Danville, Indiana is a town that prides itself on tradition. Founded way back in 1824, downtown Danville is rife with historical landmarks that the town government has kept in pristine condition through a series of renovations and restorations. But in today’s age of digital gotta-have-it-now consumerism, an age where memories stored in bytes on a hard drive don’t disintegrate, turn to dust, or fade, it can be hard to remember that historical preservation is a difficult, rewarding task. Aiding in the resurrection of Danville’s long history is the Hendricks County Historical Museum, a monument to the past that has stood in downtown Danville for the past 35 years.
As stated on their website, the mission of the Hendricks County Historical Museum is to “collect, preserve and interpret items relating to the people, places and events of Hendricks County and to stimulate public interest in the heritage of the county through education, exhibits and special programs.” True to their word, the Hendricks County Historical Museum has hundreds of artifacts and memorabilia, several period rooms, and a whole slew of Danville events designed to engage the public in Danville’s long and interesting history.
The building itself is an important historical site in Danville; it was the first building in Danville to be placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Constructed in 1866, the Hendricks County Historical Museum was built in the “Second Empire” style of architecture popular back then. The most defining characteristic of Second Empire is the relatively flat mansard roof, which is shown in the museum’s architecture. The central tower of the Hendricks County Historical Museum is also part of the Second Empire styling. The building functioned as the Sheriff’s residence and jail from the time of its construction until 1974; visitors to the museum can still see the old jail cells.
Far more than a monument of brick and mortar, the Hendricks County Historical Museum is more important as a repository for artifacts of Danville’s history. There are several different exhibits at the museum, each one with something unique to offer. One of the biggest displays is the one devoted to Central Normal College, an Indiana university that moved to Danville way back in 1878. The college was an integral part of the town until 1951, when the Danville school shut down due to falling enrollment. Today, many reminders of Central Normal College are at the Hendricks County Historical Museum; gradebooks, letter jackets, yearbooks, newsletters, and plenty of photographs document the college’s legacy in Danville.
Perhaps the most stunning parts of the Hendricks County Historical Museum are the period rooms that are designed to transport you back to the past. As previously mentioned, the building the museum is housed in used to be the Sheriff’s residence and jail; the old jail has been preserved, and visitors can tour through the prison just as it was left. The Sheriff’s office is still around as well, complete with photos and letters; even the Sheriff’s pocket watch is on display. Other recreated rooms in the Hendricks County Historical Museum include the adult’s room, a turn of the century bedroom with a feather bed, chamber pot, and glove box (for actual gloves, not for your owner’s manual); the kitchen, which features a bath tub, a wood stove, and an early 1900’s phone; the parlor, where the building’s original fireplace survives, accompanied by a pump organ; and the children’s room, replete with hand made dolls, model trains, and story books. Visitors to the Hendricks County Museum can step back in time with these recreated rooms.
All in all, the Hendricks County Historical Museum is an important piece of the Danville puzzle. The National Register of Historic Places building houses tons of priceless artifacts of Danville’s past, each one bringing a little more vision to the big picture of Danville’s history. Central Normal College’s legacy is preserved at the Hendricks County Historical Museum, as is the old jail and several examples of turn of the century home life. Visit the Hendricks County Historical Museum in Danville, Indiana, just west of Indianapolis, to see how historical preservation is an important part of preserving our own identity.
Hendricks County Historical Museum
170 S Washington St
Danville, IN 46122
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