Day 27, Saturday, August 11, 2018
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!