Two Indiana Towns Ranked Among the Best in the Country
Outside of Indianapolis, Fort Wayne, South Bend, and to some degree, my hometown of Evansville, the majority of our home state of Indiana is made up of small towns. I think it's what gives us our Midwest charm and serves as the basis of our well-known, "Hoosier Hospitality." While our "big" cities certainly have their perks; plenty of dining, entertainment, and shopping options, for example, I think you can make the argument there's a stronger sense of community in our small towns. Everyone knows everyone, and many times they offer great small businesses that have been in those areas for generations. Recently, travel website, Far & Wide decided to showcase some of those small towns with a list of the 100 they think are the best in the country with less than 10,000 residents. Two of the towns are right here in the Hoosier State.
Two Small Indiana Towns Ranked Among the Best in America
For its list, Far & Wide opted to rank the towns in order of population, not based on what they offer or what makes the town special. So, while one of the towns in Indiana is technically ranked higher than the other by a considerable margin, it's not because Far & Wide consider the former to be the better of the two.
I'm being a little biased here, but I think it's pretty cool that both towns are located in the southern part of the state less than an hour's drive from Evansville, where I live. Without further adieu, let's take a look at these towns.
#46 Santa Claus, Indiana
Plenty of small towns across America celebrate Christmas during the holiday season but I can't think of one that has dedicated itself and built its reputation on celebrating it year-round like Santa Claus, Indiana.
A roughly 45-minute drive east of Evansville, the Spencer County town was founded in the early to mid-1850s by German immigrants as a farming settlement, according to the Spencer County Visitor's Bureau. Once enough people settled in the area, they applied to receive a post office under the name Santa Fee, Indiana (why they wanted that name is unclear). The government rejected their application because there was already a Santa Fe in northern Indiana.
The Bureau says that according to the legend, following the rejection, residents gathered in a small log church on Christmas Eve to come up with a different name. While the adults put their heads together, their children were running around playing when a gust of wind blew open the church doors and the sounds of sleigh bells could be heard. The children ran to the doors chanting "Santa Claus! Santa Claus!" The adults saw it as a sign, and the name stuck. They reapplied for and were granted a post office under the new name and the rest is history. Is it true? Maybe. Maybe not. But it's a good story, so let's go with it.
Since then the town of 2,586 people has been recognized across the country for its year-round Christmas-themed shops and restaurants and is also home to Holiday World & Splashin' Safari. A holiday-themed theme park that has won several prestigious Golden Ticket Awards (the Oscars for amusement parks, basically) for its wooden roller coasters, water coasters, cleanliness, and value.
#19 New Harmony, Indiana
New Harmony, Indiana in Posey County is a roughly 40 to 45-minute drive west of Evansville and is older than the state itself. According to Visit New Harmony, the town was founded as a utopian community in 1814 (two years before Indiana was granted statehood) by the Harmonie Society, a group of separatists from the German Lutheran Church in Harmonie, Pennsylvania. The town of 763 people almost looks as if it's trapped in time as many of the 180 buildings the Society built after founding the town are still standing today.
The Harmonie Society would eventually leave and return to Pennsylvania, selling the town to an industrialist and social reformer from Wales named Robert Owen, and the Scottish-born man known as the Father of American Geology, William Maclure. The two brought other scientists and researchers to the area on what was called the "Boatload of Knowledge."
The town is best known for its Roofless Church which is attributed to Jane Blaffer Owen, the wife of geologist Kenneth Owen who was a descendent of Robert's. In addition to the Roofless Church (pictured, above), Jane is credited for bringing more modern architecture to the town.
The area is also known for New Harmonie State Park which sits just outside of town. The park is a popular destination for residents from around the region and features a wide variety of hiking and biking trails along with a large campground.
I've been to both towns several times and both make great day trips if you're looking to get out of the noise of the city for a little while.
Check out the rest of the towns that made the list on the Far & Wide website.