Forum Journal & Forum Focus

Indiana: Taking Pride in Our Diverse Cultural Heritage 

12-09-2015 17:35

As lifelong Hoosiers, my wife Judy and I take great pride in our Indiana roots. Corydon, our hometown, is rich with historic places that are visible reminders of the beginning of our state. However, years ago Indiana’s first state capital was in decline. The community realized the importance of Corydon’s history and built environment, and we rallied together with private business, nonprofit organizations, and local and state government to preserve our unique heritage. Today Corydon, historic and modern, is thriving culturally and economically. These places and buildings provide a sense of collective history and identity, and the community -- indeed all of Indiana -- takes pride in this town where our state was born.

Other Indiana cities and towns are also proud of their community heritage and identity and are working to preserve their historic neighborhoods and downtown centers. Plymouth, Madison, Farmland, Centerville, and many others around the state have embraced their unique history and are successfully revitalizing the places where they work, play, and live. Their historic city buildings, community centers and parks, businesses, and homes have benefited from initiatives that promote structural and landscape preservation, including grant opportunities, tax credits, and the Indiana Main Street program, the largest of its kind in the country.

Developing a Long-Range Vision

In the 1970s, as a result of the 1966 National Historic Preservation Act, Indiana established a state historic preservation office (SHPO) in the Department of Natural Resources Division of Historic Preservation and Archaeology (DNR-DHPA). In addition to its regulatory responsibilities, this agency has been a leading advocate and resource for historic preservation and archeology throughout the state. A critical initiative in the state’s efforts is long-range planning, which has formed the foundation of historic preservation in Indiana during my tenure as governor. However, preservation planning must involve the participation of all Hoosiers.

In 1997 we created the Preservation Planning Advisory Committee with representatives from throughout the state and invited Indiana citizens to contribute ideas and suggestions to the development of a long-range plan. The public helped identify goals, challenges, and opportunities for preservation of Indiana’s historic and cultural resources. They also helped to create a vision statement that embodies and guides the state’s preservation philosophy: “Indiana will be a state in which people are aware and appreciative of their heritage in all its diverse forms including buildings, districts, structures, landscapes, objects, and archaeological sites.” This vision statement provides purpose and inspiration for all Hoosiers to value the historic remnants of their past, so that we can preserve this irreplaceable heritage for future generations.

Indiana 2016

At this time in Indiana, we feel we have an extraordinary tool as a result of the calendar - an upcoming bicentennial. With this in mind, just a few years ago I created the Indiana 2016 Task Force, which is chaired by my wife Judy. Some would say that the year 2016 is a long time off. In response to that, Judy, other task force members, and their partners are expressing just the opposite -- that our long-term vision, our hopes and dreams, for the state and our communities takes planning and work now. At the core of Indiana 2016’s mission is recognizing and promoting the active involvement of Hoosiers in their communities. Though Indiana 2016 initiatives throughout the state cover a wide range of subject matters and issues, historic preservation and our state’s heritage are among its primary areas of focus. Indiana 2016 works alongside the Indiana Freedom Trails Initiative -- a strong statewide network of people working to preserve and raise an awareness of our Underground Railroad history -- Indiana Main Street, the Indiana Historical Bureau, Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana, and many other groups to build off our strong historic foundation. And, just as our ancestors did, Indiana 2016 encourages Hoosiers to use our “todays” to write the next chapters of Indiana’s history.

Other Outreach and Partnerships

Over the past six years, my administration has focused tremendous resources on education, and our endeavors to promote historic preservation have been a part of this. Publications, workshops, programs, and other outreach activities conducted by our state’s preservation and archeology professionals are invaluable in our efforts to teach and inspire Hoosiers to develop an understanding and appreciation for our history. Through these opportunities, people throughout Indiana have become involved in preserving their historic places and heritage. The SHPO in Indiana serves as one repository of information, a resource for guidance and technical assistance, and is also a primary sponsor of public education opportunities including Archaeology Month, Preservation Week, June-teenth Celebrations, the Underground Railroad Annual Summit, and the Cornelius O’Brien Conference on Historic Preservation.

Preservation does not come without its challenges, and like in Corydon, the state has formed partnerships around Indiana, with businesses, non-profit organizations, and other local, state, and federal government agencies to resolve preservation problems and address related issues of cultural resource management, economic viability, and urban growth. These partnerships are beneficial because our partners also have effective programs in place for preservation planning, education, and action that reach a broad constituency throughout the state. These organizations and agencies help reach more people, increase participation, and expand the focus of events celebrating and preserving Indiana’s heritage. Most important, sharing the opportunity and responsibility to preserve our cultural resources gives all Hoosiers a sense of ownership, stewardship, and pride in Indiana’s historic places.

Celebrating Our History of Cultural Diversity

Recognizing the diversity of Indiana’s people and history is integral to our state’s goal for our preservation efforts. One of our priorities is to investigate and understand Indiana’s earliest inhabitants. Through archeological research and excavation, we are better able to examine and appreciate the prehistoric and historic cultures of the people who lived here hundreds and thousands of years ago. In 1997 I reauthorized Governor Evan Bayh’s executive order that established the Native American Council, which advises the SHPO and other state agencies on issues affecting Native Americans in Indiana. The council also provides a public forum for the presentation and discussion of Native American beliefs, values, ideas, and concerns related to state government policies and procedures.

Another of Indiana’s priorities is to recognize and preserve the contributions of African Americans to Hoosier history. One initiative in which my wife Judy has been especially active is the Indiana Freedom Trails Initiative. In 2000 a research assistantship program provided federal funds through Indiana’s SHPO to assist in the investigation and documentation of Underground Railroad-related sites, trails, events, and participants in the movement throughout the state. We continue to work with a nonprofit organization dedicated to the interpretation and preservation of the Underground Railroad in Indiana, and with the help of the Indiana Historical Bureau, have begun to place Indiana Freedom Trails markers at sites significant to this chapter of our history.

Indeed, many people have traveled through the Hoosier state before and since 1816. This phenomenon has earned Indiana its state motto: The Crossroads of America, which is featured on our new state quarter. Historically, our communities developed along the rivers, canals, rail lines, and roads that crisscross Indiana. Recognizing this, our preservation boundaries have expanded beyond just buildings, neighborhoods of historic homes, and downtown commercial districts, and we have embraced the preservation of the transportation routes that connect our cities and towns and people. Some of these identified preservation opportunities include the Wabash River Heritage Corridor, the Wabash and Erie Canal, the Lincoln Highway, and our two National Scenic Byways -- the Ohio River Scenic Byway and the National Road - U.S. Highway 40.

Identifying Heritage Resources

As Indiana’s governor, I am proud that our state government has continued to take an active role in identifying historic resources and assisting in their protection and preservation. Through a cooperative venture with Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana, we are undertaking a comprehensive survey of all state-owned properties in Indiana. This information will be invaluable in long-range planning and preservation of these important resources.

In 2000 the Indiana General Assembly acknowledged the significance of cemeteries and Native American burial grounds by passing legislation to create the Indiana Registry of Cemeteries. The SHPO is responsible for recording survey information on these sites, as well as enforcing all state laws protecting cemeteries and archeological resources.

As governor, I was pleased to issue an executive order that makes locating state agencies in historic downtowns a priority over new construction options in sprawl areas. These are some of the many ways for government to encourage and participate in community efforts to identify and preserve our historic resources.

As Indiana’s bicentennial approaches, I believe we have tremendous opportunities to continue to strengthen our efforts to preserve our community and state history. To ensure that our heritage is representative of and accessible to all Hoosiers, I took the opportunity to establish the Indiana Heritage and Cultural Council in 2001. Among the council’s primary responsibilities is to develop an inventory of the heritage and cultural services and resources offered through private organizations and local and state agencies, and to create a plan that will guarantee the availability of these resources to all Indiana citizens. This plan will help the state identify services and resources that should be developed as well as opportunities for organizations and agencies to collaborate more effectively.

While our inspiration to preserve Indiana’s historic resources derived from our Hoosier pride, the economic viability and success of historic preservation, and its partner cultural tourism, is giving back to us more than just rehabilitated buildings and attractive urban and rural landscapes. It is reenergizing our citizens and our communities and giving us opportunities to come together to celebrate our common heritage.

Publication Date: Fall 2002


Author(s):Frank O’Bannon