The Rest is History: One Resident Strives to Keep Old Indy Alive, Share it With Others

In a future edition of BizVoice, we'll take a look at historic preservation efforts around the state. But for now, one web site that is gaining popularity is Historic Indianapolis, the brainchild of downtown Indy resident and Los Angeles transplant Tiffany Benedict Berkson. I recently interviewed Tiffany about her site:

Chamber: How long has Historic Indianapolis been up? Why did you launch it?
Tiffany: Historic Indianapolis started as a periodic blog in July 2009. I started it as a way to share all of the offbeat finds I discovered as I was doing research on my home. If someone had told me 10 years ago I’d be doing this, I would have laughed. Now, I have trouble imagining doing anything else. The goal is to get people to see that no matter where you are, there are fascinating discoveries to be made that will make you feel a deeper connection to said place. The echoes in history can seem almost magical, but you have to be open to listening and capable of connecting the dots. 
What is it about history that appeals to you? Why do you think it doesn’t resonate with some people in younger age brackets? How have you tried to make your site appealing to those people? 
I love how history is just one giant game of "Six Degrees of Separation." Everyone is looking for their connection to the story and it’s just a bit more laborious, layered or labor intensive to discover the connections from many decades past — but the connections are there somewhere, awaiting discovery. I think that’s why it doesn’t necessarily resonate immediately with the younger set. If the timeframe/ person being examined is farther removed than someone they have personally known — like a grandparent — they don’t have a first-hand connection, and therefore, it’s too taxing to use imagination to flesh out. There are so many other things vying for their attention, that this one is easy to flush. I try to make the past relevant by presenting the information in a quick, accessible way, for the most part. There are always visuals; the stories aren’t too long, typically; the site can be irreverent — just look at WTH Wednesdays. People have tortured old buildings and done things that even most untrained eyes can discern — this makes for an interesting hook, akin to hiding a kid’s medicine in something they love.  
What is your goal with the site? Are you looking to expand it further?
The most immediate goal is finding sponsors to help underwrite the cost of running the site. This is a very time intensive endeavor, and there are thousands of visitors each month. Yes, I have a lengthy list of other features I plan to add once more resources are secured. There are tons of ways to get people inspired about community, history, heritage, family and I look forward to making a growing contribution in all those arenas. 
You now have over 4,000 Facebook fans? How are you promoting the site to generate that much interest?
Recently, I did a small promotion and museum ticket giveaway, but for the most part, I just ask the existing audience if they know anyone else who loves history and heritage or who has pride in Indianapolis and ask them to suggest it to friends. Plus the Facebook page is very active. New photos, questions or posts are added at least once, but oftentimes more frequently, each day.
Operating a site like this must expose you to a great deal of information – perhaps some that has been buried, so to speak, for a long time. In your research, what are some of the most surprising facts you’ve uncovered about the city or state?
Well, it’s no longer surprising — but at first, I was in absolute shock at what an opulent place this was and what stunning big city, old architecture we had — and that most of it is gone. Indianapolis has earned a nickname relating to wrecking balls. Thankfully, when I get out of the city, there are lots of lovely town squares that remain mostly intact. That’s always refreshing. 

Are there people in any other major cities in the U.S. with sites like yours that you’ve seen? Any others in Indiana?
I’ve not found anything exactly like; I’ve seen preservation sites, vintage real estate sites, sites for a specific museum, neighborhood, etc., but not one that pushes out seven days a week of content and is not comprised solely of long dissertations, as you would expect from the world of academia, for example. The unabridged version of the story should be out there — and there are plenty of academic journals or publications to accommodate that, but the medium of a website (also accessible by smartphone) almost dictates a quicker breakdown of material, if that makes sense.
What have been your greatest challenges in creating the site and keeping it going? 
The biggest challenge has been finding the time to pursue sponsorships. Though a number of people have suggested making this into a not-for-profit, I’m not yet convinced that is the way to go. It makes sense from the perspective of going after a big grant versus smaller amounts of money from sponsors and underwriters, but I’m still experimenting. Other than my three weekly contributors and other occasional ones, I do all the content, research, photos, scanning, etc. This is all incredibly time consuming, so adding to that: meeting people and pursuing potential sponsors, following up, and the like… it quickly becomes exhausting. I work at least 12 hours a day, at least 6 days a week. And I love it, but time management is a constant struggle.
The site is supported by sponsors. Who are some current sponsors, and what benefits do sponsors of your site receive?
The sponsors of static placement have one of a limited number of spaces that appear on all pages of the web site with an embedded link to their home web site or wherever they’d like. The sponsor’s visibility is high because of the very limited space for those. The other opportunity is underwriting the cost of research/ time/ photos for an article or series. For example, a vintage clothing store called Minx, (which is located in an historic building) is going to sponsor Ladies Lounge for a series of weeks. The shop logo and link will be embedded at the top within the body of the article for this weekly feature that regularly explores vintage fashion or other topics more of interest to our female audience. This is a great way for the business to also have something to Tweet out, link to on Facebook, or to list as something they are part of that will be relevant to their audience.
For more information, or to inquire about sponsoring, contact Tiffany at [email protected] and follow HI on Twitter (@historicindiana).

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