Tag Archive | Vincennes

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!

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: George Rogers Clark NHP

Day 26, Friday, August 10, 2018

Vincennes, Indiana

George Rogers Clark was born in 1752 in Charlottesville, Virginia.  He was the second of ten children, the youngest of whom gained greater fame than he did; William Clark, of the Lewis and Clark expedition.

George Rogers Clark Memorial Building – built 1931 -1933

George Rogers Clark went to live with his grandfather as a child, and received very little formal education, but he was trained as a surveyor.  He left home for the frontier at age 19, surveying the wilderness and learning about the natural history and the lives and customs of the various Native American tribes.  So why does he have a whole National Historical Park dedicated to him?

Well, Clark joined the Virginia militia at the age of 22, and set about making a name for himself.  He presented a plan to Virginia Governor Patrick Henry to capture British forts and outposts north of the Ohio River, in an attempt to destroy the influence of the British among the tribes there.  Without their alliances with the tribes the British would have less control over the frontier area, therefore giving the Americans a better chance at success.  Henry went for the plan, and in the spring of 1778, Clark’s party of men set out to begin their secret mission.

Clark met with little resistance along the way, capturing Kaskaskia in present day Illinois in July 1778, Cahokia the next day, and Vincennes in August.  Hamilton, the British Lieutenant Governor who commanded the British forces in the area, recaptured the garrison in Vincennes in December 1778 and renamed it Fort Sackville.

Clark didn’t like being bested, so he planned a daring overland march and assault on the fort to recapture it.  The only problem was that in February of 1779, much of the winter ice had melted due to an unusual warm thaw, and flooding meant that the troops were not really marching, but wading through cold floodwaters up to their necks.  Add to that that the floodwaters meant that their supplies were delayed, so this unpleasant march was done without much in the way of food and dry provisions.  Crazy!

Clark and his men left Kaskaskia on February 6, 1779 and arrived at Fort Sackville in Vincennes on February 23, a trip of just under 200 miles.  Their siege on Fort Sackville didn’t take long and the British surrendered on February 25, and they captured Hamilton!  Clark was considered a hero for his daring feat of bravery, even more so because his exploits were without formally supported with supplies and funds from the regular Army.

Unfortunately for Clark, he had borrowed money on his own to finance the campaign, and ultimately, neither Virginia nor the federal government would reimburse him for his expenses.  He received a large tract of frontier land in present-day Indiana, but had to give much of it to friends and family to protect it from creditors, and ultimately ended up penniless because what was seized by those same creditors wasn’t enough to pay off his debts.

A stroke in 1809 finally did him in; he fell into a fire in his cabin and the injuries to his leg required amputation.  He survived the amputation, but was unable to live independently any longer.  He moved in with his sister and her family near Louisville, Kentucky.  The United States finally granted him a pension in 1812; he received $400 per year for his service.  He suffered another stroke and died in 1818.  He is buried at the Cave Hill Cemetery in Louisville.

The George Rogers Clark Memorial Rotunda was built on what is believed to be the site of what was once Fort Sackville between 1931 and 1933; the interior features a more than life-size statue of Clark on an impressive pedestal, and seven murals depicting his campaign in the wilderness, his capture of Fort Sackville, and the history after the territory became part of the United States.

It is beautifully painted and very detailed.  You can read more about the murals and the history here.

The Visitor’s Center is small, and contains a few artifacts from the time period.  It also has a movie of the events.  The real draw is the Memorial Rotunda and its murals. The Visitor’s Center is open until 5, but the memorial closes at 4:45pm, so be sure to factor that in.  145,596 people visited in 2011, so it isn’t a heavily traveled historical park, but it is interesting to see.

Just down the street is the St. Francis Xavier Cathedral, the first Catholic Cathedral in Indiana.  It was built in 1826 and is the third Catholic church on the site; the previous two were log cabin, frontier style churches.

St. Francis Xavier Cathedral – built 1826

The cathedral was closed when I visited, but there is a cemetery with graves of early settlers and a grotto with the Virgin Mary.  The Old Cathedral “French and Indian” Cemetery, active between 1750 and 1846, contains the graves of some 4,000 souls, including some of the men that Clark led during his assaults on the British forts, as well as other Revolutionary War soldiers and settlers.  The graves are mostly unmarked, but a few of the remaining stones have been moved along a short walkway that leads to a large Crucifix.  It is quite peaceful there.

This was a portion of our history that I knew nothing about, and although the National Park Service leaves out the parts about Clark’s later troubles, it is an informative look at his important military exploits.  It was certainly worth the time!

 

 

 

Circus Trip 2018: Vincennes, Indiana

Day 26, Friday, August 10, 2018

Vincennes is considered the oldest European town in Indiana, officially established in 1732 as a French fur trading post.  However, it goes back further than that, as the first French fur trading post was founded there in 1702, and later abandoned.  That’s a long history!  The second post was named for a Canadian military officer, Francois Marie Bissot, the Sieur de Vincennes, who built the post.  He was later burned at the stake by the Chickasaw during a war between the Native Americans and the French.

For a while, the French and the British squabbled over the territory, and then the area was ceded to the British after the French and Indian War in 1763.  Along came Fort Sackville, and the population grew quickly with a mix of Native Americans, French Canadians, and British people all living and working there.

Then came the Revolutionary War, and the American desire to get out from underneath British colonial rule.  Lieutenant Colonel George R. Clark created a plan to capture the British occupied forts in the area.  He and his officers planned and executed a daring winter attack on Vincennes.  Of course, the lack of food, solid supply lines and high flood waters made this an especially courageous (and some may say stupid) attack; thankfully for the Americans Clark pulled it off without losing a single man, although it very nearly turned tragic as his men were wading through neck deep floodwaters in the middle of a winter storm.  Sign me up, right!?  More on this battle in another post.

Me with the George Rogers Clark Memorial

What follows was Vincennes changing hands several times, lawless mobs, angry citizens, and eventually the brand-new United States receiving the new Indiana Territory at the end of the Revolutionary War.  And George R. Clark was a hero!

Vincennes became the first territorial capital, and by the end of the 1700s, it was no longer a trading post, but a thriving city.  The first Catholic cathedral in Indiana, the St. Francis Xavier Cathedral, was built here in 1826.  It is located on the site of two previous Catholic churches, both unassuming log frontier buildings.

St. Francis Xavier Cathedral – built 1826

All this history, combined with the fact that William Henry Harrison, the 9th President of the United States, lived here as the Indiana Territorial Governor, made me want to visit.  Other notables who lived in Vincennes include Red Skelton, and Sarah Knox Taylor, daughter of President Zachary Taylor and the first wife of Confederate President Jefferson Davis.  Sarah was born at Fort Knox while her father was the commander there in 1814.  Sarah and Jefferson Davis were only married for three months before she died of malaria, leading to a long-time rift between Davis and Sarah’s parents.

 

Vincennes is such a charming place!  The population now is about 18,000, so it is still a very small town, but it has a lot of historical things to do!