Historic Structures

Site Description and History William Henry Harrison House, Vincennes, Indiana

upon which the Harrison Mansion stands, Was the Second Charter of Virginia, conveying from King James I to the Treasurer and Company of Adventurers and Planters of the City of London, for the First Colony in Virginia, all the territory being in that part of America called Virginia, from the point of land called "Cape of Point comfort" for two hundred miles all along the seacoast to the northward; for two hundred miles to the southward of said point; and westward from sea to sea; and also all the islands lying within one hundred miles along the coast of both seas of the aforesaid precinct.

This grant was made in 1609.

After the Revolution, the newly formed Government, seeing the necessity of possessing this vast territory, suggested and requested Virginia to cede it to the United States, expressing the hope that other states which held waste lands would follow Virginia's example.

therefore, Virginia appointed Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, Samuel Hardy and Arthur Lee delegates to congress for the commonwealth of Virginia, vesting them with power to deed back to the united States all claim which Virginia had to the territory within the limits of the Virginia Charter, being northwest of the Ohio River. This deed of cession was made March 1, 1784.

Thus it will be seen that between the grant from King James I and the deed made by Virginia to the United States, there was an interval of one hundred and seventy- five years.

This territory seems to have become known as Prairie Survey, and from the American State Papers, it arrears that Prairie Survey Two and Prairie Survey Three, North Range Ten, Town Three, were confirmed by the United States Land Commissioners to William Henry Harrison, but no errant appears of record, and no dates are given in these papers.

in the year 1814, the Recorder's office of Knox County, Indiana, was entirely destroyed by fire and all of the contents burned. Thus was lost to us the authentic records of the succession of the ground upon which Harrison Mansion stands. There is no doubt but had these records not been destroyed, there would have been a wealth of information to be obtained from romantic and thrilling documents pertaining to the great Northwest territory.

When William Henry Harrison was appointed Superintendent of Indian affairs and governor of the Indiana Territory, he had an official dignity to maintain, and was also a Virginian, so must have a home in keeping with his position and family traditions, therefore, he bought three hundred acres north of the village.

The site selected for the Governor's Mansion was a knoll with a gentle slope on the west to the River, just north of the Old Post Settlement of Vincennes' It was covered with walnut trees, one of which survives. This is known as the “Treaty Tree" and was marked by the Standard Oil Company, owner of the property on which it stands.

Under the trees in this grove, the famous interview between Harrison and Tecumseh took place, in which the Indian chief protested the validity of the white man's right to occupy this land, formerly the uncontested possession of the Indians.

As there were only about eight hundred people in the village, and but five thousand in the whole northwest Territory, it is not strange that there were few skilled workmen; so a contractor, one William Lindsev, was brought here to have charge of the work of building the governor's Mansion.

William Lindsay, born in Chester county, Pennsylvania, in 1760, directed the construction of the Harrison home. HQ had enlisted in the Revolution at the age of 16, and was only twenty when discharged. He was a Scotchman, and it is thought he was of the line of Sir Walter de Lindisis, who attended David, the Earl of Huntington in his colonization of the lowlands in the twelfth century.

The lot upon which the D.A.R. Tablet identifying the location of Fort Sackville now stands, was once the property of William Lindsey. (This is the same site now occupied by the George Rogers Clark Memorial) William came to Vincennes in 1800 with his wife and nine children, down the Ohio on flat boats, then up the Wabash against stream, the popular route for immigration from the East, as were the buffalo traces for pioneers from Kentucky. It is interesting to note that the Wabash was once known as the "St. Jerome," and afterwards was called the Wabash, from the Indian name, spelled "Ouabasche."

The plan for the Harrison Mansion was brought from the East, and its style is designed after an old Virginia plantation mansion which it meant to imitate, (This no doubt is 'Berkeley' his birthplace.) It differs in that it was built as a combination home and fortress, similar to the purposes of the baronial Feudal castles.

The bricks were made by hand of clay from a farm three miles away, and floated-down a creek on boats. For making and burning these bricks, (two hundred thousand of them), the Thompson family received a deed to four hundred acres of land valued by Harrison at $2.50 an acre. This family still has this deed.

There is a current story that one load of bricks was delivered on Sunday, and that they were never paid for. Mr. John Thompson gave this account of it to a D.A.R. investigator, his ancestor, Sam Thompson, who made the bricks on his farm east of the City, did make a mistake in his calendar, and delivered a load of bricks, thinking it was Saturday. Governor Harrison refused to accept them on that day. The bricks probably were taken back to the brick-yard, for there were no bricks unpaid for in the annals of the Thompson family. Mr. John Thompson related that his ancestor, being a strict and pious Presbyterian, observed Monday for his Sabbath that week.

This was the first brick house in Indiana territory and men had to be taught to make the brick. One record states that the outer, or face brick, was brought on flat boats from New Orleans, which seems plausible, as from the old newspapers of that period, we know that almost everything was obtained from New Orleans) while the lining and inner brick was made in Illinois, directly across from the Mansion, The Lindseys aver that this is the correct story of the location of the brickyard, bricks may have been made in both places.

The wood for the Mansion was obtained from the surrounding woods, the trees being felled, allowed to season, then split and sawed by hand. An inspection of the basement of the house reveals the hugeness of the trees that were used. Every lath, many of which are of walnut, and all the cypress clap-boards for the roof, were shaped, dressed and made by hand.

Thousands of nails of many sizes had to be made by a blacksmith, and many hundreds of wooden pins, large and small, whittled by hand. The hardware was hammered out by the village blacksmith in part, but most of it came from the East, overland or by river, some pieces having been ordered from England.

The moldings used, and the decoration of the mantels had to be made by slow methods. Two of these mantels were said by one authority to have been imported from London.

The limestone blocks that wall the whole basement up to the ground level were floated down the Wabash from Fort Knox, a distance of five miles. The glass for the forty windows was probably made by the Boston Crown Window Glass Company, as they were the only successful manufacturers of window glass in this country in the early part of the nineteenth century. The plaster was made by the old method of lime, sand and hair saved from hogs at butchering time.

The floor of the first story, forming the basement ceiling, is double, and between the two floorings is a thick layer of mortar, made of clay and straw, which it is thought, was for deadening the noise, hilarity and boisterousness from below, of servants, soldiers and ofttimes, prisoners.

A report was once given of the woodwork, based upon a careful examination by a limber concern. It was found that the stairway and kitchen mantel are of walnut, while the mantels of both the Council Chamber and the Chapter room are of poplar. The other woodwork in the rooms is of poplar, chestnut, pine and walnut, all used in the same room. This fact indicates that the white paint was used for the woodwork because of the variety of grains which would show in the natural finish.

The mas3ive beams of the basement are of walnut in every instance. So the building of a fine house in the Capital of a new territory was of no small undertaking in 1801. Under such necessarily alow and laborious pioneer workmanship and transportation, in the face of local dangers, "Grouseland, as this estate was called, was finished three years later, in 1804, at a cost of $20,000. History tells that pending the building of the Mansion, Harrison and his family lived in the home of Francia Vigo, and moved into the partly finished home in 1803. It was completed in 1804.

The Governor's mansion was an imposing structure, altogether suitable for the official residence of the Governor, a comfortable, home for his estimable wife and family, as well as a dignified and commodious house in which to entertain their friends and visiting officials for long periods.

This brick house, a palace for those days, awed the Indians. From this mansion, Harrison not only ruled the great Northwest territory, but for a time, held sway over the whole vast Louisiana Purchase west of the Mississippi River.

William Henry Harrison, in 1821, conveyed by "Warranty Deed, Love and affection" to his son, John Cleves Symmes Harrison, all that square with the buildings thereon, wherein the said John Cleves Symmes now resides, and bounded by Parke Street, Perry Street, Scott Street, and the Wabash River, reserving however, the right of opening a street of sixty feet in width across said square, immediately along the bank of the River, should he, the said William Henry, "think proper to do so at any time hereafter."

John Cleves Svrames Harrison's daughter, Mrs. Anna Maria Roberts, conveyed in 1843, the house and grounds to Hiram Decker. Mr. Decker doubted the legality of her ability to convey just the square upon which the house stood, as she was joint heir of the whole property. So he instituted a partition proceeding to set aside the portion occupied by the house.

As required by law, the Commissioners advertised and published this intention and action, but none of the Harrison heirs appeared to contest the partition suit, so the Commissioners declared the property sold to Mr. Decker for $1800.00.

Thus, after having been occupied by three generations of the Harrison family, the Harrison Mansion known as "Grouseland”, passed out of their possession in 1848. After passing into the possession of various owners, after the desecration and abuse of unoccupied years, used once as a hotel, again as a storage place for grain, it was on the eve of being raised, when the Francis Vigo Chapter, D.A.R. raised funds and bought it, and are the present owners. They have engaged in the patriotic duty of preserving and restoring the Mansion.