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It's early Saturday morning on Lockerbie Square, a National Historic District just blocks from downtown Indianapolis that surrounds the James Whitcomb Riley Museum Home. The quiet, compact neighborhood is a shady mix of residential and commercial buildings, grand brick homes and Victorian cottages of various styles, all meshing comfortably.
Residents, coffee mugs in hand, walk dogs, and bicyclists bounce over the cobblestone street in front of the Riley home. Actually, the streets were re-cobbled-in 1976 as a Bicentennial project. Another reminder of Lockerbie's long history: stepping stones from the horse-drawn carriage era along the curb.
No Midwest state reveres a poet as Indiana does Riley.
The moments I've cherished most as editor-in-chief of Midwest Living® have found me driving down winding country lanes on sunny days, far from any interstate highways, feeling half-lost and half-found, without another person or car in sight.
It's that way for me in Brown County. Somehow, the glaciers that snowplowed so much of Indiana and the Midwest took a detour here. After an hour's drive south from Indianapolis, hills suddenly erupt near Nashville, the only town of size. Hardwoods the size of mini skyscrapers make canyons of the roadways: maple, oak, poplar, beech, hickory, dogwood, redbud, sassafras, sumac. Autumn must be an absolute foliage riot here.
Because state and federal parklands and forests claim more than half of Brown County, it remains blessedly undeveloped outside of Nashville. In fact, you'll find only three stoplights in the entire county, and the tallest "high rise" here is three stories. No billboards block the views, and even lighted signs are rare.
Twisting roads wend past rustic log homes, new and old, nestled into leafy glades. A "Chew Mail Pouch Tobacco" ad emblazons a barn. Poor soil means farming never flourished here, not even orchards. The terrain made carving roads and rail lines difficult. So Brown County got passed over, until the area attracted a new type of settler: artists, then craftspeople, then tourists. Now it's a natural treasure, just 60 miles south of Indianapolis.
The inspiring setting began attracting artists more than a century ago. Then came the creative rush that comes from living and working around other artists. The result: stunning landscapes, still lifes, and portraits of the simple folk who live in these hills by artists who lived among them-not to mention pottery, glassware, quilts and other crafts. An artists' colony has thrived here since.