It’s always interesting to see the influence of a leading corporation on the community where it’s located. In Moline, Illinois, the contributions of John Deere & Company are note-worthy, and in Peoria, Illinois, Caterpillar, Inc.’s name is widely recognized and appreciated.
The major industry in Columbus, Indiana is Cummins Engine Company, and its impact on the city has been significant. Back in 1950s, J. Irwin Miller was the head of Cummins, and he convinced the town’s leaders to go with modern architecture. Miller set up a foundation that would pay architect’s fees for public buildings, if a well-known architect was chosen. The result was a bevy of modern structures.
My husband, Mike, and I took the Columbus Architecture Bus Tour to hear the stories and see the buildings. Our guide was a Cummins engineer who was putting in some volunteer time for the community. He liked giving the tour and answering questions.
As we drove around town, we noticed there’s a unique blend of old and new with Columbus’ architecture. The 1875 Bartholomew County Courthouse looked handsome and impressive, but so did the 1942 First Christian Church, designed by Eliel Saarinen. We were there on a Saturday, and inside, the church organist was practicing for the next day’s service. The sound, along with the structure, was glorious.
Particularly noteworthy among all the modern architecture was the Bartholomew County Veterans Memorial, next to the courthouse. The names of veterans who gave their lives, along with excerpts from letters and journals, are engraved on the limestone pillars. It’s a meaningful experience to walk among the columns and read the letters.
One of the more popular tours in Columbus is the Miller House and Gardens. It’s the former home of Cummins chief J. Irvin Miller that was designed Eero Saainen. The tour sells out quickly so make reservations in advance.
After taking in all that modern architecture, step back in time and enjoy a treat at the restored 1900 Zaharakos Ice Cream Parlor in the downtown area.
Or take in some nature with a walk or drive around Mill Race Park. It features an historic covered bridge and a tranquil circular pond.
We decided to fully immerse ourselves in the modern architecture experience and booked a room at the Hotel Indigo. It’s bright, colorful, and doggie-friendly if you’re bringing along the pet.
If you want a more traditional stay, the Inn at Irwin Gardens is Old World elegant. The gardens were inspired by Pompeii, Italy.
Our second day was spent looking over the interesting public art. There’s quite a bit throughout the city. At the town library is Henry Moore’s “Large Arch.”
“Persians” was a gift of J. Irvin Miller and his wife to the Visitors Center.
Whether it’s old or new, there’s something for everyone in Columbus, Indiana !
Bonus stop: Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site in Indianapolis
If you’re driving through Indianapolis on the way down to Columbus, consider stopping at President Benjamin Harrison’s home at 1230 Delaware Street. It’s located in a neighborhood that feels like a small town. The stately Italianate house is nicely furnished, and the tour is a chance to learn about this little-known president.