From the first moment, I stepped through the front door of the Chinese House at Conner Prairie the intent, passion and vision of the person whose inspiration created the place were evident. Shen Ho Shih - the House of Sylvan Harmonies - was the summer home of Conner Prairie’s founder, Eli Lilly, but today it is a remarkable example of how Eli Lilly’s HAND helped to create a harmony of History, Art, Nature and Discovery at Conner Prairie.
Eli Lilly was more than chemist, industrialist, and philanthropist; he was also an eager student and collector of Asian arts, farmer, preservationist and public historian. As we prepare to open the 45th season of 1836 Prairietown and for our Annual Meeting on April 25th to be held at the restored Chinese House, let me take a moment to reflect on the Lilly legacy of preservation and his blending of western and eastern cultures to create a place of harmony that has had a lasting impact on Conner Prairie.
In 1949, Eli Lilly purchased an additional 115 acres of land originally part of the William Conner property, which included the Atkins-Darrach House (circa 1907). After its purchase, Mr. Lilly decided to use it as a summer retreat for family, friends and business colleagues, and as a place to feature his current interest in Chinese culture and art. He began to decorate the home in Chinese style, with Chinese symbols painted on the ceilings and Asian furniture and architectural elements throughout. Today few people are aware of Lilly's affinity for Chinese culture and that in less than a decade he assembled one of the finest individual Chinese art collections in the country.
Now nearly 70 years later, I believe that Mr. Lilly would be proud that his Chinese House is still being used as both a gathering place and a discovery place for history, art, and nature. Our April 25th Annual Meeting will be the grand re-opening of this treasured community asset that includes the new Lilly Legacy Room at Shen Ho Shi, and now The Bluffs at Conner Prairie. Adjacent to the Chinese House, and in partnership with the Ritz Charles, this new banquet facility will expand the legacy of Conner Prairie as a gathering place and will highlight Eli Lilly’s legacy of history, art, nature and discovery for generations to come.