a cool little town Columbus, Indiana

We've been getting creative with how we spend time closer to my family in Indiana.  Last Spring we stayed in Columbus, Indiana about twenty minutes south of my hometown, Franklin, on US 31.  And let me tell ya, it was super faboo!

In many ways, Columbus is like a lot of Midwestern small towns.  It has a walkable downtown with long and tall brick buildings and a groovy old movie theater past its hey day (and yes, I fantasized I would move back to Indiana so I could fix up this one).

Because it's Indiana and the heart of Limestone country, you'll see carved limestone architectural details in much variety on residential and commercial buildings all around town, if not an entire building.  You just don't see quite as much of that out in the Rocky Mountain states where I live now.

Columbus' downtown has the buildings, vintage signs and details to keep that nostalgic Midwestern small town feel.

But beyond the classic Midwest vibe, Columbus has a bit more to distinguish it.

First, there are several downtown restaurants that are bustling with people day and night, inside and out on the patio.   I took this photo of Tre Bicchieri in the morning before they opened. 

The alleys that fan out from the main street are groomed with detail and some actually lead somewhere worth going, like the Soup Market down this one.  They only sell soup, simply and thoroughly with a selection of several kinds every day, including sides like bread and crackers.

Alive and charged with energy, the city of Columbus has dedicated considerable attention to public spaces including public art

Mom at War Memorial, Columbus, Indiana, photo Toni Matlock © 2012
This summer you might even have heard a segment on NPR featuring the architecture in Columbus, particularly Mid-Century Modern.  This is the cities' most obvious bragging rights.  Some of the greatest architects of the United States are represented in Columbus and quite well.  

How about an I.M. Pei library? 

I.M. Pei, Columbus public library
A large Henry Moore sculpture stands in front of it.

Across the street from the library is the First Christian Church designed by Eliel Saarinen.

 First Christian Church, Eliel Saarinen

The playground is sunken and framed by the back end of the church.  With details like these outdoor benches integrated into the structure.

I was really taken with these cement and glass windows in the tower.

 First Christian Church, Eliel Saarinen
Columbus' claim to architectural fame is mostly thanks to a truly generous and civic-minded Cummins Engine Company Executive, J. Irwin Miller. 
"Whatever you do in this world, you've got a responsibility and a privilege of doing it the very best way you can.  And whether it's architecture, cooking or drama or music, the best is none too good for any of us."  J. Irwin Miller  
Amen, brother Miller.

Cummins Headquarters downtown Columbus, Indiana

Tours of J. Irwin Miller's house, built in 1957 and designed by Eero Saarinin is open to the public by appointment.  They didn't allow photographs, so see the Indianapolis Museum of Art's site for touring the Miller house to fill in the visual blanks. 

*** Note: Two Photos of the Miller House added after the original posting, compliments of the Columbus, Indiana Tourism Bureau. ***

Some highlights for me:  
1. The Miller house was the first to have Eero Saarinen's signature modernist "conversation pit".   

First 'conversation pit' design, architect Eero Saarinen, Miller House, Photo © Indianapolis Art Museum

2. Integrated and personalized rugs, drapes and upholstery by Alexander Girard are colorful and thoughtful in how they relate physically, aesthetically and symbolically to the architectural surrounding and the family that would be living there.
3. The subtle natural light in the interiors that gently creeps down the marble interior walls. A quality not well illustrated in photos and must be experienced in person.
4. I am also interested in the problems with the design. The challenge of the skylights in a flat roof is no small one.  A great conceptual idea for the subtle natural light but is also problematic in its application since the roof leaks to this day. *
5. The bumpers and terrazzo floor in the driveway.  An excellent detail worth repeating in a space where many of us cut corners. *

*You'll have to go in person to see those last two since they aren't standard photography highlights.

Miller House, architect Eero Saarinen, Columbus, Indiana, photo © Indianapolis Art Museum

Beyond the Miller house, there are more Primo architectural specimens to be found in Columbus.  I am only touching on a few.  Definitely see the Visitor's Center for maps and tours.  I especially liked the self-guided cell phone tour that comes in a stack of post card sized descriptions of each point on the tour with a number to call for more details about the building.

It's not just the Mid-Century Modern architecture that's worth attention, either. We stayed in a sweet little Victorian that we found on VRBO (Vacation Rentals By Owner).  It was only a few blocks from downtown, so we walked everywhere everyday.

Living room of "The Little Pink House" in Columbus, Indiana
If you stroll the neighborhoods and are a fan of architecture, you'll find many structures, proportions, materials and details worth noticing.  

One of the more classic homes is the Italianate Irwin house built in 1864 that is now an Inn. Even though it's spendy, I would really like to stay there sometime. Here is a glimpse of it with some pictures I awkwardly took through the fence.

Photo taken through the fence of the Gardens at the Irwin Inn, Columbus, Indiana.
Holy smokes they were paying attention to detail when they built this place.  I walked by it several times and noticed something on every pass. On about the fifth round, my sister, D, noticed that each of the carved limestone faces on the ends of this window sill are different.  One has sunflowers and the other has some kind of ivy pattern.

Copper drip edges and gutters, slate shingles, wrought iron fencing, gardens, and so on and so on. The place has it's share of craftsmanship to appreciate. These curved windows in this copper-trimmed bay window are outstanding. 

It's not just the bay that is rounded. Look closely. So are the windows and the glass in them.

As I said, from the street the photo opportunities are limited.  One day I will go back and take the full tour of this place.

I'm barely touching on all the reasons why we enjoyed staying in Columbus, Indiana.  We met friends downtown almost daily for coffee, lunch, dinner or drinks.  We took my parents downtown several times and of course you can't go far in most parts of southern Indiana without someone knowing my Dad and stopping to say hello, as happened here as well. 
But more than that, we wanted to be thereThe Columbus community felt welcoming and exciting with people of all ages eating, visiting and socializing. Sadly I cannot say the same for enough of the southern Indiana towns I (re)visited that hardly have any activity in their downtown anymore.  Not beyond a bar or two it seems.  Anyway, I won't pretend to know the secret but Columbus appears to be doing something right. 

So if you go to Columbus, Indiana, keep an eye out for two of the finest unofficial Ambassadors of Columbus:  One of my pals from Franklin College, Morlock, and his fiance Erin.  (Since Erin works at the Columbus Visitor's Bureau I guess that makes her official, but even if she didn't work there, I bet she would still bubble over with pride for Columbus.)

Here's Morlock in front of their mid-century modern home. He might try to wring my neck for posting this, but let's see if he ever notices.

And one more thing about visiting pretty much anywhere in the southern half of the state of Indiana.  Whenever you see local produce, get it.  From tomatoes to these pie cherries, you won't regret it.

Fresh picked pie cherries, Columbus, Indiana
Be sure to listen to the Weekend Edition NPR segment on the architecture in Columbus, Indiana (click here). 

See images of the Miller House on the IMA website (click here). 

Get information from the Columbus, Indiana Visitor's Bureau website (click here). 

Information to stay at The Inn at Irwin Gardens in Columbus (click here). 

*** Note: Two Photos of the Miller House added after the original posting, compliments of the Columbus, Indiana Tourism Bureau. ***


Donna said...

I lived in Columbus for almost 4 years and because I'm an architect freak, loved it immensely! Thanks for this article - it brought back a lot of memories! :D

Donna said...

I forgot to mention Zaharakos! I hope you stopped in there while you were in Columbus - it's an ice cream/sandwich parlor with turn-of-the-Twentieth-Century decor!! :D

swimswiththemoon said...

Thank you Toni! Yes, the buildings in the midwest always tug at my heartstrings and imagination. They still pop up in my paintings on a regular basis. Enjoyed your 'journey'!

Tonette Time said...

Thanks for the support, Donna and Swimswiththemoon! I forgot to mention the Commons and several other goodies, too. I guess we'll have to go back!