Crossroads exhibit focuses on small-town Indiana

By Brandon Barger

INDIANAPOLIS—Peggy Dean of the Aurora Public Library District spent the last week getting the small branch in Dillsboro ready to host a traveling exhibit on small towns in rural America and the changes coming to them.

Everyone pitched in and for Dean, the library’s director, the experience demonstrated the best of what it means to be part of a small-town community in Indiana.

Dillsboro is the site of the Smithsonian exhibit, Crossroads: Change in Rural America, which is sponored by Indiana Humanities. Photo provided by Indiana Humanities

“What’s been really gratifying is to see how much the town of Dillsboro has jumped on the bandwagon and they’re supporting us in a variety of ways,” Dean said.

People in the small town in the southeastern corner of the state pitched in to help with everything from unloading crates to helping with the reception that kicked off the six-week event.

Dillsboro, with a population around 1,400 in Dearborn County, is the first of six small Indiana towns to host the Smithsonian Institute’s Museum on Main Street program, the traveling exhibit entitled Crossroads: Change in Rural America. The exhibit, which opened Sept.7, is coordinated through Indiana Humanities, which is based in Indianapolis and showcases the history and traditions of the state.

Megan Telligman, the program manager at Indiana Humanities, said that the Crossroads exhibit tells the story of rural towns across America.

“It kind of looks at the major shifts in small town life, farming, agriculture, and all of those, kind of the big changes in American history,” Telligman said, “and encourages the local hosts that display the exhibit to have conversations about the past, the present, and the future of their own communities.”

The Museum on Main Street program was designed by the Smithsonian Institution as a way to bring the exhibits that a person might find in Washington D.C. to small, rural towns across America. Every year, the institution sends four different exhibits on tour to different areas of the country and works with state humanities councils on the presentations.

This year, Indiana was chosen as one of the states for the exhibit. Telligman and Indiana Humanities then worked with the Smithsonian to pick the right locations to showcase the exhibit.

“We looked at the stories they had to tell and the conversations they wanted to have in terms of making that determination,” she said.

The Crossroads exhibit was in Dekalb County, Illinois, earlier in 2019. Photo provided by Indiana Humanities.

Dillsboro was one of the six towns selected to host the exhibit, along with Salem, Vernon, Bristol, North Manchester, and New Harmony. The exhibit will be in each town for about six weeks, then move to the next community.

Each town also gets to add a part to the exhibit that has to do with the history of the town. For Dillsboro, located about 40 miles west of Cincinnati, the story is about transportation and how the community has gone through changes since U.S. 50 relocated north from its path through the middle of town.

Dillsboro, with its large mineral spring, developed into a health resort which drew people who sought the healing effects of the water. Today, the resort is the site of a rehabilitation center and nursing home and the townspeople are working to reinvent the community for a new era.

In February, Bristol, which is located in Elkhart County, will host the exhibit. Julia Parke, the director at the Elkhart County Historical Museum, explained that Bristol is rooted in an agricultural past as well as a river culture because it was founded on the St. Joseph River.

Parke says that they want to focus on what makes Bristol and Elkhart County special—their strong agricultural community.

“Our complimentary exhibit with the Smithsonian exhibit will be what we are calling Profiles in Rural Life,” Parke said.  “It will focus on a handful, maybe 18, farmers, farm families, or families that have industries that are farm related in the region.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 

The exhibit will run through Oct. 20 in Dillsboro before moving on to Salem in Washington County.

 Brandon Barger is a reporter for, anews website powered by Franklin College journalists.

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