At this city, east of Indianapolis, you can tap into Indiana’s 130-year love affair with basketball.
New Castle is home to both the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame and the New Castle Fieldhouse, the world’s largest high school gymnasium, with a capacity of 9,325.
Founded 200 years ago, New Castle was a major manufacturing center at the turn of the 20th century. When it opened in 1907, the Maxwell automobile factory here was the largest facility of its kind in the world.
This plant was later owned by Chrysler, and the corporation remained a part of life in New Castle until the start of the 21st century.
For transport history of a different kind, the birthplace of flight pioneer Wilbur Wright can be found a short way east of New Castle, and has a fine museum about his early career and the Wright Flyer that he invented with his brother Orville.
1. Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame
Safe to say that basketball is a big deal in Indiana. The state has a deep connection to this sport that can be compared to football in the Southern United States or baseball in New York and New England.
There’s even a term, Hoosier Hysteria, to describe the state’s enthusiasm for basketball, but mainly the Indiana high school basketball tournament.
The Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame was established in 1962 and relocated to this purpose-built facility in New Castle in 1990.
Among the many notable inductees are Larry Bird, Gregg Popvich, Chuck Tayor and John Wooden, and special attention is paid to the athlete’s high school career for induction.
The accompanying museum is brimming with memorabilia, smartly displayed and including jerseys, pennants, photographs, letter jackets, game balls, nets, scoreboards and a great deal more.
2. Henry County Historical Society Museum
The Henry County Historical Society has a long history of its own, going back to 1887. Since 1902, this volunteer-run organization has been based in the Gen. William Grose House (1870), an elegant 16-room Italianate mansion built for the namesake Civil War veteran, lawyer and politician.
On three floors the museum has an exciting overview of the county’s 200-year past. You’ll find local industrial artifacts, Maxwell vehicles, quilts and textiles of all descriptions, military artifacts from every U.S. war and collections for artists in the area.
The society also maintains a sensational genealogy library. One outstanding piece is the Thadeus Coffin Desk, a completely unique inlaid desk composed of more than 53,000 individual pieces, and taking its maker, another Civil War veteran, 35 years to complete.
3. Summit Lake State Park
Minutes north of New Castle is the 2,680-acre Summit Lake State Park, made up of a tapestry of habitats. There’s an 800-acre lake, woodlands, prairie restoration, wetlands and old fields.
In the southwest corner is the Zeigler Woods Nature Preserve, the only dedicated nature preserve in the county.
As well as a cherished fishing destination, the lake has a gorgeous beach, which is clean, spacious and perfect for summer outings.
Among the amenities at the park are 120 electric campsites, three boat ramps, two large open shelters, a beach bathhouse and canoe, paddleboard and rowboat rentals.
With its abundant prairies and wet meadows the park is a magnet for migratory bird species, from bald eagles to sandhill cranes, least bitterns, American bitterns and black terns.
4. Farmer’s Pike Festival
For three days over Labor Day Weekend there’s an ever-growing arts and crafts fair that has been going for more than four decades.
Farmer’s Pike Festival started out in 1980 as a rummage sale, but has expanded both in scale and scope.
There are now upwards of 400 spaces for vendors selling anything from antiques to handcrafted jewelry.
These are combined with a feast of live music, with an emphasis on genres like country, gospel and bluegrass. Then you’ve got a staggering list of food options, with something to suit every palate.
5. Park Restaurant
On the retail corridor along Indiana State Road 3 is a family restaurant that was founded in 1944 and is now in its third generation.
Originally based 20 miles away in Rushville, Park Restaurant is a well-known spot in the region, highly praised for its service and generous portions. There are a few specialties that first-timers need to consider.
One is the hand-breaded tenderloin, but you also need to consider the biscuits and gravy and the beef Manhattan. For dessert there’s a selection of homemade pies, from pecan to cherry, while the cobblers are a treat.
6. Wilbur Wright Birthplace and Museum
This remote farmhouse, eight miles east of downtown New Castle is the birthplace of a man who made an immeasurable impact on the modern world.
Wilbur Wright (1867-1912) was one half of the Wright Brothers, who invented, built and flew the world’s first successful motor-operated airplane at Kitty Hawk, NC in 1903.
Wilbur’s parents only lived at this property for three years, and his younger brother Orville was born in Dayton, Ohio in 1871. The museum is a joy, celebrating Wilbur’s legacy and painting a picture of rural life in Henry County in the 19th century.
The farmhouse, barn, smoke house and grounds look much as they did in the 1860s, while Main Street tells the story of the brothers’ various ventures before they became epoch-making airplane engineers.
One awe-inspiring exhibit is a full-size replica of the 1903 Wright Flyer, built across ten years and intended for flight.
7. New Castle Motorsports Park
A few miles southwest from downtown is one of the few world-class karting facilities in the United States.
The main track here is a mile-long road course that has a high-speed 950-foot back straight, 60 rental garages, an on-site shop and offers numerous possible configurations.
As the home of the Kart Racers of America, New Castle Motorsports Park hosts numerous important events, including tour stages for the United States Pro Kart Series.
The park is open mid-March through mid-November, and you can often watch high-class competition for free during race days. Check the schedule for public walk-in rental slots on the road course (minimum age 14) or the Slick Track Oval, which has no minimum age.
8. Henry County Memorial Park
On New Castle’s northwestern margins is a 362-acre public park that opened in the wake of World War I, and hosts numerous outdoor events spring through fall.
At the park’s south end is a chain of fishing ponds that attract a lot of birdlife in the warmer months.
Henry County Memorial Park also has no fewer than 18 picnic shelters that can be rented, along with amenities for baseball/softball, soccer, basketball, tennis and volleyball.
On the west side is the Memorial Park Golf Course, a municipal course that dates back to 1926. Among the main events taking place in the park is the Henry County 4-H every July, as well as the July 4th Fireworks Funfest.
9. Henry County Farmers’ Market
Complemented by downtown New Castle’s historic architecture, the Henry County Farmers’ Market is a joyous community event taking place on Saturday mornings, late May through October.
The location is the newly remodeled 1400 Plaza on Broad Street, and the market was just coming up for its 10th anniversary when we wrote this list.
There are upwards of 20 vendors each week, and you’ll have a great opportunity to connect with local producers and find out more about their goods.
On a normal week you can buy seasonal fruit and vegetables, chicken, beef, cheese, eggs, coffee, honey, maple syrup, preserves, baked goods, herbs, plants, organic soaps and more besides.
10. Westwood Park
Set on the shores of a 180-acre lake, Westwood Park is a hive of recreation that opened to the public in 1974. The lake helps with flood control on the Big Blue River, and is also an industrial and municipal water supply.
The fishing here is superb and you can drop a line for channel catfish, sunfish, bass and crappie.
There’s a modern campground close to the water, open May through October. On rolling terrain, the remainder of the park encompasses a number of different habitats, such as grasslands and native deciduous woodlands.
There are trails for hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding, and you can reserve the Big Oaks Shelter for gatherings.
11. Stacks Pancake House
Found at the New Castle Plaza shopping center in the west of the city is an family-run breakfast joint that has delighted New Castle locals for nigh-on 20 years.
What you get at Stacks Pancake House is traditional diner fare, in generous portions. Think pancakes of course, but also omelets, French toast, waffles, breakfast skillets, biscuits and gravy, and lighter options like a fruit oatmeal and scrambled egg whites with mushrooms and spinach.
This restaurant also serves lunch, with comforting entrees including country-fried steaks, meatloaf and hand-breaded fried chicken.
12. Jane Ross Reeves Octagon House
A short drive west of New Castle is an extremely rare octagonal house commissioned by widow Jane Ross Reeves in 1879.
This is one of just five octagon houses still standing in Indiana, and is considered the most important because it has changed so little over the last 140+ years.
Reeves came across the plans in a magazine, and paid the Fortville-based contractor as much as $2,500, all from silver dollars she had saved up in a shoebox.
On the National Register of Historic Places since 2001, the restored property is decorated with local antique furniture and memorabilia, and opens for tours on Sundays, April through October.
13. Baker Park
Dedicated in 1937, Baker Park is close to the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame in the south of New Castle.
The name comes from Sidney E. Baker, the mayor of New Castle at the time, and the man responsible for securing these various parcels of land and turning it into a public park.
A great place to bring children, Baker Park has a giant “Fun Park”, the brand new skate park, as well as the Aquatic Center with slides and multiple sections for kids and grownups.
Also here is a disc golf course, six shelters, a covered stage area and amenities for basketball, tennis and horseshoes.
14. Belgian Horse Winery
In gentle rolling countryside on the way to Middletown is a charming winery that has recently cropped up on a farm that goes back six generations.
Belgian Horse Winery produces several varietals wines including Chardonnay, Concord, Malbec, Tempranillo, Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc, Catawba and Cabernet Sauvignon.
There are also plenty of unusual fruit wines, infused with a range of fruits, among them pineapple, blueberry, cranberry, kiwi and rhubarb & raspberry.
There’s also a menu of craft beers from a number of breweries in the area, and a food menu with wood-fired pizza and sandwiches like Chicago roast beef. Live music is part of the experience in the spring and summer, and you can check the website for upcoming shows.
15. Westwood Golf Club
Now a public course, Westwood Golf Club’s origins go back to a country club founded in 1917.
This is a laid-back, affordable place to play a round, in a parkland setting with blue grass and well-maintained greens.
The course has some technical par 3s that will punish loose shots, like the 6th, which has a green guarded in front by a large bunker.
Also on hand at Westwood Golf Club are a driving range, well-stocked pro shop and a clubhouse with a snack bar if you need to refuel after your round.