Like most all Indiana counties that border the Ohio River, Dearborn County’s earliest history and economy has been based along that major waterway. The county’s two largest towns, Lawrenceburg, the county seat, and Aurora are the first Hoosier towns travelers heading down river from nearby Cincinnati come to.
Aurora is home to Hillforest Victorian House Museum, a stately 1855 Italian Renaissance mansion just blocks from the river and downtown historic district. The mansion was built by Thomas Gaff, an Aurora industrialist and financier. His family would call it home from 1855 to 1926. The mansion is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1992.
Gaff and his brother, James, also established a distillery and brewing company, and were involved in a number of other businesses, including farming, Nevada silver mines, a Cincinnati jewelry store, foundry and machine works, turnpike and canal construction, and two Louisiana plantations. Their mill in Columbus, Indiana, produced “Cerealine,” which was touted as the first ready-made cereal in the world.
With their heavy reliance on the Ohio River for shipping, the Gaff brothers also owned a fleet of steamboats that they used to transport their distillery and brewery products.
Besides their many business ventures, the Gaff brothers were heavily involved in civic affairs. Gaff also helped to organize Aurora’s school system, and made numerous religious and charitable contributions.
Gaff died in 1884, but his family continued living in the mansion until 1926. It was sold to a local furniture manufacturer and then became the clubhouse for the local Veterans of Foreign Wars from the late 1940s to the mid 1950s. In late 1955, a group of local residents, fearing the home would fall into disrepair and be torn down, banded together to purchase the mansion. They formed the Hillforest Historical Foundation as a nonprofit organization dedicated to the home’s restoration and preservation. Hillforest has been open to the public as a historic property museum since 1956.
Taking off on a “hill-forest” theme of another kind, Dearborn County also offers another attraction … up in those hills and forests away from the river. That’s the Perfect North Slopes, an alpine skiing resort, that is a popular destination for skiers from the tri-states of Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky this time of year.
Perfect North was formed by the Perfect Family and others in 1980. Today, it offers 23 trails of varying difficulty with all the conveniences of ski resorts found in areas more synonymous with the sport.
Perfect North was where notable Olympic freestyle skier Nick Goepper got his start. Growing up about 15 minutes from the slopes, Goepper used to spend up to 12 hours a day training at Perfect North before beginning his track to stardom. The two-time Olympic medalist is now readying himself for the Winter Olympics in China this coming February.
Named for:Henry Dearborn, an American military officer during the Revolutionary War and War of 1812 and served as Secretary of War under President Thomas Jefferson.
Population:49,568 (2018 estimate)
County seat: Lawrenceburg
Indiana county number: 15