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Our July 2005 Trip To Indiana, Michigan and Illinois


Copyright 2005, by Bob Soetebier

We began our week-long trip before dawn on a Saturday in late July.  We made a brief pit stop at the I-70 Indiana State Welcome Center in Terre Haute.  (These strategically sited facilities are a treasure trove of free tourist brochures; along with buck$-off discount coupons, too.)


Since we have previously toured Indianapolis, we skipped it this time around.  The free guided tour of the State Capitol building there is of interest ( ).  Also worthy of your attention in Indy is the tour of historic home of the 23rd U.S. President, Benjamin Harrison ( ).


Our first major stop was at Mounds State Park ( ), just east of Anderson, IN; which is about 30 miles n.e. of Indianapolis, via I-69.  Unfortunately, due to extensive archaeological digs, not much remains of the “Great Mound” there.  We hiked for a couple of miles (which was more than enough in the 95-degree heat!) along the park’s woodland trails.  This shaded sojourn took us by the historic Bronnenberg House pioneer home, to the mounds, and then down to and along the White River.  After our hike, we lingered in the park’s informative, and air-conditioned, Nature Center/museum.


Our I-69 destination for that Saturday was Auburn in n.e. Indiana; about 30 miles s. of the Michigan border.  One of the sites we hoped to visit in Auburn was the Hoosier Air Museum (HAM), which is located adjacent to the Dekalb County Airport.  Unfortunately, even though it was supposed to be open, no one answered the locked hanger door.  The parking lot had obviously recently been re-paved and striped; so, it seems to still be viable.  (You can check out the HAM via this URL: )  The HAM disappointment was quickly forgotten that day with our visit to two other Auburn area museums.


The Kruse Automotive & Carriage Museum ( ) has a range of vehicles on display – from U.S. presidential carriages, to turn-of-the-century autos, to more modern-day wonders.  Some of the latter include sport dragsters and “funny cars”, along with the original Batmobile.  Also on display are TV-show stunt cars: “KITT” from the “Knight Rider” show, and “General Lee” from the “Dukes of Hazzard.”


The Kruse facility is actually a dual/combo museum as it’s indoor lobby attaches to the World War II Victory Museum.  This fascinating museum has over 150 WWII vehicles!  (You can check out it’s photo gallery here: ).  


We began Sunday morning by walking the 2-mile, self-guided historic homes tour along Auburn’s Main Street and parallel streets.  Many of these homes were built by the executives and engineers of the former Auburn Automobile Company.


After our walk, we drove south from Main Street to Auburn’s National Automotive and Truck Museum of the United States ( ).  Along with an eclectic collection of autos and trucks  -- including a canary-yellow, classic “R.E.O. Speedwagon”, this museum has on display the world's fastest truck, the "Endeavor III.”


Adjacent to the NATMUS museum is the absolute must-see Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum ( ). It is housed in the Auburn Automobile Company’s original administrative building and showroom.  You start the tour of the ACD by viewing an audio-visual slide show.  In addition to Auburn and Cord automobiles (and other brands, including Rolls-Royce, and Cadillac), the ACD has some fine examples of showroom-quality Duesenbergs. Only about 1000 Duesenbergs were produced before the factory closed for good in the late 1930s.  At the time, the “Duesy” was America’s most expensive “top-of-the-line” auto.  The auto body of each Duesy was hand-crafted and uniquely painted.


(As an aside:  My stepfather was driven to/from military school in the fall/spring – and from there directly to 3 months of summer camp – by a chauffeur in the family Duesenberg.  My stepfather’s mother’s maiden name was Amanda E. Studebaker.  She spent her share of the Studebaker fortune by continually travelling around the world via boats, trains and autos -- she refused to fly in airplanes, staying at the most expensive and exclusive hotels and resorts of the day. My stepfather only got to see his mother once or twice a year -- as did we later in his life – around the holidays.)


From Auburn, we headed north via I-69 to Lansing -- Michigan’s state capital -- for a another day layover.  There we took the free, 45-minute guided tour of the State Capitol Building with it’s 160-foot-tall dome ( ). We got to go into both the House and Senate chambers with their unique 50-states’ “official seals” back-lighted ceiling panels. All the doorknobs in the Capitol feature the state coat of arms.  It also has many ornate chandeliers. A 3-year renovation (1989-1992) of the Capitol cost $58 million. It is a definite must-see.


Just a couple of blocks west of the Capitol is the Michigan Historical Museum ( ). This impressive, museum – with its 3-story-tall relief map of Michigan in its atrium -- is also free and is another must-see.  It has 26 permanent galleries, so plan to spend at least a couple of hours there.


A couple of blocks to the east of the Capitol -- on the east side/bank of the Grand River -- is Museum Drive.  This is where we visited the interesting R.E. Olds Transportation Museum ( ). Along with a variety of vehicles from all periods, the museum has the very first Olds built in 1897, and, of course, a signature R.E.O. Speedwagon.


Immediately adjacent to both of these museums’ parking lots is the Grand River’s paved Rivertrail ( ).  We enjoyed a pleasantly sunny walk along a flower-trimmed portion of it, and also crossed back and forth over the river via a glassed-in, covered footbridge.


We had originally planned to go on to Dearborn, MI, to visit the Henry Ford Museum (   and ) and Greenfield Village ( ), along with the Henry Ford Estate home/mansion, Fair Lane ( ).  We decided not to do so, and to save that for another trip. Had we not changed our plans, we would have been right in the middle of a severely damaging storm in the Dearborn vicinity!


We left Lansing and headed to Elkhart, which is just across the Michigan border in north central Indiana.  Here we took the tour of Ruthmere ( ), the 1910 Albert R. Beardsley mansion. Beardsley was one of the developers of Miles Laboratories. He obviously spared no expense in the construction and appointment of his mansion. It was built with Cuban mahogany woodwork and contains original sculptures by Rodin, along with paintings by famous artists.  Additionally, he had installed a pipe organ network adjacent to the mansions’ full-basement game room.  This network was connected to a triple-function piano in the main floor’s greeting foyer.  It could be played as a regular piano; as an organ; or as a player piano.  In the latter mode, it sounded like a regular player piano in the greeting foyer; however, the sound was also “piped-in” to both the basement game room and a large, main floor parlor…where the bass-enhanced sound overwhelmed.


We then traveled a few miles westward to South Bend, Indiana.  Our objective here was the tour of the 38-room stone mansion, Copshaholm ( ). This mansion was built in 1895 by Joseph Doty Oliver, president of the Oliver “Chilled” Plow Works.  His affordable “chilled” (water-tempered) iron plows, were originally sold world-wide.  This magnificent mansion and grounds are surround by a unique, massive-stone wall/fence.  The mansion contains all original furnishings, parquet wood floor, 14 fireplaces and nine bathrooms.  The tour of the Copshaholm mansion actually begins in the adjacent Northern Indiana Center for History ( ).


We were also going to visit South Bend’s Studebaker National Museum ( ) but decided to postpone it for another trip.


When we eventually return to South Bend, we also plan to visit the former Studebaker mansion, which is now a fabulous restaurant called Tippecanoe Place ( ).  It is located just a couple blocks down from Copshaholm on the same street.  The 1889 Studebaker granite mansion has 40 rooms, 20 fireplaces and fabulous woodwork throughout.



After South Bend we headed due west to Indian Dunes National Lakeshore ( ), which is “sandwiched” between Gary, IN and Michigan City, IN.  Our first stop there was at the northern-most site to literally climb straight up to the top of, and over, the highest sand dune: 123-foot high Mt. Baldy ( ).  The view of from atop Mt. Baldy of the Lake Michigan shoreline is wonderfully expansive.  After walking the length of Mt. Baldy’s ridge top, we walked farther along the lakeshore with its crashing waves and onshore breezes.  We returned via the longer, but less strenuous, trail back to the parking lot.  We then drove farther southwestward via Beverly Drive -- the scenic route -- to four other free (non-fee) IDNL beaches: Central Beach; Lake View; Dunbar Beach; Kemil Beach.  The IDNL is an absolute must-see stop…don’t miss it! --- [Update note: Due to previously unknown -- and, recently discovered (see this article: ) -- numerous hidden dangerous cavities in Mt. Baldy (that can suddenly swallow a person!), it has been closed to the public. --- (Here’s an additional article on the scientific reason why it’s closed: ).]


After leaving the dunes, in order to avoid the Gary, IN, area traffic, we headed south and then westward into Illinois.  We then stopped in Bloomington, IL, to tour the 1872 David Davis Mansion State Historic Site ( ). Davis was a law partner of Abraham Lincoln’s -- riding the judicial circuit.  He later became Lincoln’s political campaign manager.  After Lincoln was elected President, he appointed Davis to the U.S. Supreme Court.  The mansion was built with ahead-of-its-time modern conveniences.  It also has unusual vertically hinged (rather than horizontal drop-down) transoms above the doors.  This allowed for better-regulated air flow throughout the mansion.


While in Bloomington, we also visited the McLean County Museum of History ( ). We have been in a lot of county museums…not too few of which are poorly lighted and dusky smelling.  Not so with this one: it is located in what was the former County Courthouse -- a massive stone building which was built in 1903.  It’s well worth the visit.


Realizing that if we continued to push for home we would end up smack dab in the middle of the Friday evening St. Louis rush-hour traffic, we opted to stay overnight in Springfield, IL.  Unfortunately, we got there too late that afternoon to catch the latest free guided tour of the Illinois State Capitol Building ( )…same for the Old State Capitol Building ( )  Alternately, we hoped to go to the new (opened six months ago) Lincoln Presidential Museum and Library (   and ) on Saturday.  Well…that’s what we had hoped to do…when we got there (at 10:45 a.m.), the entrance line to the museum was still backed up all the way around the block…even though the doors opened at 9:00 a.m.!  Knowing that Springfield is only an hour or so from St. Louis, we decided to leave the Capitol buildings and Lincoln museum and library for another draw-back trip, too.