The seat of Delaware County in East Central Indiana originated as a Lenape (Delaware) village along the White River in the late 18th century.
It’s hard to talk about Muncie without mentioning the Ball brothers, five industrialist siblings who relocated their glass factory here from Buffalo in the 1880s during the Indiana gas boom.
Known for making canning jars, the Balls influenced local life in many ways, and eventually became the benefactors of Ball State University, still an integral part of Muncie’s economy, life and character, with more than 21,500 students enrolled at the last count.
One famous alumni is Garfield creator, Jim Davis, born not far away in Marion, while in the 80s and early 1990s Bob Ross filmed his beloved show, the Joy of Painting at a PBS station in Muncie.
In the early 1890s the Ball family purchased a big chunk of the land on the north bank of the White River for their estate.
This was titled Minnetrista, a neologism meaning “gathering place by the water”. All but one of the brothers’ mansions are still standing, and their gardens and grounds can be a refined backdrop for a walk.
Oakhurst (1895), George Alexander Ball’s house, is open to the public for tours, with a first floor furnished as it was in the 1920s. In 1988 the Minnetrista Cultural Center, funded by the Ball Brothers Foundation, opened on the campus.
You can head to the main center building for captivating exhibits on a vast range of topics, from regional history to the opioid crisis.
On Saturdays in summer the campus hosts a popular farmers’ market, and reaches out to the community with glassmaking and painting workshops, one-off markets, talks, performing arts and seasonal celebrations.
2. David Owsley Museum of Art
A priority in Muncie has to be this superlative art museum on the Quad, with free public admission.
The David Owsley Museum of Art is in the Collegiate Gothic Fine Arts Building, and was present when this grand structure was unveiled in 1936.
The museum is named in honor of David T. Owsley, grandson of one of the five Ball brothers, Frank C. Ball, and has an inventory that extends to more than 11,000 works, a portion of which was personally collected by the Ball Family.
The collection is wide-ranging, encompassing Modern and Contemporary Art, Ancient art, all eras of European fine art, as well as hundreds of pieces from Africa, Oceania, Asia.
A couple areas of speciality are the Hoosier Group of Impressionists and Ancient Greek and Roman coins. The museum’s temporary exhibitions also warrant closer attention, and there’s a busy schedule of tours and special events throughout the year.
3. Downtown Muncie
It’s safe to say that Muncie’s central commercial district deserves your time now more than ever.
A process mirrored in cities across the country, downtown Muncie has been rejuvenated in the last 20 years, and is a friendly community waiting to share its story.
On a canvas of fine 19th century architecture and spruced up sidewalks there’s a wide selection of bars and restaurants, a surprising choice of entertainment venues and close to 30 retail shops that you can’t find anywhere else.
Downtown Muncie puts on 50 days of events throughout the year, and one of the regulars is First Thursday, when you can sample the city’s arts scene.
4. Cardinal Greenway
Muncie is served by Indiana’s longest rail trail project, extending for more than 60 miles through five counties in East Central Indiana.
The Cardinal Greenway is on the right of way of an old CSX freight railroad, opening in phases since the corridor was purchased from the CSX corporation by a not-for-profit organization in 1993.
The trail takes on special importance in Muncie, as the Cincinnati, Richmond and Muncie Depot (1901) here is home to a visitor center for the entire trail system.
This handsome restored station is a trove of artifacts and photographs charting the region’s railroad history. On its way from Richmond to Marion, the trail hugs the White River in Muncie, connecting with the White River Greenway Trail, before cutting north close to McCulloch Park.
5. Bob Ross Experience
Not many people know that the much loved PBS instructional art show, The Joy of Painting, was filmed right here in Muncie at East Central Indiana’s PBS member station, WIPB.
From 1983 to 1994 Bob Ross became a fixture in many American households, loved for his gentle presenting style, soft voice and no lack of skill with a brush.
That studio is in the historic Lucius L. Ball House, on the Minnetrista campus, and has been turned into a visitor attraction.
Awaiting you is a detailed recreation of the studio, as well as works by the prolific Ross, and personal effects like the hair pick for his famous perm, his easel, palette and brushes.
There’s also a living room from the Reagan era, temporary art exhibits and regular painting workshops channeling Ross’s famous positivity.
6. National Model Aviation Museum
Out in the countryside off State Road 67, just east of Muncie is a sprawling complex dedicated entirely to model aviation.
This is the International Aeromodeling Center (IAC), on a 1,100-acre site, with facilities for all aspects of aeromodeling.
You can come by in the summer months for the National Model Aviation Museum, which has a staggering collection of more than 11,000 artifacts.
Neatly presented in display cases and hanging from the ceiling are scores of free flight, control line and radio control aircraft, accompanied by a massive catalog of accessories and memorabilia, from event patches to antique books.
The center has flying facilities for all types of aeromodeling, so you may catch a demonstration or competition when you visit.
7. Muncie Children’s Museum
Established in the 70s by a philanthropic sorority, the Muncie Children’s Museum has been housed in a wing of the Horizon Convention Center downtown since 1996.
This sizable venue, at 24,000 square feet, offers ample space for experiential and open-ended exhibits.
To highlight a few of the many attractions, kids can discover the power of flowing water at Water Works, learn some animal husbandry basics at the Veterinarian Office, get behind the wheel at The Big Rig, find out about healthy choices at the Nutrition and roleplay a shopping trip at the Marsh Market.
There’s plenty of opportunity for kids to be active, particularly at the Tot Spot, for under fives, and the Discovery Park, which also has live animals in terrariums.
8. Made in Muncie Pottery
You can discover your inner artist at this studio and gallery right in downtown Muncie. Made in Muncie is open to walk-ins, so you can just drop by and get comfortable working on your own creation.
The way it works is that you’ll select from a variety of moulded or hand-thrown bisque (unglazed pottery, fired once), and can get to work designing a unique piece.
The staff will be happy to help, providing brushes, stencils, sponges and more, and offer expert design tips. When you’re happy with your creation, the piece will be glazed and fired once more, and can be picked up around a week after your visit.
Made in Muncie also schedules workshops and private lessons if you’re interested in the craft of pottery, from working the wheel to glazes and firing.
9. Muncie Civic Theatre
A mainstay for Muncie’s arts scene for more than a century, the Muncie Civic Theatre is a treasured showcase for the creative talent in the Muncie area.
The theatre is part of the handsome Boyce Block, which was raised in 1880, and the western section was sold in 1904 to become an 800-seat stage for vaudeville and burlesque. Performers from that era include the Marx Brothers and Red Skelton.
In 1961 this became the home of the Muncie Civic Theatre, founded three decades before by William H. Ball, son of William C. Ball, of the Ball Brothers.
More than 60 years later, the recently renovated theatre is in rude health, without a bad seat in the house. Come for exceptional mainstage shows, from musicals to comedies and dramas, while there’s a rich program of youth and children’s performances.
10. Emens Auditorium
Another cultural pillar for Muncie is this capacious auditorium on the Ball State campus, completed in 1964 and seating 3,581.
As well as staging college functions, the Emens Auditorium is a big performing arts venue for the eastern Indiana Region.
The calendar is filled with Broadway shows, shows by stand-up comedians, dance performances, important speakers and concerts by famous touring artists and the Muncie Symphony.
Some of the famous names to have taken the stage here are Louis Armstrong, Igor Stravinsky, Simon and Garfunkel, Stevie Wonder, Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, Dave Chapelle, George Carlin, Neil Young and political figures, Henry Kissinger, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Regan.
11. McCulloch Park
By the north bank of the White River, Muncie’s largest community park is a couple of minutes from downtown.
McCulloch Park dates to the 1890s and is named for George F. McCulloch, the newspaper publisher who donated these 118 acres to the city, and whose statue can be found on the south side.
The park has had a long connection to the sport of baseball, with a baseball field that was home to two short-lived local professional teams, as well as the Pittsburgh Pirates for spring training during WWII.
There’s a wealth of other amenities at the park, including a hill for soapbox derbies and sledding, an 18-hole disc golf course, playgrounds, picnic shelters, basketball courts and a cabin that can be rented.
12. Boulder Falls Mini Golf and Batzone
Families, couples on dates or groups of friends wondering what to do in Muncie in summer could set their sights on this mini golf course and batting cage attraction on Muncie’s northwest side.
As the name suggests, the 18-hole course is set in rugged landscaping, with a waterfall cascading down a pile of boulders and feeding a creek that winds through the course.
Without wacky obstacles, the course has well designed holes that pose a challenge and never lose their sense of fun.
There are lots of seasonal events throughout the season until the course closes just after Halloween. The batting cages here are affordable, and when we wrote this article you could hit 144 balls for as little as $11.
For a post-game treat, make sure to stop at the Frozen Boulder ice cream shop just across the parking lot.
13. Ball State Cardinals
Another advantage of having a university on the doorstep is the amount of high-quality sports action available to the community.
During the semester Ball State has no fewer than 18 Division I athletic teams, and you can head along to lend your support to the Cardinals.
The largest venue is the 22,500-capacity Scheumann Stadium, which was inaugurated in 1967 and is home field for the football team.
The Cardinals have claimed four division titles in their history, and the team’s heyday came quite recently when in 2008 they were ranked 12th in the nation with a perfect regular season record of 12-0.
You can catch men’s and women’s basketball games at the Worthen Arena, which opened in 1992 and can seat 11,500 people, with state-of-the-art video and scoreboards installed in 2015.
14. Indiana Glass Trail
Muncie was given a shot in the arm in the 1880s when the Ball brothers decided to switch their glass company from Buffalo, NY to Muncie, thanks to the abundant natural gas found locally.
Nowadays, Minnetrista and the Ball family estates in Muncie are part of a glass-related tourism trail that spans five states in Indiana.
If you’re keen to learn more there’s a historical marker at the site of the Balls’ factory, at 1401 East Memorial Drive in Muncie.
Meanwhile, the Marilyn K. Glick Center for Glass at Ball State University continues Muncie’s glassmaking legacy, and has viewing windows in the front atrium, letting you see artists at work in the hot shop.
Around 20 minutes out of Muncie in Dunkirk, there’s a superb museum for the area’s glass industry, filled with 8,000 pieces of glassware.
Back at Minnetrista you can purchase wonderful pieces by the Ball State Glass Guild at Minnestra’s Orchard Shop.
15. Delaware County Fair
The enormous Delaware County Fairgrounds are just next to Minnetrista, and provide the setting for arts and craft shows, livestock shows, swap meets, flea markets and concerts throughout the year.
But the biggest and most hotly anticipated event of all is the week-long Delaware County Fair, the roots of which can be traced all the way back to the 1830s.
As is tradition, there’s an All Horse Parade through Muncie on the Sunday before the fair, with horses, ponies, marching bands, wagons and carriages, comprising one of the largest single gatherings of horses east of the Mississippi.
As they were in the early days, livestock and crop exhibits are the soul of the fair, and are accompanied by carnival rides and games, a packed schedule of motorsports and familiar fair bites.
There’s also five days of harness horse racing on a track dubbed the fastest half-mile in the world, the climactic event being the famed Little Brown Jug race.