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Editor's Note, May 22, 2013: Indianapolis Monthly won a City and Regional Magazine Association (CRMA) award on May 20 in the Leisure/Lifestyle Interest category for this October 2012 cover feature.
No doubt you’ve heard the Hoosier mea culpa. Sorry, folks, no mountains, oceans, or celebrities to see here. So “big” isn’t our thing. Big deal. There’s something else we do better than anyone—small.
Tiny diners and homemade pie. Little shops with mechanical cash registers. Narrow roads past hidden farms. Rusty signs and weathered clapboard. Antiques—lots and lots of antiques.
In other words, when city-dwellers dream of the simple life, what they imagine are the petite gems of Indiana’s countryside. And it turns out these places are even prettier, the people friendlier, and the autumn leaves more colorful in real life. It’s honest-to-God Americana—only small. You have to look for it (as we did on the following five trips). But don’t worry, you’ll find it. Just be sure to drive slowly, or you might blink and—well, you know. —Evan West
ANTIQUES ROAD SHOW
Take the shell off of your pickup and toss in the bungees—It’s a picker’s paradise on the banks of the Wabash. By Julia Spalding
We had spent most of the day hairpinning unfamiliar backroads on the state’s western flank. Now the fuel gauge edged dangerously close to “E.” On the single lane of a covered bridge leading into  Williamsport, one of us said nervously, “Surely there will be a gas station in this next town.” But we forgot about fuel when we saw Blue Elephant (200 N. Monroe St., 765-764-1708, williamsportblueelephant.com), a cinderblock monolith with a Coca-Cola shingle and broken-down treasures around its perimeter.
Hunters and gatherers get excited about places like this, the floors piled with old suitcases, service-station signs, and G.I. Joe dolls. My shoe hit the side of a cardboard box, where I saw the glimmer of a lens, the curve of Bakelite, the word “Kodak.” A collector of vintage cameras, I pulled out the carton, filled with a writhing mass of sexy black plastic, leather cases, and silver gewgaws. White Polaroid Swinger. Several Kodak Brownies. A coating of mouse turds. And a label: $12. My heartbeat quickened. “Does this mean $12 each?” I stammered. “All of ’em,” said the bearish guy behind the counter. And we were off, mouse turds on the floorboard, in search of more treasures—and gas.
This is a “small” town only by the standards of cities the size of Indianapolis and larger. And with upwards of 15 antiques outlets and storefronts, there’s nothing small about the city’s ratio of curio cabinets per square block. One of the newest installments, Hot House Market (900 Kossuth Ave.,765-490-7968, hothousemarket.com), takes such a fresh and bright-eyed approach to vintage shopping that you will find yourself pondering a spot in your home for that granny-chic afghan or framed needlepoint project displayed so enticingly on stacks of old Samsonite and steamer trunks.
In the French-country hues of blue and yellow, downtown Lafayette’s Bistro 501 (501 Main St., 765-423-4501, bistro501.com) provides mid-spree sustenance in the form of mussels and frites, cheeseboards, and farmhouse pate. Update your shopping list at one of the sidewalk tables while the weather’s still nice, or take the chill off inside by the crackling fire.
Sadly, many of the shops here have closed, but one curious little exception sits above Craft Appliances (100 N. Perry St., 765-764-4420), a creaky space where entrance comes only with permission of the desk clerk. You might feel like you have stumbled into Miss Havisham’s powder room, blowing dust off of an old decoupaged mirror or lifting a stuffed animal to discover a rare Fisher-Price play set underneath.
The Historic Devon Theater (107 W. Mill St., 765-762-3403), a 1932 movie house, features nightly second-runs. But the Art Deco razzle-dazzle steals the show.
If the waitress recommends the cheesy Tater Balls at Robie’s Fine Dining (109 W. Main St., 765-764-4351, robiesfinedining.com), go ahead and indulge her (and yourself).
POINT OF INTEREST
In Williamsport (3), you will find the aforementioned Blue Elephant store as well as Williamsport Falls, said to be the highest free-falling water feature in the state, where a creek shoots out over a 90-foot sandstone precipice. Want a closer look? A trail leads downstream and under the falls.
The town square has four antiques shops, including Back Home Again Antiques (322 Liberty St., 765-299-3235), where the merchandise flows logically from primitives to pottery to kitschy kitchenware.
Several of those coveted chrome-legged dining sets have found a home in The Sundae Shoppe (216 4th St., 765-793-4981). Try the soft-serve, cookie-dough Razzle.
Spectacularly detailed WPA murals by famed painter and town native Eugene F. Savage cover the atrium walls of the 1937 Fountain County Courthouse. Weekend tours are available.
Equal parts Wes Anderson props department and Ralph Lauren photo shoot, Leaping Leopard Antiques (2145 S. 4th St., 765-474-9100, leapingleopardantiques.com), above, in Lafayette, has a lot of rugged, plaid-blanket camping gear; metal clamshell lawn chairs; and antlers, antlers, antlers. It also dabbles in steel office and mahogany furniture.
If you tend to shop ’til you drop, go ahead and reserve a room at the Davis House Bed & Breakfast (1010 W. Wabash Ave., 765-364-9661, thedavishouse.net), a comfy Italianate mansion in Crawfordsville (5) trimmed in widow’s walks and French windows.
Once an Indy mainstay, White River Salvage, with the same tasteful curatorship, has moved 70 miles east on U.S. 40, to Indiana’s “official” Antique Alley. Ornate leaded-glass doors? Dazzling wedding-cake chandeliers? Check and check. 104 W. Main St., Centerville, 765-693-4400, whiteriversalvage.com.
THERE AND BACK
Indy to Lafayette: I-65 N (60 miles, 1 hour)Lafayette to Attica/Williamsport: S.R. 25 S to S.R. 28 W (30 miles, 45 minutes)Williamsport to Covington to Crawfordsville: S.R. 28 W to S.R. 263 S to U.S. 136 E (50 miles, 1 hour 15 minutes)Crawfordsville to Indy: I-74 E (50 miles, 1 hour)
1 The Swoon List: Dining2 24 Cheap-Eat Spots3 25 Best Bars4 25 Best Restaurants5 50 Great Gifts6 15 Destination Dinners7 The Hot List: Shopping8 10 Notorious Crimes9 Top 20 Sports Bars10 Five Great Road Trips
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