The Knickerbocker Saloon in downtown Lafayette was established more than 175 years ago, making it the oldest bar in the entire state. Many famous folks are said to have stopped by for some spirits over the years, including Mark Twain, Al Capone, President Grant and Purdue alum Neil Armstrong—although rumor has it this moonwalker isn't much of a drinker.
Hi. Howdy. What's up? You're likely to hear those greetings and more at the Hello Walk on the Purdue University campus. It originally referred to a single walkway that wound itself from the campus main entrance to University Hall, but it now includes a web of sidewalks across Memorial Mall. Tradition designates that you stop and say hello, or at least give a smile, to anyone you meet along the way.
It's a bird. It's a plane. Wait, no, it's…a balloon? Lafayettans may have gazed questioningly into the sky on Aug. 17, 1859, which marked the flight of "Jupiter," the first official air mail balloon. The balloon was launched from Lafayette and carried pilot Professor John Wise and a bag of mail. Wise may have been a wise man, but adverse winds kept him from piloting Jupiter to its intended destination of New York. The mail was instead delivered by train.
The Wabash and Erie Canal have long provided transportation to and from Lafayette. In the early 1850s, Italian artisans from New York traveled these waterways to plaster the parlor ceilings of Moses Fowler's Gothic Revival home. The building still stands along South Street and is rented out for weddings and other affairs. The house functioned as the Tippecanoe County Historical Museum from 1941 to 2005, and it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971.
The Tippecanoe Battlefield was the site of a cultural conflict between Native Americans and white settlers. Today, the site is home to a museum, nature center and hiking trails and draws tens of thousands of visitors each year. The battlefield is a designated National Historic Landmark and sits about seven miles north of Lafayette in Tippecanoe County.
Lafayette is a city with a rich history and many firsts. An example? The site of the first fortified European settlement in what is now considered Indiana can be found about five miles southwest of Lafayette. Established in 1717, Fort Ouiatenon no longer stands, but its existence is still marked and celebrated. The site of the fort now hosts the annual Feast of the Hunters' Moon festival, where visitors can get a glimpse of 18th century life and witness traditional Native American dances.
The construction of the Wabash and Erie Canal in the 1840s was designed to establish Lafayette as a major hub of transportation. But by the 1870s's, thanks to floods and the constant need for repairs, the canal came to be known as more of a health hazard than anything else.
Purdue University, located in neighboring West Lafayette, has a profound effect on life and commerce in Lafayette. John Purdue, the benefactor for whom the university is named, was born in Shirleysburg, Pa., but he met his death in Lafayette. He is buried on the main Purdue campus in West Lafayette. Purdue made a gift of $150,000 in 1869 that was used to start the school.
Many famous faces have walked the halls of Purdue University, including at least 22 alumni who have been selected for space flight. The university graduated both the first man to set foot on the moon—Neil Armstrong—and the last astronaut to bid it adieu—Eugene Cernan.
Lafayette has had not one, not two, but three county courthouses. Erected in 1882, the Tippecanoe County Courthouse in Lafayette is the third court structure to grace the downtown square. Before it was built, citizens came together and presented builders with a whopping 45 pages of instructions for how they wanted it constructed. They must have done something right, because this architectural beauty and registered National Historic Place still delights onlookers.
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