As a way of preserving and promoting the rich history of Switzerland County, the Switzerland County Tourism office initiated a new program earlier this year with the creation of a special fellowship.
Tourism Executive Director Jon Charles Smith said that his idea to create a fellowship — bringing a person with a background in historic preservation here to the county to take on specific tasks related to the county’s history — was met with great success, as six highly qualified applicants vied to be the first fellowship recipient.
The fellowship is officially named after one of the pillars of historic preservation in the community — Martha Bladen.
It is officially known as the “Martha Bladen Graduate Fellowship for Heritage and Cultural Development.”
The honor fell to Abby Marshall, a graduate student in historic preservation at Ball State University and a resident of South Whitely, Indiana.
Smith said that Marshall was charged with researching and applying for state historic markers that would be located at seven sites identified as historically important for the county.
“Abby was just incredible,” Smith said. “She took on the task and just ran with it. By the end of her fellowship, she had completed applications for five of the seven sites that we had identified.”
Those five sites are:
— Center Square Baptist Church: which was an important stop along the Underground Railroad.
— The Vineyard area of the county. “When people come here, they want to know where the vineyards were in county history,” Smith said. “Where can we go see where the wine fields were? Where the vineyards were?
— The third marker will be for the Vevay National Register of Historic Places district. Smith said that marker will be placed in downtown Vevay.
— Musee de Venoge, which Smith said sort of serves as a ‘gateway’ into the historic area of the county. Venoge is an original French-Swiss farmstead from 1805, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
— Finally, the Thiebaud Farmstead coming into Vevay from the east on State Road 56 will also serve as a ‘gateway’ into the history of the county.
“Abby was also able to start on the next two, which will be handled by the next graduate fellow, which will be looking to do again in the Spring,” Smith said. “Abby was able to make progress on the other two — the Vevay Ferry and the Knox House at the intersection of Main and Main Cross streets, which is Revolutionary War-era and has an architectural significance, as well. So for the next fellowship we’ve already got those started, and we will build upon those.”
Smith said that Marshall has now graduated from Ball State and is about to begin work at the Ohio State Historic Preservation Office.
“She graduated while she was working for us,” Smith said. “One of the weekends she had to be gone during her fellowship was to go through graduation. She earned a really prestigious graduate degree, a master of science and historic preservation. Hopefully this catapulted her into being a finalist and then getting the job in Ohio.”
Marshall was in Switzerland County for her fellowship from April to the end of July this year. She lived in Switzerland County during the fellowship.
Smith said that Tourism provided a stipend for the fellowship; which was much more reasonable than if tourism had tried to contract out the research and the work to a private firm.
“I can’t imagine being this lucky again,” Smith said with reference to the work that Marshall accomplished. “I was expecting to be very busy and that this was going to be a major task for me — but she just ran with it. She is really fantastic and also very humble.”
For Abby Marshall, the opportunity to work with historic preservation here was too good to pass up.
“I started in April and I worked with Jon and Martha on getting some historic marker applications put in for five different locations,” she said. “Basically I just worked on researching those and filling out the applications and drawing on the points of significance and why they are important to Vevay and what significance they have to the surrounding area. I got those all turned in on July 15th to the Indiana Historical Bureau to see if they accept them so we can get historical markers for those locations.”
Marshall said that she became aware of and interested in the fellowship when she learned about it from her advisor at Ball State, who had previously worked with Smith on several projects.
Her interest in history and historic preservation runs deep.
“I’ve always been really into history and making sure that these stories of all histories are told,” Marshall said. “I was trying to figure out what route I was wanting to go for grad school, and I came across the historic preservation program at Ball State and thought it was really interesting. I had originally thought about doing architecture during my undergrad, so the architecture side of it I thought was really cool, as well; and it was new to me because I didn’t know much about it. When I came across the program, it just seemed like a good fit; and it all worked out and I really loved it. Luckily I got to meet a lot of good people and do the fellowship. I got a job that I would say directly related to the fellowship and because of the fellowship.”
Marshall will now move to Columbus, Ohio next week, where she will begin work at the State Historic Preservation Office as a National Register manager.
“I will be the one who helps people get different sites and buildings put on the National Register of Historic Places,” she said. “So it ties to my work that I did with the fellowship. Through my trips with the fellowship, I got to learn so much about historical research and pulling what’s significant for different sites and locations and portraying that to people — sometimes people who don’t have that much of a background knowledge in history and architecture. Being able to research these sites and get an idea of the history and put it all in writing so someone else can read it and understand why it’s important and relevant gave me a lot of experience. And just being able to work with Jon who has such a strong background in historic preservation was definitely something I was very thankful for.”
And Marshall really enjoyed her time living and working in Vevay.
“I really liked the history of the area,” she said. “Honestly, I’d never heard of Vevay until I found the fellowship and applied. It’s a cool place. I love that it’s got the Switzerland ties, because you don’t see that a lot. Just the fact that it was so instrumental in bringing the commercialization of wine to the United States. It’s great history — and it’s just a really beautiful area. It’s nice to see some hills in Indiana.”
And being the first ever recipient of the fellowship was also a source of pride.
“Yes, I was excited to get to be a part of it,” she said. “I’ll be back to visit, I’m sure.”