Circus Trip 2018: Vincennes State Historic Site


Day 27, Saturday, August 11, 2018

Vincennes, Indiana

Just steps away from Grouseland is the Vincennes State Historic Site.  The site preserves a few original buildings from the early 1800s, as well as a few replica structures.

The Visitor’s Center for the site is in an 1830s cabin.

The original Indiana Territorial government building (the red building above) was where the bicameral legislature met.  One part of the legislature met downstairs and the other met upstairs.  It isn’t fancy but it served their purpose!  Fourteen men were elected to the houses of the territorial government and made decisions to be implemented across the territory, which was an enormous area of land!  The building served as the government building from 1800 to 1813.

The Elihu Stout Print Shop is a replica building that housed the printing press, used to print the news that was coming in from the East Coast.  The Indiana Gazette began publication in 1804, using a Ramage printing press.  It often took a month or more for information to make it as far west as the Indiana Territory, so people were eager to hear what was going on in the rest of the nation.

The Jefferson Academy building is a replica built to look like the first school of higher learning in Indiana; it is the predecessor of Vincennes University.  The school began teaching students in 1801!  The school taught only boys at the time, when people largely considered girls’ learning to be exclusively in the home.  It is interesting to think about how children learned at the time, with very few supplies, and none of the technology that we have today.

Jefferson Academy

Desks at Jefferson Academy

The site also contains an old frame house, where Maurice Thompson, author of Alice of Old Vincennes, was born.  It’s likely you haven’t heard of the book; it was written in 1900 and is a novel about the Revolutionary War and an orphan named Alice Roussillon.  Fun Fact!  It was the second best selling book of 1900, and it is still in print and available on Amazon, if you are interested in checking it out.

Old Frame House at Vincennes SHP

I also got to visit the Old French House, built circa 1806.  It is basically just that; an Old French style house.  It was built by a French fur trapper, in the French architectural style of the day – posts on sill.  It has a unique feature in how the framing was done, the upright posts sat on a horizontal beam (the sill) at the base of the structure, instead of the posts being sunk into the ground.  This apparently ensured that it stood the test of time better than a lot of other 200-plus-year-old buildings.  The Old French House also has an antique box bed (known as a lit clos in French).  It is an enclosed bed!  Back in the days before central heating, being able to close yourself up in a box bed meant that you would stay warmer; plus it provided some privacy when many homes only had one or two rooms and the whole family slept in the same room.

The buildings on the site are open only on a tour, and there was only one guide the day I was there, so you might have to wait outside while the tour guide is conducting the tour for others.  Don’t get discouraged – it is worth waiting!  The Old French House isn’t always open, and is a few blocks down the street, so I felt pretty lucky to get the tour of it.  I enjoyed chatting with the guide about some of the area’s history while we walked down there.

It was neat to see these historic buildings, even if some of them were replicas.  We just don’t have many buildings this old on the West Coast!

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