Deep in the belly of Indiana off Interstate Highway 65 pops out a marvel ofa town molded by eminent architects.
It was hard-core industry, specifically diesel engine manufacturing, thathelped put this town on the map. That, along with invention and ingenuity.
In Columbus, schools, churches, parks, libraries, even golf courses are allthe work of celebrated names. These names -- including Cesar Pelli, I.M. Peiand Harry Weese -- have also left their imprints on such landmarks as theWorld Financial Center in New York City, the Louvre in Paris and the Time-LifeBuilding in Chicago.
The difference is that Columbus is a mere town of 37,000 folks.
The name instrumental in giving the town a boost is Clessie Cummins. He iscredited with fine-tuning the German-invented diesel engine, which paid offboth economically and, eventually, architecturally for Columbus. In 1919,Cummins Engine Co. set up its headquarters in town, growing into the world'slargest independent manufacturer of diesel engines, employing 28,500worldwide.
The crusade to bring in architectural talent took shape in 1957 under J.Irwin Miller, general manager of Cummins Engine at the time. The deal wassimple: The company offered to cover design costs for much needed publicschools -- as long as it was able to approve the architect selection.
For Cummins, what began with the Lillian C. Schmitt Elementary School,designed by Chicago's Weese, who was an indelible force in shaping a chunk ofthe Windy City's skyline, still continues today. Thus far, more than 30buildings and additions, ranging from schools to the post office to city hall,have been constructed under the Cummins Engine Foundation ArchitectureProgram. Many of them are part of the architectural tour my boyfriend and Itook while on our three-day weekend getaway to Columbus.
While getting here from Chicago may be a bit of a drive -- we clocked aboutfour hours with traffic -- once downtown, you can ditch driving, as many ofColumbus' main sights are within walking distance.
We chose lodging downtown in the historic Columbus Inn, a bed-and-breakfastthat used to serve as City Hall. The Romanesque revival inn was built in 1895and still has its intricate tin ceiling and 10-foot-tall Federal-style windowsthroughout. Our corner room, it turned out, was many a former mayor's office.
The inn is also conveniently located near the Columbus Visitors Center,which conducts architectural tours March through November. Call ahead to makereservations as space fills up mighty fast. The center also showcases theworks of glass artist Dale Chihuly. Peer upstairs at the fiery "Yellow NeonChandelier," a 1,200-pound, nine-foot-long light composed of 900 pieces ofhand-blown glass with 50 feet of neon tubing.
The Cleo Rogers Memorial Library, crafted by Pei in 1969, was a startingpoint on our tour. Its large plaza houses a Henry Moore sculpture titled"Large Arch."
About a dozen schools boasting Weese, Richard Meier and Gunnar Birkerts astheir designers are on the route as is Pelli's The Commons, a publicplayground that houses a mall, eateries and the Indianapolis Museum of ArtColumbus Gallery.
The private sector, too, has been behind such works in town, including theFirst Christian Church designed by Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen in 1942.It is considered to be one of the first churches of contemporary architecturein the United States.
So impressive are the buildings here that, in 1991, Columbus was votedsixth for design and innovation among United States cities in an AmericanInstitute of Architects reader survey. (Chicago ranked first.) Columbus stillretains its sixth-place crown and is ranked fourth in the nation after NewYork, Los Angeles and Chicago in the number of buildings designed by famousarchitects.
One of the few non-buildings on our tour was Mill Race Park, an 85-acreriverfront oasis that once was a flood plain and a shanty town in the '70s.The ultramodern Stanley Saitowitz-designed restrooms seemed to stir up a lotof attention on the tour for their clever interchangeable M and W signs, butthe park's most impressive feature is manmade Round Lake.
Take the two-hour tour (one hour tours are also offered) if you want to seethe North Christian Church designed in 1964 by Eero Saarinen, the son of ElielSaarinen. It's worth the wait. Hidden among groves of magnolia trees is astartling circular church topped with a 192-foot spire. It's also one of theonly buildings on the tour that you'll actually enter. Note that Saturdayafternoon and Sunday tour groups won't be able to enter the church at all.
For a quick architecture fix, walk down 5th Street. Locals call it the"arch axis," since it is lined with works by many of the famous architectsfeatured on the tour. Also on the strip is the immaculate Irwin Home andGardens. The gardens are open to the public April through September.
Not every nook and cranny of the town has been awarded a modern touch, andthankfully so. Older centerpieces in Columbus include the Bartholomew CountyCourthouse. Arvin Industries, a huge auto parts manufacturer in town, has aglorious turn-of-the-century schoolhouse that was renovated for itsheadquarters.
In our personal guide book, "tea time" and "tee time" are also well on theway to making Columbus famous. The combination actually turned out to make fora pleasant weekend afternoon. Before hitting one of six golf courses aroundtown, we first visited The Columbus Inn's British-style tea room, heralded bylocals as "the best tea room this side of the Atlantic."
"You won't find bagels and muffins accompanying your tea here," saidproprietor Lalith Paranavitana, "That's definitely not authentic," he said.
Paranavitana, a native of Sri Lanka who used to run a tea plantation there,now imports teas from his country, specifically an impeccable Ceylon. A box ofhis tea, named Guy's Teas after his late father, runs about $3 and comes in akeepsake wooden box.
We tried the grandest service of them all -- high tea -- which includes apot of your choice accompanied by a platter full of finger sandwiches followedby an array of desserts. The eats -- at $10 a person -- were enough tosubstitute for lunch.
And it was enough to take us through nine holes of golf. On the green, themasters of design worldwide are duo Robert Trent Jones and his son Rees Jones.
Here, the Joneses shaped Otter Creek, a 27-hole championship public golfcourse. The course, which winds through 300 acres of hilly terrain and morethan 3,000 trees, is ranked among the top 25 public courses in the UnitedStates by Golf Digest magazine. The fairways are Jones' trademark bent grass.The bunkers are filled with nothing less than white sand imported from NorthCarolina.
True golfers will want to play more than nine holes; the elder Jonessupposedly called the 13th hole one of the best he ever designed, dubbing it"Alcatraz," a 185-yard, par 3, with its green on an island.
Locals call Columbus a "tenderloin town," and if it's not tenderloin it'srib-eye, sirloin or T-bone.
Rib-eye, specifically 18-ounce rib-eye, is the specialty at Smith's RowFood & Spirits, a newer establishment. Smith's wine list includes 80 differentreds and whites. Don't be shy about asking to taste the wines offered by theglass. Our waitress suggested it and brought us servings that were abovegenerous.
Restaurant manager and native Lance Stacy recommended the CalifornianGundlach-Bunschu Merlot and Far Niente Chardonnay, two wines we indulged inwhile the rest of the town slept. Columbus dies after dark; when all the shopson the main drag, Washington Street, close their curtains, so does the town.The few bars in the area stay open until about midnight.
Plus, the wine suggestions were so good that we that we ended up grillingStacy on some town tidbits.
Best place for coffee and espresso drinks: The Daily Ritual on WashingtonStreet; best bar: The Columbus Bar on 4th Street, which has a succulent fishsandwich special on Fridays; best small town secret: Zaharako's Confectionary,and ice cream parlor on Washington Street, built in 1900 and still with aworking pipe organ; and best side trip: Story, Ind.
Before heading home, we decided to juxtapose our Columbus stay by venturingoff the beaten path to Story, a village of 10 that is devoid of modernarchitecture and reeks of ghost stories.
The hilly 20-mile drive there takes a bit of braving the blacktop; the road(Indiana Highway 46 to Indiana Highway 135), lined with cattle farms,dilapidated barns and clapboard churches, is extremely lithe and curly.
If you make it there, Story's former general store, which is now the StoryInn and Restaurant, is a hearty stop for lunch before the drive home. And whynot mill about a little longer and see if the rumors are true: Guests say theupstairs of the inn is inhabited by a ghost (or two).
THE BOTTOM LINE
Weekend expenses for two
Lodging (two nights)........ $220
Tours and entertainment ..... $43
Gas, tolls .................. $50
Total ...................... $488
IF YOU GO
Columbus is about 230 miles from Chicago. Take Interstate Highway 90 Eastvia the Chicago Skyway to Interstate Highway 65 South. Just beforeIndianapolis, take the Interstate Highway 465 South bypass around Indianapolisand then back onto Interstate 65 South. Then, exit Indiana Highway 46 West toColumbus. This route, which is the fastest, takes you right to downtownColumbus.
Here are four eateries and watering holes:
Smith's Row Food & Spirits (418 4th St.) offers good food at moderateprices. Try the house favorites: Pork chop ($16.95) or rib-eye ($23.95).Crabmeat au gratin is to rave for too. The sizable wine selection, spanningCalifornia to South Africa to Australia, includes a surprisingly cheap andwell-liked Greg Norman Chardonnay and Merlot for about $28 a bottle.Reservations usually not needed.
The Columbus Inn Tea Room (445 5th St.; www.guystea.com) is an authenticBritish-style tea room in the basement of the Columbus Inn. Sri Lankan ownerLalith Paranavitana specializes in Ceylon tea and a namesake ColumbusBreakfast Tea. High tea ($9.95) includes choice of tea and a platter of fingersandwiches from roast beef to cucumber and desserts from lemon cake tochocolate torte.
The Columbus Bar (322 4th St.) is a downtown pub with a corner sports barfeel. Locals come here to watch games on TV and chow down. The Friday Alaskanwhitefish and chips ($4.95) is a fave as is the hungry-man size fish dinner($6.95) that comes with a baked potato and salad.
Zaharako's Confectionary (329 Washington St.) is a turn-of-the-century icecream parlor that still has its original marble, onyx and stained glass sodafountain. In addition to its German concert pipe organ, locals dig the sundaestopped with homemade fudge and the Cheese-br-ger sandwich, which is not ahamburger but grilled cheese with meat sauce.
While accommodations are somewhat sparse right in downtown Columbus, thereis a strip of hotels off Interstate 65 on the outskirts of town.
Columbus Inn bed-and-breakfast (445 5th St.; 812-378-4289) is the formerCity Hall now converted into 34 elegant rooms dressed in vintage pieces. Fiveloft-like suites, some with kitchenettes, are also available. The building islisted in the National Register of Historic Places. Full buffet breakfastincluded, $90-$190. Senior citizen discounts.
Ruddick-Nugent House (1210 16th St.; 800-814-7478;www.ruddick-nugent-house.com) is an 1884 Victorian house converted to ColonialRevival in 1924. It houses four guest rooms. The grounds occupies an entirecity block. Includes breakfast in the formal dining room, $65-$95. Smoke-freeand alcohol-free facility.
The following accommodations are about 20 miles from Columbus and offer amore secluded stay.
Story Inn and Restaurant (6404 S. State Rd. 135, Story; 800-881-1183;www.storyinn.com) is for those who seek the spirit of a bygone era. Thebuilding was a general store in the 1800s and still has its potbelly stove andcracker barrel; on the porch are Red and Gold Crown gas pumps. Doubles, suitesand cottages, $87.25-$125.75. Note: In keeping with the turn-of-the-centurytheme, rooms do not have a phone or television. The downstairs restaurant,adorned with apothecary bottles and other antiques, serves gourmet cuisine.Try the warm artichoke dip -- big enough for two.
The Artist's Colony Inn & Restaurant (Franklin and Van Buren Streets,Nashville, Ind. 800-737 0255; www.artistscolonyinn.com) was built as a tributeto the area's art community that flourished at the turn of the century. The 20rooms, some with balconies, are outfitted in furnishings created by localcraftsmen. Each pays homage to a famous Brown County artist such as painterTheodore Clementine Steele. Try to get one of three suites with a whirlpooltub near the live-in artist's studio. Casual restaurant, $70-$220. Check theWeb site for Internet specials.
Mill Race Park (5th Street and Lindsey Street) is a riverfront park with an84-foot viewing tower, covered bridge, two lakes and performing artsamphitheater.
The park's most popular events are July's Columbus Scottish Festival (the15th and 16th this year) complete with Highland Dancers and a sheepdog herdingcompetition; and September's Chautauqua of the Arts festival (the 16th and17th), which includes works by stained glass and wood sculpture artists fromthe surrounding areas.
Otter Creek Golf Course (11522 E. 50 N.) is 4 miles east of Columbus. Thechampionship golf course is Indiana's No. 1 public course. It gets busy here,so reserve your tee times for both weekends as well as weekdays in advance at812-579-5227. Pro shop, snack bar, practice range.
Brown County State Park in nearby Nashville, Ind., is the state's largestpark and draws crowds, especially in autumn when gorgeous hues hit the hillycountryside. The nearly 16,000-acre facility has a nature preserve and anarray of hiking trails as well as camping, fishing, hiking and horsebackriding. 812-988-6406; www.browncountystatepark.com. The Web site contains manylinks to area attractions and accommodations.
The downtown Columbus Visitor's Center (506 5th St., 800-468-6564) has awealth of information on the history of the town as well as upcoming events.Pick up a free city map in the gift shop. The center gives guidedarchitectural bus and walking tours March through November. Visit its Web siteat www.columbus.in.us, where you can sign up to go on a tour and print out atour map. Send e-mail inquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org
Nashville's Web site at www.nashvilleindiana.com contains a wealth ofinformation, including an overview of the historic Hoosier artists colony.