About 30 miles northeast of Indianapolis, Anderson is a city named for the Delaware Chief William Anderson who founded a village on the White River in the late 18th century.
One important phase in Anderson’s history began in the 1880s when natural gas was discovered in the city during the Indiana gas boom.
Natural gas was so abundant here that it seeped from the ground, powering industries like glass-making and spurring a flurry of construction, before suddenly running out in 1912.
Nowadays you can explore Anderson’s historic and vibrant downtown area, home to restaurants, museums and performing arts venues.
Head east out of town and the banks of the White River are lined with a series of picturesque and historically important parks.
1. Mounds State Park
Up the White River on the eastern outskirts of Anderson is a state park protecting mounds built by the indigenous Adena culture more than 2,100 years ago.
Now partially cloaked in woods and accessed by trails, these ten earthworks are thought to have been used for religious ceremonies and are on an impressive scale.
The largest, the Great Mound, a circular earthwork enclosure measuring almost 400 feet across, with a central platform 138 feet in diameter. When the mound was excavated in the 1960s there were several layers of clay and ash, indicating a succession of use periods.
You can browse educational displays about the mounds at the visitor center, while the nature center has interesting wildlife displays, a wildlife viewing room and fun interactive exhibits.
There’s also a campground and pool in the park, as well as a boat launch on the White River for canoe and kayak trips.
2. Downtown Anderson
With bars, restaurants, cultural venues and regular community events, Anderson’s central commercial area has a real bustle, especially in the summer.
Looking around these streets, you can also trace the history of the city through its late 19th-century days, and into the mid-20th century.
Downtown Anderson has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 2006, with 32 contributing buildings.
We’ll cover the Paramount Theatre, Carnegie Library and Gruenewald House below, but a couple of other sights to check out are the Art Deco Tower Hotel (1930), the Anderson Bank Building (1928) and the Union Building, which was the largest office building in the state when it was completed in 1902.
Dickman Town Center, a plaza opposite the Paramount Theatre is a prime spot for outdoor gatherings in summer, including the Anderson City Market.
3. Paramount Theatre
One radiant landmark in downtown Anderson is this movie palace that opened in 1929. The Paramount Theatre was part of the Publix Chain of theaters, owned by Paramount Pictures, which is where the name comes from.
A classic atmospheric theater, this building is in the Spanish Revival style, with a whimsical design in the auditorium evoking a courtyard in a Spanish village under a starry night sky.
This monument was slated for demolition in the 1980s but was rescued by Anderson’s citizens and restored to its 1929 appearance.
Today it’s a stunning place to watch a classic movie or live show or concert by the Anderson Symphony Orchestra. The Festival of Trees gala auction here has been an Anderson Christmas tradition for decades.
4. Anderson Museum of Art
One of downtown Anderson’s finest buildings, a Beaux-Arts Carnegie library from 1905, is the setting for a cherished museum specializing in contemporary art and the art of Indiana.
As an institution the Anderson Museum of Art goes back to the 1960s, and an early benefactor at that time was Nellie Alford Hill, whose industrialist parents had arrived in Anderson in the 1890s during the gas boom.
There’s a busy schedule of exhibits all year, including themed shows drawn from the collection, regional competitive exhibitions and annual displays like the Art Association of Madison County’s fall show.
The museum is also engaged in educational programs, putting on classes and workshops for adults and youth in Anderson.
5. Oakley Brothers Distillery
The easy availability of grains in Indiana makes the state an excellent place to make whiskey. In Anderson there’s a distillery producing handcrafted spirits in a solemn old factory building downtown.
Opened in 2018, the Oakley Brothers Distillery uses grains only from Indiana farms for its bourbon, rye and corn whiskey.
They also make fine crafted limoncello, vodka, blackberry liqueur, agave spirit and Indiana moonshine, with more on the way.
The distillery runs educational programs about distilling and fermentation, while Tuesday to Saturday you can come to the cocktail bar to taste its creations. There’s live music on weekends, a great food menu, as well as games like shuffleboard, cornhole and jenga.
6. Harrah Hoosier Park Racing & Casino
A gaming hub for the Indianapolis area, Harrah Hoosier Park opened as a dirty oval harness racing track in 1994 and is now owned by Caesars Entertainment.
April through November, live harness racing is still a big draw here, and the big date in the calendar is the Dan Patch Stakes, which had a $325,000 prize at the time of writing.
In the 2000s the track became a full-fledged, year-round racino, with the opening of a gigantic single-level casino floor.
This is open 24 hours a day and has 2,000 state-of-the-art slots, with denominations ranging from a penny to $100. There’s also a high-limit gaming area, with new multiplayer electronic blackjack, high-stakes slots and video poker.
7. Museum of Madison County History
A mid-century building downtown has been donated to the Madison County Historical Society, which has an endearing museum here run by volunteers.
You may be shocked by the sheer volume of artifacts and historical insight, so if you’re curious about anything to do with Anderson and its surrounding area, this is the place to start.
One recent exhibit, Before We Were Madison County, had captivating displays of fossils, as well as indigenous tools and arrowheads discovered close by at Mounds State Park.
The interactive WWII County Heroes and Home Front, examined local life and prominent military figures during World War II, while there’s a compelling new permanent exhibit about the Delaware village that gave Anderson its name.
8. Gruenewald Historic House
One sight that may draw your attention in downtown Anderson is this dainty house at 626 Main Street. Coming round to the side you’ll notice that the Gruenewald Historic House is made up of two wings.
The older, simpler, east wing dates to 1865, while the grand, French Second Empire townhouse that greets you on Main Street is from 1873.
The property is on Lot 3 of Andersontown’s original plat and was preceded by a log cabin. Today the building is maintained as a historic house museum, with 12 rooms presenting furniture and homemaking artifacts from the turn of the 20th century.
There’s also a collection of artifacts from Anderson’s early days in the Dr. J. B. Nicholson Museum Room.
9. Shadyside Memorial Park
The origins of this tranquil park along Killbuck Creek go back to 1897 as a private recreation space for employees of the Union Traction Company, an interurban railroad.
Shadyside Memorial Park was purchased by the city in the 1920s and dedicated it to Madison County war veterans. The park’s most celebrated memorial was added a few years later, when a grand stone terrace was landscaped by local nurseryman Milton H. Gaar.
Previously known as the Japanese Gardens, the terrace is a favorite spot for wedding photographs in Anderson.
Elsewhere the park has a host of typical recreation facilities, from a creekside bike trail to a children’s playground, as well as a set of man made caves created by the Works Progress Administration during the Great Depression.
10. Indy Scream Park
When spooky season approaches, you may be pleased to know that one of the top haunted house attractions in Indiana is a few minutes south of downtown Anderson.
With six attractions at one location, Indy Scream Park is the work of two pros with years of experience in the haunted house industry.
One attraction, Nightmare Factory plunges you into pitch darkness as you negotiate your way through a power plant over the gates of hell, while Killgore’s 3D Circus is big top nightmare fuel, even if you don’t already have a clown phobia.
Finally, Zombie Paintball Assault is the closest thing you can get to fighting your way through a zombie apocalypse.
At the time of writing, Indy Scream Park had added a horror-themed beer garden managed by a demonic clown.
11. Bronnenberg House
Close to the visitor center at Mounds State Park stands the handsome Bronnenberg House, a five bay, four-story Federal-style residence built for the local landowner in around 1850.
This is the only surviving structure from a sprawling farm that once included a barn, smokehouse, corn crib, summer kitchen and many more outbuildings.
Frederick Bronnenberg, Jr., who built this house, recognized the historical significance of the mounds on his land, avoiding plow damage and guarding them against looters.
That diligence created a legacy that eventually led to the foundation of the state park in 1930. There’s an interpretive board in front, and the preserved house is open for tours on weekends in the summer and during the holiday season when it has festive decorations.
12. Rangeline Nature Preserve
The city owns this 180-acre riverside nature preserve, just downriver from Mounds State Park. What really puts Rangeline Nature Preserve on the map is its network of mountain biking trails, making full use of the dramatic topography and variety of vegetation.
The six-mile expert trail (black) is one of the most technical in Indiana, with drops, skinnies, log crossings, teeter totters and other crossings.
There’s also an intermediate (blue) and a novice trail (green), three miles and two miles long respectively. All trails are clearly marked with arrows.
13. Anderson Speedway
For fans of stock car racing, there’s a quarter-mile, steeply banked oval less than five minutes southwest of downtown Anderson.
During the summer season, Anderson Speedway attracts big crowds for Saturday evenings loaded with action from several divisions, including legends, mini cups, late models, midgets and winged and non-wing sprint cars.
It was here in 2010 that a winged sprint car set a quarter-mile paved oval world-record lap time of 10.28 seconds.
There’s always a big event at this track to celebrate the 4th of July, with fireworks after dark and a crowd-pleasing race schedule that even features school buses and trailers.
14. White River Paintball
On the same property as Indy Scream Park is the largest outdoor paintball facility in the state. Open for more than 20 years now, White River Paintball is a paintball go-to for the Indianapolis area, with as many as 12 immersive themed fields to play in.
These have evocative names like Omaha Beach (with a full-size landing craft), Skid Row, The Alamo, Jungle, Cambodia and Airstrip, which has a genuine Sikorsky helicopter that saw action in Vietnam.
A full range of rental equipment is available for players, and there are open play sessions every weekend so you can get right into the action playing games like president, capture the flag, medic, ambush and freeze tag.
15. Anderson City Market
Anderson has had a farmers’ market since the early 2010s, and it’s a weekly institution, May through mid-October.
You’ll find a great choice of vendors every Saturday 9am to 1pm, at Dickmann Town Plaza by the Paramount Theatre.
The selection changes during the course of the summer, but as a rule you can grab local fruit and vegetables, eggs, honey, baked goods, coffee, plants and a variety of handicrafts.
At the time of writing there was a winter market at Collective Roots Local Market & Cafe, on the east side of downtown.