Cities of the Midwest: Columbus Indiana

City is perhaps overstating it, but this town of 40,000 in southern Indiana is a mecca for architecture aficionados. This town is an easy drive from Indianapolis, 1 hour south; Cincinnati, 2 hours west; Louisville, 1 hour north. Its the sort drive where you assume that you might be in the wrong place, as you pass field, barns, and grain silos.  And, as with all our our road trips, we were found ourselves slightly off path.














Very close to Columbus we got turned around.  Its a classic family trip ritual when GPS no longer works, and we no longer remember how to read road signs. On this turn about, we found ourselves in Greenburg, Indiana. Apparently, there has been a tree growing out of the old town hall off and on for more than one hundred years. Odd, huh?  I have many questions. No answers.  Only tip I have is to go with the flow on the detours. And take pictures!


Columbus is a destination because of the architecture. It started with a few well-heeled, post-World War II industrialists who decided to put their money into paying architects of stature to change the look of the town. One of the early buildings was designed by Finnish architect Elliel Saarinen. This modernist church was designed to have a sparse exterior to foster the rich interior of the parishioner.  He used brick that resonated with the original architecture, but modernized them with clean rectangular forms.

After this first foray in architecture, the town put in real money to draw other architects including one my favorites Eero Saarinen. His Miller House is a masterful combination of light, space, and pops of color.  Take the Miller house tour, and then drive around town checking out the rest of the architecture. (There is a guided tour, but the guides are hit or miss.) Make sure to catch the I.M.Pei Cleo Memorial Library; the Saarinen North Christian Church; and the Art Deco Firehouse. The city park has a cool covered bridge that is worth exploring. Plus kids gt a chance to stretch their legs.


The public art in Columbus spans the gamut of good, bad, and mediocre. But, with children in tow it was nice to balance some staid architecture touring with running around town looking at sculptures. The Henry Moore has a beautiful patina. Other sculptures were more perplexing, but that gave us more to chat about.  I mean, what do you think the meaning of the stilt-walker is?


Other things:

Columbus has a smaller range of experiences. We made sure to eat our fill of ice cream at Zaharakos, an old fashioned ice cream parlor and museum from 1900 that has working playola music machines.  The ice cream formulas were from the 1900 World’s Fair, and the interior includes a Tiffany lamp, seen above. After our early lunch, we wandered around town looking at old cars. When the sugar kicked in, we played in the children’s space in the mall.  All in all, it was a great quick day road trip for families, with equal parts arts, sugar, and outdoors.

1 comment / Add your comment below

Leave a Reply