Top 10 Things to Do and See in Columbus, Indiana

The relatively small city of Columbus in Bartholomew County, Indiana, always catches visitors by surprise. Deserving far more attention than it gets, Columbus balances a sense of vibrancy and quaint charm, defying all Midwestern stereotypes. For architecture lovers, Columbus is a hidden gem

There's even an old F-4 Phantom on display.


F-4 Phantom on Display, Columbus, Indiana



It is an excellent repository of modern architecture for a small city, with masterpieces by luminaries like Cesar Pelli, Eero Saarinen, and I.M. Pei. Architectural displays, however, are just one of many aspects both residents and visitors love about Columbus. Below are ten exciting things you can see and do while in Columbus, Indiana.


1. Go on An Architectural Tour


A visit to Columbus, Indiana, wouldn't be complete without an architectural tour!  While the small city may not boast the imposing skyscrapers of Shanghai, Chicago, or Dubai; it houses quite a number of exceptional works of modern architecture. It is no surprise then that Columbus has been nicknamed "Athens on the Prairie."


The city of Columbus has commissioned many works since the mid-20th century. Exhibit Columbus, an annual program, celebrates this legacy. J. Irwin Miller, a patron of modern architecture, played a huge role in giving Columbus international stature for its architecture.


There are two ways to go on an architectural tour in Columbus. You can hire the services of the many tour companies in the city, or you can take a self-guided tour. Notable stops that you visit on most architectural tours include the Large Arch, Cleo Rogers Library, Irwin Gardens, the First Christian Church, the Miller House and Garden, Irwin Conference Center, and Cummins Corporate Office Building, some of which we are going to talk about below.


2. Visit the Cleo Rogers Library


The Cleo Rogers Memorial Library represents an early project of renowned architect I.M. Pei. If you are unfamiliar with Pei, he designed the Louvre Pyramid in Paris. This library is notable for its red brick with concrete detail design.


Its also noted for its Library Plaza. This is an urban space that's punctuated by the aforementioned Large Arch Sculpture by Henry Moore. In case you're wondering, the library is named after Cleo Rogers, the Bartholomew County librarian for nearly four decades.


I.M. Pei wanted the project to be dignified yet quiet and to consider the greater community's future growth. Brick is the primary building material, with limestone and concrete as detail elements. The ceiling features a coffered concrete design with inset square elements that house the lighting fixtures.


The second floor features plantings with skylights and a fantastic view of the first floor. The placement and design of the library recognize and directly relate to that of First Christian Church across the street, an architectural marvel itself.


3. Marvel at the Large Arch


The Large Arch, designed by Henry Moore, is a must-see. I.M. Pei asked Moore to create a sculpture that would be the Centerstone of the Cleo Rogers Library plaza. This project serves as a counterbalance of two modernists structures surrounding it and also as a focal point. The Large Arch is the largest sculpture by Henry Moore in America.


Moore intended the size and site of the sculpture to encourage people to walk through and around it, which a lot of tourists do today. He got his inspiration from Stonehenge. The Large Arch was a gift to the Columbus community from Xenia Miller and J. Irwin.


4. Check Out First Christian Church


Situated across the street, the Cleo Rogers Library, First Christian Church, was built in 1942. It was one of the first churches in the U.S. to have a modern architectural style. It was also the first contemporary building in Columbus and featured in Time magazine at the time.


Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen designed the First Christian Church. When you take an architectural tour of Columbus, this is among the top stops. The church has four major features; the East Wing, the West Wing, the connecting bridge, and the church tower.


The East Wing houses the church proper, the auditorium, and the chapel. The West Wing contains the Bible school. The most outstanding feature of the First Christian Church is the church tower. Saarinen designed it in a simple geometric manner, with plain brick walls opening to a perforated design up top (where the church organ chimes). Its placement relative to the church proper gives balance to the building.


5. Have a Great Time at the Mill Race Park


You can find Mill Race Park, where the Flat Rock River and Driftwood River converge in downtown Columbus. This city-owned park covers more than 80 acres. Among its key attractions are an 84-foot tall observation tower and a children's playground, making it an excellent spot for wholesome family fun.


Mill Race park also boasts a loop road around the park perimeter, two small lakes joined by a wooden bridge, and numerous path systems. A key design of the park is a circular lake that contrasts the natural meanderings of the surrounding river.


Mill Race Park has lots of amenities and activities for you to enjoy. They include an earthen amphitheater, basketball courts, the People Trail, fishing. Also, the park hosts tons of festivities, events, and programs all year round.


6. Check Out the Miller House and Garden


The Miller House and Garden is a fantastic display of the great works of leading architects and designers of the 20th century. It features incredible projects of greats, including Eero Saarinen, landscape architect Dan Kiley, Kevin Roche, and designer Alexander Girard. The Miller House is an architectural icon of Columbus, Indiana.


The Miller House is usually noted alongside The Glass House, The Farnsworth House, and Fallingwater. You can tour (for about 90 minutes) the Miller House and Garden for free from Columbus Visitors Center. The Miller House has an open and flowing layout, glass and stone walls, and a flat roof.


The house interplays light and shadows with grid skylight patterns supported by steel columns. The central space features a sunken conversation pit, a 50ft long storage wall, and a cylindrical fireplace. The landscape architecture of the house, designed by Dan Kiley, is a sight to see.


The entry drive is lined by horse chestnut trees revealing the house as you approach. Among the most notable features of The Miller House is an allee of honey locust trees running along the house's west wing and framing the view of the river and meadow. Alexander Girard did the interior of the house. The choice of fabrics, furniture, textiles, and ornaments offer color and warmth to the rectilinear geometry of the house. Note that kids under ten aren't allowed in the Miller House.


7. Get Yourself a Treat at Zaharakos Ice cream Parlor and Arni's Restaurant


Zaharakos Ice cream Parlor is one of the most highly rated eateries in Columbus, Indiana. This historic landmark was opened way back in 1900, and it looks and feels the part. Zaharakos Ice Cream Parlor's cuisine includes American, Ice Cream, Desserts, Dinner, and Yoghurt. You can have a taste of their premium ice cream treats that include The Big Z, Brownie Sundae, Banana Split, Ice Cream Float, and Ice Cream Soda.


Another great eatery that you absolutely must visit is Arni's. Arnold "Arni" Cohen opened the renowned restaurant in 1965. Since then, it has grown to be one of Indiana's most well-known and successful restaurants (has been acclaimed by food critics). Arni's offerings include appetizers, pizza, soups & salads, pasta, sandwiches, lunch combos, desserts, and kid's treats.


8. Walk Through the Beautiful Irwin Gardens


Situated just minutes from downtown Columbus, a two-acre property owned by the Irwin family houses the Irwin Gardens and an ornate 1910 mansion. The posh Italianate design mansion serves as a bed-and-breakfast. It has accommodated four generations of the Irwin family.


However, the highlight of the property is the Irwin Garden. The garden features a maze design based on Pompeii's Casa Degli Innamorati. A lowered sunken garden dons a long pool and several fountains.


The garden house is decorated with a statue under the central arch reminiscent of the Villa of Hadrian in Italy. It is also accentuated with Pompeian murals.


You can visit the Irwin Gardens on Tuesday and Sunday afternoons. If you're up for it, you can reserve a stay at The Inn, which is beautiful and still has some of the original fixtures and furniture.


9. Pay Homage at the Bartholomew County Veteran's Memorial


The Veterans Memorial in Columbus is located in the County Courthouse Square. It is a simple memorial featuring many stone-clad columns in a grid array at the courthouse lawn. The names of Bartholomew County's service members from all wars are engraved on the columns.


There are also letters from and to their family members during wartime. Some of these letters make for poignant reading, representing the last lines of communication between the soldiers and their families. Rounding out the courthouse lawn is a small fountain. The Courthouse itself has an interesting exterior. It resembles the Addams Family house from the 60s TV show.


10. Have Some Family Fun at Ceraland Park


Ceraland Park is a 345-acre hub of fun and amazing amenities for the entire family. Cummins Inc owns the park, and it was developed initially for the local Cummins employees. It is one huge park with lots of activities and campgrounds. Its highlights include a sports and fitness center, Outdoor Aquatic Center, Aqua Climb Wall, 325 campsites, boating, outdoor Amphitheatre, volleyball courts, tennis courts, golf course, and a Go-Kart Track.


National Geographic Traveler ranked Columbus 11th in a "top historic destinations in the United States" list. It's not hard to understand why. This city is home to parks, museums, gardens, architectural marvels, playgrounds, campsites, theatres, sports facilities, eateries, orchestras, and more. You definitely won't be disappointed when you take a trip to these parts of Indiana.

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