I think it’s safe to say that I’ve found America’s most beautiful university campus.
Located deep in America’s Midwest, You may not have heard of Bloomington, Indiana but I’m sure you’ve heard of Indiana University – or IU – one of the top public universities in the country. Crimson and cream pride, the universities colours, can be spotted all around town, becoming more obvious the closer you get to campus.
I tend to shy away from university towns. Call me old fashioned, but they’ve always felt a little too rambunctious – I thought I’d rather be exploring big cities, museums or eating all the food than hanging out in a student-filled pub or bar – and I’ve never really considered them as culturally ‘interesting’.
Bloomington changed all of that.
Better known as B-Town by the locals, Bloomington is charming. In fact, after five days, I declared I wanted to move there, and not just for Mother Bear’s Pizza – but we’ll talk about that later.
It’s a blend of big-little city vibes, a thriving arts scene, and an emerging culinary scene, while still giving you the opportunity to escape into nature in just minutes; and then there’s that College Town atmosphere. There’s always something to do or a sporting team to cheer on.
While I was ready to don the crimson and cream on Friday night, I was told that football – that’s NFL to the Aussies – is played from the spring to winter each year – darn it!
If you said you wanted to walk through any of the universities in Australia, most people would be confused why. Modern buildings, modern amenities, maybe one or two grand sandstone buildings and some campus-style food, but not much else. The other issue? Most Australian universities are smack bang in the middle of suburbia.
Indiana University is a little different.
Following the red-brick path that begins at Indiana University’s main entrance, The Sample Gates, and winds its way through the immense grounds, you’ll wander past manicured gardens – red and white flowers blooming from spring – and see a stunning mix of classical architecture which makes up much of the campus.
Nearly every building at IU incorporates locally quarried Indiana Limestone into its design; the same rock that built The Empire State Building, The Pentagon, and even parts of the facade of the new Yankee Stadium! The mash of architectural styles since the 1890’s, when the first two buildings were constructed on campus, just adds to the fairytale feeling.
Due to the significance of the architecture on the grounds, nine of the campus’ buildings have been included in a national historical district known as The Old Crescent, including the Student Service building (below) built-in a Collegiate Gothic style and the Richardsonian Romanesque style Maxwell Hall (far below).
Having hand cut and carved the materials, the buildings exteriors are decorated with ornate carvings, as well as a few quirky secrets for passersby to uncover for themselves.
A good book is the precious life-blood of a master-spirit
Carved into the facades or hidden around corners, there are 100 years of skilled masonry, inscriptions, and symbols waiting to be discovered.
To the keen eye, you can find the buildings adorned with books, coiled serpents, and students snoozing while studying. There are chemical compounds, DNA codes, and medical symbols atop building entryways; Quotes by great philosophers adorning seating areas and oh so many owls, the symbol of knowledge and wisdom.
Only one building in the campus features limestone carvings inside. Bryan Hall’s foyer is adorned with carved shields representing each of the schools within the university.
Indiana limestone – also known as Bedford limestone – is regarded as some of the highest quality quarried in the United States. If you are interested in learning more about limestone, or want to uncover the secrets of Indiana University, I highly recommend trying to take a tour with limestone geologist Brian Keith, available during Limestone Month each June.
Alongside expert insight, Brian’s two-hour campus walks will teach you the myths and stories of IU and plenty of inscriptions, symbols and carvings which many people wouldn’t see at first glance from a man who has studied and worked in the field for many years.
The Indiana Geological Society (IGS) also has a limestone campus tour map if you prefer to take the self-guided option or are short on time.
Even the students practice their inscribing skills, albeit on a much softer material than limestone. If you pass through one of the archways you might come across a tiny courtyard with a single tree with the initials of college sweethearts carved into the trunk. Okay, so maybe this one isn’t unique to IU.
Question critically, think logically, communicate clearly, act creatively
“Veritas Filia Temporis” – “Truth is the daughter of time”
The nature of the body is the beginning of medical science – Hippocrates
While you wander through campus, there are other places well worth spending some time.
The Kinsey Institute, named after Dr. Alfred Kinsey, one of the world’s foremost experts on the study of human sexual behaviour, has a significant collection of art, artefacts and photographs documenting human sexuality and exploration from around the world and tours can be taken daily.
The Indiana University Art Museum has a collection of over 43,500 objects created through 40 centuries, including pieces by Pablo Picasso and influential American artist Jackson Pollock. The museum is free and open to the public Tuesdays through Sunday and offers a free weekly tour to the public.
But there was one spot I lingered a little longer. The Lilly Library was named after Josiah K. Lilly, Jr., owner of one of Indiana’s biggest companies, Lilly Pharmaceuticals, when he donated his personal collection of 20,000 books and 17,000 manuscripts, as well as oil paintings and prints, to Indiana University in the 1950’s. Today, the Lilly Library contains more than 400,000 rare books, 6.5 million manuscripts and 100,000 pieces of sheet music, and an Oscar.
Presented to John Ford for Best Direction of “How Green was my Valley” in 1941, the Oscar, one of many won by Ford, is now in the libraries collection. You can even pick it up and take photos with it, providing you agree to the strict white glove policy. In fact, many of the items in the collection can be touched and read.
Two of my favourite pieces were “The Infant’s Library”, created in the early 1800’s as an experiment in creating books for children, and one of the first hand drawn atlases.
Among its collection, the Lilley Library has more than 60,000 comic books and graphic novels. Its most rare are first appearances of many Marvel superheroes, including Spiderman, Iron Man and the Incredible Hulk. Then there are all of the original manuscripts for Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels, and a collection of mechanical puzzles, similar to Rubix Cubes as they have to be manipulated in a certain way to reach the goal.
One of the more interesting collections is a set of photos and letters from Ernie Pyle (below). An Indiana-born, Pulitzer Prize-winning American journalist, who served in the United States Navy Reserve during World War I; Ernie Pyle was on the front lines of war during World War II. First from the home front, and later from the European and Pacific theatres. His syndicated column ran in more than 300 newspapers across America until he was killed by enemy fire during the Battle of Okinawa in 1945.
The letters he wrote shows his quick wit and tells fascinating encounters from his time out in the field. Of course, in the letters to his wife, things were toned down and told more of the life on the front lines, while the letters to his close friend tell of the narrow escapes and harsh conditions of war time, but jovially addressed to “Mr Shitface”.
The Lilley Library frequently hosts special events which give students, faculty and visitors the opportunity to explore the diversity of the libraries catalogue.
All the walking, talking and exploring will leave you hungry. Located conveniently opposite campus, Mother Bear’s Pizza has been voted the best pizza in Bloomington for 10 years straight. Over the years, it’s been awarded “Best Pizza in Indiana” by USA Today and People Magazine selected it as “one of America’s top nine pizzas” – basically, you need to try this pizza!
The well-worn wooden booths, all graffitied by students in pen and Sharpie, and the red and white decor is warm and inviting. I could imagine spending a night hanging out with friends, eating great pizza and drinking beers both in summer and the cold winters. A family business opened in 1973, you’ll often find the owners, especially Ray, walking around making sure everyone is enjoying their slice and having a good time. He chuckled when I asked if he’d consider delivering to Melbourne.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from the Midwest. I thought I’d like it, maybe even want to visit again. I didn’t think I’d love it, and I sure didn’t think I’d find America’s most beautiful University campus.
Bloomington changed all of that.
Now it’s over to you:
What university do you think has the most beautiful campus?
Do you prefer small towns or big cities?
Let me know in the comments below!
107 S Indiana Avenue
Mother Bear’s Pizza
1428 E 3rd Street
How to get to Bloomington:
The Indianapolis International Airport is the nearest major airport. Indianapolis Airport (IND) is serviced by most major airports across the USA and some international destinations. You can plan your journey to Indianapolis here.
When you arrive in Indy, the easiest way to get to Bloomington is by shuttle. I used Go Express Travel which cost me $18 online ($20 if you purchase it at the airport) and runs every two hours.
While in Bloomington, I stayed at the Courtyard Marriott which offered comfortable, basic facilities close to downtown Bloomington and a 10 minute walk away from Indiana University.
For a unique experience, you can stay on-campus at the upscale Indiana Memorial Union – Biddle Hotel, just minutes from all downtown Bloomington has to offer.
You can find more hotels in Bloomington here.
If you wanted to include Bloomington as part of a longer trip, you could easily pair the city with other Midwest destinations: check out the fast cars and natural beauty in Indianapolis or take a road trip along Arts Road 46 which connect Columbus, Brown County and Bloomington – three distinct art communities in Southern Indiana.
Louisville, Kentucky is a two-hour drive away and Cincinnati, Ohio is only two and a half drive away.
Due to the location of Bloomington, as well as the road trip opportunities, it may be easier to rent a car, however, once you are in Bloomington, it’s easy to walk around or take a taxi.
Read more about Indiana:
I was in Bloomington for TMS Showcase with Visit Bloomington.
All thoughts and opinions are, as always, my own.