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27 Feb 2012

Experience Indiana (Part One)

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February 27, 2012 Category: Travel Posted by:

By Renée S. Gordon


ABOVE PHOTO: Columbus Bridge.

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes. “

–Marcel Proust


Indiana more than any other state I know has been forged by the larger than life personalities who have populated its 35,867-sq. miles. It retains and renews its vibrancy through the preservationists and artistic and creative individuals who call it home. Though the cities and towns of Indiana may not spring to mind when planning a vacation I invite you to delve more deeply into its history, sites and attractions and meet the people who are waiting there to share the unique “Indiana Experience” with you and your family.


Though Indiana is the smallest contiguous state west of the Appalachians it has had a disproportionate impact on American history. Archeological remains tell us that native people inhabited the area thousands of years before European contact. The first explorers, in the early 17th-century, encountered two distinct tribal groups, the Iroquois and the Algonquian. The land was so filled with indigenous people that the land became known as Indiana, “the land of the Indians.” Two hundred years later, at the height of settlement into Indian Territory, the vast majority of the tribal people had been eradicated, wiped out by war and disease and most of those who remained were then removed further west.


LaSalle originally claimed the land for the French as part of the original Louisiana Territory. Fort Miami, named after the tribe, was constructed in what is now Fort Wayne as the areas first fortification and trading post. A second was founded in 1720 at the same time the English were entering the land. English incursions resulted in the French and Indian War, fought from 1755-1763. Among the terms of the Treaty of Paris was the ceding of control of Indiana to the English.


Post American Revolution Indiana was considered part of the Northwest Territory. This land was to be sold in 6-sq. mile settlements called townships that would be further divided into 36 sections of 640-acres each. “An Ordinance for the Government of the Territory of the United States North West of the River Ohio,” was enacted in 1781 to govern the settlement of the NW Territory. In order to achieve statehood the population had to reach 60,000. A pivotal section of the Northwest Ordinance prohibited slavery in the NW Territory and effectively established the Ohio River as the boundary between free and slave holding areas of the country. Indiana became the 19th state admitted to the Union in 1816.


The earliest documented Underground Railroad Route in the state dates from 1830 but there were always fugitives escaping across the Ohio from Kentucky. Not everyone was antislavery but Indiana resident’s role in the movement is legendary. There are numerous driving tours that include UGRR stations and interpret the lives of those involved. “The Southeast Indiana Trails to Freedom” is an outstanding guide to three UGRR tours, “The Crossing,” “Friends and Foe” and “Grand Central Station.” It is available at tourist bureaus.


Levi and Caroline Coffin’s house, in Fountain City, is considered one of the most important historic sites in the country. They hid as many as 17 freedom seekers at a time in their home, so many in fact that the house was recognized as the “grand Central Station” of the UGRR and Coffin its president.


One of the most unique aspects of Indiana’s commitment to multicultural tourism is its inclusion of a large number of African-American UGRR participants. Most notably the stories of George De Baptiste, who would borrow a slavecatcher’s horse and stable his own while on a mission so that there would be no evidence of his involvement, and Gabriel Smith who led more than 50 people to freedom. Even John Gyser’s story is recounted. Gyser, under the pretext of leading nine people to freedom, turned them in for a $1000 bounty.


Columbus, Indiana is a jewel located 65-miles from Indianapolis that is an international tourist destination based on its singular architecture and enticing ambiance. This city is a must visit.


Indiana gained statehood in 1816 but it was not until the Native Americans signed away their land by treaty in 1818 that the Columbus area was open for non-native settlement. The first permanent settlers were the Cox family who purchased 1,300-acres in 1819. In 183,7 Columbus legally became a town and 7 years later a rail line was established.


The Columbus story begins in earnest with the arrival of John Ireland Irwin in 1844. By 1850, he was the owner and operator of a dry goods store. Irwin had a safe in his store and he began storing the valuables of the residents. This would grow into a banking operation that he would formalize in 1871.


In 1864, Joseph Irwin’s 3-story Italianate mansion was completed and for the next 132 years members of the Irwin family occupied it. The house was remodeled twice with the most recent alterations taking place in 1910. The mansion is 98 percent original with architectural elements, furnishings and artworks that are real treasures in each room.


The gardens are a spectacular recreation of portions of the Emperor Hadrian’s Villa garden at Tivoli and that of an Italian Renaissance garden. A raised terrace adorned with a Burns’ inscription and the sculpted heads of Socrates, Diogenes, Plato and Aristotle physically and visually links the garden and house.


The mansion is currently a B&B, the Inn at Irwin Gardens, and it is the ideal place to stay while touring the area. The accommodations are large and luxurious and complete with modern amenities. Your stay includes a gourmet breakfast served in the formal dining room with historic place settings. Special events and lodging packages are available online.


An astonishing sidelight to Irwin’s story is that of Clessie Cummins, his chauffeur. Clessie, who lived over the garage, began developing a high-speed diesel engine while employed there. With the financial assistance of William Irwin he created a diesel engine over an 18-year period that was used in tractors and boats. During WWII the business really took off and today it is a Fortune 500 company that sold $16-billion in equipment in 2011.


Free tours of the Cummins Corporate Headquarters Museum are offered daily. Displays include antique vehicles, racecars and their iconic “Exploded Engine” sculpture. The piece, created by Rudolph de Harak, is suspended from the ceiling of the facility and allows visitors to see all the parts and how they fit together. The museum is in downtown Columbus and is built around Columbus’ oldest mill.


In 1957, the Cummins Foundation instituted an architecture program that would underwrite the cost of architectural designs for city schools with the provision that they employ only renowned architects. Ultimately the program included fees for other types of public structures. Eliel Saarinen designed the first edifice, the 166-ft. First Christian Church. Interestingly another gem, the 192-ft. North Christian Church was designed by Eliel Saarinen’s son Eero Saarinen


In 2005 the National Trust for Historic Preservation designated Columbus one of America’s “Dozen Distinctive Destinations” and it has been rated 6th in the US for architectural innovation and design because of its more than 70 structures and public artworks crafted by such notables as I. M. Pei, Chihuly and the Saarinens. Guided tours are given daily March thru November and self-guided tour and i-phone tour information is always available. All tours should begin in the Visitor Center with a short video and a view of Chihuly’s stunning 900-piece “Yellow Neon” chandelier.


The Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge is located 25-minutes, and a world away, from Columbus. Muscatatuck, named after its bordering river, means “land of winding waters. The 7,802-acre refuge was designated in 1966 and was the state’s first. The land is composed of several types of habitats, mud flats, marshes, lowland woods, wetlands, lush vegetation, etc., and at various times houses more than 250 bird species including bald eagles. It features 8 hiking trails, 9-miles of driving trails and is handicapped accessible.


The Visitor Center presents a short orientation film and several galleries of displays. A viewing station inside is equipped with a microphone so that you can view the birds up close and hear them in real time. The on-site bookstore sells wonderful refuge related items and all profits go to preserving the refuge. It is open daily at no cost. Information and a schedule of events are available.


Located a short drive from the refuge is one of Indiana’s most significant Civil Rights locations, Freeman Field. This was the site of the 1945 Freeman Field Mutiny that involved the 477th Bombardment Group of the Tuskegee Airmen in 1945. The men attempted to integrate the officers’ club and as a result 162 black officers were arrested and charged. Three officers were court-martialed and one was sentenced. This incident is credited with being the impetus for Truman’s integration of the Armed Forces in 1948. In 1995, the men were vindicated and the convicted officer received a full pardon. There is a historic marker on-site.


Next week we travel to other small towns and see them in new ways. For additional information on the sites listed visit the websites and learn more.


I wish you smooth travels!

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