A Weekend in Corydon
by Donald Anthony
I have just returned from Small Town USA: the part of America that really believes in apple pie, patriotism and family ties.
My visit to Corydon, Indiana opened my mind, and I now truly believe small towns are wonderful. Everyone does know your name, your family name, and probably even your dog’s name. They want to really know you and help you get ahead. While walking down the street people looked me in the eye and said hello just to be friendly. I went to a drug store where the counter person smiled, took my money, wished me a good day …and actually meant it.
Without appearing to brag about my busy weekend, I must mention that I visited four wineries, a Civil War re-enactment, caves named after Squire Boone (yes, Daniel's brother), the Horseshoe Casino, and numerous other spots for fun and good eating.
Corydon showcases the best of Middle America: a way of living without the fashionable cynicism of modern urbanites.
Corydon is in southern Indiana, about 30 minutes outside of Louisville. Later I could see the big cities, but for this trip, my goal was Small Town America - a land that provides the energy for America's heart and soul. This trip would teach me that although America was conceived by the big city folks, it was the country folks who provided the muscle to make it truly great.
I decided I would have to lower my defenses and see what this world is about.
The town of Corydon is not as old as some or as young as others in the area. Its roots go back to the early 1800s when the land was opened and settled by a fledgling federal government. Established in an era of exploration and rapid growth, the “can do” spirit still lingers in Corydon. The town was named by William Henry Harrison who would go on to become the 9th president of the United States.
Corydon was the first capital city of Indiana and the history of the state and the city are tied together. In 1825, the capital would be moved to the more central city of Indianapolis, but by then Corydon already had the basic elements of a metropolis: street layout, quality buildings, and support facilities. While Corydon did not grow as large as expected it still has the feel of a major city.
The capitol building and governor mansion remain as well, and both are examples of frontier architecture. The tour guides are clearly proud of the buildings and give complex portraits of their former inhabitants. They are impressively knowledgeable and make a guided tour worthwhile, if only to see how the job should be done. While museum artifacts are generally not to be touched, there is an intimacy to the exhibits that one does not find in a big city.
A short distance from downtown Corydon is the Horseshoe Casino, where we stopped for lunch. The casino and hotel are designed in a fashion that keeps the complex focused on the games and entertainment; after all, that's why you are here. The restaurant is named Jack Binion’s Steakhouse and the chef is held to Jack’s standards of customer accommodation and culinary satisfaction. I never met Jack, but based on this restaurant, he must have been a great eater.
The town of Corydon can be walked in a few hours, so the best way to eat is to walk around and sample several places. This way you can see more of the town and try more of the local dishes. Lunch today was at Frederick’s Cafe. Established in a former Odd Fellows Lodge hall, the cafe shows off local flavors from chili to fruit pie. The solid fare here will give you the energy to walk the rest of the town. The main business section has several buildings with cast iron decorations. Many have been restored to reflect the town’s history.
For dinner, Magdalena's is a recent addition to the downtown area and promises to be a great place to relax and enjoy some quiet time. The menu I saw focused on typical American style fare, a refreshing change from the “fuse everything with everything” style.
The Kitner House
A short distance from the town center is Emery's Ice Cream Parlor. The store has a hometown feel and a variety of flavors that is bound to sideline any diet. I admit I gave in, but at least I contributed to the local economy. I also sat on Emery’s porch to meet people and discuss real estate with a local broker.
I didn’t actually buy any real estate, but staying with Dee Wendal at the Kitner House made me feel as if I were at home. As soon as I came in the table was set, the meal hot, and my room was waiting. Coming from a tradition going back over 100 years, the current building is the third inn built by the Kitners. It has been fully renovated by the new owners into a Bed and Breakfast with modern facilities. Its location in town can't be beat for convenient access to the old capitol area exhibits and to the local restaurants.
Legend says the Squire Boone Caverns were discovered by Daniel Boone and his brother Squire in 1790. While I knew of Daniel from old TV programs, this was the first I heard of his brother. Squire Boone Caverns is not just a cave tour, although the steps down to the cave and Boone's grave are worth the price of admission. There are geological lessons for both kids and adults. The complex above the caves presents a view of life in an early 1800s frontier village. The Squire Boone Caverns has assembled local historic log cabins in a circular format. Here kids can pan for their own souvenirs and see a soap-making demonstration. The restoration of each cabin is relatively historically accurate and includes modern handicapped access.
A highlight of our tour was a visit to four wineries in a single afternoon. All of them were relatively new, and is each is holding their own despite current economic pressures. While the wine was the focus, for me the management and attitudes at each winery were wonderfully different and seemed to infuse the wines we tasted. The first, Scout Mountain Winery, offered an option of wine tasting, organic heirloom vegetables and a "Hideaway Place" for a much-needed relaxation. The second, Indian Creek Winery, exuded culinary adventure with suggestions such as “try this wine with chocolate,” and “notice this taste in the front of the mouth and how it goes to the back.” The Best Vineyards Winery had a tasting room that was reminiscent of my grandmother’s house with family pictures on the wall and a homey feel. The deck overlooking the fields was particularly attractive and mellowing. I felt like I owned the place. The last, Turtle Run, was highly scientific in the wine production. The water, equipment, grapes and process was brought together like a symphony. They taught the grapes to sing with the variety of tastes.
All showed a refreshing spirit of entrepreneurship that must have been catching, because after four wineries, I knew I could do anything!
Zimmerman Art Glass
At the edge of town is Zimmerman Art Glass. Here the Zimmerman Family designs and creates original artwork. Some of the pieces date back to the start of the shop well over 70 years ago. The very smell in the air and dust on the floor seem to shout seem to exude pride in the family’s work. A glass artwork from Zimmerman’s speaks for itself, in both the ability of the craftsman and the customer’s good taste. A letter displayed on the wall is from a past Vice President going on an overseas tour who ordered several glassworks as gifts.
While we were in Corydon, I witnessed a re-enactment of “The Battle of Corydon” during the American Civil War. It as the only Civil War battle fought on Indiana soil. In July of 1863 the town only had 450 volunteers to defend it from a raid by Brigadier General John Hunt Morgan, CSA and his troop of 2,400. Fortunately, casualties were light, the town was captured, and the citizens were pardoned by Morgan. After paying a hefty ransom, the various businesses resumed and Morgan move on deeper into North.
While some folks in the crowd said the streets were crowded, by big city standards there was plenty of room. I was able to walk up and down and see various parts of the action with no problem. At no time did I feel a push or a shove. The event was enjoyable and I saw all the action. I was even granted a pardon for being a Northerner. I must say it was my first reenactment, and I was impressed at how skillfully it was choreographed. One woman in period costume near me was shouting for them to return her pig and get out of town. She was so authentic that I tried to shush her before the Confederates took her prisoner.
At the Hayswood Nature Reserve Park, we observed a further battle re-enactment, this one military campsite and a Civil War medical. Both were fully stocked and looked ready for a real battle. Later that night we went to the Military Ball where a small band played and the re-enactors danced till dark. It was easy to imagine we were in 1863.
Close by Corydon are several garden centers, one which is the Munchkin Nursery & Gardens. Owned by Gene E. Bush and Joan C. Riley, and opened in 1995, it has grown into an impressive gathering of top quality plants. A catalogue can be ordered online as well as the plants. The catalogue is a bit unusual in that each plant has a scientific name and is listed according to that name. For Gene and Joan, gardening is life, and they are open to any questions, so don’t be afraid to ask!
Another garden spot is Angel Pine Nursery which at this point does not have a website but does specialize in Hosta plants. They have over 450 varieties and are well-known experts on all aspects of Hosta growing and propagation.
The highlight of any vacation trip is “something special” and Corydon offers something special almost every week. Check out the Historic Corydon visitor’s site; pick an event, pick a place to stay and come for a visit. The site is easy to use and has all the elements for a fun weekend.