When most folks think about Indiana, if they ever do, the most common images that come to mind are those of cornfields and Indianapolis, home of the Colts and the Indianapolis 500. However, head south of Indy just an hour or so, and the landscape takes on a dramatically different appearance, scenic rolling hills replacing the flat pains of t he north. Aside from the breathtaking vistas in Bloomington and Brown County, the fact is that Indiana’s early history is intertwined with the southern half of the state, making it a great destination for weekend travelers. Here are some of the best historic attractions in southern Indiana.
Lincoln’s Boyhood National Memorial
Abraham Lincoln was born in Kentucky and launched his political career in Illinois, but It was at his boyhood home just outside of present-day Santa Claus where Abe spent his formative years. Splitting wood, reading by candlelight, venturing into the business world, and becoming a lawyer, Lincoln used his Indiana home to propel himself into the history books. Lincoln’s Boyhood National Memorial, on the grounds of his boyhood home, includes original buildings, as well as a museum dedicated to Lincoln and his way of life in the Hoosier wilderness of the early 1800s.
Indiana, the “Land of Indians,” was once home to many different Native American tribes, including the mound-building Mississippians near what is today Evansville. The Mississippians built Angel Mounds as a “chiefdom,” the home of their chief, and grew their community around Angel. Although the Indians eventually abandoned Angel Mounds, archaeologists have resurrected the area, and today Angel Mounds welcomes visitors from far and wide.
As the Indiana Territory moved toward statehood in 1813, its capital was moved from Vincennes to the more central location of Corydon. From that perch, Corydon became Indiana’s first state capital in 1816, when Hoosiers officially became part of the union. Today, visitors can drink in authentic Indiana history at the site of the Battle of Corydon , the Old Capitol Building, and other attractions.
T.C. Steele State Historic Park
T.C. Steele is considered by many local art fans to be the quintessential Indiana artist, capturing the Hoosier spirit on canvas much as James Whitcomb Riley did with prose and poetry and as John Cougar Mellencamp continues to do with his music. Known for his moving paintings of Indiana’s pastoral settings, Steele settled in Brown county to build his studio and to create many of his most famous works. Today, the T.C. Steele State Historic Park occupies the homestead that Steele built in the early 1900s and brings to life the vistas of Steele’s paintings, allowing visitors to co-mingle with nature and Indiana’s art heritage.
Santa Claus, Indiana
While not historical in the same sense as a war memorial or former state capital, the town of Santa Claus deserves a mention in any list of southern Indiana attractions. Originally known as Santa Fe, the town took on its more festive moniker when it garnered its official post office in 1856. Since the early 1900s, children across the globe have sent their Christmas wishes to southern Indiana and actually received replies from Santa, thanks to the aid of “Santa’s Elves.” The town is equipped with a Christmas village and several holiday-themed shops that make it a kid favorite. The proximity of the Holiday World amusement park makes Santa Claus a great year-round location for families.
Southern Indiana is rich with beautiful scenery and an important historical heritage. The attractions listed here are some of the best that the area has to offer and can give you a real flavor of Indiana’s past along with a healthy dose of present-day fun.