Published Sept/Oct 2005

Known for its outstanding architecture,
Columbus also offers an array of family attractions, shopping opportunities and autumn events.
By Ruth Chin

Travelers driving into Columbus, Ind., enter through its welcoming red front door, which is a twin-ribbed steel arch overpass at the Interstate 65 and state Highway 46 interchange. Right away, visitors know this town of 39,000 holds many innovative surprises.

The best way to see Columbus is to hop on a sightseeing tour bus available at the Columbus Area Visitors Center (506 Fifth St.). Reservations are recommended. Self-guided walking or driving tours are another option, an easy activity with the help of a map from the center. Twilight walking tours of downtown depart from the center at 4 p.m. the first Friday of September and October.

While in the center to pick up information or join a tour, take time to admire the 900-piece hand-blown glass centerpiece, “Yellow Neon Chandelier,” by Dale Chihuly. It’s one of many public art examples that add to the city’s personality.

Outstanding architecture

Columbus, which has been called “the Athens of the Prairie,” is well known for its fine architecture and unusual public art.

In 1957, civic leader and CEO of Cummins Engine Co. (now Cummins, Inc.) J. Irwin Miller created the Cummins Foundation Architecture Program, which helped to fund public architectural projects. The primary requirement for participation in the program was the client “must be a public agency located in Bartholomew County and agree to choose an architect from a list offered by the foundation.” It in turn pays the project’s architect fee. Approximately 50 buildings–including schools, a library and post office–have benefited to date.

Some of the city’s architectural gems date to the 19th century. In the heart of downtown is the renovated 1874 Bartholomew Courthouse. In complete architectural contrast to the Victorian buildings is the newly constructed ArvinMeritor Information Technology Center. The facility serves as a major hub in the corporation’s worldwide information network, with centers in Amsterdam, the Netherlands; Sao Paulo, Brazil; and Troy, Mich.

Discover family fun and more

In 1969, downtown needed redevelopment, so civic leaders laid out a plan that included The Commons (Fourth and Washington streets), an indoor mall that includes a playground and a moving sculpture made by Jean Tinguely called “Chaos I.” At 30 feet, weighing almost seven tons, it keeps onlookers spellbound while scrutinizing how it works. At the indoor playground, parents rest while keeping a watchful eye on their children.

In addition to the playground, a children’s museum in the mall needed to expand. So it moved across the street, now called “kidscommons,” and was scheduled to open in August. Youngsters can try the climbing wall, computer room and large chess game.

An assortment of shops–clothing, jewelers, furniture, specialties and hobbies–can be found downtown. An unusual shop is Mountain Made Music (408 Washington St.), where William Berg’s handmade stringed instruments are displayed.

Columbus has several golf courses, including Otter Creek Golf Course (11522 East 50 N.), which is ranked by “Golf Digest” in the top third of the nation’s 100 best courses. With its original 18 holes designed by Robert Trent Jones, and a nine-hole addition by Rees Jones, Otter Creek offers a challenge to golfers. Par 3 (Fairlawn Drive) has 18 holes and is a city-owned course. Both benefited from the Cummins Foundation Architecture Program.

Gardeners can tour the 1911 formal Irwin Gardens on Fifth Street downtown. Filled with flowers, shrubs and herbs planted around a fountain and sculptures, the garden’s beauty bursts in autumn. Gardeners also may enjoy Elsbury’s Greenhouses (state Route 9 in Hope), which has a great selection of mums for fall displays and purchase.

Antiquing and collectibles buffs will find Nichols & Dimes (101 Pennsylvania in Elizabeth-town) in a beautiful country setting. Simmons Winery (8111 East 450 N.) offers tastings of a variety of its wines, while fresh fruits and vegetables, grown at its 115-year-old farm, are sold at its farmer’s market.

Recognized for its design, Mill Race Park (Fifth and Lindsey streets) is one of the top 100 parks in the nation. The 85-acre park has an 84-foot observation tower, a covered bridge, fishing, picnic shelters and an amphitheater. Walkers, bikers and joggers will find an enjoyable escape in the People Trail, a portion of which winds through the park.

The Atterbury-Bakalar Air Museum (4742 Ray Boll Blvd.), built in 1992 at the Columbus Airport, has artifacts from World War II, Korea, the Cuban Missile Crisis and Vietnam.

Where to stay and eat

The old city hall, built in 1895, was converted into the Columbus Inn (445 Fifth St.), an outstanding bed-and-breakfast. Its 29 rooms and five suites were once former offices with 10-foot-high ceilings. The buffet breakfast consists of a variety of fruit and pastries complemented with mouth-watering gourmet scrambled eggs. For a special treat, make a reservation for the afternoon tea.

Lunch at Papa’s Deli (412 Washington in downtown or 3532 Two Mile House Road on the west side) tempts diners with assorted succulent sandwiches and salads. Smith’s Row (418 Fourth St.) is an elegant dining experience comparable to a New Orleans French-style restaurant, complete with the ambience and a cosmopolitan menu.

Fall events

Celebrate Highland culture at the Scottish Festival Sept. 10–11, held at the county fairgrounds (off state Highway 11). Also, celebrate the city’s diverse population at the annual Ethnic Expo, which will be held downtown Oct. 7–8. Founded in 1984 as a tribute to the city’s varied ethnic population and heritage, the expo hosts more than 30,000 people enjoying international food, marketplace, a Volksmarch, entertainment, parade and fireworks. The community calendar lists an array of other fall events, including concerts, harvest feasts and art shows. Visit www.columbus.in.us online for details.

The best of Columbus may be the congenial hospitality of its people shining through their smiles and friendliness. Residents repeat over and over, “It’s a good place to raise children.” Visitors find Columbus citizens are certainly proud to live where they do.

Ruth Chin is a contributor from Muncie, Ind.

Above: Irwin Gardens downtown is filled with flowers, shrubs and herbs planted around a fountain and sculptures.

Below: Surprising architecture can be found everywhere in town, including the twin-spired Second Street Bridge. Columbus Area Visitors Center photos

Before You Go
For more information, contact the Columbus Area Visitors Center at 1-800-468-6564 or www.columbus.in.us.

Stop by your nearest AAA service office for maps, reservations, TripTiks and TourBook guides. View a list of offices.

Order free information through the Reader Service Card online. Click on Reader Resources.

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