Outside urban centers like Indianapolis and Fort Wayne, Indiana's small towns offer quaint destinations for the curious visitor. From the history of the frontier to world-famous athletes and proud traditions of agriculture, Indiana offers much to make memories over a weekend or longer-term stay. Known as the "Hoosier State," which may have come from the antiquated homesteader greeting, "Who's yere?" Indiana has a culture all its own, rooted in history and kept alive by proud state citizens today. Hoosier culture is on vivid display in small towns like these.
Paoli sits within Paoli Township in south-central Indiana. First settled in the early 1800s, the town draws its name from Pasquale Paoli Ashe, the son of North Carolina governor Samuel Ashe, who named his son after the Corsican revolutionary of the 18th century. Paoli was long known as a center of Quaker culture, and in the 19th century, played an important role in the Underground Railroad that brought runaway slaves from the US South to freedom in the North and onward to Canada. For nature lovers, the town offers Pioneer Mothers Memorial Forest, an old-growth remnant of virgin oak forests. The Hoosier National Forest makes for another outdoor option just south of town.
Aurora, so named to show its rivalry with the nearby town called Rising Sun, developed from its 1819 incorporation into a thriving small town of 3,500. Today's Aurora owes its presence to a rich history as a pioneer settlement. Located on the banks of the Ohio River, which marks the border with the nearby state of Kentucky and about ten miles west of Cincinnati, Aurora operated for generations as a key river trading hub. Visitors today can find outdoor adventure in the town's numerous parks, notably Mary A. Stratton Park, Aurora City Park, and Gabbard Riverfront Park. The historic district was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1996, not least for the Hillfort mansion, a standing reminder of the trading fortunes made on the Ohio River — and which made Aurora. The town hosts the Aurora Farmers Fair every autumn, one of Indiana's oldest annual festivals.
Greenfield is a substantially larger town that lies east of the Indianapolis capital city area. The town was named the seat of surrounding Hancock County in 1828. A boomtown from developments in rail and a local natural gas industry in the mid-and late-1800s, Greenfield today offers a pair of historic districts in Courthouse Square and in a separate residential area. Architectural styles range from Romanesque Revival and Second Empire to residential buildings in the Queen Anne, Neoclassical, and Bungalow schools. Greenfield's contributions to the arts include poetry, being the hometown of James Whitcomb Riley, a contemporary of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Riley's poems, often written in frontier dialect, earned him the nickname "the Hoosier poet." A statue honoring Riley stands in Greenfield today.
Fans of the game of basketball may already know French Lick as the hometown of Larry Bird, the legendary player for the Boston Celtics. Today, the town has only 1,700 residents, but it has outsized pride in its contributions to Indiana life. Seated about 50 northwest of Louisville, Kentucky, the town's name comes from its former status as a French trading center built near a salt lick, which was mined and sold by pioneer laborers. The town features various nods to its most famous native son: Larry Bird Boulevard, in north-central French Lick, as well as a bust of the man himself. For deeper history, visitors should seek out the French Lick West Baden Museum or have a look at the historic French Lick Springs Hotel, which opened as early as 1845, though sources differ. And for those who prefer golf over basketball, the Pete Dye Course welcomes all skill levels.
Madison lies on the picturesque banks of the Ohio River, which forms the border with Kentucky in southeastern Indiana. Named after James Madison, the fourth US president, the town's attractions include an unusually large historic district — so large, in fact, the town is recognized as having the United States' largest contiguous historic district. For green spaces, head to Madison's Clifty Falls State Park, which includes the scenic Clifty Creek and several waterfalls. Madison keeps up an active cultural events schedule, with must-see happenings like the Madison Regatta, which has run for over a century and draws tens of thousands of visitors each July.
Goshen combines small-town charm with a wider choice of things to see and do. The town sits in north-central Indiana and serves as the seat of Elkhart County. Goshen is known to many as the "Maple City" for its many trees of the same name. Goshen is home to Goshen College and a collection of preserved historic buildings and areas. These include the brick Elkhart County Courthouse, built from 1868 to 1870. The town also maintains the Elkhart County Fairgrounds, which holds the annual Elkhart Country 4-H Fair — one of the largest 4-H fairs in the United States — to honor the region's agricultural abilities. Fun fact: Goshen is a center of the recreational vehicle (RV) industry, a sign the traveling spirit will be welcome on a visit to town.
Angola takes its name from Angola, New York, from where a number of its earliest settlers came and whose town once supported Quaker missionary work in the southwest African country. The Indiana town, tucked into the state's northeast corner near Michigan and Ohio, was incorporated in 1838. For visitors and locals alike, Angola has a famous statue in the middle of a downtown traffic circle that remembers local men who fought and died in the US Civil War. The town is home to Trine University, lent a quaint college-town atmosphere to its quiet streets. For fun on the water, visitors to Angola can head to the several lakes around town, such as Fox Lake or the waters around Pokagon State Park.
Indiana's Best Charms Live In Its Small Towns
The "Hoosier State" of Indiana has a lot to recommend it, as these small towns show. For a visit, the state's best features may run through the places above, whether from former frontier settlements like Aurora and Madison, in basketball history like Larry Bird's French Lick, the green spaces in Paoli and Greenfield, or the combination of farming and industry in Goshen, Indiana's towns may just capture what is most interesting — and most worth a visit — in all that the state has to offer.