We came to Lafayette and West Lafayette, Indiana, for the Frank Lloyd Wright house Samara. We ended up also visiting a wolf park, an important battlefield, Indiana’s newest state park, and an art museum housed in a mansion built for the 1904 Saint Louis World’s Fair that today displays the world’s largest collection of Indiana art. All of this and more awaited us a few months ago when the Purdue University campus was in its quieter summer sessions. If a trip into Boilermaker territory is on your agenda this fall, plan a bit of time away from newly renovated Ross-Ade Stadium to take advantage of the history, art, culture, food, and more from these cities on both sides of the Wabash River. Evansville is 230 miles from Lafayette, about three and one-half hours up Interstate 69.
For our three-day visit, we stayed at the Union Club Hotel at Purdue University. The property was built in phases from 1929 to 1953 as an addition to the Purdue Memorial Union. In 2018, work began on a $30 million alumni-funded renovation of the historic hotel on the edge of the university’s academic campus. The Union Club Hotel is now part of Marriott’s Autograph Collection and the only student-run Autograph Hotel in the world. While this trip did not include tours of Purdue’s 2,500-acre campus, the Union Club Hotel proved to be a great place for respite.
In the early 1950s, Purdue University professor John Christian and his wife Catherine dreamed of a home that would serve their desire to entertain faculty and students and be a lasting structure for their family. Research and perseverance led the couple to Frank Lloyd Wright. Catherine presented Wright with a 27-page document titled, “What We Want for How We Live,” and the esteemed Chicago architect agreed to design the couple’s house.
Samara, named for the winged tree seeds, was mostly completed in 1956 near the end of Wright’s career. The home was built on a modest budget and with the caveat that the Christians would see the famously meticulous architect’s designs through to full completion with local construction. The couple kept this promise.
The John and Catherine Christian House is recognized as one of the most complete Frank Lloyd Wright homes in the U.S. Nestled in a neighborhood on the edge of the Purdue campus, the 2,200-square-foot Samara was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2015. The home affords national and international visitors of all ages the rare and immersive opportunity to experience Wright’s fully realized design as if they were guests of the family. What does this mean? Tour guests are invited to sit in the chairs, on the sofa, and in the dining room chairs — which, I can attest, are heavy!
Today, Indiana Landmarks co-stewards Samara with the John E. Christian Family Memorial Trust, Inc.
“Indiana Landmarks has had a long relationship with Samara and is honored to participate in its stewardship,” says Marsh Davis, president of Indiana Landmarks. “As a National Historic Landmark, it is among the nation’s most significant historic properties and an Indiana treasure.”
Wolf Park, an education, conservation, and research facility in Battle Ground, Indiana, is about 10 miles north of Lafayette. For 51 years, the park has studied wolves and other wild canids to learn about their behavior and assist researchers in the wild. Tours follow a pebbled path around the 78-acre enclosure containing a large body of water, a small forest, and an island sitting under the largest tree in the landscape. Our guide informed us the island is where the wolves birth their pups. Two interns were perched against the tree tending to the pups. During our visit, we also saw the park’s ambassador foxes and bison herd.
TIPPECANOE BATTLEFIELD & MUSEUM
The Tippecanoe Battlefield & Museum is on the site of the Battle of Tippecanoe, William Henry Harrison’s 1811 conflict with the forces of the Tecumseh Native American Confederation and the Shawnee Prophet. An 85-foot marble obelisk monument erected in 1908, a national historic landmark, marks the spot of the battle within the 96-acre park that today offers picnic areas, a nature center, and historic and scenic hiking trails. Look for familiar names on the obelisk’s plaques: Captain Jacob Warrick, a friend to Harrison and soldier who died in the battle — for whom Warrick County is named — is cited.
PROPHETSTOWN STATE PARK
Indiana’s newest state park, Prophetstown, is positioned where the Tippecanoe River meets the Wabash near the town of Battle Ground and offers visitors a unique opportunity to experience the natural beauty of the area as it may have looked before statehood. The park has nearly 2,200 acres of prairie and wetlands to show how the area developed after the last ice age between 12,000 and 16,000 years ago. The park offers camping, swimming, hiking, biking, birding, wildlife observation, and more. An aquatic center features a tube slide, lazy river, zero-entry wading area, and splash zones.
HAAN MUSEUM OF INDIANA ART
The Haan Museum in Lafayette is home to artwork by historic and contemporary Indiana artists, including an impressive collection of works by T.C. Steele and the Hoosier Group — all displayed in a mansion built in 1904 for the Saint Louis World’s Fair. The collection also includes antique American Renaissance Revival furniture from the 1860s. Outside, you can explore the Sculpture Garden and hike a wooded nature trail behind the museum, even when the museum is not open.
The backstory of the museum is fascinating. In 1984, Lafayette residents Bob and Ellie Haan purchased the home then known as the Potter Mansion. The Potters bought the property at auction after the 1904 Saint Louis World’s Fair and had it dismantled, shipped by rail, and reconstructed in Lafayette. The Haans purchased the home for their personal residence where they raised their three sons. In 1992, they began restoration of the building, and at the same time, started amassing a collection of Indiana art. After they realized they had a museum-quality art collection, they decided to upgrade their antique furniture to the best of American furniture, mostly from the Renaissance Revival period of 1860-1890.
In 2013, still living in the home, the couple began offering tours. In 2014, they started expanding their collection with ceramics by Indiana artists. They researched and traveled to the top studios and fine arts programs around the state, and by the end of that same year, they had assembled a significant collection of major ceramic pieces. Visitors from Evansville should look for pieces by retired university ceramic sculptors Lenny Dowhie (University of Southern Indiana) and Les Miley (University of Evansville).
In 2015, the Haans formed the nonprofit Haan Museum of Indiana Art and moved out of the mansion to a new home. They donated the building and grounds to the museum, along with much of the artwork.
Sara Erickson is paid to be enthusiastic about Lafayette and West Lafayette — she’s director of communications for the visitors’ bureau — but her enthusiasm is palpable.
“Lafayette-West Lafayette is a true gem!” Erickson says. “You won’t believe the fantastic vibes you get from the friendly locals, the mouthwatering food scene, and the exciting things to explore. Picture this: Our vibrant community is packed with all sorts of cool things. We have a beautiful downtown full of local shops, restaurants, and public art. We are proud to boast we are home to Purdue University, a college known for its wonderful education, entertainment, and Big Ten sports. Boiler up!”
MAKE THIS YOUR FIRST STOP
Visit Lafayette-West Lafayette, 301 Frontage Road, Lafayette, Indiana
Union Club Hotel at Purdue University
Bruno’s Big O’s Sportsroom
East End Grill
The Igloo Frozen Custard
Red Seven Kitchen + Cocktail
Scones and Doilies
Triple XXX Family Restaurant
Trish’s Red Bird Cafe
Columbian Park Zoo
Downtown Lafayette-West Lafayette
Prophetstown State Park & The Farm at Prophetstown
Frank Lloyd Wright’s Samara, the John and Catherine Christian House
Tippecanoe Battlefield & Museum