Conner Prairie Unveils Newly Renovated Chinese House and The Bluffs, Hosts Annual Meeting in Historic Lilly Retreat
FISHERS, Ind. (Thursday, April. 25, 2019/Conner Prairie) – Conner Prairie celebrated the legacy of iconic Indiana visionaries William Conner and Eli Lilly tonight during the 2018 Annual Meeting where the newly renovated Chinese House and The Bluffs debuted to the public for the first time.
From the very beginning, Conner Prairie was created by visionaries. Starting with William Conner who had the original vision for this land, and later built upon by Eli Lilly. He saw Conner's vision when he first walked around his estate in the mid-1930s and added his own vision of what these lands could become.
“Tonight we honor the legacy of our visionaries, William Conner and Eli Lilly, by encouraging others to explore endless adventure and education, excitement and introspection,” said Norman Burns, President and CEO at Conner Prairie. “Every day we continue to expand on their vision for this place, with new ideas and innovations for engaging our lands, river, staff and communities. It is now time for us to add our own ideas that open us up to new opportunities that engage our land, river and staff to its fullest potential. Who knows, in 200 years, we too might be viewed as the visionaries that brought Conner Prairie to the world.”
In 2018 work began on the momentous renovation and expansion of Eli Lilly’s historic Chinese house, with the goal of providing a connection for the public to Conner Prairie’s past and a gateway to its future. The original house was built around 1907 on land originally owned by William Conner and in the late 1940’s Eli Lilly, then president of Eli Lilly and Company purchased the home to use as a family retreat. The land provided Mr. Lilly with the opportunity to pursue one of his other passions—Chinese art. In 1949 he purchased this home and the surrounding land and set about creating a fitting environment for his growing collection, commissioning an elaborately painted ceiling featuring Chinese designs and symbols.
Handcrafted art created by Eli Lilly himself is now exclusively on display in the newly created donor room inside the Chinese House. Never before seen by the public, on display is an impressive four-panel screen done in the style of Chinese shui mo artworks, a hand-painted water buffalo, both painted by Eli Lilly and the typewriter that was found in Lilly’s experimental farm on our property on the other side of the White River. Also on display is a rare graphite and chalk study portrait being exhibited for the first time, by Hoosier portraitist Edmund Brucker.
The newly restored Chinese House and its new pavilion addition —The Bluffs are now open as an event venue for wedding ceremonies and receptions, social galas, corporate events and holiday parties. Thanks in part to a historic partnership, the Ritz Charles has funded all capital improvements and have shared in costs for the Chinese House. This extraordinary relationship resulted in a new use of the natural beauty of the land, adding to the compelling history of the home and providing incredible renovations that took place inside. The Ritz Charles will have exclusive operating rights to provide food and beverage services at the Chinese House, The Bluffs and the land surrounding the property.
Throughout the evening special guests also spoke to the visionary theme and history of our land. WFYI’s Taylor Bennett hosted a lively conversation between Conner Prairie President and CEO, Norman Burns and Chairman, Conner Prairie, Rich Thrapp that centered around the role Conner Prairie has in redefining how we view and engage with museums in today’s day and age.
Keynoting the meeting was Enrique Conterno, Senior Vice President and President, Lilly Diabetes and Lilly USA. The Lilly Company has always been on the cutting edge of historic innovation, and Conterno spoke to the ways in which Conner Prairie continues to keep Eli Lilly’s vision alive for all to enjoy and participate in this truly special place full of history and innovation, and who share in the passion for historic preservation.
Other highlights during Thursday’s meeting included the announcement that 2018 attendance was 402,261, the second highest since Conner Prairie was founded. Visitors came from 46 U.S. states and 22 foreign countries and 7,704 families consisting of 36,756 adults and children joined Conner Prairie last year. Other milestones included:
- 2,317 campers participated in our Summer Day Camp program, resulting in a record season
- 18,966 people took flight in the museum’s tethered helium balloon, generating revenue of $205,090
- 122,140 people attended Kroger Symphony on the Prairie
- 28,038 people attended the Headless Horseman fall festival, an all-time record
- 7,388 guests attended three free admission days, including a record 5,312 people during Smithsonian Museum Day.
- 337 adult and youth volunteers gave a combined 20,732 hours of service to the museum to help with programs and special event.
Spanning more than 1,000 wooded acres in Central Indiana, Conner Prairie welcomes more than 400,000 visitors of all ages annually. As Indiana’s first Smithsonian Institute affiliate, Conner Prairie offers various outdoor, historically-themed encounters 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. Conner Prairie is a 501(c)3, nonprofit organization – accredited by the American Alliance of Museums – that relies on grants and philanthropic donations from individuals, corporations and foundations for sustainability and growth. Visit connerprairie.org or call (800) 966-1836 for admission dates, hours, ticket prices and opportunities to donate and volunteer.
ABOUT CONNER PRAIRIE
Spanning more than 1,000 wooded acres in Central Indiana, Conner Prairie welcomes more than 400,000 visitors of all ages annually. As Indiana's first Smithsonian Institute affiliate, Conner Prairie offers various outdoor, historically-themed encounters 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. Conner Prairie is a 501(c)3, nonprofit organization – accredited by the American Alliance of Museums – that relies on grants and philanthropic donations from individuals, corporations and foundations for sustainability and growth. Visit connerprairie.org or call (800) 966-1836 for admission dates, hours, ticket prices and opportunities to donate and volunteer.
Director of Public Affairs