Conner Prairie Interactive History Park
Monday, June 27, 2016
By Robert H. Everitt
Nearly 150 members of the Society of Indiana Pioneers and their guests gathered on a warm June 27, 2016, to participate in the gala celebration to mark the 200th anniversary of Indiana statehood and the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Society. The revelers – many dressed in formal attire or in pioneer costumes – enjoyed refreshments on the front lawn of the meticulously restored 1823 home of William Conner, the centerpiece of the Conner Prairie Interactive History Park near Noblesville. They proceeded to a tent overlooking the expansive Conner Prairie to enjoy a sumptuous buffet dinner.
After words of welcome by President Jim Fadely and greetings from Conner Prairie by its President and CEO Norman O. Burns II, the program got underway.
One of the major initiatives of the state’s bicentennial celebration is to construct a new home for the state’s archives. James Corridan, State Archivist and Director of Indiana Archives and Records Administration, reported on the plans and related some interesting stories about the archives particularly on the 1816 Indiana Constitution, the original of which is housed in the archives. In co-operation with the Friends of the Archives, the Society is recognizing descendants of the signers of the 1816 Constitution at its Annual Meeting in November.
President Fadely recognized Perry Hammock, Executive Director of the Indiana Bicentennial Commission, and expressed appreciation for his participation in our celebration.
In anticipation of the celebration of the Society’s centennial and the bicentennial of the State of Indiana, the Society of Indiana Pioneers created an award for the promotion of the highest quality of scholarship, research, and writing about Indiana pioneer history from pre-history to and including the year 1851. The John Hampden Holliday Prize honors the Society’s founder and was officially designated a Legacy Project by the Indiana Bicentennial Commission. President Fadely recognized Board member Julie Newhouse, who chaired the committee that reviewed the nominated works to select the winners.
To announce the winners and present the prizes, Julie was joined by David Willkie, a member of the selection committee. The first prize of $5,000 was presented to Dr. James H. Madison for his book Hoosiers: A New History of Indiana. The second-place prize of $3,000 was presented to Bob Ostrander for his four-volume work, Indiana Bicentennials. Co-authors Lee Ann Sandweiss and Dr. James H. Madison shared the third-place prize of $2,000 for their book Hoosiers and the American Story. All authors were present and delivered brief acceptance remarks as they received their cash awards.
The Honorable Brent Dickson, retired Chief Justice of the Indiana Supreme Court, delivered the keynote address of the evening, “The Journey of the 1816 Indiana Constitution.” (Chief Justice Dickson’s remarks were also published in the Society’s 2016-2017 Yearbook.) The Chief Justice recreated the scene in Corydon, the summer of 1816, when forty-three delegates convened to draft a constitution, which would be the governing document when the state made the transition from the Indiana Territory to the State of Indiana. The task was completed in just 18 session days. The delegates adopted the constitution on June 29, 1816, and transmitted it to Congress. On December 11, 1816, Congress adopted, and President James Madison approved, a resolution admitting Indiana as the 19th state.
The evolution of the document from the Northwest Ordinance was explained, and the delegates’ attention to the matters of slavery, citizen rights, and public education was highlighted. Referencing the Constitution Elm, under the branches of which the delegates met to allay the blistering summer heat, he noted that the tree died in 1923 and pieces of it were sold throughout the state as souvenirs. The Chief Justice concluded: “Like the Constitution Elm, Indiana’s 1816 constitution was eventually retired – by our 1851 Constitution. But unlike the elm, our first constitution has left us with far more than souvenir relics. Its provisions were largely engrafted into its successor Constitution in 1851, and they live on today to guide the government and to protect Hoosiers.
As the sun descended over William Conner’s prairie, the celebrants raised their glasses in a toast to celebrate the Hoosier State’s Bicentennial and the Society’s Centennial, followed by a stirring singing of “Back Home Again in Indiana.“