Day 1, Morgan County
It’s Friday evening, I’m sitting in Zydeco’s Cajun restaurant in Mooresville, Indiana. I’ve got a beer on the table, and New Orleans gospel music blowing in my right ear. I’m on a Hendricks County travel writing trip, put on by Visit Hendricks County (formerly the known as the Convention and Visitors Bureau) with about 25 other travel writers from Indiana and the surrounding states. I’m waiting for us to get called in to dinner for a Cajun feast of epic proportions.
We’ve spent the afternoon in Morgan County, which is southwest of Indianapolis. It’s a series of small towns around here, which I haven’t visited for a few years. As I wander the streets of Mooresville and Martinsville, it reminds me of my days in northern Indiana, when I walked around Syracuse, North Webster, Goshen, and Nappanee.
I usually get Martinsville and Mooresville confused. In fact, I’ve called each city by the wrong name three times on this trip alone. I’ve also referred to Hendricks County as Hancock County a few times, because I lived in the latter for a year. Visiting parts of the state that sound like other parts of the state is hard.
Meet Up at Cambria Suites
The very first stop was the Cambria Suites in Plainfield, west of the Indianapolis Airport. I’ve only spent one night in a Cambria before; it’s an entire building filled with suites. I’m almost disappointed we’re leaving again, because I could easily spend an entire day in this hotel and not feel guilty about not leaving the place at all.
Still, we’ve got a schedule to keep, and even though herding a busload of travel writers is like herding cats that can’t stop talking, we manage to leave on time. The nice thing about being in the travel writing fraternity is we all know each other, or are connected. You could play Six Degrees of Erik Deckers in here, and find I’m separated by no more than two degrees from anyone else, so there’s always someone to talk to.
Who Doesn’t Love Candy?
The first stop on our itinerary takes us all the way into Martinsville in Morgan County. While this is a Hendricks County trip, they recently added Martinsville and Mooresville to their Cultural Trail. Morgan County currently does not have a CVB, and Hendricks County is close enough that they got some grant money from the Indiana Office of Tourism Development and extended the cultural trail. The move brings a total of 32 stops to the Cultural Trail.
We stop at the Martinsville Candy Kitchen, which has been in existence for 97 years, all on the same block. They’re widely known for making their own candy cane by hand, and they make 33 different flavors throughout the year (take that, Baskin Robbins!). However, come the second week of November, they turn off 31 of them and focus solely on peppermint and cinnamon.
We heard from Tina, who works at the Candy Kitchen, that the owners are the only ones who can make the cane — she kept calling it “cane.” “When they pour the cane.” “When they cut the cane.” It sounded odd that way, but kind of comforting — because only they know the secret recipe.
“They won’t even tell me, and they’d probably kill me if I found out,” she joked. At least I think she was joking. Looking at Agnes with the big knife — she was cutting carmel squares for chocolate-covered carmel — I worried there might have been a little truth to it.
However, the owners were on a vacation they had won and put off for three years. Which meant no hot peppermint cane for us that day. But they make it year round, and they’ll be back on the 10th, filling orders and making the thing they’re most famous for.
Berries and Ivy
From there, it was a quick stop at Berries and Ivy, just a few doors down, and a chance to watch some gourd painting and look at the different knick-knacks, tchotchkes, gewgaws, and collectibles. It was definitely a woman’s place, and I looked around to see if there was anything for guys, but there wasn’t.
I actually learned quite a bit about gourds while I was there though. They’re only grown for their utility, not because they’re actually edible. They can be used as bowls, canteens (there’s actually a thing called a canteen gourd, because it’s shaped like a canteen), bird houses, and musical instruments.
After a walk around the block in the center of town, we piled back aboard the bus — ahead of schedule still — and headed back to Mooresville to visit a couple of antique stores and then to dinner at Zydeco’s, a New Orleans Cajun restaurant in downtown Mooresville.
Antiques in Mooresville
I stopped in at both Yellow Moon Antiques and the Mooresville Open Market Antiques. I was also reminded again how small the travel writing world is while I was in Yellow Moon. As I was talking to a woman who was working there, she said she used to be a travel writer, and had written several pieces for the Indianapolis AAA magazine, Home And Away.
“No kidding,” I said. “I just met the editor this afternoon. And there she is.”
It turned out the two knew each other fairly well, even though they hadn’t seen each other for several years. Such is the fraternity of travel writing.
I’m not much of an antique-ophile. I used to look for old tools, like old block planes. I even found a nice brace and bit set, except I’m no longer in the market. But what really tempted me was an old Underwood typewriter I spotted at the Open Market Antiques. I’m keeping my eyes peeled for a couple of particular models, except this one wasn’t on the list, so I left empty-handed.
Time To Eat! Zydeco’s Cajun Restaurant
From there, it was a very short walk — about 20 feet — next door to Zydeco’s Cajun Restaurant. I had been there once before, about five years ago, for a networking lunch. In fact, that was my first time ever in Mooresville, making this my second time to go.
In other words, every time I go to Mooresville, I eat at Zydeco’s.
Every. Single. Time.
I think I would anyway, even if I was a semi-regular visitor to the town. Zydeco’s is owned and operated by former New Orleanean Chef Carter Hutchinson and his wife Deb. We were treated to Ya-Ya Chicken, fried catfish, crawfish etouffee, Jambalaya with smoked sausage and chicken (my favorite), and bread pudding with rum sauce.
Chef Carter (“Hutch” to his friends) then sat down with us, told us what brought him to Indiana (a woman), whether he was trained as a chef (no, he’s just good at it), and why he started cooking Cajun food (it’s what they ate at home).
He told us about the people of New Orleans — they’re very warm, embracing, and love to touch. He said it’s different from Indiana, where some people still prefer wider personal space, although not everyone is like that. The picture he painted of New Orleans makes me at least want to go for a visit — and a nice hug — one of these days.
When it was all finished, we were tired, and it felt like it was getting on toward 10:00 – 10:30. I was ready to go back to the Cambria Suites and put my feet up.
Except it’s not even 8:00, and we’ve got one more stop.
Jolee Chartrand is a professional potter and pottery instructor. Her studio on East High Street in Mooresville is an old house that she’s converted into a showroom, studio, and classroom. And we were about to make wind chimes from clay pieces.
Apparently, this is something they do a lot of, because they had several frames set up with stations for all of us to tie up our wind chimes. There was a little system to it. Take this little piece and that big piece, and run this piece of cord through the holes, and tie it off. Then tie these pieces to the big piece, and make sure everything lines up so they all clang together. Jolee helped me, because I wasn’t satisfied with the clanginess of the piece, so we swapped out the middle clapper, and everything worked great.
Nearly all the pieces we used were hand made, and they were kiln-dried and hardened so the won’t shatter when they knock together.
Monrovia Mudworks is in a house that’s well over 100 years old, and Jolee is cognizant of its history. She’s taken care to not change it too drastically, so it could be used as a house if she ever decides to leave it one day.
She calls the place Monrovia Mudworks, because her private studio used to be in her home in Monrovia. But enough people said they wanted to take lessons from her that she moved into this house and started offering classes and selling finished pieces.
I was actually pleased with my wind chime when I was done, and plan on hanging them out in my garage. My wife doesn’t like wind chimes, so I’ll have to put it up somewhere that it won’t clang any time the wind blows. Instead, I’ll just bang the pieces together when I want to annoy her.
Back to Cambria Suites
We finally made it back to Cambria Suites, and were told to get some sleep. We start at 8:00 am tomorrow morning (Saturday), and we’ve got a full day ahead of us, traveling around Hendricks County, including the Plainfield Gingerbread Christmas Show, Frazee Gardens, lunch at the Mayberry Cafe, and a visit to Beasley’s Orchard.