Discovering Indiana’s Maritime History And Museums

Indiana has a rich maritime history that spans centuries. Despite being a landlocked state, its position on the Great Lakes and the Ohio River has played an instrumental role in its maritime heritage. The state is home to a number of museums, historical sites, and waterfront areas that showcase Indiana’s maritime history.

A Brief Overview of Indiana’s Maritime History

Indiana’s maritime heritage dates back to the precolonial era, where Native American tribes utilized the waterways for transportation and trade. During the French and Indian War, the area that is now Indiana was a crucial battleground. The Ohio River served as a strategic transportation route for both the British and the French.

Following the war, the Northwest Territory, which included Indiana, was established. The Ohio River remained an important transportation route well into the 19th century. Steamboats became a common mode of transportation, connecting Indiana with cities such as Cincinnati, Louisville, and Pittsburgh.

During the Civil War, the Ohio River was a hotly contested battleground. Both Union and Confederate forces recognized the importance of controlling the river. By the end of the war, a number of forts and other structures had been built to protect the river.

In the late 19th and early 20th century, Indiana’s maritime industry shifted to the Great Lakes. The steel industry thrived, leading to increased demand for transportation of raw materials such as iron ore, coal, and lumber. Ports such as Gary and Burns Harbor became important industrial centers.

Museums and Historical Sites

Indiana Maritime Museum

The Indiana Maritime Museum is located in the town of Vevay, on the banks of the Ohio River. The museum’s collection includes model boats, shipbuilding tools, and artifacts from steamboats and other vessels that traveled the river. Visitors can also take a ride on the museum’s steamboat, the "Madison." The boat is a replica of a steamboat that once operated on the Ohio River.

Great Lakes Museum of Military History

The Great Lakes Museum of Military History is located in the town of Muskegon, Michigan, just across the border from Indiana. The museum’s collection includes artifacts and exhibits related to the Great Lakes’ military history, including models of aircraft carriers and submarines. Visitors can also take a ride on the submarine USS Silversides, which is moored nearby.

Indiana State Museum

The Indiana State Museum, located in Indianapolis, has a number of exhibits related to Indiana’s maritime history. One exhibit, "The Lure of the Lakes," focuses on the Great Lakes and the role they played in Indiana’s economy and culture. Another exhibit, "What’s Your Water Story?" explores the importance of water to Indiana’s communities and industries.

Waterfront Areas

Indiana Dunes National Park

The Indiana Dunes National Park is located along the southern shore of Lake Michigan. The park features over 15 miles of beachfront, as well as forests, wetlands, and sand dunes. Visitors can swim, hike, and enjoy a variety of water activities such as kayaking and sailing. The park is also home to a number of shipwrecks that are visible from the shore.

Burns Harbor

Burns Harbor is a port located on the southern shore of Lake Michigan, near the town of Portage. The harbor serves as an important transportation hub for the steel and petroleum industries. Visitors can watch ships being loaded and unloaded, as well as explore the nearby trails and forests.

Ohio River Scenic Byway

The Ohio River Scenic Byway is a 302-mile route that follows the Ohio River from Cincinnati to Louisville. The byway passes through a number of historic towns and communities, as well as scenic landscapes and parks. Visitors can explore the many museums and historical sites along the route, as well as enjoy boating and fishing on the river.


Indiana’s maritime history is a fascinating and often-overlooked aspect of its past. From the early days of Native American trade to the steamboat era on the Ohio River, to the rise of the Great Lakes shipping industry, Indiana has played an important role in America’s maritime history. A visit to one of the state’s museums or waterfront areas is a great way to explore this history and understand the impact of water on Indiana’s economy and culture.

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