Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A Tourist In My Hometown

Back home in Indiana this past week, I visited with family and explored my hometown of Paoli, Indiana. I always appreciated living there, but now it’s fun to visit there as a tourist. I now see my hometown with different eyes - eyes that have been wiped clean of childish boredom that made the town seem humdrum-normal.

My hometown is, in fact, not the norm. Or, you could say it is normal in the sense that it is almost a stereotype of good ol’ rural Midwestern living. The whole area was a great place to grow up – full of the benefits of small town life plus the perks of the nearby cities like Louisville and Indianapolis where we would shop, see shows, or go to museums.

But Paoli has shopping, shows, and museums, too. Just this weekend I went into a shop on the town square and chose from several designs for a custom-printed sweatshirt. Down the street I could have gone into a music shop, gift shop, and antique store. The Orange County Museum is in the corner of the square. And just a few steps past the old library is the Lost River Market where I got some homemade soup and an internet connection. There is also a Chinese restaurant and a Mexican place. Those didn’t exist when I was a kid – they were too exotic!

Just north of town on a windy drive through the hilly countryside are two Amish farms where I like to shop. These aren’t touristy Amish stores – they’re stores meant mainly for the Amish families – where they can buy herbal remedies, solid color fabric, and pots and pans. I love to hear the echo of my footsteps on the bare wood floor while I decide what type of bread or homemade candy to buy. The only other sound is from the nearby horses, goats, chickens, or from the men working in the barn.

Paoli’s central square is a gently sloping lawn with a grand white courthouse in the middle, complete with huge white columns and wrought iron staircases. This is where festivals are held, and where old men sit on the benches to watch the world pass by.

The surrounding county adds to Paoli’s charm. In French Lick, 8 miles to the west, there is the French Lick Springs Hotel, and the West Baden Springs Hotel, which was at one time the largest freestanding dome in the world. Both are old charmers with sweeping verandas and rich histories. Also in French Lick is the historic train depot which offers train rides, the French Lick Winery, and Larry Bird Blvd which honors its most famous resident. Farther past French Lick is Patoka Lake with fishing, boating, and swimming.

To the north is Spring Mill State Park with its pioneer village, tree-surrounded Inn, and many hiking trails. On the trip up there, you can go to the Orleans Farmers Market for some fresh veggies and to listen to the musicians who gather there every Saturday, to the Gus Grissom Memorial to pay tribute to the historic astronaut, to Appleacres for a free sample of Apple Cider, and to the Mitchell Opera House for a bit of music.

I strongly suggest you plan a little weekend getaway to Orange County, Indiana. Stay at the West Baden Springs Hotel if you want to splurge, or the Artists Inn & Cottages in French Lick, or the Big Locust Farm B&B in Paoli. I guarantee your weekend will be jam-packed with activity.

And did I mention that Paoli has a ski resort?

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