Indiana Living History Museum: Conner Prairie

Last Updated on April 3, 2019 by Janet Frost

Living history museum: Conner Prairie, Indiana 1836

“Whatcha lookin’ at! Keep them eyes down and hands wheres I kin see ’em.”       

We had been told in the pre-briefing that we should be watching for a way to escape. How in the world would we see how to escape with our eyes forced down all the time. My neck would be crippled and my soul crushed by this life. How would anyone have the courage to escape after years of holding their head low literally and figuratively. These thoughts played through my head as our group shuffled through the woods of Conner Prairie.

I was given the special opportunity to participate in the Follow the North Star interactive program about the underground railroad, at the living history museum of Conner Prairie. During the off-season months Conner Prairie offers this participatory theater experience for adults in the evenings and students over 12 yr during field trips. In spite of the racially charged context, Conner Prairie does a superb job of handling this re-enactment with plenty of de-briefing and facilitated discussion after the intense experience.

Living History Museum
Follow the North Star photo credit to Conner Prairie

Living history museum, Conner Prairie 2018

Today Conner Prairie, an innovative outdoor museum on 800 acres surrounded by the White River, is a popular Indiana historic destination. Their mission goes beyond the scope of just history, including science, engineering, nature and arts learning opportunities.

Conner Prairie
Conner Prairie Map

The park is organized into several settlements. Each settlement represents a time period .

1800 Lenape Trading Village and William Conner Home

Living History
William Conner Homestead

In 1801 William Conner settle on land that would later be central Indiana. The land ran along the White River and was prime for his trading business. Conner married a Delaware woman, Mekinges, and together they had 6 children.  He lived among the Delaware and much of his trading business success was due to this relationship.  However, he was also a prominent player in the  removal and relocation of the tribe in 1820.  Mekinges and their 6 children left with the tribe headed west and William stayed on the White River land.

In 1823 he remarried and built the brick Federal-style home seen at Conner Prairie today.  The landowner, Conner, continued his business enterprises and founded Hamilton County and the government seat of Noblesville.

Conner Prairie visitors can experience the trading business in the Lenape (Delaware) village area and the life of a 19th century businessman in the Conner Homestead.

Conner Prairie
Visitors learn of life in the Lenape Indian camp. Mike Pace, seen above, is a descendant of the Lenape Chief Anderson.  Photo credit to Conner Prairie
Living History Museum, Conner Prairie
Lenape (Delaware) trading post

Prairietown 1836

The 1836 settlement of Prairietown represents the European descent and lifestyles of 19th century Indiana settlers. Conner Prairie staff portray the daily life, crafts, trades and farming tasks of the townspeople. Guest are able to observe and participate in these activities. Heirloom gardens and heritage livestock breeds add to the real life experiences.

Conner Prairie
Rare Tunis sheep grazing on Prairietown fields.

conner Prairie
Visitors participate in textile crafts at the Loom House         Photo credit to Conner Prairie

Balloon voyage 1859

In 1859 the inventor, John Wise, drew a crowd in Lafayette, IN with the launch of his balloon, Jupiter. He had been studying the new concept of a “jet stream” and predicted he would carry mail from Lafayette back east to New York. Turns out he was the first to carry mail by air but he went west instead of east and made it about 30 miles to Crawfordsville, IN.  Best laid plans……

At Conner Prairie during the summer season visitors can ride the tethered balloon for a sweeping view of the prairie.

Conner Prairie entrance with the helium balloon upr for a ride, Photo credit to Conner Prairie

Civil War Settlement 1863

Before the Civil War, Indiana was a free state bordering the slave state of Kentucky. During the war, neighboring Kentucky attempted to remain neutral.  Indiana was  a Union state and spent heavily with human loss in the war. Camp Morton in Indianapolis was a military training camp and finally a P.O.W prison.  Perhaps, in an attempt to reach this prison, Confederate General John Morgan launched a surprise attack on the southern communities of Indiana. Indiana rallied the militia and drove him back across the Ohio River. At Conner Prairie this one major Civil War battle on Indian soil is reenacted daily.  Guests of the living history museum are active participants of this event.

Conner Prairie

Civil War reenactment activity.        Photo credit to Conner Prairie

Special events

Conner Prairie opens its outside grounds in late March and closes at the end of October.  The specific hours and admission info can be found here. Even during the winter months the indoor learning centers and gift shop are open.

Beyond the  exciting daily opportunities, this living history museum offers a host of special events. Some upcoming Spring events are: Easter Egg Hunt, Mother’s Day Brunch and Shear Fun.

In the autumn, Conner Prairie guests can enjoy the Apple Store and the Headless Horseman Festival. You can find more specific details about these special events here.

conner Prairie
Prairie Plates at Conner Prairie     Photo credit to Conner Prairie

Young and old will find FUN learning opportunities at Conner Prairie.  If you live nearby and have taken it for granted, put it on your list to rediscover this year.  For all Midwest explorers, Conner Prairie is a worthy historic destination!!

As always….. Go Learn Things!!

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Disclosure: My visit to Conner Prairie was complimentary. All opinions are mine alone.

4 thoughts on “Indiana Living History Museum: Conner Prairie”

  1. This has been on my list of places to see for over a year! Conner Prairie would have made a great field trip when I was homeschooling my kids. Thanks for reminding me to try to visit in 2018!

    1. It is very well done. I liked that it covered several different decades of Indiana history and included representation of the Native American lifestyle.

    1. I think the Prairie Plates would be very interesting. I just did a comparable hearthside dinner at one of our historical museums, Wade House Stagecoach Inn, in Wisconsin and loved it. Watch for that post in a couple of weeks.

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