Connor Prairie, Indianapolis
The only Smithsonian affiliate in the state of Indiana, Conner Prairie almost completely removes the "look but do not touch" proviso from the concept of a museum. There are actually five themed historic areas on this delightful park which is located about 5-10 miles north of Indianapolis. The specific areas are:
Lenape (Delaware) Indian Camp, the earliest of the five historic areas. Here you can experience the daily lives of 18th-19th Century prairie Indians including dancing to their water drums and gourd rattles or, if you are of a more serious disposition, you may negotiate with fur traders.
1836 Prairietown, a thriving 19th Century pioneer town where you can actually join in and help the very hospitable people with their chores. (Of course, if you come help me with my chores, I will be hospitable, as well.)
William Conner Homestead and Animal Encounters Barn. If it were not for this unique piece of Indiana history, the entire 200 acres might be filled with million dollar Yuppie homes by now. Explore the first floor of central Indiana’s first brick home, where the fur trader and Indiana statesman lived with his family. Meet animals up close in the large timber-frame barn, see what's simmering in the Loom House, dip a candle, and/or stroll through the heirloom gardens.
1859 Balloon Voyage. This area was closed when I was there (I think that they needed all of the hot air in Washington, or something like that.) but when it is open, you can learn about 19th Century ballooning and actually go up 350 feet in the air in a tethered balloon.
1863 Civil War Journey: Raid on Indiana. The newest area at Conner Prairie and I imagine that for the next four years, it may be one of the most popular. Here you may experience Indiana's most significant brush with the Civil War and enlist to defend Indiana from Confederate General John Hunt Morgan and his raiders. Feel the patriotism, excitement, and concerns of the citizens and volunteer militia firsthand through this multi-media experience, unlike any other that I have seen! Bring your young children and explore the new indoor-outdoor Civil War-themed play area complete with water cannons, steamboat play structure, and more. In July 1863, just days after the Union victory at Gettysburg, Indiana militiamen and civilian volunteers rallied to defend the Hoosier State from some 2,400 invading Confederate soldiers in the Battle of Corydon.
After the defeat of Hoosier forces at the Battle of Corydon, an estimated 60,000 volunteers answered the call to help block Morgan and his raiders from advancing north. These volunteers and Union cavalry chased the Confederates into Ohio, where Morgan and his troops were eventually defeated and captured. A multi-media exhibit on this battle and other Indiana involvement in the Civil War opened last month and will most likely continue throughout the sesquicentennial commemoration of the Civil War.
Conner Prairie is a living-history museum located just 15 miles northeast of Indianapolis. (See travelogue on Conner Prairie for more photos.)
The site was developed around the original home of William Conner, an influential fur trader who moved to this spot on the banks of the White River in 1802. He married a Delaware Indian woman, McKinges; they had 6 children. Conner was an interpreter for the negotiators of the 1818 Treaty of Saint Mary's, Ohio, which effected the removal of the Delaware and other tribes from central Indiana to Missouri. Mekinges, the daughter of a chief, elected to move with the other Indians, taking her children with her. Conner chose to stay. 8 months later, he married Elizabeth Chapman, a white woman 20 years his junior, with whom he had 10 children. It was in 1823 that he built this Federal-style brick house on a bluff overlooking his property.
The Conner House has been restored & furnished with period pieces, some original to the Conner family. This 1836 Village includes a number of residences & buildings arranged to portray a typical settlement of that period. Each place is occupied by a costumed guide who will does normal daily work activities & will have conversations with you as though you, too, were living at that time period. There are log cabins, several vernacular residences, a Greek Revival house, schoolhouses, a general store, & a blacksmith shop.
When you cross over the Cedar Chapel Covered Bridge, it is 1886 in Liberty Corner, a rural Indiana community. The Zimmerman's Farm & Home are wonderful plus there is a log barn, a Pennsylvania Bank Barn, a Friends Meeting House, & District #2 School with a perfect teacher as seen in photo.
Walk the trail by the White River to go to the 1816 Lenape Indian Camp. You'll see the McKinnen's Trading Post, wigwams, & interact with an Indian. (See travelogue).
Don't miss the fine Museum Shop, The Creamery, & Persimmon Restaurant.
I have a very distict memory of going there with my girl scout troop. A woman in period costume asked the group if they could name some of the ingredients the pioneers might have used to make corn bread. Someone shouted out, 'Jiffy Mix!" Anyways, Conner Prairie is an open-air "living museum" of pairie life in 1836. Lots to look and learn about. Go on a nice day cuz most of it involves walking around outside. Also note that you'll probably go home smelling like a camp fire.
Located wayyyy north of town on Allisonvile Road, Conner's Prairie is a living history museum, which means you will find people working there role-playing the parts of residents from the early 19th Century. Feel free to chat with them and ask them about their lives, their furnishings, anything you want! Common sights as you stroll around the living displays.... you'll see the girls cooking over an open fire (even in summer!), the men repairing a barn door with era-tools, or painting their flat bottom boat. It's a lot of walking but it is an excellent way to get a feel for life in the frontier days when Indiana was considered a northwest territory!