The Hoosierist: A Sticky Situation

Our maple syrup industry, renamed city streets, and a second Athenaeum. Ask The Hoosierist.

Illustration by Ryan Johnson

Q: Indiana is covered with maple trees. Why don’t we have a big maple syrup industry like New England does?
A: In theory, it seems like we could. The best variety of tree for sugar production is the sugar maple, and our state is infested with them. Should the spirit move you, you could totally tap some and boil the sap into maple syrup. Indiana has dozens of small-scale syrup makers who produced around 19,000 gallons (about $820,000 worth) of the sweet stuff last year. The problem is that Indiana isn’t the best spot for this sort of thing. According to Jeff Settle, forest products specialist with the Indiana Department of National Resources, sugar maples produce more and better sap in places where nights are bitterly cold and days are bright and dry. Which Indiana can’t consistently provide. But you know who can? Vermont, which produced slightly more than 2 million gallons of pancake topper in 2019.

Q: The Big Ten Tournament gets fake street signs like “Maryland Avenue” downtown. A couple of other conventions do, too. How big does an event have to be to rename city roads?
A: Chris Gahl, senior vice president at Visit Indy, says while there’s no predetermined size, it’s typically done when a really big event hits town. “It’s just a fun way to welcome visitors,” he says. Not surprisingly, Gen Con enjoyed this perk during its last visit, when a portion of Georgia Street was temporarily rechristened “Gen Con Lane.” Gahl said they’ve checked with Uber and Lyft drivers to see if this causes any confusion for visitors, and were told it’s not an issue. Drivers typically go where their phones tell them to go, ignoring the temporary signs. This ploy pays its biggest dividends on social media, because convention attendees love to post pictures of themselves standing under the signs, earning Indy a nice bunch of selfies.

Q: I hear there’s a second Athenaeum in Indy. Is that true?
A: Buildings like the one we know as the Athenaeum were, back in the 19th century, German social clubs where Indy’s Teutonic immigrants congregated to work out, hold banquets, and (one assumes) polish their monocles. The biggest is the downtown Athenaeum (originally called Das Deutsche Haus), built in 1893 and still going strong today. The second, called the South Side Turnverein (meaning “gymnastics club”), was built in 1900. But you can’t catch a band or drink a brew at that one. Not anymore, anyway. The 20,000-square-foot structure fell on hard times during the late 20th century and closed. But it was recently restored by a local insurance company, Point Comfort Underwriters, which now uses it as its headquarters.


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