Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site to unveil $6M in upgrades

Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site (IL file photo)

More than $6 million in improvements to the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site are set to be formally unveiled Thursday, providing increased visibility for the historic landmark and enhancing learning experiences about the only president elected from Indiana.

After more than two years of planning and construction, the site is ready to share its new portico and commons area, a presidential promenade and a new pedestrian and bike pathway that connects Delaware and Pennsylvania streets on the Old Northside.

The renovations will be the center of attention at a Grand Inaugural Reopening Ceremony from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. at 1230 N. Delaware St.

The improvements were made possible by a fundraising campaign that exceeded expectations and generated $6.8 million from 535 donors, said Charlie Hyde, CEO of the presidential site.

The first thing visitors are likely to notice are the site’s new signs, which can be seen from nearby Interstate 65 and Delaware Street and are aimed at increasing awareness of the presidential home, which already attracts about 30,000 people annually.

For years, the embankment along I-65 on the property’s southern edge has shrouded visibility. But the new signs and an 89-foot Centennial Flagpole should change that.

“People, whether they’re just coming through the city, coming through the state or are making the daily drive back and forth, they would have the awareness that there is the home of an American president right here at the crossroads of the crossroads,” Hyde told Indianapolis Business Journal. 

Visitors to the site will first be welcomed at the new Johnson-Floyd Family Presidential Commons, a portico designed to showcase images and history about Benjamin Harrison and his presidency from 1889 to 1893.

From there, the Presidential Commons leads to the Sarah Evans Barker Citizenship Plaza that has limestone viewing cases holding versions of America’s founding documents.

The plaza also includes a Book of History, which contains the names of every person naturalized as a U.S. citizen at a ceremony held on the property since 2003. The book can be found in front of a cherry tree, which is meant to carry a special message, Hyde said.

“This is actually an autumnalis cherry tree that is meant to symbolize the friendship between nations,” Hyde said. “It’s just really meaningful to be able to have this here at the naturalization site but then also the Book of History itself.”

The Stan and Sandy Hurt Presidential Promenade is a new walkway that leads from the Presidential Commons toward the historic home.

The granite and brick pathway is lined with the names of all the presidents in chronological order, the years of their terms, their signatures and a 3D-printed stainless steel medallion with stars to represent the number of states in the union during their terms.

Enhancements to the residence include a new heating and air conditioning system and some exterior preservation work. Historically accurate wallpaper and paint also was added to several rooms in the home.

Right off Talbott street, near the edge of the property, there is a corner lot that was once unmaintained and often littered from the highway, according to Hyde. It is now home to a walk and bike path, or neighborway, connecting Pennsylvania and Delaware streets.

“To be able to really open our doors, open the property to the neighborhood, to the city, to the state, and to make it very apparent how welcoming the space this is, was important to us,” Hyde said.

Hillary Barnes, president of the Old Northside Neighborhood Association, said she welcomes the improvements and the presidential site’s efforts to reconnect the neighborhood.

“This access was cut off by construction of the interstate like 50 years ago,” Barnes said. “That reconnection has really transformed this area of our neighborhood from a walkability standpoint.”

The renovations also hold the promise of boosting the number of visitors to the site.

“We see people from all over the country travel to Indianapolis to step foot inside the home of the only American president from the state of Indiana,” said Morgan Snyder, the senior director of public relations and film at Visit Indy and a board member for the Presidential Site. “Having this celebrated site in downtown Indianapolis is a contributor to the $5.6 billion economic impact we see tourism play in central Indiana.”

Indiana Lawyer will attend Thursday’s unveiling. Check back with our website for coverage.

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