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When you think of circuses, somehow Peru, Indiana doesn't come to mind, but it's true that this tiny town of 11,417 (2010 census) actually lives up to its nickname as the "Circus Capital of the World." The moniker comes from the days, now long past, when Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, Ringling Brothers, Hagenbeck-Wallace and a number of other circus troupes used to winter in the town. The town's circus legacy lives on today, thanks not only to the presence of the International Circus Hall of Fame, but also to Morecraft, the world's only calliope (a musical instrument that uses steam and whistles to signal a circus' appearance in a new town) manufacturer, which is headquartered in Peru. Circuses aside, Peru is also famous for being the hometown of American popular song composer Cole Porter. Today, this small, thriving city is home to a number of corporations such as Thrush Company, a manufacturer of HVAC products, and food giant Armour-Eckrich Meats. In spite of this corporate presence, Peru lives up to its Midwest small town reputation thanks to a picturesque, vintage-looking downtown area, lovely parks and some cool, funky festivals every year.
Rental property in Peru is easy to come by, but remember that this is a small town with limited properties available, so when you find apartments that you like, you should be prepared to close the deal fairly quickly, or you may lose out.
When you're ready to begin your search for apartments, the best thing you can do is get in the car and drive around looking for rental signs, because some of the best deals are the ones that aren't advertised. You can also use an online apartments locator service, but be aware that some rentals don't advertise nationally. Since Peru is a friendly, easy-going kind of place, you might occasionally come across all bills paid apartments, but don't count on it, as these have become increasingly rarer, even in small town America. Be prepared to pay first month's rent in advance, as well as a refundable (hopefully) security deposit of several hundred dollars. The good news is, there's no so-called renter's season here, so prices and availability stay stable all year round.
Peru doesn't really have neighborhoods, but there are certain sections of the town that are especially popular with home buyers and renters. Here are some areas to consider during your search:
Shaw Avenue: In this bike friendly, centrally-located neighborhood, you'll find a number of apartments and homes for sale, all located conveniently close to restaurants and shops.
Jean Avenue: This bike / pedestrian friendly area features a number of apartment complexes, and often has homes for rent as well; plus, it's close to local stores and service providers.
West Matador Street: Home to a number of local businesses, this area also sometimes features rental homes.
East Riverside Drive: This bike-friendly neighborhood features beautiful mid-century homes for sale (and occasionally for rent), and is close to a number of city landmarks, including the Peru Civic Center.
Peru is one of those towns where you'll need your own wheels to get around in, but the good news is that it's incredibly easy to navigate with a bike or scooter, so you don't necessarily have to invest in a car. In addition, Peru Municipal Airport has limited services in case you need to get out of town in a hurry, and Fort Wayne International Airport is only 21 miles away.
As for the climate, this part of the Midwest can get pretty cold, and Peru typically has to endure winter lows in the teens, but the shoe drops on the other foot in July, when Peru natives enjoy highs hovering around the low-to-mid-80s.
Circus buffs from around the world flock to Peru, thanks to the International Circus Hall of Fame (3076 East Circus Lane), a magnificent structure that's located at the old circus winter headquarters. It features posters, artifacts and exhibits from the world's greatest circus performers, as well as a miniature replica of the 1934 Hagenbeck- Wallace Circus, complete with animals and performers.
In addition to its circus history, Peru also celebrates the aeronautics industry at Grissom Air Museum (1000 W Hoosier Blvd). Named for Mercury astronaut Gus Grissom, it features an amazing array of historic aircraft and an awesome observation tower.
If you love the great outdoors, you'll revel in the trails at Mississinewa Lake Park (4673 S 625 E), a stunning nature preserve where you can hike, fish, go boating and enjoy the pristine waters of the lake. Closer in town is West City Park (Park Avenue and West Canal), a 33-acre urban oasis featuring baseball and softball fields and beautiful open green spaces.
Play golf? You may be surprised to learn that small-town Peru boasts several top-notch golf venues, including the Rock Hollow Country Club (669 S County Road 250 West), which features a Tom Liddy-designed course that's been cited as one of the country's best by several top magazines. There's also Indian Oaks Golf Club (1356 N Country Club Rd), which features a course designed by legendary golf course architect Tom Bendelow. In addition, Peru has a lovely municipal course, the Peru Muni (1863 S Strawtown Pike), which offers a par 72 course featuring bluegrass fairways and bentgrass greens.
When it's time to eat, locals flock to Harvey Hinklemeyers (14 E 8th St) which, in spite of its anything-but-Italian name, has some of the best pizza in town, as well as nachos, burritos and fantastic hand-dipped ice cream. Another favorite local hangout is Homer's Riverside Fun Center (421 W Canal St), which features Peru's largest salad bar, in addition to plenty of bowling lanes where you can work up an appetite. If you're looking for a sports atmosphere without all the hard work of participating, check out Beef O'Brady's (911 W Main St), where you'll find everything you need for a perfect evening: screens for viewing, beer for drinking and incredible wings for eating.
Peru also has a number of popular local bars, and one real locals' hangout is Hangar 18 (106 S Broadway), where you'll find pool tables and great drink specials. Another popular spot is Cooley's Bar and Grill (61 S Broadway), where you'll find a friendly, welcoming atmosphere and a great beer list.
Given its interesting history, it's not surprising that this town hosts some pretty cool festivals throughout the year. Every July, Peru celebrates its heritage as a Midwest circus town with the Peru Amateur Circus, which showcases more than 200 amateur performers in a variety of circus disciplines. The festival also features plenty of food, vintage horse-drawn circus wagons and calliopes. Likewise, music buffs flock to the annual Cole Porter Festival every June, a celebration of the town's favorite native son and one of America's greatest composers. For history buffs, the highlight of the year is Heritage Days, a celebration every August of the area's agricultural history that features sinister-looking antique tractors and other weird and wonderful artifacts from farming days gone by.
It's a rare thing to find a town with a history like Peru's, where farming vies for importance with bareback riders and trapeze artists. This farming / circus heritage gives Peru a funky vibe that embraces both the traditional and the unexpected, which makes it, in many ways, an endlessly fascinating place to live. Plus, you've got to admit, it's pretty cool to be able to tell your friends that you live in the circus capital of the world.