Our diverse network of Smithsonian Affiliates helps connect local stories to our shared national history. With more than 200 Affiliates in 46 states, Puerto Rico and Panama, each has a special story to share about what makes them unique to our network. Here’s one of those stories. Special thanks to Duane Brodt, Director of Public Relations at Conner Prairie for this guest post.
Two hundred years ago, a fur trapper named William Conner made his living in the woods of Hamilton County. He lived among the Native Americans on the banks of the White River, fought in the War of 1812 and played an instrumental role in the transformation of Indiana from a territory to statehood.
He spent the next 15 years transforming himself from a trapper and trader to a gentleman and statesman who lived in a red brick home at the top of a hill – the Conner House, the heart of Conner Prairie.
Over the years, the house bustled with business and politics. It was the meeting place for county commissioners, home to the Circuit Court and served as the post office in the early days of the county. Visitors traveled from far away to discuss legislation around the dinner table and strike business deals in the best room. It was a cultural hub where big ideas were stretched and pulled as leaders wrestled with how to best guide our state though its infancy.
On Thursday, to celebrate Indiana’s bicentennial, a renovated and reimagined Conner Homestead will open and the story of William Conner will be transformed – from a domestic story to one that tells the larger tale of Indiana’s transformation from territory to statehood.
“The Bicentennial and all of the focus on early Indiana history got us thinking about the transformation of the Conner House experience to a story that looks at the Conner family and its transformation,” said Director of Exhibits Brian Mancuso. “We have designed interactive video and audio pieces to help people experience and explore in different ways.”
Rather than entering the home through the back of the house through the kitchen, visitors will now enter the home from the actual front of the home, as those traveling the White River and traversing the prairie would have entered Conner’s home in the 1800s.
Exploring the rooms of the Conner House will now allow visitors to immerse themselves in interactive, technological exhibits that explore the questions of the day and how the land was settled, surveyed and sold. Young visitors can contrast and compare their chores, meals and clothes with those of the Conner family and friends. Interactive exhibits will encourage visitors to ask themselves how Conner and his family should be remembered in history. Exhibits will also allow visitors to choose what qualities were necessary for someone to be a successful pioneer in Indiana.
The Conner House now more strongly complements William Conner’s story and shows how the family that lived here – and the people who came in and out of the front door – helped shape our state’s history.
The restoration of the Conner Homestead at Conner Prairie is designated an official Indiana Bicentennial Legacy Project.
Spanning 800 wooded acres in central Indiana, Conner Prairie welcomes nearly 390,000 visitors of all ages annually. As Indiana’s first Smithsonian Affiliate, Conner Prairie offers various outdoor, historically themed destinations and indoor experiential learning spaces that combine history and art with science, technology, engineering and math to offer an authentic look into history that shapes society today.
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