In our latest You Are There exhibit, experience a snapshot of what life was like when the Hoosier State was part of the American frontier. Learn about the experiences of early residents and how they grappled with pivotal and ongoing issues of freedom, equality and faith.
You Are There 1839: Religion and the Divided Frontier puts you inside a small Danville inn during a period of religious and political transformation known as the Western Revival. At this time, Methodist Church membership exploded, and people embraced a religion that suited their everyday lives.
The inn provides a setting where men and women of different backgrounds and religious and political beliefs interact. Once inside, you’ll meet a cast of characters including Eli P. Farmer, a traveling preacher known for his joyous sermons as well as his propensity for brawling. Guests can pull up a chair to hear stories of the frontier, explore the modest cooking space and spend time talking to Farmer and his companions, including his wife, Elizabeth; a judge; an innkeeper; and a variety of early Hoosiers making a life for themselves on the frontier.
Farmer, a native of Kentucky, served in the War of 1812 and came to Indiana in 1822. He began his work as a Methodist circuit rider in 1825, committed to his vision of religious purity and inspiring thousands to join the church. He split from the church to form his own denomination, Christian Union, which he began preaching about in 1839. He later worked in the state not just as a preacher, but as a businessman, newspaper editor and politician.
Through his story, visitors can explore powerful issues like religious debates over slavery and temperance, while also seeing and hearing firsthand how driven men like Farmer introduced new religious practices and social beliefs to the state one convert at a time.
Supported by a generous planning grant from Lilly Endowment Inc.
Museum Theater Program supported by the Arts Council and the City of Indianapolis
Read about Eli Farmer in the new IHS Press book Faith and Fury: Eli Farmer on the Frontier, 1794-1881.
You Are There 1839: Religion and the Divided Frontier explores the transformative period of the Second Great Awakening or Western Revival, as it was called in frontier states like Indiana. This period helped to create an established religious culture in a state that lacked one at the start of the 19th century. This new religious culture promoted individualism and free will – blurring racial, gender and socioeconomic lines, and rejecting hierarchies emphasizing religious authority.
The spread of religion on the frontier was heavily dependent on the traveling preacher, or circuit rider. These men traveled across large territories counseling, exhorting and preaching to the area’s disparate populations. They were typically not highly educated and were poorly paid by the Methodist Church, instead relying on the kindness of those within their circuit.
Beyond the 1839 inn setting, visitors can learn about this period of history through original artifacts, photographs, video and interactive activities. Topics include the Western Revival, camp meetings, Eli Farmer’s life and frontier travel.
One of the exhibit’s interactive elements gives you the opportunity to explore Indiana during Eli Farmer’s time. Through a touch-screen interface, connect with historic maps of the state showing where roads and canals provided transportation options for early residents. Additional maps show where Farmer himself traveled and where different religious denominations flourished.