While I write a column that generally deals with nature, for several years I also wrote a column on Indiana history. So I also have a great interest in the history of our state. Often, nature and history go hand in hand in a number of Indiana’s natural and scenic spots.
The area around Merom in western Sullivan County is a classic example. Although it is only a small town, it has more than its share of history and scenic beauty.
Merom is located on the highest cliff along the Wabash River. The view from a small park is very impressive. Not only can you see the Wabash River flowing under the cliff, but you can also see Illinois countryside for miles across the river. North of the city, the cliff presents a series of narrow backbones cut by deep ravines. It is indeed a picturesque site.
The city of Merom was named for the highest lake along the Jordan River, which was the site of Joshua’s epic battle with the assembled kings who opposed the Israelite invasion of their land.
After its founding, Merom became a prosperous city due to its location on the Wabash. It became a shipping port and was the seat of a large flotilla of flatboats that carried goods and products down the Wabash, Ohio, and Mississippi rivers to New Orleans.
Merom was such an important place that it was the whole of Sullivan County for 25 years until 1842 when it lost the seat which was moved to a more central location.
As he lost the county seat, Merom graduated from college in 1849. It was called Union Christian College and was established as a liberal arts school. The college lasted until 1924 when it was forced to close due to declining enrollment.
The college was reopened in 1936 by the Congregational Christian Church and the Chicago Theological Seminary. It was created as a training ground for pastors, ministry students, and lay leaders who would aid the many rural churches scattered across Indiana and the Midwest.
The focal point of the college was a large building constructed in 1860 by the first college. Francis Costigan, a renowned architect who was also the architect of the majestic Lanier Mansion in Madison, is said to have designed the classic spiral staircase that leads to the observation tower located more than 300 feet above the Wabash.
After the school closed definitively, it became a parish camp. I attended this camp as a teenager and really enjoyed my stay. In fact, maybe I enjoyed it too much as it closed shortly after I left.
Merom was for a long time the site of a very active Chautauqua; it began in 1903 and ran from August 15 to 30 each year. At its peak, the Merom Chautauqua drew up to 50,000 people to its inspiring meetings.
Speakers have appeared at Merom Chautauqua and lectured on a variety of issues ranging from social issues, science and world affairs to philosophy and religion.
Among these famous speakers were William Jennings Bryant who has run for president several times and Billy Sunday. Sunday, once a great baseball player known for his wild lifestyle, became a world-renowned evangelist after his conversion.
Merom, despite being a small town, has more than its share of history in conjunction with panoramic views. I haven’t told the whole story of the Merom region so I will have to continue it in a future column. I’m sure you’ll find this one most interesting, so be sure to watch the column on Outlaws, Native Americans, and William Henry Harrison.