Hoosier Heritage Pilgrimage:
"A Day In Historic
Athens of the Midwest,
Lew Wallace & Wabash College"
Tuesday, April 7, 2009
by Nelson Price
On April 7, a rather chilly Tuesday, a
group of Pioneers and their guests embarked on a Spring
Pilgrimage that involved a stimulating day visiting historic
sites in Montgomery County, including restored homes of famous Hoosiers
in Crawfordsville and the scenic Wabash College campus.
first stop was to a site that truly can be described
as almost one of a kind. The Pioneers toured the former
county jail built in 1881 with a rare, rotating mechanism that brought
cellblocks – and
inmates – to a single exit and entry. Now known as the Old Jail
Museum, the historic site also includes the restored,
Victorian-era home of the Montgomery County sheriff (the
house was built in 1882), which featured an exhibit of quilts on the
day the Pioneers visited. The “rotating jail” served as
jail until 1973, then re-opened two years later as the
Old Jail Museum.
Historical plaque outside of the Montgomery County "Rotary Jail"
Guides and docents at the Old Jail Museum
were excellent without exception, as they were at the
stop, the restored home of U.S. Sen. Henry Lane (1811-1881),
a close friend of Abraham Lincoln. (The pilgrimage to
Montgomery County was chosen in part to honor President Lincoln during
the bicentennial celebration year of his birth in 1809.) Known as Lane
Place and built in the Greek Revival style, the home features artifacts
and memorabilia that even include a lock of Lincoln’s hair and
the hat that Sen. Lane wore to the slain president’s funeral.
Portrait of Sen. Henry Lane
touring Lane Place, the Pioneers enjoyed lunch at the
Crawfordsville County Club. That was followed by a trip
to Wabash College, one of the few all-male colleges remaining
in the country. In the campus library, Wabash archivist
Beth Swift did a power point presentation about the college’s
history, accompanying her talk with an array of slides of historic images.
Afterward, the Pioneers divided into smaller groups for
walking tours of the campus, with current Wabash students
as the guides.
Several of the Pioneers are guided on a tour of the Wabash College campus by a current student.
Next came a visit to the General Lew Wallace
Study and Museum, a National Historic Landmark dedicated
to celebrating the colorful life of the author of “Ben-Hur”,
which was published in the 1880s and became the best-selling
book of its era after the Bible. A video and exhibits at the site, which
include a domed study that Wallace built in 1899, feature memorabilia
related to various stages of his fascinating life. In addition to being
a novelist of spectacular success, Lew Wallace served as a Civil War
general, the governor of the New Mexico Territory (where he dealt with
outlaw Billy the Kid), and as a diplomat to Turkey. Again, there is
an anniversary connected with the site; 2009 marks 50 years since the
release of the 1959 movie version of “Ben-Hur”,
which won a then-record eleven Academy Awards.
The Lew Wallace Study
the motor coach, the Pioneers enjoyed a driving tour
of sites in downtown Crawfordsville, including the historic Montgomery
County Courthouse. The trip back to Indianapolis featured wine and cheese
to savor as Pioneers discussed highlights of the day.