Conner Prairie & Ritz Charles Partner to Reopen Historic Chinese House

Partners announce plans to invest $3 million to renovate and expand Eli Lilly’s former retreat

Conner Prairie recently announced a partnership with Ritz Charles to invest approximately $3 million to renovate and expand Eli Lilly’s historic Chinese House located on the grounds of Conner Prairie near 131st Street and Allisonville Road. When renovations are completed in early 2019, the restored Chinese House and a new pavilion – The Bluffs at Conner Prairie – will open as a stunning event venue perched on the bluffs of the White River with 250-person occupancy available for wedding ceremonies and receptions, social galas, corporate events and holiday parties.

Ritz Charles will have exclusive operating rights to provide food and beverage services at the Chinese House and The Bluffs with the majority of their funding supporting capital improvements and construction of The Bluffs – which will be enclosed with glass on three sides allowing for amazing views of the White River and old growth wooded grounds. Work is expected to be substantially completed by Jan. 31, 2019.

“The renovated Chinese House will provide guests a great connection to Conner Prairie’s past and a gateway to our future,” said Conner Prairie President and CEO Norman Burns. “Visitors will get to experience Eli Lilly’s former retreat and his love for Chinese culture while having access to nature, views of the White River and a beautifully renovated space for their events. Revenue generated from this partnership and new space will allow Conner Prairie to continue providing unique and innovative experiences for our members and guests for years to come.”

The original house was built around 1907 by the Atkins family of Indianapolis on land originally owned by William Conner. Indianapolis businessman Eugene Haslet Darrach purchased the house and property in 1915.

Eli Lilly, then president of Eli Lilly and Company, purchased the home in the late 1940s to use as a family retreat. Mr. Lilly decorated the house in the Chinese style. The ceilings were painted “with gorgeous Chinese symbols,” as Mr. Lilly wrote in archived diaries. “On the dining room ceilings bloomed the 12 flowers of the months of the year.” He then added other Asian furniture and architectural elements.

According to a 2017 report by Shirley M. Mueller, a collector and scholar of Chinese export porcelain, two Lilly doctors originally from China – Ko Kuei and Amy Ling Chen, proposed a Chinese name to Mr. Lilly for the house – “Shen Ho Shi”, meaning House of Sylvan Harmonies. In Chinese culture, families give their homes lyrical names and Mr. Lilly adopted this practice for his Chinese House too.

“We feel incredibly fortunate to partner with Conner Prairie on the renovation of Eli Lilly’s historic Chinese House,” said Ritz Charles Co-Owner Bill Nicholls. “When you combine the natural beauty of the land, the compelling history of the house and the new renovations we have in store, the new Chinese House will be a truly unique event space for weddings, receptions, corporate meetings and other special events.”

“With more than 115 combined years of providing positive customer experiences between Ritz Charles and Conner Prairie, this team looks forward to offering a new venue for Hoosiers and people from around the country alike to book special events,” said Ritz Charles Co-Owner Mark Safranek.

In addition to Ritz Charles’ commitment, support for the project includes a significant pledge from Jay and Nancy Ricker, the founders of Ricker Oil Company, Inc., a generous grant from the Lilly Endowment Inc. and several other private donations.

For more information on reserving the Chinese House, please visit

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