Conner Prairie partners with Ritz Charles in renovation of the Chinese House


On May 2, Conner Prairie and Ritz Charles announced a partnership in the creation of The Bluffs at Conner Prairie – a $3 million investment to renovate and expand Eli Lilly’s historic Chinese House on the grounds of Conner Prairie.

The Bluffs at Conner Prairie will serve as an event venue on the bluffs of the White River with occupancy for 250 people for events such as wedding ceremonies and receptions, social galas, corporate events and holiday parties.


“The renovated Chinese House will provide guests a great connection to Conner Prairie’s past and a gateway to our future,” Conner Prairie President and CEO Norman Burns stated in a press release. “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.”

Ritz Charles will have exclusive operating rights to provide food and beverage services for the event venue. A majority of Ritz Charles’ funding supports the construction and renovation of The Bluffs at Conner Prairie.

“We feel incredibly fortunate to partner with Conner Prairie on the renovation of Eli Lilly’s historic Chinese House,” Ritz Charles President and Co-Owner Bill Nicholls stated. “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.”

The Bluffs will be enclosed with glass on three sides. Work should be complete by Jan. 31, 2019. The original Chinese House was built in 1907 by the Atkins family on land owned by William Conner. Lilly purchased the home in 1940, when he served as the president of Eli Lilly and Company. He used the home as a family retreat.

Lilly wrote in diaries that the ceilings of the Chinese House were painted with “gorgeous Chinese symbols.”

Lilly also wrote, “On the dining room ceilings bloomed the twelve flowers of the months of the year.” He then added other Asian elements and furniture.

Two Lilly doctors originally from China proposed a name for the house, “Shen Ho Shi,” which means “House of Sylvan Harmonies.”

“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,” Ritz Charles Vice President and Co-Owner Mark Safranek stated.

Additional support for the project comes 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, visit