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The International Writers Magazine: Hoosiers

Hoosiers in the Fall
Ari Kaufman

ctober, for me, will always mean baseball. But during my second October outside of a warm climate, I was gladly re-introduced to the brilliant colors that are the foliage season in the east and Midwest. On a sun-soaked Saturday in late October, with temps in the low 60s, my girlfriend and I left my downtown apartment and took a “little drive into the country” to see what we could find.

In Indiana, within half-an-hour, even from the urban area in which I reside, the surroundings and geography quickly changed for the bucolic and the better.
Maria and I rolled along I-65 southwards toward the Indiana state line, the Kentucky border and the Ohio River, but exited 60 miles or so short of that in the architecturally stimulating town of Columbus.

A town of nearly 40,000, one crosses Central Indiana’s White River to enter, and is immediately hit with the Bartholomew County Courthouse, framed by the county’s war memorial, a series of thin vertical pillars inscribed with the names of the heroic men and women who fought for the U.S. in past wars. Not being a guru on architecture, I can still say that Main Street, lined with peak foliage, was splendid and as we left, choosing to head down State Highway 11 instead of the interstate for the next dozen or so miles, I was pleased to have stopped for cursory glances.

(And for those who want particulars on Columbus’s architecture, it really is known as a hotbed - Saarinen, I.M. Pei, Eero and the like.)

After taking flat, loopy Indiana Highway 11 southwest, crossing I-65, ripping through the town of Seymour (population 18,000, home of famed rocker, John Cougar Mellencamp), we hit the small town of Brownstown - pop. 3,000, home of a lovely courthouse with leafy memorials, steel cannons and spectacular sycamores full of color on all sides -  which serves as the proverbial “jumping off point” to something better, I suppose. This time it was the Jackson-Washington State Forest, shared not by the 7th and 1st presidents themselves, but by the adjoining counties that bear their surnames.
Lakes, hiking, camping and plenty of leaves welcomed us to this marvel. Now I had found the foliage fantasy I had longed for. Maria and I walked around, sat on a small bench to gaze at one of the lakes, and tried to catch and collect the falling red, orange, yellow, brown and green leaves that would occasionally drift from the limbs of the overhanging trees when a big gust would arrive. One of them is now in my desk.
After about an hour, we were quenched, headed out, filled up with gas, then began the 35 or so mile drive up windy (“whine-dy” not “win-dy”) Highway 135 northbound toward Nashville and Brown County State Park.
The road was as spectacular as advertised, engulfed by leaves, hills, streams, farms and bluffs. I had to drive so Maria snapped photos including a cute one of a big cement pole about 100 feet high that said “Jackson County” surrounded by amazing foliage as we left the county and arrived into Brown County.
Moments later, the road dead ended at the Story Inn in the “haunted” town of Story, about 6 miles shy of Nashville. Suddenly, the empty road had cars and tourists on all sides. After seeing horses, food and a Historical Marker, I decided to stop to gawk as well, pulling into a gravel parking lot on a beautiful later afternoon with about 50 other cars, donning license plates from local states like Illinois, Ohio, Michigan and Missouri. Most people had cameras. Clearly this was worth the detour.
The “story” behind the famed Story Inn (, in a nutshell, is that the town was named for a medical doctor with that last name after the land was granted to him by then President Millard Fillmore in 1851 following Hoosier hero (and ninth US President) William Henry Harrison gained the land during westward expansion days back in 1809. The historic plaque at the edge of town (about 25 feet from the center of town) notes this.
For nearly 50 years, Story has “hopping.” It was, all things considered, a large settlement. Between 1880-1929, it had two general stores, a church, a one-room schoolhouse, blacksmith’s forge and a post office. Four years later, after the Great Depression had fully hit, Story began losing its citizens and never recovered. As a whole, the county of Brown, lost half its population in the 1930s.

Sad as this may be, the exodus paved the way for the luscious Hoosier National Forest and gorgeous Brown County State Park to be created. This county, much of it no more than 30 miles from the heart of downtown Indianapolis (whose metro area is nearly two million), is now 80% forested

Story now survives on tourism, with a beautiful, serene Country Inn offering food, music and souvenirs as well as a quaint four room bed and breakfast, “notable for their year-round occupant, the “Blue Lady.”” Apparently, the Inn is haunted. Maybe the complimentary wine has something to do with it, but it is booked solid much of the year. Wedding, reunions, retreats and business meetings are common in these parts, but there is no cell service, clocks, televisions, radios or telephones, in general. Rooms range from $107 to $210 per night.
And then we motored off up a hill to the east, then north along tree-lined, Northern California-esque roads until hitting the Southern California-esque traffic in the touristy town of Nashville. The town, established in 1872, is a “Pioneer Art Colony,” just 20 miles east of Bloomington, home of venerable Indiana University.
Apparently, these thronging crowds are common on Saturdays, especially in the fall. I had planned to write of this town, but we couldn’t get into it, nor did we really want to after seeing the yuppie clientele, so we proceeded to Brown County State Park as the afternoon sun still shone brightly at 3:30pm or so.
A fairly long line of cars, knowing the fall foliage was at its zenith, awaited us at the entrance, but after a nominal fee, we were ensconced, and winding along an elevated, smooth road that reminded Maria and me of Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park  or the Blue Ridge Parkway, only this at a slightly lower elevation (maybe 1,000 feet).
We stopped twice for quick walks, a photo or two, and one amazing panorama view at a place called “Hesitation Point.” We didn’t hesitate to explore it and gaze breathtakingly at its landscape of incandescent colors in the forests below that did look exactly like Virginia, Pennsylvania or Vermont. Tourists with out of state plates abound, so we this park was no secret to the knowledgeable masses, many of them European and Asian.
Finally, we descended down a steep hill where more hordes awaited us in the parking lot by Ogle Lake. With the temps at their most pleasant of the day (63, I’d guess), I convinced Maria, who wasn’t feeling that well, to take a 1.2 mile traipse around the lake with me on a trail deemed “moderate.”
It was a bit more strenuous than “moderate” and with her non-hiking shoes (to say the least), my Maria was not too thrilled about climbing paths, rickety bridges and little muddy streams, but we made it in a little less than an hour. There were a lot of people on the trail which also slowed things down, but nonetheless, some views were quite nice and the sun splattering off the lake made our decision worthwhile…at least in my mind.
We matriculated back to the car, drove up the hill, past the aforementioned viewpoints, still filled with people, back out the park, over a bridge and river, through some woods to dinner in Bloomington right outside the university and the well-placed Monroe County Courthouse (our third or fourth of the day, I might add), arriving about half-an-hour before sunset.
Quite a Hoosier Day for two transplants from Southern California and South Florida, eh?
© Ari Kaufman November 2006
Ari Kaufman is the author of "A Year in Americana," available now at He is also the co-author of an upcoming book on educational reform. Read his archived work at: Kaufman resides in downtown Indianapolis, Indiana.

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