Things to Do in Fort Wayne and Beyond

Downtown Wabash is hidden gem

Cultural District packed with food, arts, history, fun

Reading Room Books in Wabash is one of the many downtown attractions in town.

Dean Jackson

Whatzup Features Writer

Published January 25, 2023

Just a short drive away is one of north-central Indiana’s sizzling secrets: Downtown Wabash.

Over the past 20 years or so, it’s been reimagining and reinventing itself, and more than 80 local businesses have caught the vision. There’s a feast of history, culture, arts, shopping, and entertainment all made up of an eclectic community within the community, all within a span of two miles.

Finding homes

Call it a day trip, a family getaway, or a chance to work remotely. The streets of downtown Wabash might be up your alley.

Julie Dickey moved from Southern California to Wabash to follow a lifelong dream: a downtown eatery/art gallery called 4 Partners In Crime at 14 W. Canal St.

“There was something about the energy in this town,” she said. 

She hopes her family eventually lands in Wabash to live “a more authentic life.” 

Mother and daughter, Holly and Abby Ward, had Wabash on their radar nearly a decade before opening their candle-making and fragrance bar, JoJo’s Olfactory & Co., 36 W. Canal St.

“It’s the culture, the art, making everything yourself, and creativity,’ mom Holly Ward said. “That’s why we chose Wabash.”

After years of work, downtown Wabash has emerged as a fresh, vibrant center of activity and opportunity. So much so that the Indiana Arts Commission has named it a Cultural District.

Before exploring downtown Wabash, be sure to snag a Wabash Cultural District Coupon Booklet from any of downtown business through March 31.

Look into the past

Any visit should include a stop at the Wabash County Historical Museum, an interactive, multimedia treasure of local history and area life.

“You can spend an hour or all day,” said Teresa Galley, the museum’s executive director. “Visitors are typically surprised. The thing that blows people’s minds is they think they’re walking into your traditional, rural small-town museum.”

Here you can learn how the community is a forerunner in innovation, becoming the first electrically lit city in the world on March 31, 1880. The city was also an anchor on the Wabash Erie Canal. It was here that Mark Honeywell built the first thermostats in what would later be the Honeywell Corporation. It was here country music star Crystal Gayle spent her youth in the 1950s. Then there is local auto dealer Gus Dorais who, while at Notre Dame, teamed up with Knute Rockne to transform the game of football with the forward pass. 

One of Galley’s favorites is Daniel Ferguson, a visionary Black barber who set up shop in the community and offered a subscription shave and haircut service for customers of all racial backgrounds. He later created a hair growth concoction that drew praise. Today, we know that miracle tonic as shampoo. 

“He was ahead of time,” Galley said. “Telling stories like these brings history to life. Instead of just listing dates and names of what happened, we got to get those stories to make it all real and alive.”

on the scent

Aromas and ambiance are on display in downtown Wabash. With custom-scented candles, sugar scrubs, and diffusers, JoJo’s is like a candy store for the nose. 

“Smells will take you back to a moment or something that reminds of something,” Holly Ward said. “Like a visit to Grandma, and her making apple pie. That’s what people love when they come in.”

It’s also a chance to savor the moments and not rush life. Almost always that’s fruity or flowery scents. Smells like tomato, coffee, and tobacco are also popular. 

“We also have manly scents, too, so it’s not just a girl store,” she said.

Bringing people together

At 4 Partners in Crime, Dickey is blending her love of food, drink, and fine art. 

About a year and a half after visiting Wabash for an art show and connecting with three other “art partners,” she left California for the Indiana lifestyle.

Now, she gets a place to call home, and we get original dishes, handcrafted drinks, and captivating local and national artists. 

Imagine an art gallery within a communal small-scale eatery with cocktails available. Much like in Italy, France, or Spain, food connects strangers at a common table. 

“We encourage people to come in and sit with somebody they don’t know and make new friends,” Dickey said. “And that happens all the time.” 

She says everything is prepared in-house. 

Make a day of it

The sights go well beyond 4 Partners and JoJo’s, and there’s simply too many to list, but here’s a bullet point version when you find yourself heading through the area. 

Make It Your Own Art Studio, 24 W. Canal St.: Schedule a pottery painting session.

Modoc’s Market, 205 S. Miami St.: Relive the lore of Modoc the fabled elusive elephant with a locally roasted cup of coffee and unique products from local artisans. 

Market Street Grill, 90 W. Market St.: Relax with made-from-scratch items at this casual bar and restaurant.

Eagles Theatre, 106 W. Market St., and Honeywell Center, 275 W. Market St.: Catch a great show with a great view.

Reading Room Books, 264 W. Wabash St.: Rare and used books with a section dedicated to Indiana writers. It’s one of the largest of its kind in the state.

Charley Creek Inn, 111 W. Market St.: Hotel with a wine and cheese bar complete with small-batch spirits, craft beer, and wine.

Moon Dog, 233 S. Miami St.: Upscale cocktail bar and restaurant with soups, charcuterie, and more. 

Wabash Carnegie Public Library, 188 W. Hill St.: Who doesn’t love a library? It’s a great way to learn more about this unique community.


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