Having been south to Perry County and north to Miami County, I feel the next stop on my Indiana tour should be east or west. Let’s go west — to Benton County.
Once in a while, I decide to get off I-65 at Lafayette and take US 41 to Chicago instead. It’s a relief to escape from the pressure of high speeds and semis although I make sure to fill up my gas tank before starting out. Soon I’m in Benton County, which lies along the western edge of the state to the northwest of Lafayette.
The county as a whole has a population density of 21.7 people per square mile (compared with Lake Co. at 990.1 or Marion Co. at 2213.0). In 2006 a total of 2,272 people lived in Fowler, the largest city and county seat. Benton County was in the news last month when it was announced that it will soon be home to the Fowler Ridge Wind Farm, one of the world’s largest wind-power facilities with more than 200 wind turbines.
I once visited Fowler as part of a delegation recruited by the Indiana Rural Development Council. We spent a day touring Benton County on a bus to learn what we could about its economic and cultural situation and make suggestions that might lead to improvement. We drove out of Fowler, past a large plant that produced microwave popcorn bags, not popcorn in bags, just the bags. It’s an essential product, one that I use at least once a week but had never thought about before.
Half the adult population of Benton County, we were told, goes to Tippecanoe County to work, primarily at Purdue University. Many of them are farmers, part-time since less than half of today’s farmers work full-time on their farms. Other local residents simply prefer to live in a rural environment and commute to the city.
Their children stay in the county, however, so Benton Central Junior-Senior High School is among the most important institutions in Benton County, along with the three remaining elementary schools. As the school corporation’s website declares: “The heartbeat of Benton County is the school system…”