekend in October for which the community pulls together to accommodate 1,000 outside vendors and 100,000 to 200,000 visitors. Wherever there is an inch of grass, there is someone set up to sell something, says Rogers, owner of the Mark Twain Shoppe.

Dorothy Humbarger, a retired school teacher turned portrait painter, has made her home in Metamora the last 26 years. I love to sit on the front porch where its quiet, and I love to go out for late evening walks along the canal, especially on moon-lit nights, because it just lights up everything. Its an artists paradise.