Lanier-Madison Vistors Center

Work progresses on
Lanier-Madison Visitors Center

Completion date uncertain

By Don Ward

(May, 2002) MADISON, Ind. – Work is complete on the demolition of the inside of the former Lide White Memorial Boys Club at 601 W. First St. in downtown Madison as part of a project to convert it into Lanier-Madison Visitors Center.
Workers from the Madison-based Teton Corp. are now preparing to construct a new center that will soon become the starting point for most visitors to Madison and the Lanier Mansion, which received more than 20,000 people last year and is by far the most visited site in town.

Link Ludington

Link Ludington

The renovation is a joint project between the Department of Natural Resources, Division of Museums and Historic Sites, which owns and operates the mansion, and the Madison Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. The first phase of the project is designed to include an exhibit hall, offices, public restrooms, visitors’ information area and gift shop, according to Lanier Mansion curator Link Ludington.
Officials hope the interior of the first phase will be completed by the end of the year, but no exact date has been determined. Interior work is expected to take six months.
Phase II is still being planned but will likely involve converting the old Boys Club gymnasium into an auditorium and research artifact storage area, however, no funding is yet available. “There has been some discussion of creating a performing arts theatre, but the consultants tell us it would take another $1 million to do it,” said Ludington, 47, a 1975 Hanover College graduate. “Funding efforts are just now being discussed. We want to first determine what we want and figure out what it costs, then we’ll see if we can get the money.”
The city of Madison contributed $125,000 to the $1.25 million project. The state of Indiana provided $750,000, while the Lanier Mansion Foundation provided $250,000. J.F.D. Lanier descendants contributed $175,000.
The project began in 1996 with the goal of constructing a new building in the flood plain near the mansion, which overlooks the riverfront. The area, known as the Kendall Lot, was deeded to the state of Indiana in 1989 by then-owner Claude B. Kendall.
About $100,000 was spent on design plans for the new building. Then a year later the Boys Club became available when a decision was made to build a new Boys Club on the Madison hilltop. State officials negotiated to buy the 34-year-old building for $850,000 using $600,000 of the state’s portion for the project and another $250,000 from the foundation. By law, the state was only allowed to pay up to the appraised value of the property, Ludington said.
“Even though we had already spent money on design of a new building, it was still a better deal for us to buy this existing building and convert it,” he said.
Since then, the Jefferson County Civil War Round Table has contributed the $40,000 it had raised to build a Civil War memorial at the southeast corner of the Kendall Lot to allowing the architects to instead incorporate their memorial into the entrance plaza of the future visitors center. There will also be a garden area in the plaza leading to Vine Street, which separates the building from the Lanier Mansion.
Foundation members hope to someday recreate a pedestrian-only High Street, now First Street, which originally crossed the Lanier property in front of the door of the mansion. They also are preparing to begin construction of a replica of an 1890s carriage house that once stood just east of the mansion.
But first things first. Foundation and tourism officials are eager to move into their new offices but because of several snags and delays aren’t saying when that will be. Ludington said it is likely they will actually move in early 2003 during the winter offseason when there are fewer visitors in town.
“The interior will include exhibits about Madison and points of interest throughout Jefferson County,” Ludington said. “We haven’t designed what’s going to be in those exhibits yet.” Stacks of used display cases from the old Indiana State Museum in Indianapolis sit waiting in the darkened gym for their debut. The new Indiana State Museum opens in May.
Established Nov. 5, 1987, the non-profit Lanier Mansion Association was the forerunner of what is now known as the Lanier Mansion Foundation. It boasts 40 members, some of whom are local residents but many who are either Lanier descendants or have interest in Lanier.
The Greek Revival Lanier Mansion was built in 1844 and designed by noted architect Francis Costigan for the Indiana financier and railroad magnate, who only lived there a few years before moving to New York.
Lanier died in August 1881 in New York. Alexander C. Lanier, his eldest son, lived in the home from 1851 to 1895 and continued to develop the home and its gardens until his death.
In 1917, the mansion opened as a museum property under the auspices of the Jefferson County Historical Society. In 1925, the society turned the property over the state and through an act of the Legislature, it became a state historic site and opened to the public as such in October 1926.

• Today, Lanier Mansion is one of 17 state historic sites and in 2000 ranked ninth in visitations at 21,609. Whitewater Canal in Metamora, Ind., ranked first with 101,109 visitors.

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