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Indiana Bicentennial Train helps tell story of state’s past

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A wealth of Indiana history will roll into Bargersville on the railroad this fall.

People will have the chance to learn about the state’s role in creating the National Road, the jazz heritage in Indianapolis and the role agriculture has played in the state. They can design their own town flag, vote for their favorite Hoosier innovation and watch a historical interpreter describe life in 1916.

And all of it will warm the public up for the state’s bicentennial celebration in 2016.

Bargersville is one of four planned stops for the Indiana Bicentennial Train, which will come to the community Oct. 9 to 11. The traveling exhibition will focus on the past, present and future of Indiana, all presented in interactive exhibits displayed in a modified Amtrak train.

“We’re doing everything that we can to help prepare our citizens for the state’s bicentennial in 2016,” said Amy Lamb, spokeswoman for the Indiana Historical Society. “We want to get people thinking about where the state has been and where it’s going, and how they can celebrate those things.”

The train, formerly known as the Indiana History Train, has been adapted to prepare for the state’s 200th birthday. Organized by the Indiana Historical Society, it traveled the state from 2004 to 2008 and again in 2013.

The train stopped in Bargersville in 2008. With tracks running through the center of town, and with open areas on either side of the tracks for displays and temporary structures, it was an ideal location, said Lynne Hess, events coordinator for the Town of Bargersville.

“This is the second time that this has come to Bargersville, and it’s exciting that we can offer this to the town and the schools, let them learn about the history around them,” she said.

The historical society partnered with the Indiana Rail Road Co. and Norfolk Southern Corp. to bring the history train around the state. Prior to the stop in Bargersville, the train will set up in Columbus, Jasper and Terre Haute.

With the collection housed in the historical society’s headquarters in Indianapolis, people typically have to go there to learn about the state’s past, Lamb said. The train presents the opportunity to flip that relationship.

“I have two small kids at home, and I know how hard it is to get out and enjoy things. To be able to bring a free program to people’s doorsteps is very exciting for us,” Lamb said.

The renovated train cars contain an exhibition called “The Next Indiana.” Guests walk each 65-foot-long train car, transitioning from the state’s founding through the 20th century and imagine what life might be like in Indiana in coming decades.

Outside the train cars will be historical re-enactors, an open-air market selling history souvenirs and Johnson County-centric displays from the Indiana Historical Society.

The historical society also has partnered with county entities to add programming surrounding the train’s arrival.

Franklin College students will present a project on the Roger Branigin papers, documents from the Franklin native who was Indiana’s 42nd governor. The Johnson County Public Library will talk about the history of libraries in Indiana.

The Johnson County Museum of History will have re-enactors describing pioneer life and Indiana during the Civil War. Educational displays will allow visitors to become “curators for a day” and learn how historical artifacts are handled.

Lamb, a 1995 Whiteland Community High School graduate and Franklin resident, is excited to be able to jump-start the bicentennial spirit in her home county.

The train offers a way to get the entire state involved in the celebration, a main goal of the Indiana Historical Society.

“This event is not just about Indianapolis, we’re about the entire state,” she said. “This train is just another way to serve the community in a hands-on way.”

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