THE PREFACE. With the recent $6 million Old Glory, New Vision campaign secured, the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site has undergone significant improvements with more to come. The project includes historically appropriate maintenance and renovations to Harrison’s 1875 Italianate Victorian home, along with upgrades to the grounds that focus on visibility and community connections.
A REAL PAGE-TURNER. A distinct part of the project is the Book of History in the site’s newly added Citizenship Plaza. The metal book is an effort to honor the nearly 1,500 citizens naturalized at the site over the past 20 years, along with those who will do so in the future, and features pages that turn for a tactile experience. “This is very dynamic, much like history itself,” says the site’s president and CEO, Charles Hyde, noting that pages can be added year after year.
LET’S SET THE SCENE. Since 2003, in an annual July ceremony coinciding with Independence Day, immigrants from around the world have become naturalized citizens under the century-old oak trees on the south lawn of the site, through a partnership with the federal court. “It’s our way, as a presidential site, to honor and acknowledge just how important citizenship is and how central it is to our American system of self-government,” says Hyde.
THE MAIN CHARACTERS. For privacy reasons, the federal court is not able to share the names of those previously naturalized on the site. Enter Latoya Botteron. Originally from the small Caribbean island of Dominica, the COO and CFO for the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership was naturalized on the site in 2013. She is spearheading the effort to spread the word and collect names of others naturalized here to include in the Book of History.
REFERENCE SECTION. “It’s an incredible opportunity for me and for those who have become citizens at the site,” says Botteron, who hopes to continue collecting names to add to the book (going forward, anyone naturalized here will be invited to be acknowledged after each ceremony). As the mother of a natural-born citizen, she says the significance of this recognition for her is twofold—giving permanence to her own memory, but also leaving a reference point in the Book of History for her son and future generations to look back on and create a sense of legacy.
A FITTING POSTSCRIPT. In June, Botteron accepted a seat on the board of directors for the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site with both honor and excitement. Hyde notes that Botteron’s understanding of both the rights and responsibilities of citizenship is central to the site’s mission, adding, “To have really thoughtful people that can help speak to and help inform our work in powerful ways is all the more important.”
NEW REVISIONS IN THE WORKS. While parts of the project like the Presidential Commons, Presidential Promenade, and Citizenship Plaza are complete, others will be unveiled throughout the coming months. Inside, the third-floor ballroom is undergoing an extensive restoration to include Harrison’s presidential library and an exhibition space. And outside, the Neighborway pedestrian and bicycle path is in the works to reconnect the property to Pennsylvania Street and downtown proper.
MORE IN THE SERIES. In addition to hosting more than 30,000 visitors each year through public tours and field trips, the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site continues to seek ways to create a more civically engaged community. Along with the annual naturalization ceremonies, it recently became a voting site and hosts nonpartisan programming throughout the year that includes porch parties, an Independence Day social, and Candlelight Theatre.