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Heartland Small Towns

Small towns of the Midwest offer an unmistakable appeal. Time slows, and there’s margin to enjoy the beauty of each season. Each destination captures a different aspect of Americana: history, culture, nature and more.

Dynamic and relevant, these communities display genuine hospitality and allow visitors to savor the moment. Whether your group visits for an afternoon or for an extended stay, they’ll leave refreshed and rejuvenated from these charming communities.

Lake Geneva, Wisconsin

Historically referred to as the Newport of the West, Lake Geneva’s inviting downtown has hosted newcomers for more than a century. In the mid-1800s, wealthy Chicago businessmen gravitated to the area to hunt, fish and camp. After the great Chicago fire of 1871, many of these same Chicagoans boarded the train and moved to Lake Geneva while Chicago was being rebuilt. Some never left.

Geneva Lake is the heart of the community and lies within walking distance of downtown. Entrepreneurs with household names, such as Swift, Wrigley and Schwinn, built their magnificent summer mansions on its shoreline. White boat docks sport green-and-white-striped awnings, which enhance the community’s country club feel. Boat cruises operated by the Lake Geneva Cruise Line leave from the town dock. Crews deliver lively narratives about the area’s history and residents.

Downtown is a shoppers’ paradise, with plenty of galleries and boutiques amid fountains, reproduction streetlights and flower-filled planters. History buffs will enjoy the Geneva Lake Museum, housed in the 1929 Wisconsin Power and Light Building. The museum’s replicated late-1800s Main Street showcases a bounty of memorabilia.

“We consider ourselves a year-round destination, but the lake has gorgeous autumns because the landscape architects put in foliage and trees that give long-lasting color,” said Katie Baer, marketing coordinator for the Lake Geneva Chamber of Commerce and Convention and Visitors Bureau. “In the fall, we’re a nice alternative to the East Coast.”

Corydon, Indiana

Indiana celebrates its bicentennial in 2016, and Corydon will be front and center. As the state’s first capital from 1816 to 1825, this quaint southern Indiana community will host major events and celebrations. Besides the first capitol, other historic sites include the Constitution Elm, where the first state constitution was established, and tours of the Leora Brown School, one of the nation’s oldest remaining African-American schoolhouses. The Battle of Corydon Memorial Park commemorates the Civil War and features a log cabin and historic monuments. Step-on guides provide narration for a historical town tour that covers these sites and more.

Shoppers will find boutiques and antique stores on the town square, along with four locally owned restaurants. Two soda fountains, Butt Drugs and Emery’s Ice Cream Shop, serve treats the old-fashioned way: phosphates, egg cremes and homemade milkshakes. The fourth-generation Zimmerman Art Glass Factory will move downtown later this year. Along with the new demo area, the company will open a museum and a store. Shoppers will find hand-sculpted art glass from miniature paperweights to table lamps.

Along the Ohio River Scenic Byway just 10 minutes west of downtown, the Scout Mountain Winery offers cooking classes that use wine and herbs. Participants eat lunch or dinner from the demonstration meal. Each course is paired with a different wine.

“Our downtown is known for history and quaint shops,” said Stacy Pirtle, director of sales and visitor services at the Harrison County Convention and Visitors Bureau. “But people also come to the area for our five wineries, which are all mom-and-pop establishments within a 25-minute drive.”

Gabi Logan

Gabi Logan is a freelance travel journalist whose work has also appeared in USA TODAY, The Dallas Morning News and Italy Magazine. As she travels more than 100,000 miles each year, she aims to discover the unexpected wonder in every destination.