Archive for the ‘Meandering Indiana’ Category


Meandering Indiana 13 – Wayne County

May 22, 2009

Summer is almost here, and Americans are ready to hit the road. Likewise, a citizen setting out from Maryland in the late 1830s could get on the newly built federal highway and drive a wagon straight through to St. Louis. The National Road, as it was called, entered Indiana on the eastern edge around Richmond, passed through many small towns before arriving in Indianapolis, and wound up in Terre Haute where it exited the state.

I’ve driven stretches of this same road (U.S. 40) on days when I-70 just seemed unnecessary. The pavement’s been upgraded a bit, but it’s still a fine way to travel. The National Road also still divides northern Indiana from southern Indiana, according to some historians. Since it runs down Washington Street in Indy, one might also say it divides the northern from the southern half of the city.

Back in Wayne County, the area’s Quaker heritage with its commitment to peace and justice is revealed in traces of the Underground Railroad, such as the Levi Coffin House (Fountain City), and in Earlham College (801 National Road West, Richmond).

I meandered to Wayne County quite deliberately one sunny day–for no other reason than to go sightseeing in Metamora. This tourist-friendly town is known for its historic canal and gristmill, and I also enjoyed the shops and the Side Track Cafe.

Huddleston Farmhouse Inn Museum (photo: William Eccles)

Huddleston Farmhouse Inn Museum (photo: William Eccles)

Another day I was at the Huddleston Farmhouse Inn Museum to meet with the Historic Landmarks Foundation staff about an exhibit project sponsored by the Indiana Humanities Council. This historic site–with its house, barn, smokehouse, and springhouse–is sometimes listed as in Cambridge City and sometimes as in Mt. Auburn, but it’s not hard to find. For, as our nineteenth-century travelers discovered when looking for a place to stay, you can’t miss it. It’s at 838 National Road.

Read more of Nancy’s travels across the state, here.


Meandering Indiana – 12

April 1, 2009

On a sunny day in spring, what is better than to get out on the road and travel to another county in Indiana? Today, though, I’ll have to be content with getting out a map and paying a virtual visit — this time to Jefferson County. (By the way, has a very handy map of Indiana’s counties with each of their county seats.)

Madison, Indiana, has almost too much history to describe. Founded on the Ohio River in 1809, it became the gateway to Indiana Territory. Thirty years later a railroad was put in place to connect Madison with the new state capital at Indianapolis. Today Madison’s downtown district, consisting of more than 130 blocks, is a superstar on the National Register of Historic Places.

Credit: Wanda Hertz

South Side of Main Street (credit: Wanda Hertz)

The visitors bureau for Madison describes a number of historic sites, many of which have been long-time partners of the Indiana Humanities Council. The Jefferson County Historical Society offers a Heritage Center and Railroad Museum, under the direction of Joe Carr. The Lanier Mansion, a state historic site, recently received a grant from the council for its Lanier Days celebration, June 13-14, 2009, with historic interpreters and re-enactors and a Historic Trades Fair on the mansion grounds.

My personal memories of Madison include a stay at the Broadway Hotel, established in 1834 and known as Indiana’s oldest.  It was easy to imagine stopping there in the mid-1800s and climbing the narrow stairs to a Victorian room lit by lanterns, no TV or phones, just summer sounds outside on Main Street and voices from the tavern below.

Before we leave Jefferson County, we might stop at Hanover College, a few miles west of Madison. Hanover, with a commanding view of the Ohio, is the home of the Rivers Institute, a center for the interdisciplinary and collaborative study of river environments. Interdisciplinary — for now that we are reassessing everything in our society, it is becoming clear that the environment, along with other aspects of science and technology, must be approached with all the insight that humankind can bring to bear. Such thoughts are inspired by Jefferson County, a place where the concurrence of nature led to the construction of history, coming together to form the beginning of the Indiana we have today.


Meandering Indiana – 11.2

March 3, 2009

I tend to get a little lost driving around Elkhart. Like many towns on a river, it has streets that sometimes twist and end and lie along a diagonal. Just days after my virtual meander there, President Obama made Elkhart the most talked-about county in Indiana. The Elkhart Truth (or “eTruth” online) told the whole story, but I think we all know what happened: Elkhart, Indiana, became the epicenter of national politics because of its economic woes.

What else is special about Elkhart?

In the 1990s, Elkhart was a host community for the Indiana Humanities Council’s ASIA IN US exhibit, highlighting the ties between Indiana and Asia. This time last year, the council was again taking a closer look at Elkhart County because of our focus on immigration. Eye2theWorld, an educational organization in Goshen (the county seat and home of Goshen College) received a grant to examine Elkhart County’s new and surprising diversity due to the growth of its Hispanic population.  Two projects, an oral history of six Latino citizens and a conference on immigration, were sponsored under their leadership.

The council, in partnership with the Bowen Center for Public Affairs at Ball State University, will be back with a regional workshop on sustainability and economic development for Elkhart and St. Joseph Counties.

I could not leave Elkhart County without a nod to our friends at the Middlebury Community Public Library. The county has many good libraries, actually, but director Terry Rheinheimer continues to amaze us with the well-thought-out programs her library provides. Libraries all over the country have been a center for resources in the current economic climate, with public computer stations, computer training, GED preparation, and database access. Middlebury does all that and also offers excellent book discussion programs, as it has for years, often donating sets of books to the Indiana Humanities Council for reuse and recirculation. Their latest, typically challenging series is called Love and Forgiveness in the Presence of the Enemy, yet another dilemma for our times.


Meandering Indiana – 11.1

February 5, 2009

[I have so much to write about this “Meandering Indiana” county that I’ll have to do it in two parts, so #11.2 will be up next.]

An Indiana city made the national news this week, in almost the worst possible way. Elkhart-Goshen, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, had the largest unemployment rate increase in the nation in 2008 due to cutbacks in the RV industry. A spokesman for the Greater Elkhart Chamber of Commerce, however, immediately expressed confidence and hope for turning the area’s economy around.

Elkhart County is an area that has experienced a lot of culture shock lately, ironic for a place with such a reputation for traditional ways of life. I’ve been there often on business (which in my line of work usually means history and culture), but I’ve always thought it would be more fun to go as a tourist.

Elkhart is one of a few spots in Indiana known as “Amish country,” and towns like Goshen, Middlebury, Nappanee, and Shipshewana have developed hospitality and attractions centered on this theme. Driving along the country roads you have to watch out for the horse and buggy traffic, and you’re never far away from a good German family restaurant.

The Indiana Humanities Council has worked with many organizations in Elkhart County over the years. One that comes to mind is the Elkhart County Historical Museum, located in Bristol, Indiana.

From the Elkhart County Historical Museum

From the Elkhart County Historical Museum

I’ve been impressed by the support for this history museum from Elkhart County Parks, which created the museum in an old school building, now on the National Register.  Nick Hoffman, the museum’s director, writes a blog on their latest happenings, including an upcoming exhibit on Presidential campaigns. The Council helped out recently with a grant for Discovery Boxes, a museum-in-a-box program available to area schools.

Next, there is Ruthmere, a historic house museum in the city of Elkhart, which has also collaborated with the Council. Described as “an experience in history, art and architecture,” Ruthmere was built in 1908 by Albert R. Beardsley, an early manager of Miles Laboratories, and his wife Elizabeth. Ruthmere closes for the winter season but still holds many events and activities.

I once spent an idyllic spring day touring the Bonneyville Mill, another Elkhart County Parks property. This huge and impressive structure, also on the National Register, still produces stone ground flour as it has for over 150 years. You can buy some and take it home, but if it’s lunchtime, you could also look around for one of those Amish restaurants. Needless to say, I did both .  .  . though my baking skills were no match for theirs.


Meandering Indiana – 10

December 11, 2008

Recently I spent a day at a workshop in Kokomo, and that led to meandering Howard County.

Now, most of us know Kokomo as a place notorious for its stoplights. Traveling US 31 to northern Indiana, your journey is intersected and interrupted by the boulevards of Kokomo. On the way to where you’re going, it’s a nuisance, but on the way back, it’s a literal smorgasbord of franchise dining and retail, not to mention Starbucks.

Starting and stopping through Kokomo, especially right next to the giant Delphi plant on US 31, gives you plenty of time to ponder the auto industry, not exactly cause for joy these days. Being caught there during a shift change used to be another nuisance, but nowadays it would be rather encouraging.

My workshop was held at the Johanning Civic Center, a large building on the east side of the road, which also houses Kokomo’s Automotive Heritage Museum. I stopped in there and wandered up and down the rows of classic cars, arranged chronologically so that the rise of the industry is illustrated in lavish detail. The autos are truly beautiful, reflecting the fascination of many generations of designers and builders who worked on them over time. What family does not share in their history? My mother once told me about riding in a rumble seat, and I pointed out to a fellow visitor the treads that showed how to climb up and in. Tremendous amounts of metal, chrome, and glass went into the Buicks of the ’50s, my father’s favorites.


In another part of town, the campus of Indiana University Kokomo has been a center of culture and learning for the city, with its art gallery, festivals, and lecture series. I have enjoyed visits to the university and also to the 1891 Seiberling Mansion, home of the Howard County Historical Society, which just won the Indiana Historical Society’s Outstanding Historical Organization Award. (Nice job, Kelly!) The society’s mission statement is well expressed: “The Howard County Historical Society believes in the daily relevance of history. As the custodian of Howard County’s unique heritage, the society preserves our community’s collective experiences. In sharing that history, we foster a sense of community — connecting us to our neighbors, the past to the future, and our home to the world.”

Like travelers at the intersections of Kokomo, the community now faces a crossroads between the past and the future, between its unique heritage and the widening world. I’d be first in line to support the I-69 extension to Evansville, but I’m not so sure we should bypass Kokomo.

This entry was posted by: Nancy

Meandering Indiana – 9

November 5, 2008

Today seems like a particularly good day to write a “Meander” about Lake County, which once again made it into the national news spotlight last night.

Sometimes called “The Region,” the northwest corner of Indiana is its own place, holding special meaning for our state’s ethnic history, labor history, religious history, and women’s history.

For example, Lake County has the highest percentage of Latinos in the state, roughly 14%. This ethnic community dates back to 1919 when U.S. Steel in Gary and Inland Steel in East Chicago imported Mexican laborers to help break the Great Steel Strike of 1919 (as told by Edward J. Escobar in Forging a Community: The Latino Experience in Northwest Indiana). Women workers from the city contributed to the steel industry during WWII; their Rosie the Riveter was Mela, Queen of the 12-Inch (Bar Mill). East Chicago remains a strong Hispanic center, with its historic Our Lady of Guadalupe parish.

African American workers came to the steel region as part of the Great Migration from the South in the early twentieth century. The community centered around the Midtown District, where Gary Roosevelt, one of the state’s newly built segregated high schools, opened in the 1920s.

Like nearby Chicago, the Region also has many ethnic groups from Eastern and Southern Europe. IHC recently funded a project to trace the Serbian community of northwest Indiana, one among many. In common with other groups in the Region, the “Serbs of Steel” look with pride to their military service in World War II and other American conflicts.

Quite a lot of these stories are preserved in the Calumet Regional Archives at Indiana University Northwest. (See images from the collection). Steve McShane, the archivist, has lately been involved in adding photographs of Gary and its steelworkers to I.U.’s digital library.

My recollections of northwest Indiana include working with the Senoras of Yesteryear on their book about East Chicago, visiting Gary Westside High School one day when the students were trying out their language skills on a visiting group from Japan, and organizing a 1995 conference that brought all the different ethnicities together for exhibits and panel discussions.

And indeed, there are features that unite the Region. For many years those of us who live in central Indiana suffered under the cruel jibes of NBA fans there, all of whom were Bulls devotees in the Michael Jordan era. Perhaps I should compile a briefing sheet for political candidates on the subject of “who roots for whom where, or, my state but not my team.” It would still, I suspect, apply to northwest Indiana.

This entry was posted by: Nancy

Meandering Indiana – 8

September 16, 2008

I was shocked to learn recently that Sullivan County lies due south of Terre Haute, not off in the Hoosier National Forest somewhere as I supposed. Shocked, because that means I’ve driven through the county lots and lots of times without knowing it was there.

Since I’ve visited the “Pocket” (SW Indiana) on countless occasions, I’ve apparently shot down I-70 to Terre Haute, driven straight through to Vincennes, done that ridiculous curlicue to stay on US 41, and then on to Evansville, without paying a bit of attention to Sullivan County, which sits smack in the way. On the return trip, I usually check my gas gauge and think, no, I can make it to Terre Haute and again not stopped. Well, I apologize, and next time, it will be different, so help me.

What finally made me see the light was a grant application from the Sullivan County Historical Society for one of the Indiana Humanities Council’s emergency flood grants (still available). In detailing the story of their trials with the floods & rain, they pointed out that Sullivan County — the county seat of which is Sullivan, Indiana — has had its notable citizens.

For example, the SCHS is the repository of the papers of Antoinette Leach, the first woman in Indiana to be admitted to the bar (June 14, 1893). She was admitted when the Indiana Supreme Court found that an “error” (yeah, right) had been made by the Greene County Circuit Court, which refused to allow her to practice law.

Another remarkable native of Sullivan County was William Harrison Hays, Sr. Not only did Hays manage the campaign for the presidency of Warren G. Harding, but he was also the first president of what became the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). As such, he lent his name to the Hays Code of 1930 which sought to uphold moral standards in the making of Hollywood films. It lasted until the 1960s when it was replaced by the MPAA film rating system. The Hays archive is also housed at the SCHS.

Another feature of Sullivan County that I really need to see is Merom Bluff, described as a mountain range (!) and said to have a fantastic view overlooking the Wabash River. So there’s my proposed meandering itinerary, for once not in the past but in the future. All I need is a tank of gas, a place to have lunch, and I’m all set.

This entry was posted by: Nancy