Smithsonian Exhibit About Rural America Makes Tracks To Salem

(INDIANAPOLIS)—Salem, a birthplace for what became the famed Monon rail line, will be the second stop on the Indiana tour of the Smithsonian’s Crossroads: Change in Rural America exhibit.

Part of Indiana Humanities’ INseparable initiative, the exhibit will be at The Depot Railroad Museum in Salem from Oct. 26 through Dec. 6. The interactive display tracks the national ebb and flow of rural America from farming to industrialization to the digital age.

An added highlight will be a presentation by rural economist Chuck Fluharty at Salem High School at 6 p.m. Oct. 24. As president and CEO of the Rural Policy Research Institute at the University of Iowa, Fluharty is considered an expert in analyzing how public policy impacts rural communities.

The aim of the Crossroads program is to encourage Salem, a small city of 6,200 residents just 35 miles north of Louisville, Ky., to examine the economic and social changes that have affected its fortunes over the past century, explore how it has adapted, and spark discussions about the future.

“I want to blow the doors off the place and get as many people as possible in here to see what the town has to offer,” said Stephanie Vines, site manager for The Depot. “And I want the people in the county to know that their history and their stories are important.”

As part of the local component of the exhibit, the Washington County Historical Society has gathered oral histories from area citizens with the help of Indiana University students. The audio recordings and transcripts will become part of the historical society’s archives.

“I used to know lots of people who were World War veterans and now not many of them are still around and we need to collect and preserve their stories,” Vines said. “Everyone has a story, and I want folks to share them.”

The site for the exhibit is a replica of the railway station that served Salem for 70 years and is now a railroad museum and community gathering place.

The Depot also boasts a permanent collection of model trains that chug through tiny re-creations of the small towns of Salem, Pekin, and Campbellsburg as they appeared in the 1950s and 1960s, entertaining children and train buffs alike.

The Depot is part of a large complex of museums and historic sites in Salem and includes the birthplace of John C. Hay, who was the personal secretary to Abraham Lincoln and served as U.S. Secretary of State under Presidents William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt.

The Crossroads exhibit is part of the Museum on Main Street program, a division of the Smithsonian that brings high-quality exhibits and resources to rural communities. After Salem, it will make four more stops in Indiana:

  • Jennings County Historical Society in North Vernon, Dec. 14 to Jan. 26, 2020.
  • Elkhart County Historical Museum in Bristol, Feb. 1, 2020, to March 15, 2020.
  • North Manchester Center for History in Wabash County, March 21, 2020, to May 3, 2020.
  • University of Southern Indiana/Historic New Harmony in Posey County, May 9, 2020, to June 21, 2020.

Each community will host the exhibit for six weeks and receive training, funding and other resources from the Smithsonian and Indiana Humanities.

The Indiana Office of Community & Rural Affairs and the Indiana Historical Society also provided mentoring and advice to local exhibit teams.

Host organizations also receive a $2,000 grant from Indiana Humanities to cover costs associated with the development of the local component for the exhibit, including design, fabrication and more.

Another nine sites were awarded $1,500 grants to develop programs, mini-exhibits and other projects related to the themes of the Crossroads exhibit. They are:

  • Greentown Historical Society in Howard County
  • Harrison County Discovery Center in Corydon
  • Jasper Community Arts in Dubois County
  • Lawrenceburg Main Street in Dearborn County
  • Marshall County Historical Society in Plymouth
  • New Carlisle-Olive Twp. Public Library in St. Joseph County
  • Ripley County Tourism Bureau in Versailles
  • Trine University in Angola, Steuben County
  • Wabash County Historical Museum in Wabash

Indiana Humanities is bringing the Crossroads exhibit to Indiana as part of its two-year INseparable initiative. INseparable invites Hoosiers to explore how we relate to each other across boundaries, real or imagined, and consider what it will take to indeed be inseparable, in all the ways that matter.

About Indiana Humanities

Indiana Humanities connects people, opens minds and enriches lives by creating and facilitating programs that encourage Hoosiers to think, read and talk. Learn more at

Photos of the Crossroads exhibit are available at

Photos should be credited to Indiana Humanities.

A video explaining the exhibit in Salem is at


Greg Weaver, Indiana Humanities


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