Southeast of Indianapolis, the seat of Shelby County is a small town set around the historic Public Square.
Shelbyville was platted some 200 years ago, and there’s so much history on these streets that the visitors bureau has published a walking tour of all the fine architecture in the vicinity.
A few miles from downtown, Shelbyville is also home to the closest casino to Indianapolis, including a racetrack that hosts the Indiana Derby every July.
There’s a growing trail network, linking downtown to the scenic parks along the Little Blue River, as well as a successful farmers’ market showcasing the area’s great produce.
A lot of spots around Shelbyville have stood the test of time, including a century-old performing arts venue, a drive-in theater from the 1950s and a beloved bakery that moved to town in the 1930s.
1. Grover Center: Museum and Historical Society
If you’re curious about the 200-year history of Shelby County there’s a compelling museum downtown. This is opposite the public library in an unusual Art Moderne building, constructed in 1950 as an Elks Lodge. You can follow several different threads here.
The Streets of Old Shelby for instance recreates a historic street scene, with a saloon, hotel, printing press, hardware store, blacksmith, sheriff’s office and more, all endowed with historic artefacts.
At the time of writing there was a detailed exhibition examining the role of the Public Square in Shelbyville’s story, while the Shelby County Railroad is a hobbyist’s dream, with three working model trains and a host of historical objects, like lamps, uniforms and signs, in display cases.
2. Historic Architecture of Shelbyville Tour
The grand Public Square and the old residential areas just west of downtown Shelbyville have an astonishing wealth of beautiful architecture in a spectrum of styles.
There’s so much to see that the Shelby County Visitors Bureau has created a mile-long, self-guided architecture tour to help you see the best of it.
This mile-long walk starts on the Public Square, and is mostly on Washington, Broadway and intersecting streets.
There are 20 stops in total, and all but one of the buildings featured are on the National Register of Historic Places.
The leaflet also comes with a helpful guide about 19th and early 20th-century architectural styles, and a glossary of building elements. Some picks are the Carnegie Library (1903), I.O.O.F. Building (1852-1883) and the Ensminger House (c. 1850).
3. Indiana Grand Racing & Casino
Owned and operated by Caesars Entertainment, the closest casino to Indianapolis can be found right here in Shelbyville.
The first element to open here, in 2003, was the racetrack, previously known as Indiana Downs. April through October, this is a venue for Quarter Horse and Thoroughbred Racing, including events like the prestigious Indiana Derby in July, with a purse of $300,000.
The casino followed in 2009 and has Vegas dimensions, with 200,000 square feet of gaming. There are more than 2,300 slot machines here and a big choice of table games.
Entertainment wise, Indiana Grand has booked the likes of Ludacris, Ginuwine, Marc Cohn and a host of classic 60s rock bands like The Lovin’ Spoonful.
4. Blue River Memorial Park
By the Shelby County Fairgrounds, Shelbyville’s premier public park is the site of the city’s veterans memorial.
Almost 190 acres in size, the Blue River Memorial Park abounds with amenities for active and passive recreation, with football and softball fields, a splash pad, dog park and a 20-acre quail and butterfly habitat.
This is also a popular place to launch a canoe or kayak on the Little Blue River, while the park is also connected to the Blue River Trail, which we’ll talk about next.
Also worthy of mention is the Blue River Cross Country Course here, a national-level championship running course catering to competitive events both large and small.
5. Blue River Trail
Shelbyville has an ever-growing network of mixed-use trails, at the heart of which is the 3.5-mile Blue River Trail, connecting the downtown area with a series of parks along the banks of the namesake river.
These parks include Kennedy Park and the Blue River Memorial Park, so the trail is a scenic way to get around the city, with distance markers every tenth of a mile.
The Blue River Trail also links with the Lee Boulevard Trail in the east, as well as the Knauf Greenway, serving the north of the city, and west side trails via the West Side Connector.
When we wrote this article, plans were afoot to build a north-south trail along a former railroad right-of-way, leading past the Meridian Park Family Aquatic Center.
6. Meltzer Woods
On Shelbyville’s east flank is one of the last surviving parcels of old-growth forest in Indiana. Open to the public, the forest on these 60 acres has been left untouched for well over a century, with trees dating back 400 years or more.
The wetter portions of Meltzer Woods, scattered with creeks and vernal pools, are dominated by beech and Shumard oak, while beeches and maples abound in the drier areas.
The woods are the legacy of the Meltzer family, going back to one Brady Meltzer, who ran a sawmill during the Depression era, but never felled the trees on his own acreage.
7. Shelby County Farmers’ Market
Every Saturday morning, May through September, there’s a farmers’ market downtown at West Washington Plaza.
This is the best way to support the many family-owned farms and other small businesses across the county.
Typically there’s seasonal fruit and vegetables, plants, flowers, herbs, prime cuts of grass-fed meat, eggs, pastries, cheese, honey, jams, popcorn and a big choice of handmade crafts.
In the holiday season you can also catch a special Mistletoe Market, timed to coincide with the Christmas Parade in early December.
8. The Skyline Drive-In
On the edge of Meltzer Woods is an old-fashioned drive-in theater that showed its first movie on Memorial Weekend 1950.
With a single screen and 450 spaces, the Skyline is open March through December, screening first-run double features.
As is the way, you’ll tune in for sound using your car radio (89.9 FM), while the SkyCafe here has an extensive menu of comfort food, from pizza to hot dogs to burgers, to nachos, soft serve and, of course, popcorn.
Check the website for details of themed nights and seasonal events, with actor and director talks and a lineup of vendors.
9. Strand Theatre
Downtown at 215 S. Harrison Street, this treasured venue first opened its doors in 1916. Under various names, the Strand Theatre was an entertainment mainstay for Shelbyville until finally closing in 2004.
That closure was only temporary, and following a renovation the theatre reopened in 2008 as a multi-disciplinary performing arts venue run by a non-profit organization.
The auditorium has held onto its classic feel, with balcony and floor seats available. You can catch comedy shows, concerts, musicals and plays, as well as seasonal screenings of classic movies.
10. Linne’s Bakery & Cafe
In 2021 this historic shop on Harrison Street was voted by the Fox59 viewers as the best bakery or pastry shop in Indiana.
Linne’s (pronounced “Linn-ey’s”), story goes back much further, to the late 19th century, and the bakery relocated to Shelbyville in the 1930s.
The current owners have been on the scene since 1984, and the store is celebrated for its twisted donuts, with a generous glaze.
Like all of Linne’s donuts, including the seasonal pumpkin spice donuts, these are made from scratch, without a mix.
It might be hard to visit without leaving with an armful of goodies, but some picks include the danishes, fruitcakes, cupcakes, and the wide choice of cookies, which are cheaper by the dozen.
11. Meridian Park Family Aquatic Center
Open daily throughout the school summer break, Shelbyville’s community outdoor pool complex is in the south of the city, close to Shelbyville High School.
Recently updated with new equipment, the overall design goes back to 1998. This was one of the first public pools to have a beach entry area connected to a lap pool.
The center also has one twisting water slide and one drop slide, as well as lockers and private cabanas that can be rented for half-days or full days.
These pools can get hectic, which is why the parks department has introduced a sensory-friendly swim time for families throughout the season on Wednesday evenings.
12. Harker Family Farms and Orchard
For ultra-fresh local produce there are a few small-scale growers in the area that you can support. Just past Meltzer Woods, Harker Family Farms and Orchard is run by a couple who purchased the land in the mid-1970s.
Formerly raising hogs, Joe and Debbie Harker planted an orchard on the property in 2009 and this has steadily grown to 2,000 trees.
Just shy of two thirds of the trees are peach trees, from more than 90 different varieties. May through October you can head for the farm store for more than 15 kinds of fruit and vegetables picked as they come into season, starting with strawberries and closing with apples and apple cider.
13. Kennedy Park
Named for the local entrepreneur Fred Kennedy, who purchased this space for the city in 1929, Kennedy Park is a short walk across the Little Blue River from the heart of Shelbyville.
Mainly geared towards active recreation, Kennedy Park has two tennis courts, a basketball court, softball diamond and a fishing area.
One fantastic feature is the KID CONNECTION playground, designed to be accessible for all abilities and ages. Elsewhere there’s a shelter, grills, picnic tables and restrooms if you’re planning a family gathering.
14. Me And My Sisters Flea Market
If you love antiquing and making vintage discoveries then you’ll need to make time for this enormous flea market on Shelbyville’s eastern outskirts.
Established by two vintage-loving sisters, Ana and Kizme, Me And My Sisters has over 75 vendors in more than 7,000 square feet of space.
A few specialties include collectibles, lighting, records, vintage signs, toys, glassware, ceramics and clothing. May through October there’s also an outdoor market here on the second Saturday of the month.
15. Music in the Park
Blue River Memorial Park is the delightful setting for an annual series of outdoor concerts in the summer.
Normally on Saturdays, Music in the Park runs from mid-June to mid-September, and has long been a favorite with families, couples and groups of friends. The concerts are totally free, and you’re encouraged to bring a picnic and blanket or lawn chair.
The lineup is selected to be as eclectic as possible to reach a wide audience, so will include jazz, soul blues, classic rock and no shortage of tribute acts.
On one of the dates there’s a performance of a Shakespeare play, in a tradition that has been going for more than a decade now.