Located along a bend in the Ohio River in southeast Indiana, Aurora grew in the early 1800s as a river port, favored for its strategic location for shipping goods between Cincinnati and Louisville. As the city celebrates its bicentennial in 2019, Indiana Landmarks, Dearborn County Historical Society and Aurora Main Street are partnering to present a Historic Downtown Aurora Tour Saturday, Oct. 19, from 10 a.m.-3 p.m., showcasing landmarks from the city’s history.
Aurora’s National Register-listed historic district spans 25 blocks of 19th- and 20th-century buildings. Hit hard by the recession, Aurora’s Second Street has seen a wealth of private and public investment in recent years. The downtown’s future looks bright, and locals want to show it off, according to an online Indiana Landmarks article.
“Aurora is a great place to spend the day during our tour. You can see amazing historic buildings, grab an ice cream, do some vintage and antique shopping, have lunch and even finish off the day with a locally-brewed beer!” says Jarrad Holbrook, Indiana Landmarks’ Southeast Field Office director and an Aurora resident.
Holbrook is opening his home, the David and Jennie Stapp House, at 306 Fourth St., for the tour. Built in 1883, the house is an unusual combination of Italianate and Moorish Revival styles, with an ogee arch over the front entrance, floral window surrounds and an elaborate iron fence. The simple hip-roof cap on the front tower replaced an original, more elaborate crown that burned years ago.
The tour highlights another private home — this one unusual in a different way — just blocks away at 216 Judiciary St., where two arched entries hint at the 1878 building’s history as a livery stable.
Aurora boomed as a transportation hub once the railroad came through in 1859. Though it sold its last ticket in 1971, Aurora’s Baltimore and Ohio Southwest Railroad Passenger Station on Second Street still looks like it could be waiting for the next train. The Craftsman-style depot has its original ticket window and double doors. Since 2012, the building has housed Aurora’s Local History Library. Step inside to see its collection of periodicals dating to 1836, family histories, census records and local history books.
See a restoration in progress at 211 Second St., where Tim Miller is repurposing the Federal-style brick building at as a steakhouse, bar and venue for live music. Built circa 1860 as a lodge for the Improved Order of Red Men, the building’s decorative wrought iron balcony offers perfect views of the nearby Ohio River. Proximity to the river means great views, but it also means occasional flooding. Rather than fight nature, Miller is removing water-damaged plaster and taking the walls back to original brick.
The tour also offers a peek at Great Crescent Brewery, which takes its name, location and even some of its specialty recipes from Aurora’s long tradition of brewing and distilling. The business started as the home-brewing hobby of Dan and Lani Valas. Their pastime morphed into a full-fledged craft brewery operating out of a rehabilitated 1843 brick building at 315 Importing St., once part of the original Gaff Distillery. The tap room features exposed brick, timber beams and a vintage Art Deco bar rescued from a barn. Brewing takes place in a 10-barrel production facility behind the taproom.
During the tour, take a moment to rest and reflect at the 1850 Greek Revival-style First Presbyterian Church at the corner of Main and Fourth streets. Built on a sloping hill, the church’s prominent location inspired civic leaders to incorporate Aurora’s first town clock into the tower. Inside the church, you’ll see original pews, historic chandeliers and a circa 1905 pipe organ.
On tour day, attendees can check in at the National Register-listed City Building, 216 Third St. Built in 1886 in a mix of Italianate and Romanesque styles, the landmark includes a triangular artistic ornament at the roofline with rays representing an aurora, the first light of dawn. The building has served city business since its construction, and was renovated and expanded in 2004-05.
Tickets for the Historic Downtown Aurora Tour cost $12 for Indiana Landmarks members and $15 for the public in advance, and $20 per person that day. They can be purchased in advance at 317-639-4534 or online at downtownauroratour19.eventbrite.com.