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A Piece of Historic Irvington

The Benton House located at 312 S. Downey Avenue Indianapolis, IN 46219
The Benton House located at 312 S. Downey Avenue Indianapolis, IN 46219

          A historic house is known as a home that may have had a person of significance living in it or has some sort of interesting history. During the ninetieth century, people began calling homes historic, instead of old. Historic homes are significant due to their history or culture background and even their architecture.

          The Benton House is located in Historic Irvington on the east side of Indianapolis at 312 South Downey Avenue. It was the home of Allen R. Benton, twice President of Butler University in Irvington and was built in 1873 and is an example of the Second Empire style of architecture. The home was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973 and is also listed as an Indiana Museum. It is the only house that is on the National Register on the Indianapolis East Side listed on the Historic Register that is accessible by the public. The mission of the Benton House Association is to preserve this lovely, unique structure for the enjoyment of present and future generations. I was actually able to do a museum internship at the Benton House, serving as the Collections Management Intern in the Spring of 2009.

When starting my internship, I met with Bill Clarke who is the President of the Benton House Association. We discussed exactly what our options of activities would include while interning at the Benton House. It was decided that I would work as the Collections Management Intern. My responsibilities would include marking and photographing all of the objects in the house, entering the information gathered onto a catalog worksheet and researching the background and origin of artifacts in the house. I also was invited to attend any board meetings or fundraisers that Association has. If any events take place at the house I also have the opportunity to act as a docent at the events, including giving tours of the house or providing information to any guests.

          After meeting with Bill Clarke, I was turned loose to work on documenting the objects and do whatever activities I chose to work on in my own time to complete the semester. I began by sorting through the different cards that listed the objects, trying to find the cards that had pictures already attached to them. After that, I took the card and picture and located the item in the house. I then wrote a condition report on the object and also took a new updated photograph of the object. Sadly, this will not be able to be completed for quite some time because there are over 200 cards that need to be sorted through, have condition reports written and have updated photographs taken. After doing this for awhile, I decided to also begin rewriting the docent book, which is a small book that guests visiting the house can read as they go from room to room, learning about the different important objects in each room. I was very frustrated while working on this project, and due to time constraints I was unable to finish rewriting the book. This book needs to be written in a coherent way where a visitor is able to enter the room and go through the room in order as they view it instead of having random objects throughout the room listed in no order or facts presented after the object in an obscure way.

          After doing all of these activities and being able to be immersed in this historic environment, I felt as if I learned a lot about the time period of the 1800s. Historic houses today allow people to take a glimpse into the past and into people's lives that one would never be able to see in any other way. Though it is disappointing that nothing in the Benton House is original to the house, except for the woodwork, anyone visiting the house is still able to gain perspective of what this house would have been like in its time period. The furniture, artwork, knickknacks and clothing give the house a life of a different era that many romantics wish they had been able to experience. Overall, I felt as if this was a good experience and I learned a lot about this time period and historic houses. If you are looking for a step back in time visit the Benton House for a guided tour the 2nd and 4th Wednesday of each month from 1:00pm to 4:00pm or call 317-357-0318 or 317-356-8692