A new traveling exhibit will make its first stop by rail in Columbus next month leading up to Indiana’s 200th birthday in 2016.
The Indiana Historical Society’s Indiana Bicentennial Train will stop at the Bartholomew County 4-H Fairgrounds from Sept. 18 to 20.
Lynn Lucas, Columbus Area Visitors Center executive director, said the train visit will be great for residents young and old to learn about Indiana’s history.
“Nationally, we see this trend of several generations doing things together. This is a wonderful example of a grandfather taking his grandchildren or mom and dad taking the kids,” she said. “Even if you’re not from Indiana, and you’re living in the area, why not teach your kids about the area?”
Through the Indiana Historical Society’s extensive visual and archival collections, the free traveling exhibit will consist of Indiana history in the 20th century, Indiana today and what the state might be like in the future.
The exhibit focuses on Indiana’s history in transportation, land use, talent and community and is set up in three of The Next Indiana’s freight cars.
Southside Elementary School teacher Becky Williams said she will be taking her class to check out the exhibit to encourage her students to think about Indiana’s history in a new way.
“For the fifth- and sixth-graders, it will be a review for them and also helps foster that passion for the state,” she said.
“This state has a lot to offer. I keep trying to instill that passion.
“Anytime you can offer your kids a hands-on experience, especially with history, I think it is valuable,” she said.
Williams’ students have been learning about Indiana railroads and their effect on the state’s economy in anticipation of the Bicentennial Train’s arrival.
She is encouraging students to prepare questions for a historical interpreter who will talk about Hoosier life over the years.
The train’s visit will incorporate a temporary train depot set up where the public can take part in educational activities, learn about local history and watch performances from historic interpreter Kevin Stonerock as he portrays Daniel Morgan Cook in the year 1916.
The tour is in partnership with the Indiana Rail Road Co. and Norfolk Southern Corp. The Bicentennial Train will travel to Jasper, Terre Haute and Bargersville after its stop in Columbus.
A pop-up market to purchase Indiana and bicentennial-related items from the Indiana Historical Society also will be available. The historical society is sponsoring the traveling exhibit.
Anna Barnett, education manager for the Bartholomew County Historical Society, said the point of the mobile exhibit is to get residents in Bartholomew County excited about their Hoosier heritage.
“I think they’re hoping to teach people about Indiana’s rich history and help people understand what’s made our state so great,” she said. “I think it’s also to help build excitement about the bicentennial. It’s the first bicentennial activity.”
Most of the exhibits will have information about areas throughout the state, but Barnett said there will be information that is just about Bartholomew County.
The Bartholomew County Historical Society and the Yellow Trail Museum will have a joint community tent with hands-on natural history artifacts displays for guests to learn about what life was like in Bartholomew County 200 years ago.
A Bartholomew County Historical Society interpreter will greet the train when it arrives to describe how Bartholomew County changed through the 19th century and to talk about the future.
Guests who visit the Columbus depot will be invited to design a town flag, mark their “Indiana-versary” on a timeline provided by Indiana Humanities and vote for their favorite Hoosier innovation. The Columbus depot tents will contain displays, demonstrations and presentations from local organizations that highlight each community’s offerings and opportunities.
“There are many photographs around the state, including some from Bartholomew County, within the train,” Barnett said. “There will be games and activities for them to learn about our county. There will be opportunities for local organizations like the historical society to have specific things from our county.”
Indiana historian James Madison will be at the Columbus stop in the late afternoon of Sept. 18 to talk about and sign his new book, “Hoosiers: A New History of Indiana.”
The Next Indiana bicentennial train originally was known as the Indiana History Train and stopped in Columbus in 2004 with a “Faces of Lincoln” exhibit, drawing 2,654 guests, and again in 2006 with “The Faces of the Civil War” exhibit, drawing 2,883 guests.
“We’ve had the train every time it has stopped. They’ve had excellent response from our community,” Barnett said. “Logistically, we have a wonderful place for it. It’s hard to find a place to stop where it doesn’t impede train traffic.”
The Indiana History Train traveled the state of Indiana from 2004 to 2008 before being renamed as the Next Indiana train and launched in 2013.
Since 2004, the train had more than 57,000 guests. In 2013, the train stopped in Kokomo, New Haven, Valparaiso and Delphi and had 13,165 visitors.