200 Years of Fun

Indiana's bicentennial offers up historic adventures.

By Mary Casey-Sturk

Indiana Obelisk by Robert Indiana in the Frank and Judy O’Bannon Great Hall of the Indiana State Museum
Indiana Obelisk by Robert Indiana in the Frank and Judy O’Bannon Great Hall of the Indiana State Museum

Indiana is celebrating its bicentennial in 2016 and you can join in the fun by visiting cities throughout the state and exploring 200 years of history.

The capital city of Indianapolis is a great jumping point for learning more about all things Indiana. Downtown offers up a variety of museums, monuments, entertainment, sports and White River State Park, all adjacent to many destinations and providing lots of opportunities for outdoor fun.

Morgan Snyder, director of leisure communications for VisitIndy.com shares that Indianapolis annually sees 27.4 million visitors from all over the world. This centrally located destination offers many options to learn about Indiana’s history.

This bicentennial year presents even more chances for historical discovery including these tips from Snyder: “Celebrate the state’s 200th birthday at the “Indiana in 200 Objects Bicentennial Exhibition,” where significant, unique objects that shaped Indiana will be on display at the Indiana State Museum. This is your chance to explore Indiana’s natural history, such as the formation of the landscape itself, to the most newsworthy moments in our cultural history.” Elsewhere, Snyder adds, “The Indianapolis Museum of Art draws from its rich permanent collection to offer “19 Stars of Indiana Art: A Bicentennial Celebration,” an exhibition of approximately 75 works of art.” This exhibit celebrates artists from Indiana including Bill Blass and William Merritt Chase.

Clinging to a hillside high above Aurora in Southeast Indiana is the Hillforest Mansion. This National Historic Landmark was the home of

The Hillforest Mansion in Aurora is a National Hisoric Landmark.
The Hillforest Mansion in Aurora is a National Hisoric Landmark.

the Gaff family between 1855 and 1891. Thomas Gaff ran many business enterprises in the area including shipping and riverboats. Those influences are reflected in the architecture of the home including the third floor belvedere that resembles a pilothouse. Upon entering, you will take note of the floating staircase and the wonderful Trompe l’oeil wall paintings, parquet flooring and Venetian glass windows. Look up to see the elaborate plaster moldings and see if you can tell the old from the new sections. A master craftsman was employed to repair damaged sections and you can spy the original molds in the cellar.

Docents are eager to share the story of the home and its family with you and they host special events all year long including teas and “A Victorian Christmas” exhibit, and they are part of Aurora’s Ghost Walk.

Period furnishings, some from Gaff descendants, reflect the life they led in this 12-room Italian Renaissance-style home built in 1855 and designed by Isaiah Rogers who came from Cincinnati on the steamer Forest Queen to meet Mr. Gaff. Rogers declared he “had a very pleasant day,” and you will too as you visit this southeastern Indiana city.

New to the property is the Harris Cabin. This cabin is thought to be the oldest dwelling in Aurora and was moved here to be restored and is an official Indiana bicentennial legacy project.

Elsewhere in Aurora, Main Street Aurora has been working with local artists to create murals throughout the historic district. The “Windows of Aurora” project murals are charming and represent the history of this Ohio River town. These murals can be viewed by picking up a walking tour pamphlet or downloading it from aurora.in.us.

Parkview Field in Fort Wayne is the home of the TinCaps.
Parkview Field in Fort Wayne is the home of the TinCaps.

Located in northwest Indiana, Fort Wayne is a great destination for family fun—with a history lesson or two thrown in the mix, too! Tour Fort Wayne offers Segway sightseeing and historical tours of downtown Fort Wayne as well as the surrounding trail system. Hop on and take in history on two wheels.

Since baseball is “America’s Pastime,” it makes sense to grab your baseball mitt and head to Parkview Field for a TinCaps game. This park has fun for everyone and the TinCaps are playing through September.

The History Center is an interactive experience for all ages and Jessa Campbell of Visit Fort Wayne suggests that winter is also a great time to visit, “To start the holiday season, visitors can celebrate with HolidayFest. HolidayFest, is a community festival with events like the Festival of Trees at the Embassy Theatre, the Gingerbread Festival at the History Center, and holiday shopping at the Indiana Artisan Holiday Marketplace and Holly Trolley shopping.”

Is all this history making you want to learn more about your own history? Then Fort Wayne has you covered with The Genealogy Center at the Allen County Public Library. World-renowned for its immense and accessible collection, here you can delve through nearly 1 million historic volumes and records dating back to the 1700s.

Open seven days a week, this is the nation’s largest public genealogy collection house in a new $65 million facility that is world-class. Learn more online before you visit with tutorials at genealogycenter.com.

The Indiana State Museum in Indianapolis
The Indiana State Museum in Indianapolis

Bloomington, southwest of Indianapolis, is best known as the home of Indiana University. In addition to the Big Ten Sports and creative energies coming from the University, the city also has a great deal of historical treats in store.

Wylie House was built in 1835 as the home of Andrew Wylie, first president of Indiana University, and this stately brick house is on the National Register of Historic Places. Now a museum, it’s lovingly preserved and also features Heirloom Gardens.

Fun fact: limestone from this area was used to build New York’s Empire State Building. The Limestone Heritage Trail gives you the opportunity to experience the history, artistry, industry and architecture of Indiana limestone. Featuring numerous limestone-related sites, including quarry holes, sculptures and beautiful buildings, this 35-mile long, 10-mile wide deposit of limestone is called the Salem Limestone and runs through Monroe and Lawrence counties. The first commercial quarry was opened in 1827 near the town of Stinesville, 20 miles west of Bloomington.

Today, you can see many buildings made from limestone including the Monroe County Courthouse and various buildings around campus and downtown.

Learn even more about the history of this community at the Monroe County History Center. Its Indiana Bicentennial Tours are a journey through history, from the territorial years to the early statehood to present-day. Check ahead for upcoming tours.

The Buskirk-Chumley Theatre in Bloomington
The Buskirk-Chumley Theatre in Bloomington

Downtown Bloomington is bustling with activities for all ages, from concerts at the Buskirk-Chumley Theatre to kid-friendly exploration at the WonderLab Museum of Science, Health and Technology. Independent businesses and restaurants are waiting to help you create your own memories.

This bicentennial year is packed with special events throughout the state. To learn more, visit in.gov and explore now because another 200 years is a long time to wait!