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Indiana Bicentennial: Corydon, Cedar Farms, and Madison
Wednesday, May 4, 2016

By Nelson Price | Photographs by Randy Lehman

The first of two Bicentennial-themed trips featured a milestone event at the plaza of the State Capitol Historic Site in Corydon, special opportunities at a historic home unique to Indiana, and visits to sites in the Ohio River town of Madison.

A maximum-capacity group of 55 Pioneers participated in the Spring Pilgrimage, which was designed not just to commemorate the Hoosier state’s 200th birthday (in 1816, Indiana became the 19th state), but also celebrate the Centennial of the Pioneers. The first destination was Corydon, the scenic town in southern Indiana that was the state’s first capital and the site where the first Indiana Constitution was drafted and ratified in 1816.

Indiana’s First State Capitol, Corydon

The milestone event occurred upon arrival in the morning at the town square and plaza surrounding the historic Statehouse in Corydon. At the plaza, the Pioneers dedicated an American Elm tree and a bronze plaque honoring the organization’s 100th anniversary and the state’s Bicentennial. Although the morning of May 4 was rainy, the dedication unfolded without a hitch, as commemorative photos of the Pioneers were taken.

Pioneers dedicating the American Elm on Capitol Plaza, Corydon

The tree planted by the Pioneers is the only elm in the plaza area, which was recently renovated. An elm tree is deeply significant: In June 1816, when state leaders met in Corydon to debate and draft the first Constitution, they frequently gathered under a massive elm tree because its shade provided relief from the summer heat. That legendary tree, known as the “Constitution Elm”, died during the 1920s, although a portion of its trunk has been preserved.

After the newly planted elm’s dedication, Pioneers toured the historic Statehouse plaza, which includes a bandstand and an outdoor sculpture of the late Gov. Frank O’Bannon, a Corydon native. Indianapolis architect Anjanette Sevlich of Moody-Nolan, the firm that undertook the historic preservation work and landscaping, led the outdoor tour.

Inside the historic Statehouse, docents described the progressive aspects of the first Constitution, which outlawed slavery and was the first in the country to require free public education. The docents noted that although the fireplaces in the historic building are original, most of the furnishings (except for black walnut bookcases) are not. When the state capitol moved to Indianapolis in 1825, most furniture was sold at auctions; historically accurate reproductions have replaced the originals.

From Corydon, the Pioneers enjoyed a rare opportunity: The group traveled to Cedar Farm, the only fully restored, antebellum plantation-style complex in the state. The Pioneers were the guests of Bloomington-based philanthropist Gayle Cook, who purchased the historic site in the 1980s with her late husband, Bill Cook. Located on 2,700 scenic, landscaped acres on the Ohio River, Cedar Farm includes a Classical Revival main house that dates to 1837. The main house and other buildings, including an icehouse, milkhouse, and schoolhouse, had fallen into disrepair until the extensive restoration work was overseen by the Cooks, who later became well-known for their historic preservation projects elsewhere in the state.

Gayle Cook welcoming Pioneers in the Carriage House at Cedar Farm

In the carriage house of Cedar Farm, Mrs. Cook explained the history of the plantation complex and how the renovation work unfolded. In the carriage house, the Pioneers savored a catered buffet luncheon.

That was followed by tours of the main house and grounds of Cedar Farm, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Some Pioneers enjoyed tours on golf carts of the gardens or of the property stretching down to the Ohio River.

Cedar Farm Homestead

The Pioneers enjoyed self-guided tours of the period-appropriate furnishings in the elegant main house. They range from quilts to paintings by renowned artist William Forsyth of the Hoosier Group. He honeymooned at Cedar Farm and regarded the plantation as a muse, visiting several times and frequently depicting scenes at the farm in his artwork.

From Cedar Farm, the Pioneers traveled to Madison, an Ohio River town. The group enjoyed a motor coach tour of the historic town – particularly its Queen Anne and Italianate-style homes and shops – by Camille Fife, an award-winning local preservationist.

That was followed by a visit to the Shrewsbury-Windle Home, a mansion built in the 1840s. It was designed by early Indiana architect Francis Costigan and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. At the Shrewsbury House, famous for its free-standing spiral staircase, ceilings that are 16 feet high, and other features, the Pioneers were the guests of John Staicer, executive director of Historic Madison, the home’s owner. The Pioneers enjoyed a light dinner between self-guided tours of the house.

Shrewsbury-Windle House in Madison

The final destination was an even more famous home: the Lanier Mansion, an Indiana State historic site. Also built in the 1840s, the Greek Revival-style mansion overlooks the Ohio River and was the home of one of the state’s wealthiest residents, James Lanier, a bank president and lawyer.

During the 1920s, the Pioneers saved the Lanier Mansion from an uncertain fate by pressing state leaders and legislators to protect and preserve it. In recognition of the organization’s historic role, the Pioneers posed for a group photo on the steps of the Lanier Mansion.

Pioneers in front of Lanier Mansion, Madison