Tag Archive | Presidential homes

Circus Trip 2018: Grouseland

Day 27, Saturday, August 11, 2018

Vincennes, Indiana

Grouseland is incredible.  It is the Federal/ Georgian style home of future President William Henry Harrison, during part of the time when he served as the governor of the Indiana Territory.  The home was completed in 1804, and was the first brick home in Indiana, built at a cost of $20,000, which is between $700,000 and a million dollars in today’s money.  Interestingly, it was also built as a fortress to protect the family and the seat of government from Indian attack and other situations of unrest in the territory.

 

Harrison had his home built with a number of unusual features that made it particularly able to withstand any attack.  The walls were 28 inches thick in places, and there are strong shutters on both the outside and the inside of the windows, that allowed them to be closed without leaving the house.  There is an armory in the basement complete with a well, to allow for the collection of water without leaving the house.  This place was definitely ready for any potential siege.  Even with all of its protective features, it is still a beautiful, ornate home.

After Harrison moved out because the territory’s capitol moved to Corydon, the home was occupied by another prominent Vincennes man, and then it was acquired by the Vincennes Water Company, who intended to demolish it.  The Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), managed to buy the home on a limited deed for $2,000, which allowed them to operate it as a historic house museum, and then they saved enough money to restore the home.  It was opened to the public in 1911.  It has been a museum for over 100 years!  Today Grouseland contains some furnishings that were original to the Harrison family, and you can see still most of the original features of the home.

And as for Harrison?  Well, it you are up on your Presidential history, you will know that Harrison has the dubious title of being the American President with the shortest term.  He served 31 days, from March 4, 1841, to April 4, 1841, before dying in office of what was likely either pneumonia or typhoid from drinking contaminated water at the White House – the scholars disagree.  His death sparked a controversy over the succession of the office; some believed that the Vice-President became the next President automatically, while others believed that the VP only assumed the duties until an election could be held. Harrison’s Vice-President, John Tyler, asserted the former, and fulfilled the role until the end of Harrison’s term.  Eventually the language was clarified in favor of the “VP becomes the President” view.

There were three of us on my tour, me and a father son duo who joined a little late.  The docent was knowledgeable, explaining facts about Harrison both before and after his Presidency.  My knowledge of the Revolution and the French and Indian Wars is a bit sketchy, so although I’m sure I heard about the Battle of Tippecanoe, it wasn’t something I feel well versed in.  In case you were wondering, it is where the Presidential campaign slogan, “Tippecanoe and Tyler, too” came from.

Harrison was a controversial figure in his dealings with the Native Americans, with many tribal leaders feeling like he was making deals with chiefs who didn’t have the authority to sell the land.  Of course, we know how that all turned out for the tribe.  It seems having 28-inch-thick walls in his home was probably a pretty good idea.

The mansion is incredible, with 13 rooms and a finished basement.  It was fancy for the time period, and they had period furnishings that show it off as it would have looked at the time.  She also explained the spot outside where Tecumseh is thought to have stood with his warriors and expressed his dissatisfaction with Harrison’s land treaties.

The drawback is that you aren’t allowed to take pictures; I did manage to sneak one of the dining room though – I’m such a rebel!

I didn’t know much about Harrison, but it was a fascinating place to check out!

 

Circus Trip 2018: Herbert Hoover Birthplace NHS

Day 19, Friday, August 3, 2018

Herbert Hoover isn’t a President I know much about.  In fact, I didn’t even know about the Herbert Hoover Birthplace National Historic Site, and kind of stumbled upon it by accident.  I saw the road sign as I was driving east after visiting the Amana Colonies and had enough time to stop before it closed for the day; I arrived just before 4pm.  What an unexpected treat!

Hoover was born to Quaker parents in a small two-room cottage in West Branch, Iowa on August 10, 1874.  He was orphaned at the age of nine, when his mother died at age 35 (his father had died in 1880 at the age of 34, when Herbert Hoover was 6).  He and his two siblings were split up after his mother’s death, each living in a different relative’s home; Hoover was sent to Oregon at the age of 11 to live with a maternal uncle and aunt.

The cottage where Herbert Hoover was born

The Herbert Hoover Birthplace NHS preserves the two-room cottage where Hoover was born, as well as several other sites significant to his early childhood.  His father’s Blacksmith Shop (rebuilt a little west of the original site), the Schoolhouse, and the Quaker Friends Meetinghouse, where the family worshiped, have all been preserved.  It is unknown if Hoover attended school in the actual building at the site, although it was being used as the primary school at the time Hoover was in school in West Branch, having been built in 1853.  The Blacksmith Shop was built in 1957, representing what such a shop would have been like in the 1870s.  Herbert Hoover’s older brother Theodore provided sketches of his recollection of his father’s shop as well.

The Friends Meetinghouse is original to the community where Hoover’s Quaker family worshiped; it was built in 1857.  The Quakers held two meetings each week to worship; men and women sat on different sides of a central partition.  They worship with “silent waiting,” a form of silent worship that does not use music or sacraments, or even a paid minister delivering a sermon.  When a Quaker is moved by the “inward light,” they stand and share their insight or prayers.  If you become known for your inspired insights, you become a “recorded minister” and are given a seat on the benches up front with the Quaker elders.  Herbert’s mother Hulda was considered a recorded minister.  Quakers believe in the equality of all people, a value that Hoover embodied when he was President and during his global humanitarian work.

The Quaker meetinghouse Hoover attended

 

The interior of the Quaker meetinghouse

The site also has a Visitor’s Center with a movie about Herbert Hoover and his life, and of course, stamps for my National Parks Passport.  There are also some later homes at the site; although they didn’t exist at the time that Hoover lived in West Branch, they add to the historic ambiance of the site.

A short drive away is Herbert Hoover’s grave site, along with the grave of his wife, Lou Henry Hoover.  Hoover died on October 20, 1964, at the age of 90.  He selected his grave site to look over his birthplace home, and chose a simple design of white marble, with a curved walkway and an American flag.  Lou Henry Hoover died in 1944 and was buried in Palo Alto, CA, but was re-interred here after Herbert Hoover died.  His Presidential Library is also there, although I didn’t have time to visit it that day.  I’ll have to return and learn more!

Herbert and Lou Hoover’s graves

 

The view from Hoover’s grave – his birthplace home

It was a fascinating stop!

Virginia 2015: Monroe’s Ash-Lawn Highland

Day 7: Saturday, October 10, 2015

James Monroe, despite being one of the founding fathers, isn’t one of our better known Presidents. I’m not sure why that is, but he certainly never resonated as one of the more important historical figures I’ve learned about. That said, when the opportunity came up to visit his home, I still wanted to see it. I figured it would be a chance to learn more about him, and compare and contrast his home and estate with the others that we would see on the trip!

A statue of James Monroe - originally destined for South America

A statue of James Monroe – originally destined for South America

With Thomas Jefferson being the Renaissance man that he was, he set out to surround himself with friends with whom he could have lively discussions. Travel in the day took a long time, so it was easier if your friends lived nearby. To that end, when the property next door to Monticello came up for sale, he let his friend James Monroe know. Monroe purchased the property of about 1,200 acres, and moved there in 1799. Eventually, he expanded the estate to about 3,500 acres, although later in life he sold off large parcels of land to pay his debts.

Me with the James Monroe house - the small room to the left was added on while Monroe lived here.

Me with the James Monroe house – the small room to the left was added on while Monroe lived here.

Monroe’s home is the most modest of the four Presidential homes we saw. It was originally a one story frame home with a couple of rooms on each side of a hallway. Monroe expanded the home later on, adding a few more rooms, and building some basement rooms (a kitchen, and store rooms) underneath the house.  Even later, he added a parlor on one side of the home. He called his house Highland.  I liked seeing a house that felt more like a common man – after Monticello and Mount Vernon, I was starting to wonder if there have ever been politicians who came from the middle class.  Not that Monroe wasn’t rich – his was just a less ostentatious kind of rich…

Our tour included the portion of the home that existed during Monroe’s time. Later owners added on, essentially attaching an entire, new, larger house to the home Monroe lived in.  Those owners are also responsible for the name Ash Lawn-Highland, as they added the Ash trees that are now planted on the property.  That new portion of the home is not included in the tour, but it does contain a small exhibit of Monroe artifacts and memorabilia on the first floor.

Ash-Lawn Highland - the small white house is what Monroe purchased - the white room on the left was added while Monroe was here. The yellow home was added by subsequent owners.

Ash-Lawn Highland – the small white house is what Monroe purchased – the white room on the left was added while Monroe was here. The yellow home was added by subsequent owners.

Things I learned about Monroe:

  • He is probably most famous for the Monroe Doctrine, which stipulated that the United States would not tolerate intervention by European powers in the Americas (including Central and South America). South Americans were pleased by this – one country even commissioned a statue of him. Due to the fact that it was never delivered there, it now sits at Ash Lawn-Highland.
  • He was the last of the Founding Father Presidents to have served in combat in the Revolutionary War.  He was badly wounded at the Battle of Trenton.
  • Monroe was the only one of the Founding Father Presidents to have settled his debt before he died. Apparently, living beyond one’s means has been a hallmark of the American tradition for as long as there have been Americans.
  • Monroe also helped to found the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, along with Jefferson (and James Madison), but he gets none of the credit. It was actually built on land that he owned and sold for the purpose.
  • Monroe was tall – 6 feet – and had a very distinctive butt chin.  It is apparent in all his portraits.
  • He, like Jefferson and Madison, liked busts. All three of them had busts decorating their home. I guess it was trendy.  I find it creepy.  I mean, imagine walking out into the living room in the middle of the night, and finding a glowing alabaster head staring back at you?  Creepy.
Three outbuildings at Ash-Lawn Highland

Three outbuildings at Ash-Lawn Highland

 

The icehouse, slave quarters and overseer's house at Ash-Lawn Highland. All original.

The icehouse, slave quarters and overseer’s house at Ash-Lawn Highland. All original.

 

Slave quarters at Ash-Lawn Highland

Slave quarters at Ash-Lawn Highland

 

Monroe renovated one of the slave quarters into a guest house, sometime after 1816.

Monroe renovated one of the slave quarters into a guest house, sometime after 1816.

 

A beautiful hibiscus flower at Ash-Lawn Highland

A beautiful hibiscus flower at Ash-Lawn Highland

Monroe’s estate took a couple of hours to feel like you saw it all – we left there about noon. I had wanted to go check out the Michie Tavern, a historic tavern from the 1700s that still offers lunch (and tours). However, it was packed! It was a Saturday, but the place was absolutely crawling with people. We decided to skip it and went and found lunch just down the road at Salt.

Salt is a small sandwich shop in a former service station that sources local ingredients. My panini and Jon’s veggie wrap were both delicious, and we arrived at just the right time, because it really started to fill up after we ordered!

After lunch, there was much debate about whether we would use the afternoon to go to a winery or two and sample a few of the Virginia wines. In the end, we petered out. Jon was still sick, and I was now sick, so we ultimately decided on heading back to the Super 8 for a 3 hour midday nap… Glorious, it was…

Dinner that night was equally low key – we got a rotisserie chicken, pasta salad, and fruit at the grocery store, and some beer and wine to wash down our doses of cold medicine (in moderation of course!). An evening spent relaxing in front of the TV was just what we needed.

Driving Distance for Day 7: 65 miles – Waynesboro, VA – Ash Lawn-Highland – Waynesboro, VA

Hotel for the Night: Super 8, Waynesboro for another night.

Travel Tips: Even though James Monroe’s Ash Lawn-Highland is literally right next door to Monticello, and we were there on a Saturday, it wasn’t busy at all.  Monroe is apparently not one of the cool Presidents…

Tickets – Ash-Lawn Highland: $14 per person; $1 off with our AAA Membership.  Discounts if you work at William and Mary College (they own the estate) or live in the nearby area.  Sadly, they did not have a decent guidebook, or very good postcards…