Today, we did something special as a family. We finally visited Conner Prairie, a living history museum in Fishers, Indiana. We’ve known about Conner Prairie for a few years, but today we decided to make the day trip, which included 5 hours of driving (2.5 there and back), to check it out. Our assessment, OUTSTANDING!
So, because we left the house late, and had lunch on the way there, we didn’t arrive until about 12:45pm. The Saturday Summer hours are from 10am – 5pm, so we were working with a shortened day. Our 7 year old ‘actress’ daughter decided to wear a prairie dress and bonnet, so even though we feared she would overheat, she looked every bit the part of 1830’s prairie Americana.
The visitor’s center was clean, cool and well designed – so tickets were quickly dispatched and we were on our way for an adventure. A few things we didn’t see (or do) because of the short time were the displays in the visitor’s center, the 1859 Balloon Voyage and the Lenape Indian Camp…so these are on the list for next time.
Our first stop was the Conner Homestead and animal barn, where my daughter was so excited to pet a cow for the first time…yeah yeah, I know…we live in the city 🙂 The homestead was very interesting and like the rest of Conner Prairie, educational, but in an enjoyable, relaxed atmosphere. One thing I learned was the idea and function of a “Spring House” – you’ll have to Google that one!
Next we were on to the Prairietown section, a small village set in 1836, begs visitors to roll up their sleeves and jump right in. The town also includes period actors that remain in character, the entire time. This is where the living history rubber meets the road. Experiential learning is key to this kind of setting, as the Conner Prairie website says – “In each area ‘look, don’t touch’ becomes ‘look, touch, smell, taste and hear’ as you live history first-hand.” The engagement with the visitors (audience), pulls you into that time, and provides a real sense for how things must have been in 1836. I found myself engaging with the storekeepers, doctors, and ‘town folk’ on their terms, in their voice. A very nice experience!
Next, though the afternoon was winding down quickly, we visited the “1863 Civil War Journey: Raid On Indiana”. This brought us a blend of real world and multimedia immersion into the time of Confederate General Morgan’s raid on Indiana towns. I get the sense more could be done here and of course we were feeling rushed as the day was coming to a close. So the next trip will require more exploration and time spent in this area – we may also benefit from a visit during one of the special Civil War events held at Conner Prairie.
Finally, if you’re considering a visit to Conner Prairie, or you’re in the Indianapolis area, I would highly recommend a day trip to Conner Prairie. It will leave you and your family excited about the history of the American midwest, from the prairie days of 1836 up through the Civil War. But in the end it’s all about engagement, immersion and experiential learning, FTW!