Making fun of Indiana is a time-honored tradition. For instance, “You know you’re from Indiana if you carry jumper cables in your car and your wife or girl friend knows how to use them.” Or, “You live in Indiana if you drive for three hours and the scenery never changes.” And one more, “In Indiana a traffic jam is ten cars behind a tractor.” The smart (or is it smarmy?) set on the east and west coasts consider Indiana “fly-over country,” a sort of gigantic suburb of Chicago, a place that didn’t even go on Daylight Saving Time until a few years ago—to me, one of its most endearing traits. A common name for the state capitol is Indianoplace.
Well, I want to speak up in defense of the Hoosier state, even though I don’t know what a Hoosier is. Apparently nobody does. Since 1978 I have lived in western Michigan. My family lives in South Carolina and my wife’s family lives in Evansville (on the Ohio River), so I have made more trips than I can count through Indiana. My older son went to Earlham College, in Richmond; that added a few more trips across the state. Since 2001 I have attended the Magna cum Murder conference, first held in Muncie, now in Indianapolis. I hate driving on interstates, and I soon found that Indiana’s back roads are straight and lightly traveled (and, shall we say, lightly policed). They allowed me to avoid I-65 and I-465 around Indianapolis and introduced me to the state’s charms. And, believe it or not, it does have quite a few.
To begin with, Indiana is really two states. The glaciers in the last Ice Age flattened the northern half of it, down to Indianapolis. That’s why you can see cornfields almost from horizon to horizon. I grew up in Upstate South Carolina, in the foothills of the Smokies. When I moved to the Midwest, at first I missed my mountains. Now when I’m back down south I feel claustrophobic because I can’t see for three or four miles in every direction, like this:
How most people see Indiana, I suspect
That reminds me of one more joke: “You know you’re in Indiana if you live in a city and there’s a cornfield in your back yard.”
The northern half of the state may be better known to most people. It features Fort Wayne in the east, South Bend in the center, and Gary in the west. Gary’s problems are really Chicago’s fault, not Indiana’s. South Bend and Fort Wayne both feature museums, restaurants, and other cultural amenities that equal anything you’ll find in a major US city, such as Cleveland or Cincinnati.
I’ll leave the major cities to speak for themselves. I want to mention some of the surprises the state has to offer. I love old houses—particularly those from the late nineteenth century. Every little town in Indiana has some treasures, and many of them are now B&Bs. Take the Solomon Mier house in Ligonier. My wife and I spent our 25th anniversary there.
Solomon Mier house, Ligonier, IN
Ligonier is only a few miles from the Amish country and the antique meccas of Middlebury and Shipshewana. While you’re in the area run over to Lagrange and check out the court house, built in 1878.
Lagrange County Courthouse, Lagrange, IN
A little farther south is Huntington, home of former Vice President Dan Quayle. The main street into town has some of the most beautiful “Painted Ladies” you’ll find in the Midwest. Since they’re still private homes, I decided not to include photos.
The southern half of Indiana, below Indianapolis, is entirely different because those glaciers, being such bullies, pushed the land into hills and gouged out some beautiful gorges and lakes. Take a look at Turkey Run State Park, north of Terre Haute:
Turkey Run State Park. Where’s the corn?
And here’s another shot:
I thought Indiana was flat
Didn’t expect to see that
in Indianoplace, did you? Brown County State Park, between Bloomington and Columbus, features scenic vistas that make me feel like I’m back in the mountains.
On my most recent trip to the state I explored part of it I hadn’t been in before. Patoka Lake is a resort area north of I-64. Nearby is French Lick, home of that famous hick Larry Bird and also of West Baden Springs, a resort hotel built in 1901-02 that simply beggars description. Not even the pictures of the domed structure—once called The Eighth Wonder of the World—can truly convey the experience of being there.
Yep, right in the middle of Indianoplace
Along a stretch of I-64 from New Albany to the Illinois state line you’ll find places that speak of the German and French immigrants who came to the state in the nineteenth century. The abbey of St. Meinrad may be familiar to some, but there are other, more obscure, treasures along the route. In the town of Ferdinand (named after an Austrian archduke) is the monastery of the Sisters of St. Benedict, built on a hill overlooking the town. The church was restored a few years ago. I would call it of European quality.
Monastery of Sisters of St. Benedict, Ferdinand, IN
An lively 82-year-old nun in a wheel chair gave us an hour-long tour. (Communities of women are usually called convents, but this group uses the term monastery.)
Interior of St. Benedict
Be sure to visit the bakery; the brewery should also be open by now.
A bit farther north and you’ll come to the town of Jasper, home of the breath-taking church of St. Joseph. Enjoy lunch in a charming café overlooking the Wabash River and then take a stroll along the River Walk. I could show pictures, but I hope I’ve made my point by now.
In sum, what I love about Indiana is the surprises it has to offer, especially in its small towns and in its parks and back roads.
Filed under: Uncategorized | 1 Comment »