From a balloon ride that soars 350 feet above the ground to a Civil War area that uses extensive special effects, Conner Prairie living history museum is much more than we anticipated. On our last visit, over twenty years ago, Conner Prairie consisted of the William Conner House, the 1836 Prairietown, and not much more. Don’t get me wrong. We enjoyed it then. But on our return there last summer we were wowed with all of the additions. The museum covers over 1,000 acres and is one of the most visited outdoor living history museums in the United States. Here are some of the areas that we particularly enjoyed.
1859 Balloon Voyage
Rise as high as the Statue of Liberty on the 1859 Balloon Voyage. The tethered, helium-inflated balloon represents the first attempt to deliver airmail in the United States. The flight was to be from Lafayette, Indiana, to New York City. However, the flight was abandoned when the balloon floated in the wrong direction. Read more about the 1859 Balloon Voyage.
William Conner House
Typically, historic homes are “look but don’t touch.” However, the home of the museum’s namesake includes plenty of hands-on activities for the kids. After touring the house, visit the adjacent heirloom garden and loom house. In the loom house we learned how wool from the museum’s sheep is dyed and spun into yarn. Read more about the William Conner House.
In the barn we learned that the resident sheep are sheared once a year, during Shear Fun weekend in April. Then by summer the sheep’s wool grows back enough to insulate and to protect the skin from sunburn.
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There is plenty of other livestock in the barn, as well. When I commented on the coarse fur of a goat I was petting, the interpreter told me that it’s because she’s an older goat. Goats are born with soft, silky fur. As they age, the fur becomes coarser.
Lenape Indian Camp
You may know the Lenape Indian tribe as the Delaware. Delaware is the name that Europeans gave to the tribe.
When you visit the Lenape Indian Camp at Conner Prairie, you may encounter Indians or interpretive frontiersmen performing their everyday tasks. On our visit we watched Mike (his Indian name was about eight syllables long) weave beads. I never knew that strings of beads are often woven on a bead loom. Woven beads are used for linear pieces like belts, sashes, and straps. More intricate designs are appliqued directly onto leather bead by bead.
We also stepped inside a trading post where in the frontier days you could purchase anything from a gun or knife to pots and blankets.
Interesting fact: Just as the Lenape Indians were renamed Delaware by the Europeans, other tribes were renamed, as well. For instance, the name “Sioux” is actually an insult. When the French came upon Sioux in northern territory, they asked Indians of another tribe who these people were. The answer? Sioux, meaning “the enemy.” The real name? Lakota. Today the Sioux National consists of Lakota, Nakota, and Dakota, a confederacy of tribes that speak three different dialects.
Read about Lakota Ways in Wall, South Dakota.
The 1836 Prairietown is one of the Conner Prairie areas in existence on our first visit. Nineteenth century interpreters stay in character as you watch them go about their day-to-day business. We found a couple of women in a house working on a quilt as they discussed “concerned news.” (Men gossip; women share concerned news, they explained.)
At McClure’s Carpentry, we watched the carpenter plying his trade.
On the hotel porch, two young farmhand girls were sorting beans and complaining about their nuisance brother. They filled us in on the price for a meal (25 cents) and the price for accommodations (12-1/2 cents for your spot on the bed).
The hotel keeps some of their own farm animals, and we found more animals down the road.
1864 Civil War Journey: Raid on Indiana
Cross a covered bridge and enter the 1864 Civil War Journey, my favorite Conner Prairie area. A Confederate raid on the town of Dupont just took place. The ruins of a burned building are still smoldering. Theater productions include holograms and other special effects for a realistic presentation.
We got a kick out of the young visitors participating in military drills.
Who can resist a tree house? Children’s hands-on activities are the focus in the four-story Treetop Outpost. However, we adults enjoyed the views from the different levels of the structure. Outside the tree house at the Treetop Workshop, visitors were crafting copper bracelets.
If you visit Conner Prairie
Conner Prairie is located at 13400 Allisonville Road in Fishers Indiana, about a half hour northeast of Indianapolis.
Allow a full day. We were there from the 10 a.m. opening until late afternoon. With kids, we could have been there longer, as we would have spent time in the Discovery Station and with hands-on activities throughout the museum.
Conner Prairie is a seasonal attraction. Check the website for open dates and times, admission fees, and other details.
Eating at Conner Prairie
The Café on the Common offers something for everyone, from burgers to wraps and salads. My Nature Walk Salad was a meal I would expect to find served in an upscale restaurant. Mixed greens, tomato, cucumbers, apples, walnuts, cranberries, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and flax seeds were served with a raspberry vinaigrette dressing.
We stayed at the Prairie Guest House, a bed-and-breakfast located directly across the street from Conner Prairie. Check rates and TripAdvisor reviews.
Disclosures: Visit Hamilton County Indiana hosted our visit to Conner Prairie. Our experience was complimentary. However, any opinions expressed in this article are my own.
This article contains an affiliate link. If you book a room through the “Check rates here” link above, I will receive a small commission, at no additional cost to you.
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