By most definitions, the towns in Hendricks County, Indiana, would be considered suburbs of Indianapolis. They're right next to the state's largest city, and the Indianapolis Airport is on the county's borders. But to use the word "suburbs" invites a specific connotation, one filled with strip malls and commuter towns that have no personalities in their own right.
When it comes to Hendricks County, that's simply not true.
I went to high school in Carmel, on the north side of Indianapolis, and spent a great deal of my twenties in the state's capital before moving to Chicago, yet I'd never been to Danville, Plainfield, Clayton, or Brownsburg, all towns within Hendricks County. It's a classic case of missing what's in your own backyard. Now I know better, so my husband, Jim, and I took the trek down I-65 to see what this county had to offer.
We were invited by Visit Hendricks County, a Destination Marketing Organization whose purpose is to promote tourism to the area. Their job is to showcase what's best about their county, and with a group of fellow travel writers, Jim and I put ourselves in their capable hands. It was a jam-packed exploration of these towns over a span of 48 hours.
Hop on, and I'll show you how to be a Local Tourist in Hendricks County.
After a relatively painless drive around Chicago, then past harvested fields and winding windmills, we checked into Staybridge Suites in Plainfield. This was not my first rodeo; we'd be running from morning 'til night and being well-rested was important, so we arrived in the late afternoon the day before our activities began.
Our room had a kitchenette with a spacious breakfast bar, stove top, microwave, dishwasher, and refrigerator. I knew in advance about those amenities, so we stopped at the store to pick up provisions. Turns out I didn't need them, because on certain nights they offer a complimentary buffet for guests. It changes depending on the evening, and that night they had a salad bar and meatball sandwiches. The biggest surprise was that they also offered self-serve beer taps and bottles of wine! We made up some plates, poured a couple of glasses, and took our bounty back to the room to dine in comfort. Those provisions could wait another day.
I'm an early riser, and the next morning I gently closed the bedroom door and worked at the desk in the living area until it was time to get ready for our day of fun. We met the rest of the group in the lobby, where the buffet was now serving breakfast. Properly fortified, our group piled into the coach and headed to our first stop of the day.
TLTip: If you're flying in or out of Indianapolis Airport, Staybridge Suites is convenient and offers a free shuttle for guests.
If you're in Hendricks County in the fall, you're in luck. That's prime time for visiting Beasley's Orchard, a family-owned farm that's been sharing its bounty since 1946. You can pick-your-own apples and pumpkins, and picking up some of their award-winning apple cider is a must. The Barn Market, located along with the cidery inside a post-Civil War peg-and-beam barn, is a cornucopia of local produce and locally produced goods.
A highlight of a visit to Beasley's Orchard is taking a hay ride around the sprawling property, but as fun as that was for this Indiana gal, even that was surpassed by the apple cannon. Yep. They've got bins of apples that didn't make the cut for the cider or the Barn Market and you can SHOOT THEM OUT OF A CANNON.
Shooting apples out of cannons is hunger-inducing, so it's a good thing our next stop was at Mayberry Cafe. Yes, this cafe is all about that mythical land of Aunt Bee, Andy Griffith, Opie, Barney, and Gomer. It's located right on the square in downtown Danville and you can't miss it - Sheriff Andy's car is parked out front, just waiting for you to take a picture. Inside there's wall-to-wall memorabilia and television screens broadcast episodes from the series.
The menu is an homage to Aunt Bee's legendary cooking. It's all homemade, and they specialize in down home comfort food, just like you'd expect. You can't go wrong with Andy's Tenderloin or Aunt Bee's Fried Chicken with bacon glaze. Just be sure to clean your plate, or they'll issue you a ticket before you leave.
When your lunch consists of fried chicken with bacon glaze, it's a good idea to go for a stroll, so stroll we did. Unlike a lot of smaller towns, Danville's downtown is no ghost town. There were several boutiques on the square, and I was thrilled to find Arcane Coffee Co. around the corner. Owner Dudley Foreman was in and gave us a sample of his cold brew. This is not a coffee shop. There are no fancy foamy drinks. Just really, really good fresh roasted coffee.
With that pep in our step we toured the courthouse. Inside, we marveled at the flag hanging from the stained glass dome. Outside, the building was surrounded by scarecrows. Every year Danville runs a contest and turns the lawn of the government building into a creative and charming welcome.
My favorite part of downtown Danville was, of course, the library. It's a Carnegie, one of 1,679 libraries built through the philanthropist's largesse. A couple of additions have been added to the original and it houses the Danville Center Township Public Library. As we browsed we came across a tour that was learning all about the library's past, so be sure to see if one's available when you visit.
There was much more to experience, but our coach was leaving, so we scrambled to catch it for a ride back to Staybridge Suites. Good thing we didn't miss it, because Jennifer Smith, Director of Sales for the hotel and Vice President/President Elect of the Hendricks County Tourism Commission had made the most adorable cupcakes. Each one was designed to represent our group's activities. There were pumpkins and a scarecrow. There was one with cakes and a whisk and a cookbook. And there was my personal favorite: the TARDIS.
We had a short break before a visit to the history museum and dinner, so we headed to our new accommodations to freshen up. (I'll fill you in on that sweet gem a little later.)
Hendricks County Historical Museum
If you're a history buff, like I am, then you'll adore the Hendricks County Historical Museum. It's in the old Sheriff's Residence - and jail - and is stuffed with remnants from the area's yesteryear. Even the building itself is historical, since it's the only surviving example of the Second Empire style of architecture in the county.
The rooms are decorated in various periods and you can see what it was like to live during those times. They do a great job of recreating the environment, which is fantastic - unless you're in the jail. That is an experience that, shall we say, I was glad to escape from!
The Bread Basket
First off, this restaurant's in a bungalow. I've never had a bad meal in a restaurant that's in a bungalow. Second, the first thing you see when you walk in is a glass case filled with cakes and pies and other assorted pastries.
Basically, they had me at hello.
Then, not only did they serve a delicious dinner made with seasonal ingredients, they followed it up with a pie-making demonstration and some Q&A.
After a delightful and delicious dinner, we headed back to Natural Valley Ranch for a nightcap of local brews and conversation on the deck. None of us wanted to turn in, but we had another busy day ahead of us.
Up next: Part II of Hendricks County