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

The courthouse 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 centuries.)

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 those plans.
(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 General Harrison 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.

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