County Profile: Jennings County

Posted on Mar 23 2023 in County
American goldfinch
An American goldfinch photographed at the Muscatatuck National
Wildlife Refuge

Jennings County is home to a “disaster” just waiting to happen.

That place is the Muscatatuck Urban Training Center. The center provides the infrastructure for realistic scenarios replicating natural and manmade disasters, military urban warfare and much more. Military; local, state and national agencies; and civilian first responders come to Jennings County from around the United States and the world to take part in training exercises at the center.

Located just east of North Vernon, Muscatatuck’s campus features a 1,000-acre urban and rural landscape with more than 190 brick-and-mortar structures; 1.8 miles of subterranean tunnels; a clock tower used as a rappel tower; a cave complex; more than nine miles of roads; a standing water rescue environment that includes a village of seven flooded houses; managed airspace; a 185-acre reservoir; and a cyber live-fire range. Owned by the state of Indiana, the site is leased to the U.S. Army and managed by the National Guard.

The center is located on the grounds of the former Muscatatuck State Developmental Center that was created in 1920 as the Indiana Farm Colony for the Feeble-Minded. For 85 years, it was one of Indiana’s largest mental institutions with some 3,000
patients and was one of Jennings County’s largest employers with some 2,000
staff members.

Following changes in the state’s overall health administration and in the treatment of mental illness, the number of patients at the institution began to decline. In 2001, the state announced the institution’s closure. After it closed in 2005, the state passed control of the facility to the Indiana National Guard, which led to the development of the training center.

Jennings County is also bordered on the east and west by two national wildlife refuge areas that offer visitors natural beauty and opportunities to enjoy wildlife.

Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge, encompassing 50,000 acres, spills over into eastern Jennings County from parts of Jefferson and Ripley counties. The refuge covers a portion of the former Jefferson Proving Ground, a munitions testing facility operated by the U.S. Army between 1940-1995. The refuge is designated as a “Globally Important Bird Area” and contains many rare species of plants and animals in the wetlands, grasslands, shrublands and forest.

On the western edge of the county is Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge. Established in 1966, the refuge is noted for providing feeding and resting areas for migratory birds.

County Facts


Named for: Jonathan Jennings, first governor of the state of Indiana.

Population: 27,611

County seat: Vernon

Indiana county number: 40