In South Central Indiana, Seymour is a city that grew up in the mid-19th century at the crossing of two railroads.
In the 1840s, the north-south Jeffersonville, Madison and Indianapolis Railroad connected Indianapolis with the Ohio River.
A little later, Seymour’s founder, Meedy Shields encouraged railroad surveyor John Seymour to build the Ohio and Mississippi Railway through here, naming the city in his honor.
Trains and railroading are part of Seymour’s lore, and it was here in the 1860s that the Reno Gang pulled off the first three peacetime train robberies in the country’s history.
Seymour is the birthplace of heartland rocker John Mellencamp, and permeates his most famous work. The artist still has close ties with the town, and founded a vibrant public arts center on his own property.
1. Downtown Seymour
Next to the railroad crossroads, Seymour’s central business district is full of life, hosting no fewer than 65 events each year.
If you like to shop local, this is a great place to do it, especially as the downtown area has attracted some 25 new businesses in the last five years or so.
Many of these improvements can be laid at the door of Seymour Main Street, an organization founded in the 2000s with the task of rejuvenating downtown.
Since then, there have been lots of welcome changes, from murals to a pocket park, an ever-growing farmers’ market, story walks, restored historic storefronts, benches, bike racks and all kinds of exciting events.
2. John Mellencamp Heritage
The recording artist, John Mellencamp, famed for tracks like “Jack and Diane” and “Hurts So Good” was born in Seymour in 1951 and grew up in the town.
To listen to Mellencamp’s music it’s clear that Seymour made a deep impression on the artist, so if you’re a fan it’s well worth visiting some of the places important to him.
This can be done on an audio driving tour, called The Roots of an American Rocker, available from the Jackson County Visitor Center.
The stops, like Larrison’s Diner and the hospital in which he was born, include an appropriate sample of Mellencamp’s music.
In the heart of downtown, This Old Guitar Music Store has recently been given a lifelike mural, signed by Mellencamp with the initials JJM. The store’s owners, Sally and Larry, are also a treasure trove of Mellencamp trivia and memories.
3. Southern Indiana Center for the Arts
A key pillar for the region’s arts scene, the Southern Indiana Center for the Arts was set up by John Mellencamp and his mother Marilyn.
The setting is a Greek Revival brick mansion, owned by John and constructed in 1851. The house, with its fine Italianate porch has changed little in decades, and is a fabulous venue for ever-changing exhibitions and a wide choice of classes for a range of media and disciplines.
There’s also a monthly concert series at the center, as well as a pottery barn and antique printing museum, also on the property.
4. Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge
East of Seymour is a giant protected space, founded in the mid-1960s and covering more than 7,800 acres.
About two thirds of the Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge is former farmland, established in the 19th century on a wet landscape of natural springs and flood-prone creeks.
The efforts of European settlers to drain the land were mostly unsuccessful, which is good news from a conservation point of view, making it easier to restore the wetlands interspersed with grassland and hardwood forest.
The refuge is a prime bird watching site, with plentiful waterfowl, including migrating whooping cranes and sandhill cranes, as well as mating pairs of bald eagles.
There’s a visitor center a few minutes east of Seymour, well worth checking out, as well as eight hiking trails, up to four miles long.
5. Reno Gang Graves
Just under a mile north of downtown is the Historic City Cemetery where you’ll find the resting place of Frank, William and Simeon Reno, from the infamous Reno Gang.
The 11-strong wreaked havoc across the Midwest in the years immediately after the Civil War, and committed the first three peacetime train robberies in United States history, all taking place in Seymour.
Their violent crimes inspired copycats for decades, and also provoked outrage, leading to vigilante gangs hunting them down, along with the Pinkertons and federal authorities.
On two separate occasions, a total of six members of the Reno Gang were lynched at a location just west of Seymour, now known as Hangman’s Crossing.
In 1868, leaders Frank, William and Simeon Reno were captured by the authorities and moved to the Floyd County Jail in New Albany. On the night of December 11, all three were lynched by a mob of 65 hooded men who had overwhelmed the jail and threatened the sheriff.
6. Freeman Army Airfield Museum
Freeman Army Airfield was a WWII training school for twin-engine pilots, just south of Seymour. Established in 1942 and closed in 1948 has an important place in the history of Civil Rights.
It was here that members of the African American 477th Bombardment Group challenged the unlawful exclusion of black people from the officers’ club, leading to the desegregation of the armed forces in 1948.
The site is now Freeman Municipal Airport, and in a pair of old airfield buildings is a captivating museum devoted to this WWII history.
At the end of the war German, Japanese and Italian aircraft were brought to this base to be analyzed before being dismantled and buried. The museum features parts from these Axis aircraft recovered during archeological digs.
7. Shields Park
On the northeast side of downtown, Shields Park is the oldest park in the city, opened in 1852 and named for Seymour’s founder, Meedy Shields (1804-1866).
In summer the main draw is the Shields Park Pool, an Olympic-sized facility with a water slide, kiddie pool and diving well.
In July the pool hosts the invitational Seymour Splash swim meet, which has been going for more than 30 years and features some of the top swimmers in the region.
Also on hand are two lighted baseball/softball fields, a skate park, basketball courts, horseshoe pits, a playground, ADA-accessible bathrooms, picnic areas and a shelter with electricity.
8. Jackson County Visitor Center
If you’re plotting your next steps around Jackson County or want some extra travel inspiration there’s an excellent visitor center in Seymour, housed in the historic Southern Indiana Railroad Freighthouse (1901).
You can find out about the cute small towns close to Seymour, learn about any markets in the area, and big events coming up, while Mellencamp fans can grab a CD for that dedicated driving tour.
There are also intriguing displays about railroading history, Seymour’s past and John Mellencamp.
Just outside are historical markers for the Reno Gang (more later) and the poignant story of Alexander McLure, an escaped slave captured at this spot in 1860 while hiding in a shipping box.
9. Fear Fair Haunted House
Five minutes from downtown Seymour is a haunted house that regularly appears on lists of the best not just in Indiana, but the entire country.
Open late September through Halloween, Fear Fair has won a lot of fans for the amazing quality of its makeup, costumes, props, animatronics and the sheer scope of the haunt.
When we compiled this list, some of the terrifying prospects were Cinema of Fear, bringing to life some of our favorite monsters from the big screen, and Hangar 17, a fight for survival in the middle of a mutagenic gas outbreak.
Myctophobia, a nightmare for anyone afraid of the dark, puts your group in the pitch black, as you navigate a labyrinthine haunted house with the help of a single glowstick.
10. Gaiser Park
The site of Seymour’s imposing war memorial, Gaiser Park is a little way south of downtown Seymour.
There’s a host of facilities packed into these ten acres, including volleyball/basketball courts, a softball field, horseshoe pits and a large rentable shelter, hooked up to the electricity.
With a concession area and ADA accessible bathrooms, this is a superb spot for a family gettogether.
Another favorite feature for families is the fantastic playground, which is unusually spacious, comes with accessible equipment and had just been given a renovation when we wrote this article.
11. Larrison’s Diner
A local fixture for almost half a century, Larrison’s Diner is the quintessence of a small town diner and made an appearance in Mellencamp’s 1992 film, Falling from Grace.
The building, a former grocery store, goes back to the turn of the 20th century and has housed a restaurant since the early 1940s.
Larrison’s is in its second generation, and is owned by Liz, daughter of founders Ed and Jan Larrison.
The menu is extensive, but first-timers have to try the old-style grilled hamburger. The meat is sourced from local suppliers, and the patty is on a soft, honey-style bun, accompanied by homemade whole potato fries.
12. Crossroads Community Park
Designed as a venue for outdoor events and a way to get people to explore downtown Seymour, this plaza opened by the railroad crossroads in 2018 at a cost of $3.5 million.
Crossroads Community Park is equipped with electric car charging stations, the only ones between Louisville and Indianapolis when they were unveiled.
The park is the venue for Seymour’s much loved CityJam summer concert series, normally held on Thursday evenings at the JCB Pavilion.
In the holiday season the Christmas lights make for a pretty scene, and a popular feature all year is the innovative fitness court, with a range of outdoor equipment.
13. Freeman Field Recreation Area
In the very south of the city, on land that once belonged to Freeman Army Airfield, is a recreation complex run by the parks & recreation department.
This features nine soccer fields, lighted baseball/softball diamonds, a playground, a shelter house and a two-mile mixed-use trail that links the complex with the adjoining Freeman Field Industrial Park.
The facilities here are constantly updated, and when we wrote this article a nine-hole disc golf course had just been added.
14. Shadowood Golf Course
Just off the I-65 to the east of Seymour is a well-regarded public golf course. On undulating terrain, Shadowood has impressive vistas of Jackson County and offers a test to golfers of all levels.
Some holes to look out for are the 6th, a dogleg par 4, the 13th, a par 3 over water and the 15th, a long and narrow par 5.
The course was laid out in the mid-1970s by the course’s founder, Thomas Trimpe and is complemented by a driving range, indoor golf simulator, full-service bar & grill and a newly renovated banquet hall, available for special events.
Seymour and Jackson county have significant German heritage, with around a third of the county tracing their ancestry back to that part of Europe.
So it makes sense that the biggest event of the year in Seymour is a three-day celebration of German culture.
Coinciding with the first Saturday in October, Oktoberfest brings a carnival, hot air balloons, a slew of live performances, dozens of food booths, a Biergarten, a wealth of arts & crafts vendors and a climactic parade through Seymour on the Saturday.
Sprinkled around the schedule are all manner of contests, for babies, polka and more.