Drive south from Fort Wayne on U.S. 27 until you reach Decatur city limits and you might think you're in America anywhere. National fast food restaurants and chains line the highway.
But turn left at the sign directing you to the downtown business district, and small town cuteness opens up with stately 19th- and 20th-century buildings, leafy streets with charming homes and the Adams County Courthouse.
The courthouse is a mid-19th-century beauty listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Built in 1873, it could serve as a backdrop to scenes in the musical “The Music Man.”
On the courthouse square are blocks of red brick buildings that the town of about 9,500 plans to renovate as out-of-towners are drawn to the 10-month long Sculpture Tour that opened June 14.
The Sculpture Tour, started eight years ago by Decatur native and metal sculptor Greg Mendez, has given the denizens of Decatur new energy.
“Our buildings are all older and historic,” said Sharon Ewell, owner of Just Because Jewelry and Gifts Shop on North 2nd Street, a block away from the courthouse. “It's kind of a labor of love.”
To add charm and excitement, the town leaders last year completed a plaza one block deep and cater-cornered to the courthouse, where outdoor concerts are held.
“Every Thursday we have a downtown concert,” Mayor Ken Meyer said. The concert series is so popular the plaza “packs out. It's the place to be on Thursday night.” The concerts go on for 18 weeks, he added.
Founders Park on Monroe Street is another newish attraction installed several years ago. The park was named by a citizen as a nod to Decatur's first white settlers, descendants of English Puritans and later immigrant groups who built the town.
Along with historic preservation, there are plenty of local places to eat, notwithstanding the usual and varied fast food fare on U.S. 27.
The newest restaurant to open up is Soul Pig, a casual barbecue place at 135 S. 2nd St., across from the courthouse. Soul Pig, owned by chef Mark Graves, was once Marko's on Second, a steakhouse also owned and operated by Graves, which he later closed before opening his new venture.
“I would rate it as top shelf, the brisket, the ribs, the chicken, you name it,” Meyer said.
Another new restaurant that has gotten raves from the mayor is Famous Monster Pizza at 208 W. Monroe St. The monster-themed pizzeria is not your average pizza joint, Meyer says.
“For $15, you get a pizza that's just out of this world,” he said.
Graves, a hometown kid who came back from the Carolinas to open the steakhouse and then Soul Pig, said he returned for “the whole small community feel.”
He's looking forward to all the changes downtown, he said.
Downtown “is working hard to make it a place to go and a wonderful place to do things,” Ewell said.
• The Adams County Historical Museum, also known as the Dugan Mansion, is at 20 W. Monroe St. It's a neoclassical mansion built in 1902 featuring Adams County historical artifacts.
• Sculpture Tour has artists display works of art throughout the city. Find information at www.decatursculpturetour.com.
• Peace Monument at Adams County Courthouse, 112 S. 2nd St., is a war memorial designed by Charles Mulligan, erected in 1912-13. Made of Indiana limestone, it is one of the first monuments in the U.S. specifically devoted to peace.