Remembered as an industrial center at the turn of the 20th century, the city of Kokomo is in the middle of a renaissance, increasing its population by a third over the last decade.
Kokomo’s industrial era was fueled by the Indiana natural gas boom of the 1880s, and over the next 30 years the city got a reputation for technical innovation.
The City of Firsts, as it became known, gave the world new alloys, the first pneumatic rubber tire and the world’s first commercially produced automobile.
You can tap into this trailblazing spirit at the magnificent homes of industrialists, Monroe Seiberling and Elwood Haynes, as well as on the Industrial Heritage Trail, leading you to factory sites from downtown.
1. Seiberling Mansion & Howard County Museum
One of Kokomo’s wealthiest citizens during the city’s heyday was industrialist and entrepreneur, Monroe Seiberling (1839-1908).
Attracted by the Indiana gas boom, Seiberling owned a papermill and glass factory here, and is remembered as the uncle of the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company founder Frank Seiberling.
The striking Eclectic mansion built for Monroe in 1889 remains an eye-catching landmark in Kokomo’s Old Silk Stocking Neighborhood.
The property has hosted the Howard County Museum campus since the 1970s, and needs to be seen if you’re coming to Kokomo.
The restored interior features sumptuous woodwork and parquetry from numerous woods, including mahogany, cherry, maple, walnut and oak.
There’s also a Moorish motif that appears in the sash lifts, door knobs, plates and hinges. The outstanding feature has to be the rotunda on the third floor, accessed via a grand ballroom.
2. Elwood Haynes Museum
Another fascinating personality from Kokomo’s past is the inventor and entrepreneur Elwood Haynes (1857-1925).
Among Haynes’ many achievements are the invention of new nickel and cobalt alloys, which generated his fortune, and the co-discovery of martensitic stainless steel.
Haynes also made a huge impact on the automotive industry, designing one of the country’s earliest gasoline-powered vehicles in 1894, and the first commercially produced automobile a couple of years later.
He moved into his Prairie School residence in Kokomo in 1916, and since 1967 this fine building has been a museum establishing his position in modern American history.
You can view a small fleet of Haynes automobiles in the garage, while many of his inventions are presented in the main building, along with personal items, photographs and business and personal correspondence.
3. Downtown Kokomo
The old center of Kokomo has much more going for it than you might expect. Main Street and the intersecting arteries are lined with historic buildings going back to the city’s industrial peak.
And in between the numerous Howard County services and administrative buildings are a handful of long-standing businesses. One veteran is Jamie’s Soda Fountain, a classic fast food restaurant pouring soft drinks as they were intended.
At 111 E Sycamore St., Kokomo Toys & Collectibles has become a mecca for collectors from across the Midwest.
Two paths, the Industrial Heritage Trail and the Cloverleaf Trail have opened up railroad corridors to pedestrians and cyclists, while the All Alleys Lead to Art initiative has turned corners of downtown into giant art galleries.
In that vein there’s the Kokomo Sculpture Walk, with nine works of public art to take in. Also don’t forget the Kokomo Jackrabbits, a well-supported college summer baseball team playing at the 4,000-capacity Kokomo Municipal Stadium.
4. Kokomo Opalescent Glass (KOG)
East Central Indiana has a long-standing reputation for glassmaking, and this goes back to that natural gas boom in the 1880s.
That is the origin of the Kokomo Opalescent Glass Works, established in 1888 and officially the oldest glass manufacturer of its kind in the world.
KOG was founded by French immigrant Charles Edward Henry, who relocated his stained glass business here from La Rochelle, New York.
Since that time the company has been a leading supplier to the stained glass industry, including the famed Art Nouveau designer Louis Comfort Tiffany.
You can take a public factory tour on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, when you can see molten glass being ladled and rolled from a 2,500° furnace.
There are also glass-blowing demonstrations from expert artists at the KOG Hot Glass Studio, and you can sign up for a class to make your own piece of glass art. The factory store is open Monday to Saturday.
5. Foster Park
In downtown’s backyard there’s a blissful riverside park linked by the Walk of Excellence, which traces Wildcat Creek through the heart of Kokomo.
The green river banks are picturesque, and dotted with towering old trees, although you need to keep an eye out for feisty geese in summer.
Being so close to downtown, Foster Park is a natural setting for the July 4 fireworks and a hotly anticipated summer concert series at the Kokomo Performing Arts Pavilion here.
A footbridge over Wildcat Creek takes you to the Kokomo Beach Family Aquatic Center, an outdoor water park brimming with attractions.
Normally open May to mid-August, this Kokomo Beach has a leisure pool, a competition/lap pool, a lazy river, a choice of slides and a food court.
6. Highland Park
Kokomo’s population swelled dramatically during the gas boom in the late 19th century, and the roots of this flagship park go back to that time.
Highland Park is on both banks of Kokomo Creek, with large expanses of greenery, tall mature trees and some fascinating curios more than a century old.
At the visitor center you can check a massive stuffed steer and the stump of a giant sycamore tree, and we’ll talk about these below. Crossing the creek is the historic Vermont Bridge, built in the namesake town in 1875 and relocated to Highland Park in 1957.
In the old days, the park was connected to downtown via the Kokomo Street Railway Company trolley line, and an artifact from that period is Rodgers Pavilion, a former trolley station. Other attractions include a modern playground with a zip line, a disc golf course and a host of sports facilities.
7. Old Ben – World’s Largest Steer & Giant Sycamore Stump
In Highland Park make a stop at the visitor center, which houses two old-timey but worthwhile attractions. Behind a window you can see the taxidermied Old Ben, dubbed the “world’s largest steer”.
Born in 1902 at a weight of 125 pounds, he was between 4,585 and 4,720 pounds at his death in 1910, standing 6.5 feet tall and measuring 16.25 feet long.
Old Ben was a star of the Indian State Fair at the turn of the century, and his local owners turned down many lucrative offers from circuses and sideshows.
In the same building is the immense stump of a sycamore tree, which was brought to Kokomo from nearby New London in 1916. This tree is thought to have been around 1,500 years old and was 100 feet tall when it was felled by a storm in 1915.
8. J. Edwards Fine Chocolates and Gourmet Cakes
A local superstar in Kokomo, this much-loved bakery and chocolate shop was established in 2003 and has become a real destination.
The storefront, open Monday to Friday, is at 2106 W Sycamore St, an Aladdin’s cave of artisanal sweet treats.
The handmade chocolates are little works of art, and run the gamut from flavored creams to chocolate-covered caramels, caramel pecan clusters and chocolate-covered strawberries.
J. Edwards makes dozens of different gourmet cakes and cupcakes, including classics like red velvet, black forest and carrot cake, and more unusual creations like maple bacon and snickerdoodle round cake.
The bakery has also made a name for its delectable cheesecakes in varieties like key lime, cookie dough, vanilla, strawberry, blueberry and many more.
9. Industrial Heritage Trail
Heading from downtown, you can use this rail-with-trail to discover Kokomo’s industrial heritage, including Kokomo Opalescent Glass.
Running north to south, the Industrial Heritage Trail is close to six miles long, and connects with the long-distance Nickel Plate Trail, which takes you all the way to Rochester, 40 miles to the north.
In Kokomo the trail takes you past the site of several trailblazing manufacturers. Two big ones are the Kokomo Rubber Company (founded 1895), which produced the country’s first pneumatic rubber tire, and the Haynes Automobile Company (1896), the first commercial car manufacturers in the United States.
10. Jackson Morrow Park
Kokomo’s largest park is in the very south of the city on the banks of Little Wildcat Creek, blending woods with amenities for all kinds of recreation.
Something special here is the Jackson Morrow Walkpath, 1.3 miles long and paved, apart from a scenic bark-chipped section along the creek.
To find out about the natural habitats of Central Indiana you can visit the Kirkendall Nature Center, which has well-presented displays with live and preserved animals.
In winter the park has arguably the best hill in Kokomo for sledding, and among the other facilities are the Kokomo Pipeline Skate Park, a playground, picnic shelters, open fields, tennis courts, a basketball court and a beach volleyball court.
11. Kokomo Speedway
April through October there’s thrilling action on Sunday nights at this racing track in Kokomo’s northern outskirts. Kokomo Speedway is a quarter-mile bullring that hosted its first races as long ago as 1947.
The track was designed for sprint car racing, and sprints and midgets still dominate the schedule. The annual highlight and season closer is the Kokomo Klash, with races in a host of categories while there are fireworks on the Sunday before July 4 and regular monster truck events.
A few famous names to have competed at Kokomo Speedway are Mario Andretti, Jeff Gordon, A. J. Foyt and Ryan Newman.
12. Treasure Mart Antique Mall
If you’re the kind of person who loves to get lost hunting for unique finds in giant antique centers, Kokomo has just the place for you.
Founded in 1995 and with more than 70 dealers, the Treasure Mart Antique Mall is in a former wood-planing mill dating back to 1869.
This beautiful brick building has more than 25,000 square feet of floor space, so you could pass hours checking out the vendors’ wares.
A few specialties are historic advertising, coins, jewelry, pottery, linens, furniture, toys, dolls, books, primitives and fishing equipment.
13. Greentown Glass Museum
Kokomo is on the Indiana Glass Trail, which links historic factories and glass-related attractions across five counties in Eastern Indiana.
You won’t have to travel far to reach the next stop on the trail, at Greentown, just east of Kokomo.
At the turn of the 20th century this town made a name for its collectible glassware, an industry that collapsed following a devastating fire at the Indiana Tumbler and Goblet Factory in 1903.
Items made at the plant are highly coveted today. Hundreds of pieces of opulent Greentown glass, produced between 1894 and 1903, on show at the Greentown Glass Museum, established in 1970 on the 67th anniversary of the fire.
You can admire the many different patterns and colors produced at the factory, and one intriguing exhibit helps you discern genuine Indiana Tumbler and Goblet Factory glass from reproductions.
14. Grissom Air Museum
Around ten miles north of Kokomo is the Grissom Air Reserve Base, established as a U.S. Navy Installation in 1942 and became an Air Force installation after the Korean War. Since being downsized in 1991, the base has also served as a civil airport.
The museum here opened in 1987 and added an indoor exhibit area a few years later. The collection of more than 20 aircraft can be seen at a sensational outdoor park and date mostly from the mid-20th century, when this was a full-fledged U.S. Air Force facility.
A few of the standouts here are a Grumman F-11 Tiger, a McDonnell F-4C Phantom II, a Boeing B-47B Stratojet, a Fairchild Republic A-10A Thunderbolt II and a Grumman F-14 Tomcat, of the kind that featured in Top Gun (1986).
Inside are some compelling exhibits, like the cabin of an HH-1K helicopter and an F-4C cockpit. You can also climb a five-story Cold War-era observation tower for a commanding view of the base.
15. Markland Mall
Along Indiana State Road 931 in the southeast of Kokomo is a large commercial area, with a cluster of shopping centers, big box stores, chain restaurants and this enclosed mall, which has been around since the 1960s.
As with most spots like this, Markland Mall has witnessed a big turnover of retailers in the last decade or so, but all nine anchor stores are still occupied here.
A few familiar brands include Target, American Eagle, Claire’s, Foot Locker, GameStop, Kay Jewelers, Rue21, Bath & Body Works and Petsmart.
For family attractions, the Gravity Trampoline Park is a recent arrival, while the nearest movie theater is AMC Classic Kokomo 12, a few minutes down the road at Kokomo Town Center.