Oldfields, a National Historic Landmark, is part of the Gardens of the Indianapolis Museum of Art. It features the Lilly Mansion, a restored museum that was once the home of Josiah K. Lilly Jr, who was the fourth President of Eli Lilly and Company and brother of Eli Lilly. The Lilly House is the only remaining building from the set of wealthy estates that used to be in that part of Indianapolis.
This house museum is rich with Indianapolis history. In the tradition of the Morris-Butler House Museum and the President Benjamin Harrison home, this historic mansion has been converted into a museum that preserves a piece of Hoosier history.
Admission to the Lilly House museum is free, and guided tours are offered regularly. Take the tour and marvel at eight fully furnished historic rooms that reflect the 1930s, the period of occupation by Josiah K. Lilly’s famous family. The building’s 22 rooms have all undergone restoration and feature mostly objects and decorations that were used by the original owners of the house. It is a great slice of Indianapolis culture and history.
The crown jewel of the Oldfields estate, however, is the massive garden on its grounds, which you can see while visiting the museum grounds for the annual Penrod Art Fair. The garden, designed by the illustrious Olmsted Brothers, has many distinguishable features.
The Rapp Family Ravine Garden is one of the main attractions at the Oldfields gardens. It occupies an entire acre behind the Lilly House, and features a 40 foot incline, covered in almost 20,000 different trees, bushes, shrubs, and undergrowth, all watered by a flowing stream. The Ravine Garden also includes sculpture and decorative pools.
There is also the Formal Garden, a historical recreation of the original design by the Olmstead brothers, which features arbors covered in roses, a fountain, and a wanton variety of other colorful flowers. As if that weren’t enough, there are an orchard, a greenhouse, and a classic allee lined with trees in the remainder of the Oldfields gardens. It is truly a must-see Indianapolis attraction.
Each fall, the grounds of the Lilly Mansion lend itself to the Penrod Arts Fair, where Indianapolis arts and local artists are celebrated. Many Indianapolis performing arts groups have also found the majestic layout of the mansion and surrounding gardens to be a wonderful place for site specific theater. Indianapolis theater companies like ShadowApe Theater Company, NoExit Theater Company, and Butler University Theater have all told very different, yet powerful stories on the grounds of the Lilly Mansion.
In addition, Indianapolis society has found that the Lilly Mansion makes an ideal place to host personal events. Every spring and summer, the gardens listen to dozens of wedding vows as the people of Indianapolis tie the knot. What better place to profess your love than in an oasis of green in the middle of the Circle City.
Its location right off of the White River and Canal, which runs towards the Northside of Indy, make it a great place for an afternoon walk from Broad Ripple Village and the surrounding neighborhoods. Its location near the historic houses on North Meridian Street brings into focus just how far the tradition of divine architecture extends into the city of Indianapolis.
For more information on Oldfields and the Lilly Mansion, please visit the Indianapolis Museum of Art’s homepage.