7. Illinois Iron Furnace
In a wooded valley northwest of Elizabethtown stands the Illinois Iron Furnace, a massive smelter originally built about 1838 and restored in 1967. It produced pig iron, which was shipped out for further refinement and, according to local legend, was used in cannons and ironclads during the Civil War. Today the grounds around the historic furnace attract picnickers, who can walk beside the scenic Big Creek.
Handsome 19th-century architecture throughout Golconda testifies to the town’s glory days when its commerce on the Ohio River brought vast riches. Although trade has long since peaked, fishermen still find plenty of rewards here as they cast off the docks at the local marina for bass, bluegills, sunfish, and catfish.
Recalling a sad chapter from the past, a historical marker just outside town indicates the route of the so-called Trail of Tears. Thousands of Cherokees, escorted by the army, crossed the river here in the fall and winter of 1838-39 on their way to reservation lands in Oklahoma. The hardships encountered on the 1,200-mile journey — lack of food and brutal cold — proved unbearable for many, and some 4,000 Cherokee people perished.
9. Smithland Locks and Dam
Pioneers and the Ohio River had at least one thing in common: both were traveling west. But even then it was obvious that the waterway needed to be tamed, and today the Smithland Locks are just one link in a system of 20 locks and dams that slow the river into a series of steplike pools. A visitor center tells about the locks, which you can observe as huge barges pass through, and it traces the history of the Ohio River and the impact it has had on the surrounding states of Illinois and Kentucky.