Columbus, Indiana is a unique community of about 44,000 people just off Interstate 65 in south-central Indiana. Although sometimes perceived as rather isolated, it is located inside what some have called the “Midwest Triangle” made up of Indianapolis, Louisville and Cincinnati. Easy access to big city events with the advantages of smaller city life. It is also very close to the scenic beauty of Brown County and the rustic small town of Nashville, Indiana which developed many years ago as an artists colony. The Bloomington campus of Indiana University is close by as well. Many of us have found however that there is so much going in the community that we seldom have the need to travel far to experience music, art and cultural events as they are abundant here throughout the year.
Columbus was founded in 1821. Many of the earliest settlers set up homesteads along the Haw Creek which runs throughout the city. The Downtown area is situated adjacent to a point where the Driftwood and Flatrock Rivers combine to form the East Fork White River. Originally a farming community, the earliest industries were mills to process output of the fertile fields. The arrival of the railroad in 1843 quickly led to other industrial endeavors as well. Today Columbus has a diversified economy of manufacturing, farming and services and has become a retail magnet for the surrounding area. Unlike a lot of Indiana communities, we have not lost our manufacturing base and have more commuters coming into the city on a daily basis than leaving it for employment purposes.
Columbus has a tradition of community involvement and philanthropy going back to it’s earliest days. We have had the benefit of wealthy families sharing their wealth over the years but the real secret to the success of Columbus is how different segments of the community have been able to work together to achieve things that seem remarkable for a town of our size. Columbus has been a pioneer in long-range planning and of using public/private partnerships to take advantage of opportunities. That can be witnessed right now as we have emerged from the midst of the recent national economic slump, we are also seeing the cumulation of a major boom in downtown construction.
Architecture has always played a part in this community with important buildings like the 1874 county courthouse and others throughout the city from the Victorian era that have been preserved and still in use. The modern era in architecture began in 1942 with the completion of the First Christian Church designed by Eliel Saarinen. Since then there has been a ongoing emphasis on quality architecture, landscaping and design throughout the community. Particular emphasis has been put on creative landscaping which provides a harmony between buildings and site. Remarkable sensitivity to site and scale has been shown to neighboring historic structures ensuring that newer buildings fit into the existing streetscape.
Much credit goes to J. Irwin Miller and his founding of the Cummins Architecture Program which has paid the design fees of many public buildings. In addition many businesses, churches and individuals have been inspired to add to the architectural fabric of the community. Even projects not featuring notable architects are typically done with an eye towards quality of design. We have found that quality architecture costs no more in the long run than mediocre off the shelf buildings. In 1991, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) named Columbus 6th in the nation for design quality and innovation. The cities higher than us on that list were Chicago, New York, Washington, San Francisco and Boston! We have a number of buildings that were named as AIA Honor Award winners. Four of the architects that have designed buildings in Columbus have won the Pritzker Prize, which is kind of a Nobel prize for architecture honoring a living architect for his entire body of work. Many of our buildings are on the National Historic Register but we also have seven structures which have been named as National Historic Landmarks, all built since 1942.
We offer year round tours of Columbus design and architecture all performed by trained volunteer guides. Each tour guide works without a script infusing the tour with their own unique personality and perspective.