It wasn’t until I came out to Pittsburgh for college that I learned there was an Indiana, Pennsylvania. And as luck would have it, two of my classmates were actually from this small town which is about 90 minutes northeast of Pittsburgh. However, it was during my senior year of college that I discovered that Jimmy Stewart, one of my all-time cinema favorites, was actually from Indiana and there was a museum there devoted to his life and film career. I thought about going but never did. After moving to Pittsburgh full-time post college I always talked about visiting Indiana and yet still never did. It wasn’t until this past weekend that I finally saw this quaint all-American town.
Today, Indiana’s population is just shy of 14,000 although it’s definitely boosted by the fact that it’s home to Indiana University of Pennsylvania. A good thing about “college towns” is that they are often more diverse and offer more unique establishments than the typical small town. Indiana was no exception as in just a couple stretch block of the main drag, Philadelphia Street, we passed by a Chinese restaurant, an Indian restaurant, a shop selling locally grown wines, not one but two hookah bars (college town indeed), and my personal favorite, a European style coffee house.
I first learned about Caffe Amadeus from a blogger friend of mine, Jennifer over at Le Blog. It was something straight out of Europe (no surprise as the owners are European) but to have this little touch of Europe in small-town USA was very cool indeed. I ordered a peppermint chai, D went with a gingerbread latte. My “only” disappointment was that they had a very limited selection of pastries which I was looking so forward to trying some of. We were there about 3 PM on a Friday…so not exactly closing time. It was probably for the better though due to all the amounts of sweets I already had at home. The selection of hot teas and coffees to choose from was incredible.
But then being a small town, there were also the customary burger/fried food joints. The Coney is a pretty legendary spot in Indiana and had terrific burgers. Thankfully, books (the physical kind) are still important too.
And in a small town, it’s all the more poignant when you see its war memorial since you know that for many local residents, many of the names listed would be familiar.
But the main reason I came was for Jimmy Stewart, one of the greatest actors of all time and one who it seemed never forgot the small town he came from. Many actors “make it big” and never give a passing glance back to the area they grew up in. For Stewart, it was the exact opposite. He was always looking back, always fondly remembering his roots. After returning home from the war in 1945, it was Indiana that threw him a welcome home parade. Some neat things about the man who was “George Bailey.”
-He was a graduate of Princeton University
-He was a decorated war hero in World War II and served as a bomber pilot in the Atlantic Theater. Unlike many of today’s superficial actors, Stewart wanted to do his duty as an American and fight; he didn’t enlist for publicity. But on both his father’s and mother’s side there were deep military roots, (his father was a veteran of the Spanish-American War and World War I) and so he was eager to serve.
-Stewart was married to his wife Gloria from 1949 until her death in 1994; this is unheard of in today’s Hollywood.
The museum is located at 835 Philadelphia Street, on the third floor of the building that houses the Indiana Public Library. It’s located on the exact site of where Stewart’s father’s hardware store used to be. It offers visitors a look at Stewart’s many accomplishments in film, radio, and TV as well as a look at Stewart’s childhood and ancestral roots in Indiana and the surrounding area.
I really enjoyed seeing both the personal effects of Stewart as well as seeing the entire cinematography of his career. While many titles I did recognize, others I wasn’t familiar with and yet they were definitely ones I had interest in.
Those who are not familiar with Jimmy Stewart and his movies may find the museum boring. Young children especially I would not bring to the museum as there is really nothing child friendly about it. The staff was extremely nice and offered to play a 45 minute video which focused on Stewart’s Indiana upbringing either at the beginning or end of our walk-through tour of the museum as we were the only ones; however, we were short on time and passed (I was more interested anyway in the movie parts).
By all accounts, Jimmy Stewart was one of a kind, both on-screen as well as off. I only wish more of the world knew of this great man and took lessons from him.
All in all, I’m sorry it took so long to finally visit this charming small town but I’m glad I finally did. If you’re a Jimmy Stewart fan like I am and ever find yourself in Western Pennsylvania, I highly recommend a detour to include Indiana in your visit. You won’t regret it.
Julie is a librarian by day, die-hard travel fanatic and writer by night. When she’s not traveling, she’s either testing out a new recipe or being a foodie in Pittsburgh. If you're interested in seeing where she travels to or what she makes next, follow along via the links below!