Museums and Libraries of Indianapolis
As demonstrated by this tour, Indianapolis is home to many incredible museums and libraries. The first half of the tour is perfect for walking, while the second half will require a vehicle.
The Carnegie funded Hawthorne Branch Library was designed by the architectural firm of D. A. Bohlen and Son and constructed from 1909-1911. The Neoclassical library, now home to the Hawthorne Community Center, is the oldest surviving branch library building in Indianapolis and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places [1; 2].
The Indiana Medical History Museum interprets and preserves the history of the Old Pathology Building, the oldest surviving pathology hospital in the United States. Dating back to 1896, the Pathology Department conducted groundbreaking research regarding the physical causes of mental illnesses. The facility was in operation until the 1960s, becoming a museum at the end of the decade. Through its exhibits, publications, and programs, the museum educates the community concerning health care, health careers, and life sciences in Indiana during the nineteenth and first half of the twentieth centuries. Tours through the Medical History Museum introduce visitors to the nuances of the two-story Pathology facility as well as a recreated doctor’s office and a medicinal plant garden. The Old Pathology Building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Lilly House is a historic 22-room mansion that was once the home of Indianapolis businessman J.K. Lilly Jr. Known historically as Oldfields, the estate features gardens and grounds designed in the 1920s by Percival Gallagher of the famous landscape architecture firm Olmsted Brothers.
Featuring a collection of more than 54,000 works of art spanning 5,000 years, an early 20th century estate, 152 acres of gardens and grounds, and an outdoor art and nature park, the Indianapolis Museum of Art is among the 10 largest and oldest general art museums in the nation. The Museum dates back to November 7th, 1883, when the English Hotel in downtown Indianapolis displayed 453 works of art by 137 artists. This exhibition, organized by the Art Association of Indianapolis, attracted large crowds and prompted continual interest and artistic exploration throughout the city. Changing its name from the Art Association of Indianapolis to the Indianapolis Museum of Art in 1969 and moving to its current location on Michigan Road, the Museum stands as the Indianapolis’s greatest artistic and encyclopedic treasure, prompting interest and education in world arts as well as history and culture. Its collection includes African, American, Asian, and European works of art, with special emphasis placed on Neo-impressionist paintings, works from the Japanese Edo period, Chinese ceramics, and prints from Paul Gaugin and the Pont-Aven School. In addition to its vast collection and permanent and changing exhibits, the Indianapolis Museum of Art supports two libraries and a variety of research programs, ranging from WWII-era provenance to Conservation Sciences. The Indianapolis Museum of Art is accredited by the American Alliance of Museums.
The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis is the largest museum of its kind in the entire world. With over 120,000 artifacts and specimens in its collection and 472,900 square feet of exhibit space across five floors, the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis seeks to create extraordinary learning experiences for children in the arts, sciences, humanities, and other fields. Within the museum’s collection, which has taken more than 80 years to gather, visitors can explore three large categories of artifacts, including the American Collection, the Natural Science Collection, and the World Cultures Collection. Furthermore, throughout the museum’s 29-acre facility, a wide variety of exhibits give children hands-on exploration and interactive displays. Dating back to 1925, making it the fourth oldest of its kind in the world, the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis is accredited by the American Alliance of Museums and it caters to over one million visitors a year.
Crispus Attucks High School became the first segregated high school in Indiana when it opened in Indianapolis in 1927. Given the lack of employment options for African American educators, school administrators were able to maintain very high standards. In an era when many teachers had less than a bachelors degree, every teacher at Crispus Attucks High School had at either a M.A. or Ph.D.
The Benjamin Harris Presidential Site stands as one of Indianapolis’s greatest historic and political charms. Located in the Old Northside Historic District and featuring an Italianate style architecture common in the 1870s and ‘80s, the Benjamin Harris Presidential Site also marks the spot where Harris created his famous Front Porch Campaign during the 1888 Presidential Elections. Benjamin and Caroline Harrison built the home in 1874-1875. Harrison lived in the home until he died in 1901, except for his U.S. Senate and presidential years. His family continued to live in the home until 1913. His second wife, Mary Lord Harrison, made the home a rental property until 1937, when she sold it to the Jordan Conservatory of Music with the understanding the home and its artifacts would be forever preserved. The school used the home as a dormitory while maintaining certain rooms as presidential museum space. In 1966, a not-for-profit operating foundation was established to run home as a historic site open to the public. From the 1950s until 1974, tours were by appointment only. After a 1974 renovation, the entire home was opened for regular daily tours. The Benjamin Harris Presidential Site is a U.S. National Landmark and it is listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.
Visitors to the memorial mall will find the Central Branch of the Indianapolis Public Library and its Indianapolis Special Collections Room at the far north end of the mall. The library was built in 1917, using Indiana limestone upon a base of Vermont marble. The city doubled the size of the library in 2001, combining the original neoclassical building with a modern glass structure featuring an enclosed glass atrium supported by a latticework of columnns. The Indianapolis Special Collections Room features rare photographs, scrapbooks, typescripts, manuscripts, autographed editions, letters, newspapers, and other one-of-a-kind items related to the city's history.
The Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library (KVML) is a library and museum that was opened to the public in November 2010, which "champions the literary, artistic and cultural contributions" of the late Indianapolis-born author Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. The library was conceived by founder and current executive director Julia Whitehead in 2008, when she found an online library for American author Henry Miller and wondered why there was not a similar resource for a writer as known and loved as Vonnegut. The KVML is located within the historic Emelie Building, a three-story, red brick and limestone building that was constructed in 1902 and was included in the National Register of Historic Places in 1983. (This is the former location of the Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art.) The KVML also hosts events by writers and other artists.
The Indiana War Memorial Building, located in the center of the Indiana War Memorial Plaza, was constructed starting in 1926 as a tribute to the Veterans of World War I. The architects modeled the building after the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. On each side of the monument stand symbolic statues designed by Henry Hering: Courage, Memory, Peace, Victory, Liberty, and Patriotism.
Since 1995, activists and scholars in Indianapolis have maintained an archive related to LGBTQ history in Indiana and throughout the United States. The library has grown to over ten thousand items and is currently located in the basement of the Health Foundation of Greater Indianapolis building which is also the headquarters of Indy Pride. The archive maintains a collection of original LGBTQ publications such as the Daily Mirror as well as local newsletters and personal recollections of numerous local activists. The archive also has a unique collection of material history items, including over two hundred t-shirts from LGBTQ festivals dating back over several decades.
The Soldiers and Sailors Monument, situated at One Monument Circle in downtown Indianapolis, was dedicated on May 15, 1902. The monument was designed to honor the common soldier and was constructed over a thirteen-year period between 1888 and 1901. The structure is the largest outdoor memorial in the state of Indiana and has become closely tied to the identity of both the state and the city of Indianapolis. The Soldiers and Sailors Monument houses the Colonel Eli Lilly Civil War Museum and was added to the national register of historic places on February 13, 1973.
The Indiana State Library was established in 1825 shortly after the state capital was moved to Indianapolis and the building that now houses it was completed in 1934. The Indiana limestone building is the largest library in the state and contains over 2 million volumes within its walls. It features stained glass windows, oak and walnut paneling, a marble staircase, hand-painted murals and bas-relief sculptures on its exterior. The building is also home to the Indiana Historical Bureau and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1995.
A private, nonprofit membership organization, IHS maintains the nation's premier research library and archives on the history of Indiana and the Old Northwest and presents a unique set of visitor experiences called the Indiana Experience. The History Center features interactive experiences, an on-site cafe, and the Basile History Market. The Society also boasts an impressive research library that is open to the public.
The Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art is widely respected for being the only museum in the Midwest that specializes in both Native American and Western artists in the same facility. In fact, the Eiteljorg is one of two museums of its kind east of the Mississippi. Located within Indianapolis’s White River State Park, the museum seeks to inspire an appreciation of art, history, and culture associated with the American West and the indigenous peoples of North America. Thus, visitors to the museum can experience a broad view of the American experience from two specific perspectives. At the same time, visitors to the museum can experience the world’s finest collection of contemporary Native American art as well as works by George Winter, Ansel Adams, and Georgia O’Keefe. Throughout the year, the Eiteljorg museum also hosts a variety of Indianapolis’s premier cultural events.
This recently-opened history and natural history museum features three floors of gallery space that share the human and natural history of Indiana. The museum also hosts cultural exhibits and events, as well as science programs and history lectures. Among the highlights of the modern facility, completed in 2002, is an IMAX theater, exhibits and programming for children and parents, special exhibits dedicated to state and local history, art exhibits, and a cafe.
The NCAA Hall of Champions is a museum, exhibition center, and conference center located in Indianapolis, Indiana. Listed as one of the ten best places to visit in Indianapolis, according USA Today's Best 10, the museum offers hands-on and interactive exhibits featuring each sport represented in the NCAA. Visitors learn about the NCAA's attributes, the successes of college athletes, and have the opportunity to learn about a new sport. The NCAA Hall of Champions also offers special exhibits throughout the year in order to celebrate and recognize the different contributions that have been made to the NCAA over the years.