If you’ve visited Indianapolis, you’ve probably been to the zoo, a museum or a Colts game. If you haven’t visited the Indiana History Center, you’re missing out. This often-overlooked attraction has exhibits that will thrill both kids and adults. On a recent trip there, I was impressed by the range and quality of experiences offered.
The center’s “You Are There” exhibits literally bring history to life. Three rooms have been converted into places from the past and modeled on photographs of actual establishments. You will step into a 1924 Ford dealership and a 1945 grocery store. There you can talk to figures from those time periods to learn about WWII ration books, the process of “dressing” a chicken for dinner or the operation of a Model-T Ford. You can even hop in the car to get the perspective of driving an early automobile.
My favorite live exhibit was the 1914 violin shop. The owner, Mr. Conrath, will patiently demonstrate the technique of handcrafting a violin and will even let you learn to play a few notes. Different characters show up on different days and the “You Are There” locations are set to change every six months, so there is always something new to experience.
As you wander around the ornate building, made largely of carved wood and marble, stop to relax in the Cole Porter Room. Dedicated to the famous Hoosier composer of Kiss Me Kate and Anything Goes, this piano room features pictures of Porter with snippets of information, decor modeled after the Waldorf-Astoria in New York and live presentations of his music during all hours the center is open.
I nearly missed the Fortune History Lab on the second floor, which turned out to be one of the best rooms in the center. The preservation of historical documents is the focus here. A technician teaches you how to mend tears in paper and even lets you try it. They also explain how to preserve your own history by storing photographs and documents safely.
I dug into history in Destination Indiana, a series of short videos highlighting important Indiana times and places. On the large touch-screen computers there, I selected Howard County and learned the most unique historical aspects of my hometown.
The center offers several other small exhibits, a document collection for researchers, a cafe on the canal and a gift shop full of information on any aspect of the state. They also host a town hall series and concerts on the canal in the summer. No matter your age, you will leave the Indiana History Center having learned and experienced things you never thought possible–I know I did.