Hoosier Heritage Pilgrimage
Wednesday, May 4, 2016
Bicentennial: Corydon, Cedar Farms & Madison
By Nelson Price
Photos 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 as well as 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 100th anniversary of the organization and the state’s Bicentennial. Although the morning of May 4 was rainy, the dedication unfolded without a hitch, as commemorative photos were taken of the Pioneers.
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, which became known as the “Constitution Elm”, died during the 1920s, although a portion of its trunk has been preserved.
After the dedication of the newly planted elm, Pioneers toured the plaza of the historic Statehouse, 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, milk house and schoolhouse, had fallen into disrepair until the extensive restoration work 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. Also 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
Inside the elegant main house, the Pioneers enjoyed self-guided tours of the period-appropriate furnishings. 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 the Ohio River town of Madison. The group enjoyed a motor coach tour of the historic town – particularly of 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, designed by early Indiana architect Francis Costigan and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. At the Shrewsbury House, which is 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. In between self-guided tours of the house, the Pioneers enjoyed a light dinner.
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 applying pressure on state leaders and legislators to protect and preserve it. In recognition of the organization’s historic role, the Pioneers posed on the steps of the Lanier Mansion for a group photo.
Pioneers in front of Lanier Mansion, Madison