Known to its pals as “Jeff”, this city of 49,000 sits across the Ohio River from Louisville, Kentucky.
Jeffersonville can trace its roots to the 1780s, and took on the name of Thomas Jefferson in 1801, the year he became President.
Steamboat-building was a big industry in Jeffersonville in the 19th and early 20th century, and you can visit the lavish home of an affluent shipyard owner at the Howard Steamboat Museum & Mansion.
That mansion lies in the riverside Old Jeffersonville Historic District, which has many clues to the city’s shipbuilding period, and is home to Schimpff’s Confectionery, in business at the exact same site since 1891.
Louisville is an easy walk or bike ride away via the stalwart Big Four Bridge (1895), and moments downriver is the Falls of Ohio State Park, preserving a 390-million-year-old fossil bed.
1. Howard Steamboat Museum & Mansion
The steamboat industry was the lifeblood of Jeffersonville for decades, and there’s no better place to get a handle on this period than the home of shipyard owner Edmonds J. Howard.
Edmonds built this theatrical, 22-room Richardsonian Romanesque house in 1894, and it’s a real artifact, retaining almost all of its original furnishings, many of which were acquired at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago.
Some of the many highlights here are the Moorish style-parlor, the black walnut grand staircase inspired by a steamboat, the stained glass windows and the preserved brass gasoliers running on electricity and natural gas.
The Howards took particular pride in the quality of their steamboat hulls, and you can view a collection of half-breadths at the museum. Among the other shipbuilding memorabilia are tools, models and paintings.
2. Big Four Bridge and Big Four Station
Now a fantastic link to Louisville for pedestrians and cyclists, the Big Four Bridge opened as long ago as 1895.
This 2,525-foot, six-span railroad truss bridge was built for the Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago and St. Louis Railway (Big Four Railroad), and had been out of action since 1968.
With its approaches removed, this landmark was known as the “Bridge that Goes Nowhere”, but was given a new lease of life when it was finally converted to pedestrian and bicycle use in 2014.
These days the Big Four Bridge is a destination in its own right, with beautiful sunset views and an LED lighting system that turns the bridge into a vibrant beacon after dark.
On the Jeffersonville side is the Big Four Station, a modern plaza, with grassy spaces and a bikeshare station, home to year round events and a farmers’ market on Saturday mornings in summer.
3. Schimpff’s Confectionery
Family-owned since 1891, Schimpff’s Confectionery is the oldest retail business in Jeffersonville and the oldest candy store in all of Indiana.
The store is in the same location as when it was opened by G. A. Schimpff Sr. and Jr. more than 130 years ago, while the family had been making candy in the Louisville area since the 1850s.
A few of Schimpff’s signatures are cinnamon Red Hots, hard candy fish and Modjeskas (caramel-covered marshmallows).
In keeping with the old-time atmosphere of the Old Jeffersonville Historic District, the lunch room here boasts an authentic 1950’s soda fountain and original tin ceiling.
Be sure to order a trademark root beer float or malt. Looking around, the big glass candy jars, cases and turn-of-the century equipment all hark back to a different era.
There’s a museum here preserving vintage candy paraphernalia. You can also take a tour of the Candy Kitchen, or catch a demonstration to watch them making Red Hots.
4. Falls of the Ohio State Park
Just around the bend in Clarksville is a riverside spot with tons of interest, both historic and prehistoric.
This was the location for George Rogers Clark’s cabin, and it was at this very place in 1803 that his younger brother William Clark met up with Meriwether Lewis at the start of their famous expedition.
Around 390 million years before, this was a seabed, today preserved as one of the largest exposed Devonian fossil beds in the world.
Innovative displays at the new interpretive center give you an insight into this fascinating geology, and there’s an informative 15-minute movie.
The late summer months, when the river is at its lowest, is the best time to appreciate the amazing scale of the fossil bed, which encompasses some 220 acres.
5. Ohio River Greenway
In Jeffersonville you’ll find the eastern trailhead for a multi-use path offering traffic-free access to the Ohio River bank for three different communities.
Extending west as far as New Albany, the Ohio River Greenway has much to admire along its route, with Ohio River mile markers, the Falls of the Ohio, a new bridge over Silver Creek, historical points of interest and a number of overlooks where you can gaze at the Louisville skyline.
With an absence of hills this is an ideal path for families to take a bike ride, and you’ll only rarely have to deal with road traffic.
Of course, the largest city in Kentucky is never more than a short drive, stroll or bicycle ride away. The name “Louisville” alone, conjures all kinds of famous associations, and first time visitors will want to cram as many of these into a trip as possible.
High on the list should be the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory, where you can trace the story of this fabled baseball bat brand and tour the historic factory to see them being made.
Louisville as also the birthplace of Muhammad Ali, born Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr., and the award-winning Muhammad Ali Center charts his life, career and vast cultural impact.
The Kentucky Derby is run in Louisville every May, and you can pay a visit to Churchill Downs, as well as the Kentucky Derby Museum to discover the 150-year history of one of the great horse races.
Last but not least, there’s bourbon, so whiskey connoisseurs should factor at least one distillery into their plans. Sitzel-Weller, Angel’s Envy and Old Forester Distilling Co. are three good places to start.
7. Vintage Fire Museum
Relocated to a new building not long ago, this excellent museum has a nationally recognized collection of historic firefighting equipment. At the Vintage Fire Museum you can witness the evolution of firefighting since the 1700s.
There’s a variety of pumpers and steamers here, including a rare hand pumper dating to 1756.
This is accompanied by a lineup of fire trucks from the 20th century, including a 1937 Model, a 1937 Flood, a 1927 Ahrens-Fox and a 1953 Seagrave. There’s a wealth of other memorabilia all around, like historic alarms, lamps, uniforms, helmets, axes and fire marks.
8. Old Jeffersonville Historic District
Fronting the Ohio River and containing the downtown area, Jeffersonville has a large district formed in the 80+ years up to the Great Depression when this city was a hub for steamboat production.
A lot of the contributing architecture dates from the 1870s to the mid-20th century, in styles ranging from Italianate to Gothic Revival, Late Victorian, Beaux-Arts and Colonial Revival.
One exceptionally old property downtown is the Grisamore House (1837), blending the Federal and Greek Revival styles and rescued from demolition in the 1980s.
Many of the grandest houses can be found along Riverside Drive towards the south end of the district.
The commercial area spans four blocks along Spring Street, with an endearing array of locally owned restaurants and bars, including the feted Riverside Cigar Shop and Lounge, with a menu of luxury bourbons and cigars.
Accompanying Schimpff’s Confectionery downtown also has unique stores for flowers, gifts, fashion, homewares and perfumes.
9. Clark County Museum
For a historical one-two you can call in at the Clark County Museum, directly in front of the Vintage Fire Museum.
Founded in 2008 by a group of collectors who appreciated the role of the county in Indiana and United States history, the museum has a rich inventory that can be seen Tuesday to Saturday.
The collection is particularly strong for photography, early maps, clothing, Edwardian toys, family documents, art, vehicles and archeological artifacts discovered in the county.
Browsing the museum you can find about some of the Indiana firsts that took place in Clark County, as well as the Underground Railroad and life in the county during the Civil War. There are also miniature replicas of a Prohibition-era speakeasy, a late 19th-century marriage parlor and an 1830s farm.
Right on the riverfront in downtown Jeffersonville is Van Dyke Park, which has become a prime venue for concerts and other outdoor events in the summer.
The RiverStage, as it’s known, puts on two months of weekly shows, normally in June and July.
These acts are from a crowd-pleasing array of genres, and food and drink are provided by local restaurants.
On Saturdays during this season there are also outdoor movie screenings. With movies starting at 8:30pm, the Twilight Cinema series shows family-friendly movies, mostly from the last couple of years.
11. Warder Park
A recommended stop in the heart of Jeffersonville is this green, which has a history extending to the mid-19th century. At that time this was the site of a bakery making hardtack for Union soldiers during the American Civil War.
The space became a public park in 1881 and was given a makeover in the early 2000s. As part of that process, Warder Park was chosen for a ten-foot cast bronze statue of Thomas Jefferson, weighing 900 pounds and produced by sculptor Guy Tedesco for the city’s bicentennial.
Another monument that draws your gaze at this park is the domed Carnegie Library, built in 1903. Warder Park’s gazebo is a stage for outdoor concerts on summer evenings.
12. Perrin Family Park
Opened in 1991, this spacious community park has an interesting story to tell. With a traceable history going back to the 1780s, this 100-acre plot of land was bought by dairy farmers, H.L. (Duley) and Catherine Perrin in 1943.
In their retirement the Perrins decided to create a trust with the task of turning their farm into a park, maintaining it without receiving public funds.
The Perrin Family Park has a lake with a waterfowl feeding station, as well as a one-acre playground with sandboxes and a 1.25-mile paved trail.
One delightful feature is a museum, Catherine’s Teddy Bear Place, presenting Catherine Perrin’s remarkable collection of teddy bears, numbering more than 650.
13. Jeffersonville Aquatic Center
Opposite Perrin Family Park is Jeffersonville’s public outdoor swimming facility, generally open Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day.
A favorite place to cool off on hot summer days, the aquatic center has a 50-meter pool, perpendicular to a 25-yard competition pool, both with six lanes each.
For littler visitors there’s a zero-depth family play pool and a brand new sprayground, with climbable equipment and all kinds of jets and sprays.
Also at the park are two water slides, full-service concessions, a skate park and an expansive sundeck for parents in need of some relaxation.
14. Vissing Park
When people plan family reunions and birthday parties in Jeffersonville in summer, Vissing Park is always a popular choice.
This park was named for Richard Vissing (1919-1987), mayor for some 20 years and credited with helping to revitalize the city in the 70s and 80s.
There are several shelters here, two of which can be rented in advance via the parks & recreation department.
Renovated in the 2010s, Vissing Park is also loaded with recreation amenities, including paved and unpaved trails, two softball fields, two batting tunnels, two playgrounds, concessions (in summer), a basketball court and plenty of open fields for casual sports.
15. Hidden Creek Golf Club
Keen golfers are in luck as there’s a well-regarded 27-hole facility in the north end of Jeffersonville on Silver Creek.
The challenge at the 18-hole course here is not to be taken lightly, with slick greens, testing hole positions and fairways lined with dense stands of trees.
There’s zoysia grass throughout, and this applies to the links-style executive course. That 9-hole track is a fine option for newcomers who want to develop their skills.
Also at Hidden Creek is a tiered driving range, a short game practice area and a separate putting green.