COLUMBUS, Ind. — The popular Miller House and Garden Tours return at half-capacity for health reasons beginning March 5 in Columbus.
And organizers expect most, if not all, will sell out quickly just as they did at that level last year. The 90-minute tours cost $25 per person and normally include 12 people each since groups must be brought to the grounds on Highland Way by a small shuttle bus.
In recent years, the home and gardens completed in 1957 have been closed in January and February for general maintenance.
But, for most of last year, Newfields, which owns and operates the Modernist showplace from architect Eero Saarinen and landscape architect Dan Kiley, limited visits to groups of six people twice weekly, partly because of COVID-19 and the limited physical space for people to walk in some parts of the house, such as the children’s area.
The facility also features the heralded work of interior designer Alexander Girard and Kevin Roche, who worked for Saarinen.
“I anticipate that they still will be hot tickets,” said Erin Hawkins, marketing director for the Columbus Area Visitors Center that handles the tour bookings. “If we could increase the supply, the demand is definitely there.”
Even during 2020 when Newfields closed the nearly 7,000-square-foot attraction for nearly five months from mid-March to August during the pandemic, the Visitors Center still regularly got calls from people wanting to know when they could tour, Hawkins said. The former home of wealthy industrialist and architecture lover J. Irwin Miller and his wife, arts aficionado Xenia Miller has been open to the public since May 2011.
The home was declared a National Historic landmark in 2000. The Miller family donated the home and grounds to Newfields in 2009.
The structure stands out partly because it is among the very few residences that Saarinen, long a friend of the Millers, ever designed.
Besides the Miller House and Garden Tour, the visitors center’s popular two-hour architectural bus tour has been shut down since mid-March. Organizers expect it to return later this year.
“We haven’t felt that it is safe to put people together in such close proximity for that duration of time (yet),” Hawkins said.
An expanded downtown architectural walking tour, known as the Iconic Columbus Tour, resumed in mid-June on a limited basis after it was shut down in mid-March.
“Since people are outdoors while taking this tour, we felt good about being able to provide a safe experience for our guests and volunteer tour guides,” Hawkins said.
Overall, visitor center tours in general were down 80 percent in 2020 because of the coronavirus, according to figures. But the future for such segments of tourism are bright, according to Hawkins.
“We are optimistic about 2021,” Hawkins said. “We continue to get inquiries every day from people hoping to visit Columbus.”