Exploring Indiana’s Museums
Indiana State Museum History
Beginnings of the Museum
Indiana State Museum History
Beginnings of the Museum
Indiana State Librarian R. Deloss Brown began a collection of minerals and curiosities that that he displayed in a cabinet. His goal was to try to preserve some artifacts from the state’s earliest history. This “Cabinet of Wonders,” grew as Civil War veterans and others gave him items to keep. The contents of the collection were varied and soon needed organizing and labeling.
Robert Deloss Brown (April 13, 1814 – 1907
Native to Otsego, County, New York, Brown came to Cincinnati in accompaniment with his grandparents in 1829. His parents had died previously, so his grandparents raised him. He migrated to Dearborn County in 1836. Brown served as assistant door-keeper United States Congress before his appointment as Indiana State Librarian in 1861, a post he held until 1863.
Edward Travers Cox (April 21, 1821 – January 6, 1907)
Native to Culpepper County, Virginia, the Cox family moved to New Harmony, Indiana in 1826. Cox studied geology under David Dale Owen and served as his assistant until Owen’s death in 1860. Cox assisted in geological surveys of Kentucky and Arkansas. Starting at that time, Cox began accepting commercial contracts, examining mining areas in New Mexico and coal deposits in Illinois. In 1869 he accepted the position of State Geologist of Indiana. During this era he was responsible for labeling, preserving and collecting specimens for the embryonic Indiana State Museum. Upon his retirement from that post in 1880, he moved to New York to work commercially. Sometime around 1896 he took a position at Portland Phosphate Company in Florida, residing in Albion, Florida. He passed away in Jacksonville Florida in 1907.
The collection ended up in the State Capital Building sometime around 1888. It became nomadic in nature over the next several years as it was moved from room to room in the capital. Finally, in 1919, the collection moved the basement of the Capitol, where it was generally ignored.
Move to the Department of Natural Resources
During these years the collection had been under the jurisdiction of the Indiana State Department of Geology, which was based in Indianapolis. In 1945 the Geology department moved to Indiana University at Bloomington and the collection was transferred to the care of the Indiana Department of Resources. Milton Matter, the new Director of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources began planning to improve the collection and turn it into a museum. During this period, businessman and philanthropist Eli Lily donated a tract of land at the corner of Ohio and Senate Streets for the proposed museum.
Milton Matter (August 12, 1887 – November 16, 1947)
The son of Phillip and Lile Harter Matter, Milton was native to Marion, Indiana. Matter graduated from Marion High School and attended Princeton University. In 1910 he received appointment as director of the John Heron Art Institute in Indianapolis. Later he taught art history at Wells College in Aurora, New York. In 1914 he returned to Marion to work at the Marion State Bank. He would eventually become president of the bank. During World War I he enlisted and served as a lieutenant in the Army Air Forces. He and Mary Ann Sweetser married on November 26, 1926. The couple would have three children. During the term of Indiana Governor Henry F. Schricker (1941 – 1945) he became employed by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. Shricker’s successor Governor Ralph F. Gates appointed Matter as superintendent of the Department in 1945. Matter took an interest in R. Deloss Brown’s collection of artifacts, which had fallen under his jurisdiction in 1945. With the governor’s support, he began hiring people skilled in the establishment and operation of museums. Matter began conducting studies and collection information about sites to locate a state museum. Matter even had drawings made of a possible design for the facility. Matter resigned from the Department. He passed away on November 16, 1947. He is interred at Estates of Serenity, Marion, Grant County, Indiana.
Poorest and Most Inadequate Museum in the Nation
The museum reached its low point during the term of Governor Harold W. Handley, who was governor from 1957 – 1961. Handley appointed a committee to study the museum. After completing its investigation, the committee had “been forced to the reluctant conclusion that Indiana has the poorest and most inadequate state museum in the United States.”
Indianapolis City Hall
The cornerstone of the Roman Classic Architecture Indianapolis City Hall was laid on July 27, 1909 at 202 N. Alabama St. The official dedication took place on December 21, 1910. The four story building, plus a basement, is 188 feet by 133 feet and features construction of Indiana Bedford limestone on a granite foundation. The building served as the headquarters for Indianapolis city government from 1910 until 1962, when city government moved to the new City-County Building. When the structure became vacant, the State of Indiana moved the collection of the Indiana State Museum into the building. Before the museum officially opened to the public in 1967, the building underwent a $830,000 renovation. The National Register of Historic Places listed the building on July 25, 1974.
The Indiana State Museum Society formed in 1969 as a fund raising organization dedicated to seeking funds and support for the museum. The same year the Indiana State Museum Volunteer Organization formed to aid the museum staff. For information about this organization, contact:
In 1976 the American Association of Museums bestowed accredited status on the Indiana State Museum.
Now the American Alliance of Museums, the organization develops standards, best practices and other means of promoting and ensuring that member museums maintain a high standard of excellence. Currently the organization includes about 4,000 member museums. Museums must undergo the process every 10 years.
2451 Crystal Drive, Suite 1005
Arlington, VA 22202
The Indiana State Museum Board voted to move the museum to White River State Park in 1984, however the State of Indiana did not appropriate funds for the new site until about a decade later. The ground breaking ceremony for the museum occurred in August 1999. The museum opened the doors to its new 40,000 square foot facility on May 22, 2002.
650 W. Washington St.,
Indianapolis, IN 46204
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