Our Prairie began in a cabin down by the White River.
In the early 1800s, William Conner lived in a log home beside the White River with his Lenape Indian spouse, Mekinges, and their six children. To make a living, he bought furs from Indians who trapped the rich forests of this state.
But Conner’s life – and Indiana – soon changed rapidly. Conner's played a major role as interpreter and liaison of the Treaty of St. Mary's in 1818, in which the Delaware ceded lands in central Indiana for those west of the Mississippi. The Lenape tribe, including Conner’s wife and children, left Indiana. But Conner decided to stay. Eventually, he married Elizabeth Chapman and in 1823 built a grand house on a hill overlooking a flood plain that came to be known as Conner’s Prairie. William and Elizabeth Conner eventually had 10 children. He became a major land owner, statesman and wealthy businessman before his death in 1855.
The land passed out of the Conner family’s hands in 1871 and went through several owners until purchased by Indianapolis businessman Eugene Darrach in 1915. During that time, the house underwent changes. Although Darrach made efforts to maintain the home and allowed the placement of a historical marker on the grounds, the Conner house continued to deteriorate. In 1934, the 111-year old house was bought by Eli Lilly, then president of the pharmaceutical company. Lilly believed history to be an essential cornerstone of American democracy and immediately began using it as the centerpiece for historical reenactments to connect people with history in ways books cannot. Always a champion of education, Lilly opened the site to the public so people could see their heritage brought to life.
That was the start of the first phase of Conner Prairie’s life. Over the decades, present-day Conner Prairie began to take shape. The second phase began in the 1970s when museum director Myron Vourax worked with renowned folklorist Henry Glassie to create a living history museum, a place where the staff dresses, acts and speaks as if in the time period they portray. 1836 Prairietown opened at this time. What first became known as the Conner Prairie Concept because it was so new later developed into a groundbreaking approach to guest interaction.
Today, Conner Prairie is a place where families engage, explore and discover what it was like to live and play in Indiana’s past. Every visit is a unique adventure that provides an authentic look into the history that shapes us today.