In the beginning of our exploration of Evansville, we learned a little bit about that this boutique city of approximately 121,000 denizens that sits in a little nook where southwest Indiana meets southeast Illinois and northwest Kentucky. Chock full of fun and interesting cultural sites, family entities, culinary delights and other diverse offerings, there is a great deal to enjoy.

HOME OF THE MIDDLE MISSISSIPPIAN PEOPLE

Like many cities across the United States, the Native Americans played a major role in its early history. In Evansville, this is evidenced by the Angel Mounds State Historic Site, nationally recognized as one of the best preserved prehistoric Native American sites in the country.

From approximately 1100 to 1450 A. D., Angel Mounds was occupied by the Middle Mississippian people, an American Indian culture believed to have begun in 800 A. D. During that time, it is estimated that anywhere from 1,000 to 3,000 of them lived here, sustained by crops they grew in the rich soil, wild animals and plants that all took advantage of the Ohio River environment.

The name itself has nothing to do with the peoples who lived here, rather, it was named after an early white settler family that arrived years after the Mississippian people had left.

Because Angel Mounds is an active archeological site, new artifacts and theories on why they existed here and how they lived are continually unearthed. Nevertheless, one can get a good grasp of their life by starting their exploration in the Visitors Center building, chock full of exhibit stations, interactive displays and many of the millions of artifacts that have been found to date.

On the grounds, you will find 11 mounds-one of them noted as the 10th largest in the country at 600 feet long, 400 feet wide and 45 feet high, where the chief would have lived-a temple, reconstructed winter house, a portion of the stockade wall that once surrounded the village, summer houses and more.

Unlike many Native American land areas, its people were not displaced or massacred by later explorers or settlers. In fact, the reason the Middle Mississippian people abandoned the area is largely unknown, but what remains is a fascinating look into some of this country’s first inhabitants. (812) 853-3956, www.angelmounds.org

A LIBRARY FOR THE PEOPLE

If you like to utilize public entities located in classic architectural structures, you will enjoy the Willard Library. A true city icon, the library possesses a fascinating history. First, it is named after its founder, Willard Carpenter, described as an eccentric, cantankerous, miserly robber baron and staunch abolitionist who nonetheless had a strong penchant for education and was intent on sharing that through books in a public library. It’s important to note that in his day and time-the late 1800s-most libraries were private and only the wealthy had access.

The structure is amazing. Built in the Victorian style and with 15,000 square feet of space, soaring 22-foot ceilings and 20-foot doors, intricate woodwork detailing, beautiful stained glass windows and other original attributes, it is the oldest public library building in Indiana. Additionally, it is home to the third finest genealogy and local history library in the state, and possesses one of the strongest collections in the Midwest.

Now, you wouldn’t expect this from a public library, but it has also been named the most famous haunted library in the world, so much so that fans of the paranormal flock here in droves every Halloween to attend a series of paranormal events, including looking for “The Grey Lady Ghost,” who was first reported to have been seen here in the late 1930s. (These events are booked through the year 2030!) Apparently it’s not a publicity stunt, as CNN and the show “Ghost Hunters” report regularly on the eerie happenings here, and the library’s six ghost cameras, accessible through the Internet, are lit up every night with throngs of viewers.

Great effort has been put into maintaining the library close to its original condition, save for a handful of modern upgrades: electric lighting instead of gas lamps, plumbing, technological aspects, etc. The only area of the library that has been completely redone is the lower level, which has been transformed into a warm and welcoming children’s area with kid-sized bookshelves, computer stations, a story time area and the like. (812) 425-4309, www.willard.lib.in.us

FOR THE KID IN ALL OF US

A wonderful place for the entire family is the Louis J. Koch Family Children’s Museum of Evansville, referred to by the locals as “come.” The facility alone is a fantastic experience, as it is located in the historic former downtown Central Library, which has been renovated to encompass 18,000 square feet of dynamic and interactive exhibits in four main galleries amidst the structure’s soaring ceilings, stately columns and eye-catching architectural details.

Each gallery in the museum is chock full of full-sensory experiences that engage both kids and adults in a variety of activities. What makes each experience so fascinating is that the museum has incorporated numerous state-of-the-art microprocessor controllers throughout the facility, each lending a unique aspect to the particular exhibit.

Focusing on the arts, “Speak Loud” offers the freedom of self-expression, while the “Quack Factory” hones in on large-muscle activities with a variety of water-themed games. Exploration of the human body is found in “Live Big,” and the budding engineer in your family will find oodles to imagine and build in “Work Smart,” centered around engineering skill development. Because the museum also emphasizes the arts, they have incorporated a multimedia theater space called the “Freedom Gallery,” with a stage for a variety of performance arts, including dance, music, storytelling and more.

One very forward-thinking aspect that impressed me was the “Drip Drop” area, which is not only geared toward babies and very young children, but is also designated at certain days and times for autistic children and their families only. Although the museum encompasses a great deal of multisensory experiences, they are often too intense for autistic children, so the design here incorporates soothing colors, a very cool rainbow wall with different textures accompanying each color so kids can distinguish them via touch instead of sight, and a “Chill Out Room” should they really need a break to calm themselves down.

Because it is a little children’s area, the museum cleans this area twice daily and in the evenings to ensure the cleanlest environment possible, and offers a comfortable nursing room with leather couches and a rocking chair for parents.

This is just the beginning of all that the museum has to offer, and I have to say that although I was there without my kids, I still wanted to stay and have a great time! (812) 464-2663, www.cmoekids.org

There’s more about Evansville coming up in another feature.