County Profile: Perry County

Posted on Jun 27 2020 in County
Photo of William Tell
Perry County’s seat, Tell City, honors legendary Swiss freedom fighter and renowned marksman William Tell.According to legend, Tell was forced to shoot an apple off his son’s head with a bolt from his crossbow after refusing to bow before the hat of the Austrian ruler. The statue, modeled after one in Altdorf, Switzerland, stands atop a fountain at the town’s city hall. Photo by Richard G. Biever.

Tucked along the state’s southern contours amid the rolling hills of the Hoosier National Forest and the Ohio River, Perry County is one of Indiana’s best kept secrets.

Almost three quarters of the county is within the southernmost boundaries of the National Forest which offers Perry County residents and visitors a variety of outdoor activities at six recreation sites.

As a major thoroughfare for transporting goods and people in the 1800s, the Ohio River played even a bigger role in shaping the county’s settlement and economy than it did creating the county’s squiggly contours. Perry County’s three largest communities — Cannelton, Tell City and Troy — share the same span of riverbank on the county’s west side. 

Beginning in 1849, Cannelton was slated to be the center of an ambitious textile industry development. When the Cannelton Cotton Mill opened in 1851, the five-story structure with twin 100-foot towers was the largest industrial building west of the Allegheny Mountains. While the rest of the development never materialized, cotton flowed continuously from the mill until it closed in 1954. In 1991, the abandoned structure was named a National Historic Landmark. After a major restoration and renovation investment, the mill became a low-income apartment complex in 2003.

For over 100 years, Tell City, founded in 1858, was known for its furniture manufacturing and wood craftsmanship. But in the late 1970s, competition from cheaply-made furniture abroad started a 30-year downward spiral for U.S. manufacturing which led to the shuttering of Tell City’s woodworking industry.

Along with its recreational tourism, Perry County has continued to rebuild its historic economic base in manufacturing. Waupaca Foundry located a new facility on the outskirts of Tell City in 1997. The producer of several types and grades of iron, used in machinery manufacturing, was attracted to the county by the availability of skilled workers not long after the iconic Tell City Chair Company closed, the railroad spur the county had just purchased, and river port it had begun developing.

Today, the Hoosier Southern Railroad is a 22-mile short line that operates between Cannelton and Lincoln City, where it interchanges rail traffic with the Norfolk Southern Railway and provides access to the Ohio River.

County Facts

Founded: 1814
Named for: Oliver Hazard Perry, the victorious U.S. naval commodore in the War of 1812
Population: 19,102 (2018 estimate)
County seat: Tell City

All aboard for river and rural scenery

The Ohio River Scenic Railway is now offering several excursions through Perry County river towns and into the fields and forests where Abraham Lincoln grew up in neighboring Spencer County. Operating along the same lines as The Hoosier Southern Railroad from Tell City to Lincoln City, the scenic railway was to begin its inaugural season in April, but the pandemic tossed a monkey wrench into those plans. As of press time for this issue, excursions were rescheduled to begin June 20. 

Visit for information about this new Perry County attraction.