Located less than 50 miles northwest of Indianapolis, the General Lew Wallace Study and Museum is an adventurous and educational destination for a day trip from Indianapolis. General Lew Wallace was Indiana’s adjutant general, responsible for organizing the state for battle during the American Civil War. He was a lawyer, artist, inventor, musician, soldier and statesman, but the general is perhaps best remembered for his career as an author.
General Lew Wallace wrote the historical novel Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ. This classic book went on to top Uncle Tom’s Cabin as the best selling American novel. Ben Hur remained atop the best seller’s list until 1936, when Gone with the Wind took the spot. Ben Hur is possibly the best selling novel of the nineteenth century. The novel was part of a sub-genre that combined romanticism and spirituality to help many Americans sort out religious beliefs.
General Lew Wallace also authored six other books besides Ben Hur, and he penned the majority of his famous novel at his home in Crawfordsville, Indiana “beneath an old beech tree near my house” he was known to say. Nowadays, Hoosiers can visit the famous Indiana landmark, and even take a tour of the General Lew Wallace Study and Museum. The shade of Wallace’s beech tree is no more though, as it was dying and eventually cut down in 1908. A bronze statue of the general was later placed to mark the historic spot.
Thousands of books, movie memorabilia and artifacts from Wallace’s life are on display in the General Lew Wallace Study and Museum’s library collection. Property of the study stayed in the Wallace family until the 1940s, and today it’s operated by the Crawfordsville Park and Recreation Department. In 2008, the museum was awarded the National Medal for Museum and Library Service, the highest honor for museums in the United States.
Later in his career, Wallace served as military judge of the Abraham Lincoln assassination trial. In 1978, he was appointed by the U.S. President as the Governor of the New Mexico Territory and he later was appointed to serve as the U.S. Minister to Turkey. General Lew Wallace died in 1905 at the age of 77. One year after his death, his self-titled autobiography was published.
If you just can’t get enough of Civil War history in Indiana, be sure to check out the Indiana History Center, the Colonel Eli Lilly Civil War Museum, located inside the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument in downtown Indianapolis. Other military history sites and monuments around the Circle City include the Indiana War Memorial Plaza, Military Park, Veterans Memorial Plaza, USS Indianapolis Memorial and the Congressional Medal of Honor Memorial on the Canal at White River State Park (just to name a few).
Admission to the General Lew Wallace Study and Museum is only a few dollars. That’s a small price to pay for a day away from the hustle and bustle of Indy. After an afternoon at the museum, visitors often head to the Oak Hill Cemetery to pay respects to General Lew Wallace’s grave site.
General Lew Wallace Study and Museum
200 Wallace Avenue
Crawfordsville, Indiana 47933