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Even for life-long residents, it’s uncommon to travel through every county within the borders of the Hoosier State. It’s particularly uncommon to visit all 92 courthouses. But Indy Eleven’s president, Peter Wilt, is doing just that. “I thought the idea of visiting the 92 county courthouses would be a tangible way of making sure I got to every part of the state,” says Wilt.
Call it his Tour de Indiana. He is.
Wilt isn’t a native Hoosier. Before moving to the home of cornfields and Colts football, he lived in Illinois, where he started the very successful Chicago Fire and helped source the first 100 percent publicly-funded stadium, Toyota Park. One of the many reasons Wilt was able to accomplish those feats was because he knew about the state where he lived. He knew what the people wanted and what they were looking for. He knew how to build a proper business strategy. With Indiana, it’s a whole new game.
“That’s one of my shortcomings from this job," says Wilt. "I need to learn more about the state, and I need our fans throughout the state to know that the leader of their team cares about where they’re from." He decided that visiting every county courthouse was the perfect opportunity to see the state and the people who call it home.
Wilt wants to be clear that this is not an Indy Eleven promotional tour: “It’s for me to personally get to know the state, and so I can get a better feel for what the people here are about and learn the culture, the traditions, the history.” Though marketing Indy's pro-soccer team wasn't the catalyst for his self-described #TourdeIndiana, it helps that the World Cup is going on this summer. Talk of soccer/futbol/the world’s game can't be avoided. Even so, "[I'm traveling] so that I’m better prepared to build a team and a business that reflects the values of the state,” says Wilt.
Besides the business aspect of his jaunts, the tour is also personal. Wilt is finding the many gems that make Indiana's culture great, beauty beyond well-known expanses of flat farmland. One of the most memorable courthouses that Wilt visited was Greensburg's own. He calls it the quirkiest because of the full-size trees growing out of a clock tower. The trees have been growing for more than a century and no one, to this day, wields a definite answer as to how they started growing.
Another memorable location was a place called the 100 Mile House—named for the fact that it’s both 100 miles from Chicago and from Indianapolis. The most intriguing part about the place is that it was formerly the hangout of John Dillinger and his cronies when, yes, gangsters roamed the lonely roads of Indiana back in the 1930s.
Two weeks ago, Wilt was driving through Manchester, and, after a quick search on the history of the town, decided to make a pit stop at Manchester University. There he found out the town was not only the birthplace of Teflon, but it was also the spot where Martin Luther King Jr. gave his last campus speech on February 1, 1968. “That’s something I never would have known or found out if I hadn’t been taking this tour,” says Wilt.
To date, Wilt has visited 85 of the 92 county courthouses. The only part of the state that has escaped him so far is its southwest corner. Wilt plans on checking out the seven remaining courthouses during his July 8 trip to Evansville for a fan forum and viewing party for the World Cup semifinal match.
What’s next after Wilt finishes his grand tour? He says that he's received a few suggestions, but that the one he likes best is the idea of visiting 50 of the state's oldest high-school basketball gyms.
That would be so Hoosier.
Photos courtesy Peter Wilt: Wilt on tour in Brazil (Indiana, that is); a bank once robbed by John Dillinger, and the Martin Luther King Jr. bust on display at Manchester University
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