Rensselaer Adventures (2)
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4. Come to the Fair
For many county residents, the Jasper County Fair
in July is the highlight of the summer. For a week the fairgrounds,
which is located a mile west of Rensselaer, becomes a large campground
with scores of RVs and trailers. The 4-H animal judging of cattle,
swine, poulty, sheep, goats, and rabbits brings many of these campers.
There is also an equestrian area that is its own little fair within a
fair. Some people come to the fair for the demolition derbies and the
other grandstand shows, and others come for the free musical acts
provided nightly. Some like to watch the judging of food or clothing,
and some enjoy the fair food. The kids enjoy the carnival rides.
History buffs enjoy the little area devoted to the past, including
exhibits of old farm equipment. This large, complex event is remarkably
well run, and there is no gate charge.
An Alternative: Cruise the Streets. For another
taste of local culture, visit Rensselaer during Cruise
Night, a July evening dedicated to the worship of the car.
People line two miles of US 231, from Wal-Mart in the south to the
Roller Rink in the north, watching cars, some old and some extensively
customized, crawl by in endless gridlock.
A Second Alternative: Go shopping. If you want an unusual bit of local
culture, visit one of the two annual (spring and fall) rummage sales at
St. Augustine church. To get the full impact of the sale, get there at
the opening at 9 on Friday: it has to be experienced to be appreciated.
Items are sold by the bag, not individually priced. (Rensselaer had no
decent thrift shop for many years, and the rummage sale filled this
niche, but in a very concentrated form. In the summer of 2005 a thrift
shop in the form of Jasper
Junction opened six miles north of Rensselaer at the
intersection of US231 and SR14, and they now also operate a weekend flea market on the east side of Rensselaer.
5. Roam the Jasper County Court House
is the architectural gem of Rensselaer. It is built in the neo-Gothic
style popular late in the 19th century. Although there are no guided
tours, one can wander through the building and see a lot of it. (There
are some other interesting buildings in Rensselaer as well. Just south
of the Iroquois River are a number of homes that are good examples of
several architectural styles popular in the late 19th and early 20th
An Alternative: Go Brown-Water Rafting. If you
have access to a canoe, kayak, raft, or other watercraft, you might
want to attempt brown-water rafting. There is a boat landing just east
of Rensselaer called Laird's Landing from which you can launch your
watercraft. Often the Iroquois is too low to raft or canoe or kayak
(and occasionally it is too high!), and you can check this on the internet: one of the
gauging stations for the Iroquois is just south of Laird's Landing.
After you float a couple of miles through Rensselaer, you can exit the
river at another boat landing south of Weston Cemetery. Even though the
river is small, do not forget your lifejackets.
6. Take a Walk in the Woods
The Fisher Oak Savanna is a small nature preserve about
12 miles southeast of Rensselaer owned by NICHES. It has a well-defined
trail starting from its parking lot. To get there, turn off State Road
16 heading south on County Road 30W until it tees on 1100S. Turn left
and go east until this road tees on CR 20E. Turn right and go south
about half a mile and you should see the parking lot on the west side
of the road. The trail starts from the parking lot.
Another Walk in the Woods: The Nature
Conservancy has a large property in Newton County about twenty miles
from Rensselaer called the Kankakee Sands where it is
restoring a native prairie. There are lookouts and one trail in the
property that are open to the public, and occasionally it has a day in
which volunteers can come in and help with some project. There were
plans to put a national wildlife refuge in this area, but a great deal
of local hostility, some of it bordering on the irrational, has stopped
(The trail, which is about 1.5 miles long, goes through oak savannah.
To get to it, turn off U.S. 41 onto Newton County 725 North. Head east
on this gravel road about one half mile until it turns south. Look very
carefully and you will see a tiny parking area at the turn with a sign
saying Conrad Station Preserve. Search around to find the trail, which
is marked with trail markers. The trail is sometimes hard to follow,
but it is marked.
7. Stop at the Tippecanoe Battle Field Site
Just off I-65 north of Lafayette, IN is the Tippecanoe Battle Ground
memorial. On this site in the mid 19th century the Eastern
Indian tribes united under Tecumseh and his brother the Prophet and
tried to stop the white man from moving west. The U.S. army under
won the battle and broke the power of the Indian tribes in the east.
This is one of the major historical landmarks in Indiana.
An Alternative (or addition): Park It. Just
south of the battle ground is a new state park, Prophetstown, which takes
its name from the small city that Tecumseh and his brother established
in 1808. After the battle with Harrison, the settlement was burned and
abandoned, but it is the excuse for the park. However, the focus of the
park does not seem to be on Prophetstown or the battle. The park is
almost immediately south of the battlefield, but the entrance to the
park is situated so that one must drive about ten miles to get from one
to the other. (You need to check the internet to get directions on how
to get there--it is not a simple route.) Also, the major exhibit at the
park is a farm that recreates agricultural life in the 1920s or
thereabouts. But at the time of this writing, this park is still a work
in progress--it is not clear where they are going with it.