The flurry of innovative public art and modernist architecture is the reason many people come to Columbus, but it’s worth decelerating long enough to take a walking tour of the more old-fashioned downtown, where you’ll find a winning combination of old and new that nicely summarizes the spirit of this city.
The Columbus Area Visitors Center, itself housed in a beautiful 19th-century brick structure a block from downtown, presents several tour options. The downtown walking tour focuses on a couple blocks of Washington Street, Columbus’ main drag lined with pear trees and Victorian buildings that have been accented and updated with decorative details as per designer Alexander Girard. At Dell Brothers Clothing (a men’s store owned by the same family since 1916), old-fashioned haberdashery rules, but half a block away is the former Irwin Union Bank, an award-winning modernist structure owned by locally headquartered Cummins Inc. The newly rebuilt Commons dominates the southern end of downtown Washington Street with a soaring expanse of gleaming glass directly across from the redbrick and limestone Second Empire-style Bartholomew County Courthouse.
Guides set a fairly quick pace, and there’s a small amount of stair climbing involved, but stops are frequent enough to allow visitors time to admire the landmarks and catch their breath. (Those who are more interested in Columbus’ modern buildings than its Midwestern Main Street culture may want to sign up for the visitors center’s architecture bus tour instead.)