Columbus, Indiana Tour Review – Architectural Mecca of Indiana

First Christian Church designed by architect Eliel Saarinen in 1942 with 2002 addition and renovation by Nolan Bingham of Paris/Bingham Partnership with plaza in front of Columbus Library, including sculpture by Henry Moore. Photo courtesy of Columbus Visitors Center


Then in a town of 30,000 or so, J. Irwin Miller, head of Cummins engine company, was finding it difficult to attract the best and brightest that would assure Cummins’ success.  It was after World War II and the baby boom was fueling rapid school construction.  


L. Frances Smith Elementary School. Architect John M Johansen. John M Johansen


It occurred to Miller to go to the school board and offer to fund a school’s construction if they chose one of the world-famous architects he short-listed for the project.  


Grounds at Cummins headquarters. Photo courtesy of Columbus Visitors Center


Miller and Cummins then did and still do more architectural sponsorships.  So did and still do many of the churches of Columbus too.


North Christian Church, 1964. Architect: Eero Saarinen, Dan Kiley, landscape architect. Photo courtesy of Columbus Visitors Center


Inside Saarinen-designed North Christian Church. Photo: Peter Kachergis


This snowballing of world-class architecture in Columbus, Indiana now puts the town on the tourist map.   


AT & T building at Seventh and Franklin Streets, Columbus, IN Paul Kennon of Caudill, Rowlett, Scott designed this building in 1978. Distinctive for its mirrored glass facade and its primary colored accents. Photo courtesy of Columbus Visitors Center


Robert N. Stewart Bridge, 1999. J. Muller International. Photo courtesy of Columbus Visitors Center


For admirers of modern and post-modern architecture, it is arguably the only small town in America that can be considered an architectural showcase. 


Columbus City Hall, 1981. Architect: Edward Charles Bassett of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. Photo courtesy of Columbus Visitors Center


Today, Columbus, pop. approximately 45,000, boasts seven buildings that are national historic landmarks


Republic Newspaper, 1971, Architect: Myron Goldsmith of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. Photo courtesy of Columbus Visitors Center


And, much of downtown Columbus is listed with the National Register of Historic Places


Fire Station Number 3, 1983. Architect is William Burd of Wood & Burd, Inc. Photo courtesy of Columbus Visitors Center


An overnight or weekend stay from Chicago, a day trip from Indy, or #1 stop in Indiana for a cross-country road trip—one goes to Columbus, Indiana for a quick but manageably sized immersion in modern and post-modern architecture or just to bask in pleasant surrounds. 


St. Peter’s Lutheran Church, designed by Gunnar Birkerts, was built in 1988. Photo courtesy of Columbus Visitors Center


St. Peter’s Lutheran Church, designed by Gunnar Birkerts, was built in 1988. Photo courtesy of Columbus Visitors Center


Be prepared to have your appreciation of the space around you ramped up and for your visual senses to take over.


A top highlight of any trip to Columbus is likely talking to Columbus locals.


Our tour guide, Erin Hawkins, Director of Marketing for the Columbus Visitors Center and a Columbus native helped convey the feeling that people who grew up in Columbus have of great pride in the town's architectural treasures. Better yet, her sense of humor made for a most amusing tour. Photo: Peter Kachergis


Most who grew up in Columbus seem to have art and architecture in their DNA, and are proud to hail from the town. 


"Chaos" by Jean Tinguely. Photo: Peter Kachergis


You know you are in Columbus, Indiana when you ask someone what a new building going up across town is and they offer to get you information on the architect, as happened to us in the tourist center.



Henry Social Club. Photo: Peter Kachergis


We found that same assumption of interest in architecture and design when we visited Henry Social Club of Columbus, Indiana, a barely year-old trendy gourmet dining spot that would be at home in any world-class city.


Tre Bicchieri, a small, family-owned Italian restaurant, served a very tasty lunch, with especially healthy and satisfying salads. This appears to be a very popular restaurant with locals. Photo: Peter Kachergis


Art and architecture aside, Columbus is also just a very, very pleasant place to be, seeming to have many benefits of a small town and a cosmopolitan center at the same time. 


Columbus strikes you as a diverse small town, with welcoming LBGT banners, people speaking Chinese on cellphones, many natives of India and more indicators that it welcomes all. Photo: Peter Kachergis


Irwin Gardens. Photo: Peter Kachergis


According to Sarah Johnston, Innkeeper and Business Manager at the charming Inn at Irwin Gardens Bed & Breakfast, most visitors to the town are over 50 and with a strong architectural interest. 


"Exploded Engine" in Cummins headquarters. Photo: Peter Kachergis


On grounds of Cummins headquarters. Photo: Peter Kachergis


Other than what we found to be the top architectural attraction,


"Conversation Pit" in the Indianapolis Art Museum Miller House exhibit


Indianapolis Museum of Art’s Miller House, you take in most of the architecture in a self-guided tour.


Walkway near moat surrounding Cummins dining room. Photo: Peter Kachergis


You can also intersperse architectural gawking with more kid-centered stops like an indoor playgrounds, a fun children’s museum and more to mix it up for the whole family.


Outside Cummins headquarters. Photo: Peter Kachergis


We visited just when fall foliage was creating an autumnal frame of the town’s beauty.   


Bartholomew County Memorial for Veterans, 1997. Tompson and Rose, Architects and Michael Van Valkenburgh, landscape architect. This features very moving inscriptions of last letters to and from fallen soldiers and should be short-listed for a Columbus visit. Photo: Peter Kachergis


Columbus is beckoning our return when the cherry blossoms and spring flowers are out, or in later summer months when the town hosts many festivals and the gardens wear their full regalia.


Plan to start your tour at the Columbus Visitors Center and visit the Columbus Visitor Center’s website ahead of time to make tour reservations and get help to plan your trip.


Columbus Visitors Center

506 5th Street

Columbus, Indiana 47201


Note:  Photos reflect a small selection of art and architecture and historical highlights of Columbus, Indiana




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