When you see a Ball jar, you might think of luscious homemade jams, savory pickled cucumbers and ripe tomatoes, all preserved at the peak of their freshness so they can be enjoyed all year long.
Visit Minnetrista in Muncie, Indiana, and your image of Ball jars will conjure up thoughts of five lovely homes, beautiful gardens, an only child with a fascination for faeries who grew up to collect rare children’s books, and her art-loving cousin who transformed her family’s home into a cultural center for the Muncie community.
Minnetrista is a 40-acre complex that once belonged to the family behind Ball Brothers Glass Company, a well-known manufacturer of canning jars.
In 1880, Frank and Edmund Ball borrowed $200 from their uncle, moved to Buffalo, New York, and started manufacturing wood-jacketed tin cans for shipping oils and varnishes. The wood-jacketed cans gave way to tin-jacketed glass containers for kerosene. When John Mason’s patent on the screw top for glass jars used in food preservation expired in 1884, the Balls started producing glass jars for use in home canning. Frank and Edmund were joined in business by their three brothers — George, William and Lucius — and the Ball Brothers Glass Company was on its way.
When a fire destroyed their factory in 1886, the Ball brothers decided to move to the Midwest, where fuel to operate their glass furnaces was cheaper. Frank scouted out possible sites where natural gas was plentiful. Hungry for industry, officials in Muncie, Indiana offered the Ball brothers $7,500 to defray their moving expenses from Buffalo, seven acres of land on which to build, and free natural gas for five years. The Balls accepted and moved their business and their families to Muncie. Construction of the new factory began in 1887 and glass production started in 1888. Always on the lookout for ways to make better products, Ball developed an automatic glass-blowing machine that was revolutionary in how it increased the company’s productivity. By 1897, Ball had cornered the market. Its glass jars —adorned with “Ball” written in an artistic upward script with an underscore — were world-famous.
Colors of Ball jars ranged from aqua and amber to green and a smoky grey flint, but its most distinctive one was a rich blue, derived from the sand of Lake Michigan’s southeastern shore.
When it came to growing the business, the company was on the ball. It relied on a network of amateur forecasters who provided information about the weather and crop conditions to estimate the number of jars to produce. It developed fruit jar “go-withs” to be used in canning, such as jar lifters, jar openers, pressure cookers, bubble freers, corn cutters and funnels. It created advertising literature, provided recipes for canning and sponsored canning contests.
In 1894, Ball began shipping its glass jars to grocers, developing an innovative practice of packing them a dozen at a time in wooden boxes and using strawboard dividing liners to prevent them from breaking. Later, Ball pioneered the use of corrugated paper shipping cartons for glass containers. Jars awaiting shipping were stored in Muncie fields, separated with straw. Flocks of migrating ducks landed in the shimmering fields, mistaking them for a lake.
That same year, the Ball brothers also decided to purchase a 40-acre tract of land on the north bank of the White River in Muncie. The view of White River looking toward downtown Muncie along Wheeling Avenue is one of the city’s most painted and photographed scenes.
Frank Ball and his wife, Elizabeth, built the first home there in 1894. They called it “Minnetrista,” a combination of the Sioux word “mna,”meaning “water,” and the English word “tryst,” creating “a gathering place by the water.” In 1902, the large frame house with porches and a gambrel roof was remodeled to reflect the Colonial Revival style that was so fashionable at the time. It was faced with Indiana limestone, and columns were added to the front portico. The home burned down in 1967, and the columns now mark the entrance to Minnetrista’s grounds.
George Ball and his wife, Frances, built their home in 1895 amid an oak grove and called it “Oakhurst” to reflect its surroundings. Their only child, Elisabeth “Betty” Ball, was born at Oakhurst and lived there her entire life.
Frances and George developed the idea for publishing a detailed home canning guide in Oakhurst’s kitchen. Frances used and tested her own recipes for canning vegetables and fruit, while George wrote the directions. In 1909, The Correct Method for Preserving Fruit was published. Later editions were known as the Ball Blue Book.
When Betty was a little girl, she played in a “Doll House” that was built around 1905. The original was destroyed in a storm, but a reproduction stands on the same site today. Betty also liked dressing up in a faerie costume and inviting her friends to faerie parties. One of Betty’s guests was Emily Kimbrough, a Muncie girl who grew up to edit the Ladies’ Home Journal and write more than a dozen books, including the classic Our Hearts Were Young and Gay, an account she wrote with Cornelia Otis Skinner about their experiences traveling in England and France after leaving college in 1921. How Dear To My Heart tells of Kimbrough’s growing up with the Ball children. The faerie tradition at Minnetrista continues today with related programming, such as a family faerie house workshop (July 25), a spa for young faerie princesses (July 31) and a faerie tea party (August 1).
Later in life, Betty purchased a cabin in Brown County, Indiana and had it reconstructed near Oakhurst. This is a reproduction of the original cabin.
As an adult, Betty was best known for her extensive collection of rare children’s books, which her father began. She donated portions of her collection to her alma mater, Vassar College; Indiana University’s Lilly Library; the Philadelphia Free Library; the American Antiquarian Society; and the Pierpont Morgan Library. Her gifts were celebrated in a Morgan Library exhibition and catalogue titled Early Children’s Books and Their Illustration, as well as in an exhibition and catalogue at the Lilly Library titled For Your Amusement and Instruction: The Elisabeth Ball Collection of Historical Children’s Materials: An Exhibition.
Betty also collected Fabergé objects, paintings and fore-edge books, rare items with hand-painted scenes on the outer edges of the pages that are not visible when the books are closed, but appear when the book is bent slightly.
Oakhurst is surrounded by several peaceful gardens. A shaded courtyard garden surrounds Oakhurst’s back porch, where a water feature winds its way through ferns and native ephemerals like trilliums, mayapples, Virginia bluebells and celadine poppies. Further down the path, find a rock wall garden and a formal garden filled with colorful perennials and annuals.
Lucius Ball bought an existing farmhouse and turned it toward the river. Later, he made extensive additions to it and faced it in yellow brick. Today, the home houses Minnetrista’s offices. Its gardens feature one of Minnetrista’s three lily ponds, a horn bean hedgemaze, and a colonnade garden where wisteria-covered limestone columns stand among mosaics and perennial plantings.
William Ball and his wife, Emma, built Maplewood, a Georgian Revival home in 1898. Today, it is a guest house for Jarden Home Brands, the current maker of Ball home canning products.
Edward Ball and his wife, Bertha, built the last home in 1905 and called it “Nebosham,” a Delaware Indian word meaning “bend in the river.” It was patterned after an English Tudor manor house, with an Indiana limestone exterior and a Spanish tile roof. Inside, it features stained-glass windows and doors, wood paneling, wainscoting, parquet floors, patterned ceilings, art-glass light fixtures and fireplace tiles from Rookwood Pottery of Cincinnati. Today, Nebosham is used by Ball State University as an art center and a continuing education facility. “Now seems like a good time to start the Ball rolling!,” Margaret Ball Petty, daughter of Frank and Elizabeth Ball, remarked in 1978, when she suggested that the Ball Brothers Foundation establish an art museum and cultural center on the site of her childhood home. Today, Minnetrista’s staff work hard to share the Balls’ legacy with the Muncie community. Blog posts, artifacts and archival material describe and document the history of the company and East Central Indiana. Explorer bags and adventure cards offer hands-on activities for all ages, from discovering Minnetrista’s wetlands to exploring bird habitats across the campus. Helpful resources for Ball jar and Blue Book collectors are available here.
Minnetrista offers frequent educational programs, including popular two-hour canning workshops, in this building. Upcoming programs include making green tomato salsa verde (July 21), chicken no-noodle soup (August 18), beef stew meat (September 15) and cranberry sauce (November 17).
Minnetrista is also known for its extensive gardens featuring culinary herbs, plantings to attract butterflies and birds, gardens refreshed by captured stormwater, a rose garden, a four-seasons garden, and blue, white, yellow and silver-hued plants that are enhanced by moonlight. A nature area represents three Indiana native habitats: a tallgrass prairie; a pond; and a woodland area. A wishing well that Frank Ball and his family purchased on a trip to Venice is the focal point of another garden.
Antique and modern apple orchards are next to the Orchard Shop, which hosts a monthly farmers market during the growing season. The shop sells local art, food, handmade goods, and Ball jars and accessories year-round.
The Ball family contributed their fortune to several philanthropic endeavors. They established Ball State University in Muncie, placing many items from their art collections on permanent loan in the Ball State Art Gallery. The Balls also purchased and presented the Indiana land on which the cabin where Abraham Lincoln lived as a boy (now the Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial) http://www.nps.gov/libo and restored the Fredericksburg, Virginia home that George Washington bought for his mother in 1772.
Ball no longer manufactures glass canning jars, but it has expanded and grown into a worldwide metal packaging company based in Colorado that makes recyclable metal containers and is involved in the aerospace business.
For more information on the Ball family, read Beneficience: Stories about the Ball Families of Muncie, by Earl L. Conn; The House and Its History, by Thomas A. Sargent, the E.B. and Bertha C. Ball Center and the Ball Corporation; and Stone on Stone, by Hope Barnes and Frances Petty Sargent. Ball Corporation: The First Century, by Frederick Birmingham, and A Collector’s Guide to Ball Jars, by William Brantley, are books about the Ball family’s company and the Ball jar. Discover home food preserving tips, an Introduction to Canning Guide and more here.
On July 22 at 6:30 p.m., the Westerville Public Library will host “Life Hacks: Canning & Preserving.” In this program, The Ohio State University Delaware County Extension will discuss how to properly can and preserve fruits and vegetables.