Hoosier Hospitality at Lanier Mansion

by Gerry Reilly, Lanier Mansion State Historic Site Manager

Bill Lackner  receives his Hoosier Hospitality Award from Sue Ellspermann at the ceremony on May 8 at the Indiana Statehouse.

Bill Lackner receives his Hoosier Hospitality Award from Sue Ellspermann at the ceremony on May 8 at the Indiana Statehouse.

On May 8, Bill Lackner, tour guide at the Lanier Mansion State Historic Site in Madison, traveled to the Indiana State Capitol to receive a Hoosier Hospitality Award from Lt. Governor Sue Ellspermann. He was one of 18 recipients who received the award from the Indiana Office of Tourism Development.

Bill was nominated because of the excellent customer service he provides visitors to the Lanier Mansion. His tours of the home are always entertaining and informative and he readily answers any questions visitors have about the site and Madison.

Here are a few quotes visitors have written about Bill:

“Bill is the very best tour guide you will ever come across. The home is also just super. I have toured mansions up and down the rivers and this is the best I have seen, I make sure all of my friends get there.”
Trip Advisor, December 2012

“We were given a delightful tour of this beautiful mansion by a gentleman named William. He had interesting and educational stories of the Lanier family and the economic, political and social activities of that era. We learned a great deal about the contributions Mr. Lanier made to the state of Indiana. Even though it was late fall (November), the gardens and the view of the river were lovely.”
Trip Advisor, November 2012

“Wonderful tour by Bill Lackner”
Guest register, May 2012

“Bill Lackner gave a wonderful tour and made the visit very rewarding. Much history and good stories. Thanks Bill!”
Guest register, February 2012

“Very nice. Bill was wonderful.”
Guest register, February 2012

The Hoosier Hospitality Awards ceremony is part of Visit Indiana Week, May 5 through 11. Nominations are submitted by community members and destination patrons. Nominations are reviewed and winners are selected by IOTD. Outstanding service is a major factor in determining whether a person returns to an individual business or destination. Travel, tourism and hospitality businesses support nearly 200,000 Hoosier jobs, drive $10 billion in consumer spending and serve 63 million travelers on an annual basis. The chief beneficiaries of this economic impact are the family-owned and small businesses that are the backbone of Indiana.

Wherein the new Limberlost Visitor Center is chronicled in vintage style.

by Curt Burnette, Naturalist/Program Developer at the Limberlost State Historic Site
(written in the style of newspaper articles of Gene Stratton-Porter’s Geneva years)

To the gratification of all Genevaites and other local citizens of the surrounding environs who have been faithful observers to its construction while eagerly awaiting its completion, Geneva’s delightful new attraction, the Limberlost Visitor Center, is now open. This beautiful 4,000 square foot building is clad with Alaskan cedar, but not in the usual lap-siding pattern of which we all are so well acquainted. Instead, these quite attractive boards are arranged in a West Coast style known as “rain screen.” A gap between and behind each board permits them to dry in a most efficient manner after each rainfall and therefore impart to them a longer life. The Limberlost State Historic Site is the first location in the fine state of Indiana to have a structure with this particular type of rain screen design. The rustic golden Alaskan cedar marvelously compliments the red cedar logs covering the Limberlost Cabin where local author and celebrity Mrs. Gene Stratton-Porter and her husband, Mr. Charles Porter, himself a local businessman and citizen of note, resided so many years ago.

visitor_center

The interior of this building contains three noteworthy areas. Visitors enter the central area through a wonderful glass foyer where handicap-accessible restrooms and drinking fountains await. Beyond the foyer lies a grand and open room with a splendid cathedral-style ceiling. Within is housed the Friends of the Limberlost gift retail establishment and several enlightening exhibitions about Mrs. Porter, her career, her family and her beloved Limberlost. To the rear of this lovely hall, a small bird-viewing room is discreetly placed for the pleasure of the ornithologically-minded.

The western end of the Center houses a fine storeroom, office facilities for the illustrious Historic Site staff, and a classroom/multi-purpose room appointed with audio-visual equipment of the most updated capabilities. This pleasant classroom can be cleverly arranged with chairs and tables for programs, presentations, meetings and gatherings of all manner and purpose. The eastern end contains an office for the sturdy and dedicated Nature Preserves staff, a kitchenette, a room housing furnaces and other devices of mechanical nature, plus another, albeit smaller, multi-purpose room.

Limberlost staff undertook the arduous but satisfying move into the new building in mid-January and threw open its doors to the public by the end of the month. A dedication and grand opening ceremony is scheduled for Saturday, April 27 at 11 a.m. This festivity will truly be a community-wide celebration as our new attraction will not only welcome visitors to the Historic Site but also to the area at large. A bodacious brochure rack in the grand hall abounds with information about Geneva, Berne, Adams and Jay counties, and the Hoosier State as a recreational and tourist destination.

The Visitor Center is the latest step in the most worthy effort to restore and promote the Land of the Limberlost. Mrs. Porter’s writings made the Limberlost famous around the world. The heyday of her immense popularity and the magnificence of the mighty swamp are gone now, but the Limberlost Cabin remains, her books are still read and admired, and the Limberlost Nature Preserves still provide access to the wonders of nature she so enjoyed. The Limberlost Visitor Center is the gateway into her world and is quite deserving of a visit. So govern yourself accordingly.

Behind the scenes at Lanier Mansion

by Anne Fairchild, Eastern Region Program Manager

To me, the most interesting thing about an old house isn’t the fancy parlors, or how the dining room is decorated, but rather the cool little details that are easily missed. You know, places such as a space in the basement that once held ice, how a closet is designed or a specialty room modern buildings would never have. 

The Lanier Mansion, considered the “Crown Jewel” of Madison’s Historic District, is full of unique features throughout the 13,500 sq. feet home —10,000 of which the family lived in — that are easliy overlooked with a general visit to the site. For those who share that passion of exploring nooks and crannies, Lanier Mansion State Historic Site now offers a Behind-the-Scenes Tour on the second Saturday of each month at 4 p.m. The cost is $10 per person and we highly suggest making reservations by calling 812.273.0556. 

Tour guide Bill Lackner is waiting to take you on a behind-the-scenes adventure at Lanier Mansion!

Tour guide Bill Lackner is waiting to take you on a behind-the-scenes adventure at Lanier Mansion!

Bill Lackner, our main tour guide at Lanier Mansion — and winner of the 2012 Madison/Jefferson County Hospitality Award — offers some insights about this tour.  

Anne: What is your favorite Behind-the-Scenes part of the mansion?

Bill: Seeing the structural components of the house. A great example of this is found in the floor joists. The dimensions of the wood are many times larger and closer together than modern specifications demand. The remnants of bell signaling system. The modern HVAC and electrical systems are hidden from view and do not take away from the authentic appearance of the rooms. Also, be sure to take a closer look at the thick brick walls separating the rooms. Their thickness was determined more by financial ability than structural needs.

Anne: Why have the Behind-the-Scenes Tours been so popular?

Bill: People often wonder, “what is behind that door?” Now you can finally find out! People also like to have the inside story and be let in on some secrets.

Anne: How long has Lanier Mansion been offering these tours?

Bill: They began last year.

A brighter corner of the Lanier basement.

A brighter corner of the Lanier basement.

Anne: What is the #1 thing you think people ought to know about the mansion?

Bill: I actually have two things! First, it’s a showpiece. The building was meant to be dazzling in its day, and it still is today. It showed the wealth of the owner and demonstrated the ability of the architect and builder, Francis Costigan from Baltimore. This was Costigan’s first big job. After Lanier Mansion, Costigan went on to bigger jobs, and eventually moved to Indianapolis.

Second, its quality. In 1844, Madison was considered the Far West, and people often had to make do with available materials and workers. Lanier’s building materials, strength, beauty and craftsmanship is the same scale of quality you might find in more established Eastern cities such as Baltimore. For its time, it may have been the most significant home west of the Allegheny Mountains.

Anne: What should people know if they are interested in going on this tour? 

Bill: It is more physically demanding than the regular tour. There are more stairs, steeper stairs and fewer handrails. The tour covers all levels of the house, including the basement with its uneven dirt floor. It also takes about twice as long as a regular tour. In the winter, it is dark by the time the tour is complete. So if you have a flash light, bring it with you.

Discovering T.C. Steele and other treasures

by Karen Lowe, guest blogger and Indiana State Museum member

NOTE: We are excited to share the following write-up from one of our museum members, Karen Lowe. Karen has attended many of our members-only trips and each time she shares her viewpoint of the trip. On Sept. 22, we headed to T.C. Steele State Historic Site and Indiana University Art Museum. Thank you Karen for sharing you trip review with the museum for others to enjoy! Karen’s son, Damon Lowe, is our Curator of Biology, Science and Technology Exhibit Developer!

What a perfect way to spend the first day of autumn! Forty Indiana State Museum members and guests visited the T.C. Steele State Historic Site near Bloomington, where we were treated to an interesting and informative tour of the Indiana artist’s home and studio. T.C. Steele is one of the state’s most famous artists, having produced literally thousands of works during his lifetime. The home where he spent his last years, and where he lived while painting many of his most famous landscapes has been preserved and is currently in the final stages of being restored to its original early 20th century condition. The house contains many of Mr. and Mrs. Steele’s personal furniture, books and other belongings, and the walls are filled with Steele’s art work. The interpreter encouraged us to imagine how the urban Selma Steele might have felt as she came as a bride to this wilderness home, even having to walk the last several hundred yards in her wedding gown, as the horse and buggy couldn’t make it up the muddy road to the house. While favorably impressed with the first room, which was Steele’s original studio, she was soon terribly disillusioned when she saw what passed for a kitchen which she called “a masterpiece of unattractiveness.” No provision had been made for a chimney for the wood-burning cookstove, there were no cupboards for her dishes. Eventually, modifications were made and one of the best features of the house was the screened porch which wrapped around three sides. The sound of the wind through the screens led to the name of the house: “The House of the Singing Winds.”

For the second stage of the tour, we visted Steele’s “dream studio,” built in 1916, nine years after the house was built. In this huge building with its towering north windows, we saw a large sampling of Steele’s work, from the early portraits to the German-influenced paintings and finally to the beautiful impressionistic landscapes. The centerpiece of the exhibit for our members’ tour was the mysterious “found” painting, dated 1890 and discovered in 2012 when a New England painting dated 1887 was being restored. The mystery may never be solved as to why the artist stretched one canvas over another, thus hiding it for over 100 years!

The beautiful wooded setting of T.C. Steele’s home, which is on 211 acres, invites you to stroll the grounds, hike the trails to the log cabin that Selma had restored, and to the little cemetery where the Steeles and some of Selma’s family rest.

The tour continued to Bloomington, to the campus of Indiana University, to which Steele had strong ties. He was the first artist-in-residence at the University, and many of his paintings are exhibited there as well. He painted the portrait of the University’s first president, which is on exhibit along with portraits of all the following presidents, painted by other artists. In addition to seeing more of his work, the guide led us through several halls of the student union to show us many other treasures, some by other Hoosier artists. The composer Hoagy Carmichael even tried his hand at painting, and his donated large painting of the Constitution Elm in Corydon dominates the end of one hall. Our guide said that she was glad Carmichael stuck with his musical career!

The final leg of our tour was to the I.U. Museum of Art. The president of the Friends of T.C. Steele spoke to the group about the American artists that were exhibited there, and then encouraged us to explore the museum before returning to Indianapolis.

A passion for wildflowers

by Karen Lowe, Indiana State Museum & Historic Sites member

If you want to indulge your passion for wildflowers and enjoy the sound of a variety of birds, I recommend a visit to the Gene Stratton-Porter State Historic Site at Rome City. Overlooking Sylvan Lake, her Cabin at Wildflower Woods has been accurately maintained to represent the author’s years here. Built with the proceeds from the sales of her many books, the cabin and surrounding land reflect her interest in the preservation of natural habitats for flora and fauna.

Members enjoy thier tour of Gene Stratton-Porter’s Cabin in Rome City. The author is in the yellow jacket.

The site managers gave an impressive tour of the cabin. The beautiful cherry woodwork was fashioned from trees which were on the property. Several examples of Stratton-Porter’s photography are on the walls. Some of the furniture is original, such as a cherry chest, carved by her father, Mark Stratton, and given as a wedding gift. Her piano, which she brought from her Limberlost home in Geneva, is in the library, which also contains her Victrola. The library is lined with built-in shelves filled with the many books that interested her. The cabin has four fireplaces, the most impressive one being in the parlor. This massive fireplace, called the Friendship fireplace, is made from a variety of interesting stones, including the colorful pudding stone, which she liked so much that she also had it surrounding a spring out in the garden. A large picture window, which Ms. Porter called the million dollar window because of the view of the lake, dominates this room. The conservatory has much natural light coming in through the many windows, and is designed to serve as an aviary as well. This is much like her conservatory at the Limberlost which she designed to bring in moths.

The second floor of the cabin has a sleeping porch that looks out on the lake, and can be accessed from Ms. Porter’s bedroom. There is a fireplace and half-bath in her room. The built-in storage units include a huge cedar closet in the hall, used to store blankets and winter clothes.

Equally impressive was the tour of the gardens. There are both wildflower habitat and what she called her “tame garden.” She left extensive information as to how this garden was laid out and planted, and the managers, with the help of master gardeners and other volunteers, have painstakingly worked to recreate these plans. In one of the gardens there are globe thistle, butterfly weed, milkweed and other plants that attract hummingbirds and butterflies. A garden designed for sun-loving flowers contains black-eyed Susans, cone flowers and ladies’ mantle.  Another area is for Indiana native flowers: wild oats, wood poppy, May apple, bluebells, bloodroot, wild ginger.

There is a fascinating variety of wildflowers throughout the property. In bloom during our visit were large flower trillium, rue anemone, Dutchman’s britches, violets, shooting stars, Jack- in-the-pulpit, nodding trillium. As we strolled through the gardens, we heard many birds, and saw a few, such as a downy woodpecker and a nuthatch snacking on suet cakes. A mute swan was gracefully gliding across the lake, and we heard the call of geese, the twitter of the tufted titmouse, and the louder voice of a pileated woodpecker.

Gene Stratton-Porter died in California in 1924. Her wish was to be buried under her favorite tree here in the Wildflower Woods, which was the chinkapin oak. Many years after her death, her wish was fulfilled and there is a sculpture and lovely headstone for her and her daughter Jeannette off one of the footpaths.

Postscript: As usual, Chrissy Vasquez arranged a great members’ tour to Rome City on April 14, which included a comfortable bus (driver, James), informative literature, snacks and videos pertaining to the subject of the tour. A meal was provided at the site as well and each participant was given a package of wildflower seeds and some postcards which show rooms in the cabin. Consider becoming a member of the Indiana State Museum & Historic Sites!

Taming the wisteria

by Davie Kean, Master Gardener at T.C. Steele State Historic Site

Money doesn’t grow on trees in Brown County, but wisteria does. Long ago, Selma Steele planted the wisteria that covers this pergola with lavender blossoms each spring. This year it is blooming exceptionally early, along with the lilac in the foreground and the dogwood in the background.

Three species of wisteria grow in the U.S. including a native one, W. frutescens, but the Japanese and Chinese types are more common — and more invasive. Wisteria is a fast-growing vine that can reach up to 30 feet tall when supported. Unfortunately, when your house becomes the support, battle lines (and pruners) must be drawn. It’s hard to keep ahead of the rapid growth as creeps under shingles and twines around nearby trees.

Those unfamiliar with the plant might ask the name of this beautiful ‘tree’ (in the photo to the left) but it is just an ‘escaped’ wisteria, climbing up at the forest edge (to the detriment of the actual tree).

One way the vigilant gardener can enjoy this beautiful vine is by training it into a shrub form. By careful pruning and lots of patience, this can be the result:

There’s still time to enjoy these blooms close-up, but hurry or you may have to ‘settle’ for masses of peonies and iris instead. I encourage you to visit T.C. Steele State Historic Site this spring. Like wisteria, it will grow on you.

There’s a party going on right here …

by LeAnn E. Luce, West Region Program Manager

Mother Nature is throwing a surprise party and you are invited! The colorful fête is going on right now at the T.C. Steele State Historic Site. On display is an enchanting mix of flora and fauna she has decorated with. The 211 acres of gardens, forest, lily ponds and trails are vibrantly alive with flowers, buds, frogs, bees, birds and the intoxicating smells of flowers in bloom.

What a phenomenon this spring is! The early warm weather has just made everything pop — in some case right before our eyes — here at the site. The annual daffodil display is the icing on the cake!

So come right now to the party for the best spring eye candy and enjoy the spectacular views Ms. Nature has painted for us! Here is a sneak peek to whet your appetite:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.