It’s a mansion, a meeting house, and a fortress. One thing’s for sure: it’s not a log cabin (as the 1840 campaign would like us to believe). When it was completed in 1804, William Henry Harrison’s Grouseland became the first brick building on the Indiana frontier, and today it stands as a reminder of our country’s past.
Grouseland is situated overlooking the Wabash River in Vincennes, the first capital of the Indiana Territory. The mansion is beautifully designed and decorated, although most of the furnishings aren’t original to the house. And, photography is prohibited inside the mansion, so you’ll have to take our word for it – or, better yet, go see it yourself.
William Henry Harrison lived at Grouseland while serving as governor of the Indiana territory. The two-and-a-half story mansion looks like it belongs on a Virginia plantation rather than on the Indiana frontier.
Standing on the edge of American civilization, Grouseland drew guests from near and far. The Harrisons entertained Aaron Burr at Grouseland in late September 1805 – a little over a year after the infamous Hamilton duel. In 1806, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark visited Grouseland on their return trip from the Pacific. The Shawnee leader Tecumseh met with Harrison on the Grouseland property in August 1810 and July 1811.
A Mansion and a Fortress
The home holds clues to its historically hostile surroundings. Harrison took some serious precautions when building his house. The walls are 18 inches thick, and despite the danger of an explosion, the basement was stocked with barrels of gunpowder. On the exterior of the house, you’ll see heavy shutters to be pulled shut in the event of an attack. At ground level, you’ll see white vents for rifle barrels to peak through. All of these precautions serve as tangible reminders of Grouseland’s time and place in history.
Keep the Ball Rolling
While touring the basement, be sure to pay attention for “Parks and Recreation” memorabilia as William Henry Harrison was featured in a 2015 episode. The episode references a tin ball from Harrison’s 1840 campaign. In a campaign gimmick, Harrison supporters rolled a giant tin ball across towns to gain support for Old Tippecanoe.
“Parks and Recreation” recreated the tin ball for the show and donated it to Grouseland. Our tour guide said the foundation plans to create a space to display the ball. Unfortunately, as of now, the ball remains in storage.
For the Birds
To many people, William Henry Harrison is a historical footnote or the answer to a presidential trivia question. However, Harrison’s Grouseland offers a wider view of Harrison’s place in history, before his ill-fated speech and subsequent brief stint in the White House. Harrison built Grouseland in a time when cultures collided in the western wilderness, and this place serves as a reminder of William Henry Harrison’s time.
After Harrison, Go See George Rogers Clark
After visiting Grouseland, head about a mile down the banks of the Wabash River, and you’ll find a national park dedicated to George Rogers Clark (military leader and brother of William Clark). The park is the site of Fort Sackville, which was captured from the British by Clark and his group on February 25, 1779.
The monument is impressive, and be sure to go to the visitor center for a tour of the interior. Inside the monument’s rotunda, you’ll find seven impressive murals (16 ft. x 28 ft.) by Ezra Winter. The paintings depict key events from George Rogers Clark’s life.
Our tour of the grounds was phenomenal. We learned a lot about this lesser-known American hero.
And of course, lunch…
After touring Grouseland and the George Rogers Clark park, we stopped by a local establishment for some lunch. Downtown Vincennes has some nice small shops and restaurants within walking distance of the historic sites. We decided to go to Graze 1885 and were not disappointed. We had a great lunch of sandwiches, potato salad, and iced tea.
William Henry Harrison’s Grouseland
3 West Scott Street, Vincennes, IN 47591
George Rogers Clark National Historic Park
401 South 2nd Street, Vincennes, IN 47591
William Henry Harrison’s Grouseland brochure
William Henry Harrison: Master of Grouseland
Robert G. Gunderson
Indiana University (emeritus)
© 2021 Periodic Presidents
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