May 11, 2007

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

Taking an exotic spring cruise around Indiana

Cynthia DewesConsidering the erratic weather lately, we may not believe that spring is finally here. But, just in case it’s true, it’s time for the family to discover some interesting parts of Indiana that we may have missed.

Believe it or not, Indiana is an interesting state. Its population varies from farmers to auto racers to basketball players to nationally known politicians and entertainers. We have considerable numbers of African-Americans, Hispanics, hillbillies, college professors and Protestants. We don’t have so many Catholics, but the ones we do have are the feisty Notre Dame types, and we have Notre Dame to prove it.

Indiana has been home to sophisticates like Cole Porter and Bill Blass, teen idols like James Dean and bigots like the Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan. We’ve harbored Dr. Alfred Kinsey and his obsession with American sexual practices as well as celebrity artists such as Robert Indiana and Kurt Vonnegut.

But, to me, the greatest charm of Indiana is its small towns and hidden natural treasures, many of them only short distances from the center of the state. One such is the town of Attica in Fountain County, southwest of Lafayette on the Wabash River. It’s a genuine destination, not just a dot on the highway map.

In Attica, you may see the remains of part of the Wabash-Erie Canal, covered bridges and several 19th-century buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Some of these are beds-and-breakfasts, plus the old Attica Hotel still providing rooms and a famous prime rib dinner.

Other attractions include antique shops galore, the Wolf Candy Store, Portland Arch Nature Preserve nearby, and the Badlands Offroad Park and Campground, which hosts national offroad vehicle competitions. The Attica Floral Company is a full-service greenhouse and florist business, offering some of the best plants I’ve ever seen, cut flowers, wedding and funeral arrangements, you name it.

Another even smaller town to visit on the west side of Indiana is Dana, birthplace of Ernie Pyle and home of the Ernie Pyle State Historic Site. There’s a free museum illustrating the career of the famous World War II war correspondent, and the farmhouse in which he grew up. It’s a peek at the life of a Hoosier member of the Greatest Generation.

Putnam County, perhaps to the surprise of those who whiz through it on their way to the Parke County Covered Bridge Festival every October, is blessed with nine covered bridges of its own. It also offers elk and buffalo farms where you may purchase meat and gaze at the critters up close. And, if elk and buffalo aren’t your favorite meats, you can get a great beefsteak at the Red Dog Steakhouse (formerly Saloon) in North Salem.

Flower lovers adore the Hilltop Orchids gardens near Cloverdale. Visitors enjoy a great tour of the greenhouse to see numerous varieties of orchids for sale or rent, ranging from about $15 to one that’s $50,000 and not for sale. The Hobbitt Gardens near Fillmore offer organically grown herbs and plants, plus festivals throughout the year promoting healthy simple living and holistic remedies.

Greencastle is the site of Eli Lilly’s first drugstore, DePauw University and a 500-acre Nature Park in which to experience the beauty of Indiana’s changing seasons. On the courthouse square are a doughboy statue and a WW II buzz bomb.

Spring is indeed one of God’s greatest gifts to his human creatures. Let’s get out and appreciate it.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.) †

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