My love of old homes takes me to Conner Prairie every summer. Stepping back in time and experiencing life in the 1800’s always fascinates me. One of the places where I spend the most time is the William Conner house. Built in 1823 by William and Elizabeth Conner, it’s the oldest brick house in Hamilton County.
The house is a two-story Federal style built on the edge of the White River. Seven of William and Elizabeth’s ten children were born there. Over the years, the home was used as a meeting place for the county commissioners and even served as a post office in the early days of Hamilton County.
So I find myself back to the question – what was life like back in early 1800’s when the Conner House was built? In the kitchen, corn bread was likely often prepared. At that time, corn was the most prominent grain with wheat not grown in the area. Wheat flour had to be brought in from Connersville making it an expensive luxury not frequently enjoyed in the area. Wild game, hogs and fish were also frequently served. During the day, children were taught by “Old Father Mallory”, an early settler in Noblesville.
Clothing was made from all natural materials. The entire family often helped make the cloth used for clothing. Wool was cleaned by children, and yarn was spun on a high wheel. It could then be woven into fabric. The women typically sewed the dresses, pants and coats for the family. Seems like a very time-intensive process when compared to going to the store today and purchasing ready-made clothes like we do today.
The more I learn about how the Conner’s lived, the more I realize how much we have in common. Life in the 1800’s was busy. Like today, the workday was long. While the actual tasks completed were different back then, the men, women and children had a lot to accomplish every day just like we do today. As I tour the house each summer, I move through the rooms slowly, picturing in my mind all the day to day activities this house has experienced. Meals prepared, holiday’s celebrated and the day to day family interactions. The food and the clothes may have been different, but the basic activities hold many similarities to our present day lives.
The Conner House has stood the test time, seeing a great many changes in our community since it was built. By the early 1900’s, the house had fallen into disrepair, needing significant restorative work. In 1934, Eli Lilly purchased the home and began restoring it. Lilly later donated the house and property to Conner Prairie Interactive History Park. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980 and can be visited atConner Prairie Interactive History Park.