Have you ever seen a place so often you have no idea what it looks like? It's somewhere you've lived or visited multiple times. It's such a part of your history that there's no mystery. It's a name, a mile marker, a memory.
For me, one of those places is Lafayette/West Lafayette, Indiana. I've visited those two-for-one cities my entire life, but I'd never actually been there.
My great-grandmother worked at Purdue, and I remember visiting her home across from the greenhouses, entering the front room with the kit-kat clock and its swinging tail and tick-tock eyes. My grandparents lived on the corner of a dead-end street with a tiny playground, and my brother and I jumped off swings as they hit their apex, and climbed trees, and looked through my grandfather's telescope, and played the pinball machine in the basement. My dad exhibited in the Round the Fountain Art Fair, and I bought my first piece of art from one of his fellow exhibitors when I was twelve. My grandparents are gone, but I still visit the home of Purdue, only now it's with my husband to see my sister- and brother-in-law and nephews.
So, while I have warm memories, I had no idea how much this area has to offer.
With Purdue at its core there's education, of course, and there's also history, art, culture, delicious food and drink, and a vital sense of community.
With Luke the Land Cruiser as our trusty courier (thanks, Toyota!), my husband and I finally explored this place that was both familiar and alien to us, truly feeling like "Local Tourists."
Join us, and see why you should visit West Lafayette and Lafayette, Indiana.
If you've driven I-65 between Chicago and Indianapolis, you've driven through Lafayette. The seat of Tippecanoe County is located 63 miles northwest of the state capital and 105 miles southeast of the Windy City.
West Lafayette and Lafayette are not just separated by a geographic designator; they're actually two separate municipalities. On the east side of the Wabash River is Lafayette. It began as a fort, which became a trading post, and was platted and named in 1825 for General Lafayette, a French officer who fought in the American Revolution and actually turned down a dictatorship in his homeland.
West Lafayette was originally Chauncey, Oakwood, and Kingston, three smaller communities that merged in 1888. They wanted to be part of their big brother to the east because they needed help with their infrastructure, but Lafayette said no.
(I've always wondered why people would be adamant about which Lafayette they lived in. Now I know.)
To be even more confusing, downtown Lafayette spans both towns. On the west is the Chauncey Village District, on the east is the Arts & Market District, and in between, the Wabash Riverfront District. All three can be reached by the John Myers Pedestrian Bridge.
While they may technically be two different towns, they work closely together, and any visit to Tippecanoe County should include both.
Any introduction to West Lafayette should begin, naturally, at Purdue University.
Founded in 1869, when West Lafayette was still Chauncey, Purdue University focused on agriculture, the mechanic arts, and military leadership. It was named for John Purdue, a local merchant banker who donated $150,000 to found the university. His largesse was combined with $50,000 from Tippecanoe County, 100 acres donated by local residents, and revenues from the sale of public lands. Classes began five years later in 1874.
Ever since that beginning, the house that John built has been known for excellence, and it's especially known as the "cradle of astronauts." Our quick tour took us past Wetherill Chemistry Building, where two Nobel Laureates have taught. Inside the Wilmeth Active Learning Center, we learned how the university is advancing education by providing opportunities for hands-on experience. A stop at the Neil Armstrong Hall of Engineering gave us a glimpse of the Apollo 1 replica inside and his moon-walk footprints outside.
Each building has a story, and while tours are geared towards prospective students, anyone can register.
Less than a mile away from I-65 is a farmhouse, but this isn't just any farmhouse. There's a winery inside.
In 2007, Rick and Kathy Black turned this 1900-era family home into a thriving family business. Wildcat Creek Winery offers cheeses from nearby Fair Oaks, jewelry and paintings from local artists, and, of course, wine. The location has helped their success; the proximity to the interstate has meant visitors from all over. Within six months of opening, people from 48 states and twelve countries had tasted their wines.
However, location isn't everything, or even close to the most important thing, especially when it comes to wine. We popped in for a quick tasting and sampled several of their varietals to see for ourselves the reason for their success.
Their most famous wine is their Steuben, a complex semi-sweet that changes character with each sip. Aunt Minnie's Cherry Tree is labeled "cherry pie in a glass," and when it's accompanied by a piece of chocolate (or even without) it's simply delightful. My personal favorite was the Prophet's Rock Red. One of their dry selections, it's the only wine they oak, and it had almost a buttery mouthfeel.
The tastings at Wildcat Creek Winery are free, and you'll want to check their calendar for events like chocolate and wine pairings and their annual BBQ, Bluegrass, & Blueberry Festival.
Imagine a college town without pizza. It's a darn-near impossible task, isn't it? College and pizza go together like tomato sauce and oregano. Yet, when Bruno Itin and his wife, Evelyn, moved to West Lafayette in 1955, pizza was nowhere to be found. They promptly fixed that travesty, and Bruno's has been serving pizza ever since.
It's been 60+ years since that opening, and to be around that long, you've got to be good. We started with an order of Bruno Dough, a plate of fried dough balls served with marinara and cheese sauce. I refrained from licking the garlic butter and parmesan sprinkles off the plate, but barely. Then we ordered a salad, followed by Bruno's Meat pizza. We are still craving this. That ooey-gooey cheese, that veritable butcher's counter of meat practically bursting out from under, that simple sauce with a light seasoning of garlic, that dough... Orlando, Bruno's son, told us it's because he uses brick cheese in addition to the standard mozzarella.
There's more to it than that, of course. There's the love of a family business. Bruno passed in 2006, and Evelyn in 2008, but Orlando and his siblings Bruno, Jr., and Tina, and a slew of granddaughters are still going strong.
Read more about Bruno's Pizza and Big O's Sports Room (warning: it will make you hungry)
When you see the Haan Mansion Museum of Indiana Art you'd never guess that it was built to be moved. Originally the State of Connecticut Building in the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair, a former Connecticut resident saw the building and fell in love with it, so her husband bought it and shipped it to Lafayette, where it became their home. In 2015, Bob and Ellie Haan turned the home into a museum, and what a museum it is.
Inside its 15,000 square feet is a large collection of Indiana art (hence the name), featuring several impressionist paintings by T.C. Steele and his Hoosier Group contemporaries. Instead of your standard art museum configuration, these paintings are hung throughout the home as they would be if someone still lived there. Stepping into the mansion is like stepping back to the late 1800s and early 1900s. There's a Chickering baby grand in the parlor, a stunning Wooten desk complete with inkwell stain, enormous chandeliers, and furniture that's simply massive.
Allow more time than you think you'll need to explore, because everywhere you turn is something fascinating, historic, and beautiful.
Step inside the Haan Mansion Museum
Located in downtown Lafayette's Arts & Market District, Artists' Own is a gallery that's owned and operated by its member artists. Each one is vetted through a jury system, and one of the biggest considerations for inclusion is the ability to produce consistently high-quality work. Multiple mediums are represented, including paintings, sculpture, jewelry, photography, furniture, pottery, fiber, glass, drawings, and much more. They also make sure that the artists have different styles. This concept means that everyone who walks in the door should find something that appeals to his or her tastes. Since it's operated by those artists, when you visit, you'll have a chance to meet one.
Pictured: Dwayne Daehler, with one of his photographs. Click here to learn more about him and the other talented artists.
When I told my dad we were going to be touring Lafayette, his first question was "Are you going to Triple XXX?" This question was repeated throughout our visit, and why not? It's the first and oldest drive-in in Indiana. Open since 1929, it used to be called Triple XXX Thirst Station, after its iconic root beer. In the 1920s, there were nearly a hundred of these roadside thirst quenchers around the US and Canada, but now only two remain: one in Issaguah, WA, and West Lafayette's Triple XXX Family Restaurant.
The distinctive orange-and-black building is almost always hopping, especially on game days at nearby Purdue. Not only do they have that tasty root beer, they've also got burgers good enough for Guy Fieri. The "chop steaks," as they call them, are made of 100% sirloin that's ground in-house.
Prophetstown State Park is Indiana's newest. It's a unique destination, combining a landscape that's distinctly Indiana with the history of the Native Americans who fought the settlers' encroachment, and the farmers who eventually tilled the land. Located at the confluence of the Wabash and Tippecanoe Rivers, there's prairie, wetlands, and woodland bluffs, all within 2300 acres. Our guide told us that the prairie puts on quite a show in early July, becoming a field of color.
Also within that relatively small space (Purdue's campus is larger) is The Farm at Prophetstown. This replica of a 1920s homestead shows what a working farm back then was like, with plenty of chickens roaming around the Sears and Roebuck kit house. Visitors can purchase eggs, meat, and sausage, and campers staying on-site will often replenish their supplies. There's also a water park with a 30-foot tube slide, body flume, lazy river float area, and more.
Prophetstown gets its name from Tenskwatawa, or "The Prophet". He was Tecumseh's brother, and in 1808 the two established a village, and by 1811 had convinced members of more than 14 Native American tribes to join them. The goal was to help halt the wave of settlers that was taking over their homes. Within the park are replicas of the different types of Native American structures these various tribes may have used. If you look to the west, you can see the obelisk at Tippecanoe Battlefield, commemorating the victory of the Americans over the village.
On November 7, 1811, Indiana Territory Governor William Henry Harrison and his troops thoroughly routed the warriors from nearby Prophetstown. Tecumseh was away when the soldiers arrived, so Tenskwatawa was in charge. The Prophet decided that killing Harrison would stave off any battle, so some warriors tried to sneak into the American's encampment before dawn. Not only were they unsuccessful, but after the resulting battle and the tribes' retreat, Harrison obliterated their abandoned town, burning it to the ground. Harrison's success at removing this threat earned him the nickname "Old Tippecanoe."
Tippecanoe Battlefield Museum is a National Historic Landmark that commemorates this event. The site includes the 85-foot marble obelisk in the field where the battle occurred, a nature center, and a museum. The museum not only teaches you about the battle itself, including a narrated fiber-optic map, but also the context of the time. Browsing through the interpretative center is a lesson in the early U.S. and what happened both before and after the Battle of Tippecanoe.
Located on an historic square in an historic town, Garden Gate Tea House and Cafe offers a charming break from a day of sightseeing. Or, just a day. The cups, saucers, and furniture are all mismatched, creating a comfortable and relaxing ambiance. We didn't have much room after our lunch at Triple XXX, but we'd heard we simply had to try the scones, so we did. That day's selection included Andes Mint and Lavender White Chocolate. The Andes was quite good all on its own, and that lavender white chocolate, with flowers sprinkled throughout, was delightful with the fresh lemon curd.
We ordered a pot of plum spice tea. Despite Jim's status as an avid tea drinker, neither of us had seen the presentation they used, but now we know how "tealights" got their name. Our server placed the teapot atop a holder with a lit candle, which kept the beverage warm while we enjoyed our scones. On the way out, Jim commented that we'd heard that Garden Gate has the best coffee, too, so she gave me a to-go cup. I'm a Coffee Drinker, and that was some of the best coffee I've ever had.
If it's cold when you visit, bring an extra blanket. Garden Gate Tea House keeps a container outside filled with blankets for those in need.
Seven places in Delphi, Indiana, are listed in the National Register of Historic Places, including the Delphi Courthouse Square Historic District, which itself is comprised of scores of buildings with historic or architectural significance. One of these buildings is the Delphi Opera House, a success story showcasing a community's commitment to preserving its past and developing its future.
The Delphi Opera House began as a public gathering place when it opened in 1865 as the Assion-Ruffing City Hall. Never a government center, it was instead where the community performed readings, recitals, and theater. In 1888 it became the Lathrope and Ruffing Opera House, and soon it became known simply as the Delphi Opera House. Like many other grand theaters, the growth of cinema spelled its doom. In 1914 the Fire Marshall condemned the building as unsafe. Through the efforts of the Delphi Preservation Society, the building was restored, brought up to code, and reopened 101 years after its doors were closed.
Now it's back in business, with concerts, theater, and special events. The restoration was so skillful that in 2017 the Preservation Society received the Indiana Landmarks Cook Cup for Outstanding Restoration.
Fun fact: When you visit, look for the gorgeous banquette on the landing leading to the theater. It was donated by Bob and Ellie Haan.
What do you do when you want a water-based shipping channel and one doesn't exist? Why, you build a canal, that's what. In the early 1800s, settlement of the Indiana territory was booming. As the population grew, so did the need for goods from back east. The settlers also had stockpiles of their own products they needed to ship. The solution was to build the Wabash-Erie Canal. At a length of more than 460 miles by the time it was completed, it was the longest canal ever built in North America and effectively provided access from New York all the way to the Gulf of Mexico.
Despite its final completion in 1853, this grand project never quite lived up to the hype. Erosion was a constant issue, but the bigger threat and ultimate cause of its demise was the railroad. Today parts of the canal are long forgotten and there's only one section of the canal that even has water, and that's in Delphi, Indiana.
The Wabash and Erie Canal Interpretive Center contains a world-class, interactive museum that brings the reason for the canal, the struggle to build it, and the impact it had on the communities surrounding it to life. There's a living history village on-site, as well as 2 1/2 miles of waterway and towpath. If you're there during the warmer months, you can take a 35-minute ride on their model canal boat.
This is a truly impressive destination, and amazingly it was built and is run by volunteers. The spirit we found at Delphi Opera House is, it seems, just part of this community.
This much exploration works up an appetite, and dinner at East End Grill was just what this Local Tourist ordered. We settled into the "Industrial American Grill" and sighed. What a visit. How much we'd seen. We were tired enough we didn't even want to think, so we asked Corey, our server, what to order, and he steered us in the right direction. House salad topped with cherrywood smoked bacon and a white balsamic vinaigrette on the side. Fall-off-the-bone BBQ baby back ribs, braised for seven hours, then grilled, then glazed with their house-made sauce. We'd heard about their special fries, so Jim upgraded his side dish to get that truffle oil, parmesan cheese, and garlic aioli. Me? I went with the grilled swordfish topped with chimichurri and served with a side of corn salsa and fingerling potatoes.
Hungry yet? Well, we had to finish that off with an apple cobbler topped with salted caramel ice cream. If we hadn't been so tired we would have grabbed a seat at the bar and tipped into their craft beer and whiskey list, but it was time to turn in.
Our home-away-from-home during our visit to West Lafayette and Lafayette was a much-loved home called Black Blanket Farms Bed & Breakfast. It's the first (and as of now, only) bed and breakfast in Tippecanoe County. Built on a foundation that dates back to the 1800s, this family farmhouse has been recently renovated so that it can provide some peace and quiet for weary travelers, Purdue visitors, and Local Tourists. It's a labor of love, and there's so much heart in this place we instantly felt like we were part of owner Teresa Witkoske's family. Even Tuco, the rescue dog, forgave me when I sat in his chair.
This restful place is only about a ten minute drive from town, a quick and painless distance, especially when you can wake up to the sound of Mother Nature and take a walk along a shallow pond as geese flutter their wings.
Black Blanket Farms in on AirBNB, so you can gather some friends and relax together. New airbnb'ers can use this link for $40 credit.
Lafayette, it was nice getting to know you. You are so much more than I ever imagined.
Our visit was hosted by Visit Lafayette - West Lafayette, but all opinions and unbridled enthusiasm are, as always, my own.
Our chariot for our West Lafayette-Lafayette visit was the surprisingly fun-to-drive Toyota Land Cruiser. I say "surprising" because this vehicle is HUGE, with up to three rows of seating, a height of 74 inches, and a weight of nearly 6,000 pounds. Despite its size, this baby can move. That 5.7 liter V-8 engine with 8-speed transmission turns this beast into a purring, smooth-riding beauty. The moment I put pressure on the accelerator I commented "The force is strong with this one." Henceforth, he became known as Luke.
Luke the Land Cruiser.
Inside, this luxury Jedi-class SUV is filled with more bells and whistles than the R2-D2 and BB-8 combined. The seats can both heat you up and cool you down. You never have to worry about cold hands with the heated steering wheel. And warm beverages are a thing of the past with the center console cooler. The supple leather seats can be adjusted ten different ways, ensuring this is one comfortable ride. The front row can be adjusted up, down, back, forward, more lumbar support, less lumbar support - and once you've found your optimal configuration, you can save it. The backseats get their own climate control and DVD entertainment system. (Popcorn optional.) One thing that particularly tickled me was how the steering wheel would pull into the dashboard when you turn off the engine.
Once settled in and ready to hit the road, the radar-controlled cruise control, proximity warning system, and navigation get you there safely. We didn't have the opportunity to go off-roading, but if we had, Luke would have handled it with the smooth sailing of a hovercraft. The only downside is the MPG - it's a woeful 15 (if you're lucky).
All-in-all, the Toyota Land Cruiser is a first-in-class premium SUV with stability, speed, comfort, and rugged good looks. Thanks, Toyota, for letting us borrow Luke for our trip to Lafayette!
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