Home to the first bank in Indiana, the first college, the state’s first Catholic church, the first — well, everything, it seems. Indiana’s first city, Vincennes, has character and charm nurtured by residents who believe in the city’s past and present.
The love of history is expressed in the architecturally significant homes, churches, and civic buildings that define the city’s unique landscape. One of its hidden gems lies right on the state line at the home of the ninth president of the United States, William Henry Harrison. Named Grouseland after the plentiful grouse birds in the area when Harrison moved to the Indiana Territory as governor in 1801, the house was the first brick home in Indiana. Grouseland Foundation, Inc., a not-for-profit organization that works with the Francis Vigo Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution to preserve the two-story brick home, manages the mansion, named a National Historic Landmark in 1935.
Just 50 miles north of Evansville, Grouseland is one of two presidential monuments in Indiana; the other is the Indianapolis home of the 23rd president, William’s grandson, Benjamin Harrison. Visitors to Grouseland take note of the grandeur of the cantilevered staircase as they enter the foyer of the Georgian/Federal home.
Harrison is perhaps best known for his extremely short time in office — 31 days; he also delivered the longest inaugural address (8,444 words that took him nearly two hours to read). Harrison is remembered as a military hero who introduced campaign slogans such as “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too.” At Grouseland, tour guides educate their guests on Harrison’s contributions to American history and the westward expansion of the Northwest Territories into the upper Midwest, which became Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, and parts of Minnesota, while he was governor of the Indiana Territory from 1800 to 1812.
People from across the globe visit the mansion to see the preserved artifacts of an American president, view period furnishings and architecture, hear about territorial history, and see the Indiana state gun, named the Grouseland Rifle. Lisa Ice-Jones, executive director for Grouseland Foundation, Inc., says guests’ favorite parts of the tour vary.
“Some like the Indiana state gun, some comment on the cracks left from the earthquake of 1811, others admire the portraits, but most comment on how stately and grand the house is with all its period furnishings. We like to think this is the legacy of the Harrisons,” says Ice-Jones.
The mansion is home to many military and campaign memorabilia, as well as some furnishings that belonged to the Harrisons during their time at Grouseland from 1804 to 1812. In the dining room, visitors will notice a sideboard that was crafted for Anna Harrison, the wife of William Henry Harrison, paired with the original letter declaring the commissioning of the cabinet. The Harrison bedroom features a Windsor-style chair and a candle table also belonging to the Harrison family. Ice-Jones says the chair has been used during the inaugurations of Indiana Governors Mitch Daniels and Mike Pence; thus it has been dubbed “The Governor’s Chair.” The Grouseland tour also includes two original portraits of William Henry Harrison by artists Rembrandt Peale and John Wesley Jarvis.
Beginning in March, Grouseland, located at 3 W. Scott St. in Vincennes, is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Call for special scheduling outside of normal hours.
For more information about Grouseland, to schedule a tour, or to volunteer, call 812-882-2096 or visit grouselandfoundation.org.