I have given Columbus, Indiana, short shrift on my road trips. It is well known, prized even, for its stunning architecture and public art. (See some of it here.) Yet every time I visit I miss most of it.

It’s because on my road trips I stick to the old roads — and Columbus is served by a great one, the Madison State Road. It is one of Indiana’s first highways, from the 1830s, connecting Indianapolis to the Ohio River at Madison. It enters Columbus from the north on old US 31 and exits to the south on State Road 7. Also, it’s well worth exploring US 31 and its old alignments south from town, as well as State Road 46 laterally across town and then through some of Indiana’s loveliest scenery.

So I’ve been to Columbus several times, but I always pass through the same sections of town. Next time I’ll make Columbus a destination, get off the main routes, and come back with art and architecture photographs. Until then, you’ll have to make do with these photos of the heart of Columbus’s downtown. These first shots, starting with the Bartholomew County Courthouse, are from a trip I made in 2008.

Bartholomew County Courthouse

At the time, Columbus’s downtown mall, The Commons, was being renovated. It’s right across the street from the courthouse, where State Road 46 intersects Washington Street.

Columbus, IN

This was my first visit to Columbus, and on the ground Washington Street felt like the main downtown drag. So I walked it for a couple blocks.

Columbus, IN

Downtown Columbus feels like any other Indiana downtown — except that it’s remarkably tidy and every building is occupied. Most small Indiana cities are not so fortunate, with crumbling facades and entire vacant blocks. What makes the difference is the excellent employment available in Columbus: Cummins Engine is headquartered here.

Columbus, IN

The Crump Theater stood around the corner on State Road 46, looking a little worse for the wear. Its facade is of porcelain steel and Vitrolite (pigmented structural glass) panels.

Columbus, IN

On a return visit this October, the Crump was in much the same overall condition even though the deteriorated details had changed. A missing Vitrolite panel had been replaced with a board painted the same color, a boarded-up portion of the entrance had been reopened, and its marquee was missing some panels.

The Crump

At least this time we got to see some of the public art. This photo is a detail of a work called Chaos 1 by Jean Tinguely, who was Columbus’s artist in residence in the early 1970s. Weiging seven tons and standing 30 feet high, it’s inside the renovated The Commons mall. I wish I had thought to photograph the mall exterior, as it looks very little now like it did in 2008. And I wish there had been enough room for me to back up to get this entire kinetic sculpture in my lens.


Looking out from the sculpture, The Commons is a lovely public space.


Remarkably little had changed on Washington Street since 2008. I’m sure some businesses have closed and others have opened, but the street looks just as tidy as ever.


As we walked through, many of the trees were tagged with yellow bands like these. I couldn’t discern a pattern, but all of the tags had words on them. I’m sure they were part of a temporary public-art installation.


This Washington Street alley is also a public art installation called Friendship Way. I hear it lights up at night.

Alley in Columbus

Kodak EasyShare Z730 Zoom and Pentax K10D, 28-80mm f/3.5-4.7 SMC Pentax-FA

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14 responses to “Photographs that don’t show the best of Columbus, Indiana”

  1. J P Cavanaugh Avatar

    Another place that I have not yet managed to check off of my to-visit list. Crossing the red bridge on I-65 is as close as I have come.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’ve visited but not really seen it, so I’m not that different from you. One day.

  2. dan james Avatar

    Really good colours from the K10D Jim, especially the outdoor building shots, which almost look like they’re been made with a fairly fine grain film…

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I need to correct an error: the first five photos are from my Kodak EasyShare Z730. It returns just delightful color in good light.

      1. dan james Avatar

        Seriously? Wow, you fooled me there! That is very impressive – I thought the first five were the best five. More and more I’m thinking the future is digital compacts!

        1. Jim Grey Avatar

          That Z730 is just wonderful in good light. Here’s a link to every post with photos from this old (2004ish) compact: https://blog.jimgrey.net/?s=Z730

        2. dan james Avatar

          It’s amazing how manufacturers (and gear sites) try to convince us we need the latest and greatest technology, when you and I have both had (and continue to have) great experiences with pretty humble 10 year old digital cameras.

  3. Heide Avatar

    I love the juxtaposition of the quaint, old-style “main street” with the modern art installations. It’s wonderful to see that some small downtowns are still thriving (Crump Theatre notwithstanding). Thank you for this enjoyable virtual stroll, Jim!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Oh why thank you! Columbus started out like any other small Indiana town. Erwin Miller, who led Cummins for 40 years, set the standard for improving the community his company was founded in. That spirit remains. That’s what it takes, I think, for a city like Columbus to be what it is.

  4. Dan Cluley Avatar
    Dan Cluley

    We visited the area several times when I was a kid. In addition to the Chaos sculpture, I remember the mall having a cool multistory indoor playground.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I wonder if it survived the renovation?

  5. marcusterrypeddle Avatar

    This is an old post, but at the weekend I watched the 2017 film Columbus. Wow. The architecture was great, but even better was the cinematography. Every scene was a perfect photo.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      How did I not know about this film? Now I have to watch it.

      1. marcusterrypeddle Avatar

        Besides the photography, it’s also a very good film for the acting, scenes, and so on.

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