The Wabash River has been integral part of life in New Harmony for hundreds of years. In 1815, the Harmonists, New Harmony’s first utopian society, built a dam on the river to power their grist mill. They also transported their goods to be sold throughout the United States and overseas on boats that began on the Wabash.
For most New Harmony residents today, the Wabash River is a source of recreation and a center of social gathering. A popular gathering spot along the river is the Old Dam, a group of natural rock formations that emerge when the river is low to create pools, rapids, and small waterfalls. Limestone from this area was once quarried by the Harmonists and used as the foundation for their buildings. Today, residents and visitors alike enjoy swimming, fishing, and kayaking in this unique location.
The Old Dam began as a center of recreation in New Harmony well over a century ago. Photos from as early as the 1890s show families and friends gathering at the Old Dam for fishing, swimming, picnicking, and family portraits.
The Old Dam continued to be a popular recreation site throughout the 20th century. Postcards from the 1920s and 30s show people standing on the rock formations while reeling in fish. The captions claimed that the area is “home of bass, crappie, channel cat and white perch” and advertised cottages and tent spaces for rent.
Today, the Old Dam site is a popular spot for water recreation such as fishing, swimming, canoeing, kayaking. It is said to be one of the best swimming holes east of the Mississippi and one of the most abundant fishing spots in southwest Indiana. Reminders of its long-lived popularity can still be seen in the decades old graffiti found on the site: generations of names carved into some of the large boulders along the Old Dam.