Happy 200th Birthday, Indiana: Indiana’s Bicentennial

Writer / Frieda Dowler

Photographer / Forrest Mellott

A 200th birthday is a significant occasion, and beginning in December of last year, individual counties across the state have been celebrating. Indiana, the 19th state to join with the United States of America, turns 200 years old December 11, 2016. Johnson County kicked off a season of commemorating Indiana’s Bicentennial when a flag was erected on the courthouse lawn in December 2015 and will culminate in September with a big celebration.


Residents of Johnson County are invited to the Bicentennial Festival in Franklin, the county seat, September 23. The Bicentennial Relay Torch is being carried 3,200 miles across 92 counties, and the passing of the torch will kick off the opening ceremony. It is patterned after the Olympic torch to inspire and unify communities as “One” Indiana.

County officials will welcome the torch at 5 p.m., and Commissioner Brian Baird will speak on the south side of the courthouse. The celebration will conclude with a concert of songs reminiscent of Indiana life played by a favorite regional band, Tastes Like Chicken, from 7-10 p.m.

In between times, there will history, trivia and old maps for a peek at the past. The Johnson County Museum and Franklin College have created displays depicting life in Johnson County, and they will be shown in a mobile unit parked by the Johnson County Public Library (JCPL) Adult Learning Center at the corner of Monroe and South Main Streets. Accompanying the torch is a Mobile Visitors Center of the history of the State of Indiana.

You won’t want to miss the public art project at the JCPL. Counties across Indiana have purchased white fiberglass life-sized bison and painted them in unique ways, naming this project the Bison-Tennial. It commemorates the bison on the Indiana state seal. Johnson County Rotary Clubs purchased this one for $2,500, and Kira Brant of Art by Kira Studio has coordinated the painting.

Another feature of the festival is the County Marketplace on Monroe and Water Streets. Seven communities of Johnson County are coming together: Greenwood, Whiteland/New Whiteland, Franklin, Bargersville, Trafalgar, Edinburgh and Princess Lakes/Nineveh. They will showcase notable effects from each community.

Tara Payne, Executive Director of Discover Downtown Franklin, says, “This is the first time we have had the entire county collaborate on one event.” The camaraderie has brought the county together like nothing else, and she hopes they can do more together in the future.

As with any celebration, there will be food and drinks. A beer and wine garden will serve libations from the counties’ five craft breweries and two wineries. Food from the county will also be served with the lineup still open to applicants.


Discover Downtown Franklin “creates and promotes community traditions, encourages a healthy economic atmosphere and strives to maintain the unique historical character to central Indiana.” They host four public events a year, plus the weekly Farmers Market from May through September. They are a nonprofit organization that relies on sponsorships for funding events. As hosts of this once-in-a-lifetime Bicentennial event, they are accepting donations from individuals as well as businesses as they bring Johnson County together for the celebration.


Indiana’s history stems from the early inhabitants of Native American Indians. The state’s name means “Land of the Indians.” The nickname Hoosier has been traced to the meaning “who’s there” and shortened to “who’s ‘er” when a backwoodsman saw a stranger walking through their land.

The geography is as varied as its people, stretching from rolling hills in southern Brown County to flat and sandy in the north along the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. Half of Indiana is bordered by water from Lake Michigan to the Wabash and Ohio Rivers. Indiana is the 38th largest state in the union by area and the 16th most populous. Early settlers befriended the Native American Indians as they came from New York in the northeast, Kentucky in the south and Ohio in the Midwest, creating a melting pot of its own with influences that remain today.

Marking the centennial, a legacy of State Parks was created as a gift to the people. Over the second century of statehood, the legacy of basketball and car racing has been created by the people and is a gift to the world. Indiana is credited with the origin of high school basketball, and the enthusiasm surrounding the sport is historic. The former booming automotive industry in Indiana has ties to the auto racing sport, and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is known worldwide.

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