Historic Structures

Secord Floor Description William Henry Harrison House, Vincennes, Indiana

Ascending the beautiful spiral staircase to the upper hall, the most conspicuous feature of this hall is the lovely door which lights it. In years prone by some one had changed the glass in this door, probably to suit the times, putting in two large panes, But this door was restored and now has the small panes of glass, as do all the windows, making it as It was in the time of Harrison. Shutters were added on the outside as shown in an old picture. Some interesting spinning wheels used at the time of Harrison's residence, and loaned for exhibition, are placed in this hall; also many interesting documents which are to be mounted in a folding case attached to the wall.

The southwest bedroom, always called the Francis Vigo room because of the furnishings, some of which belonged to him, is a spacious well lighted room, having three large windows, two of them in the bowed wall that occurs from the basement to the roof. Originally these windows had inside shutters as well as outside. In time they have disappeared, but the mouldings remain, and the deep sockets into which the shutters folded back: when opened. This construction was common to all the windows in the main Dart of the Mansion. The panels under the windows show that although it was very tedious and expensive at that time to make mouldings, no time or expense was spared in the construction of this house.

The mantel in this room is deserving of notice. it is the original mantel, and is all hand-carved.

On the west side of the fireplace are found small closets probably used as wine closets. Above is a space with a removable panel which we like to think might have held money or valuable papers, stored there for safe Keeping at the time the Indians were giving so much trouble, rhe wide boards in the floor are the original floor boards, many having been replaced; but it is remarkable that so many original boards remain, the bed, a lovely low poster corded bed, belonged to Francis Vigo, the man whose history is so intimately associated with that of George Ropers Clark, and in whose hone Harrison and family lived while waiting tor the completion of the Mansion, and in recognition of whom the Francis Vigo chapter, D.A.R. was named. A chair with braided seat, and a boot-jack; were also once property of Vigo. These precious articles, with a chest of drawers having glass knobs, a mirror with a broad mahogany frame over the chest, several old chairs, and an old stage-coach trunk help to make this room attractive.

'The small room back of this was probably used as a guest room. In it are two large windows, the one on the end being in the segment of the bow that continues from the front room. The closet used by guests probably was in the hall just outside the door, and next to the attic stairs. Some interesting museum articles are exhibited in this room at present.

Across the hall from the Vigo room is the master bedroom, the one occupied by Harrison. This room too has the original hand-carved mantel. The shutters of this room are folded back and nailed in place instead of being removed as in the other bed chambers. It is interesting to see the old hinges, and I for one, am sorry the shutters cannot be opened, in this room the bedstead is a four-poster design, also brought from the Vigo home. (In 1934, this loan was recalled, and in its place an antique four-poster, corded bed was bought by the Chapter, history unknown.) There is a chest of drawers taken out of the old Episcopal Rectory, table, chairs, and an old period cradle. The childrens' room must have been the one just back of the Harrison bedroom. It is rather small, with a fire-place and mantel, at the side of which is another type of shelved closet with doors, reaching from floor to ceiling, in this room are several pieces of childrens doll furniture, a high chair, another cradle, a dresser, and a lovely old clock, and some old dolls.

There is a little north room between this childrens; room and the stairway which I like to call the "mystery room" as I have found no record or person who can tell positively to what use it was out or how it was arranged at the time of Harrison, being so small, only about five by six feet, with one large window, it could not have been used as a bedroom, the west wall is curved to conform with the wall of the curving staircase sdjaeent. It is in the angle formed here that the "boys removed the boards from the floor and discovered the dark closet "below which has "been previously described, -^hsre is a step down to the boara flooring that was removed, and a break in the outer mold* ing or baseboard that might mean that there was at one time a low door that led to a covered or uncovered passage to the servants* building in the rear, and over the roof of the covered but open court belo^. Because of,the two doors in this tiny room, a and markings on the floor, it is evident that there was once a partition dividing it, leaving the part with the curved wall a dark room, ^he newspaper of 1886, quoted frequently in these papers, gives the following description of this corner. "Nine doors open into the upper hall, the first of which admits you to a black closet triangular in shape, with one curved wall, at the narrow end of which a step descending reveals a low door which opened into a long narrow dark passage from the front to the back wing," On the outside wall at this point, there are marks that indicate that a pointed roof at one time covered the open court, which would have left room for a low garret. Certainly the servants had some means of passing from the front building to the rear without using the front stairway. There were servants to care for the children and to wait upon the ladies who were guests in the Mansion, as well as those who attended to the routine work of the upstairs. This seems to be the only plausible solution of the problem. Tradition also gives this angle as the spot where the ladder descended to the first floor, with another reaching to the attic above, as a means of escape to the ground floor.

The attic is a very interesting spot to visit, as it is unfinished, and one may see the handmade laths of uneven length and width, the old fashioned plaster made of lime mixed with sand, to which was added hair saved from animals to give it the necessary adhesive quality. This attic extends over the whole of the main building. Here may be seen the huge hand hewn beams of black walnut secured with handmade wooden pegs, used instead of nails, which comprise the framework supporting the massive roof, in accordance with the type of construction prevalent in that early period. The first roof was of handmade shingles fastened with handwrought nails. Lighting the attic are two dormer windows. The one facing east has been restored to match the north window, They have small panes and a fan above.

Evidently at the time of construction, two dormer windows were planned to face south, but were never built. The huge beams of the south slope have at some time been cut out to provide for these dormers, but the plan was evidently abandoned, as the beams were rejoined and securely fastened. The beams supporting the roof have been reinforced with steel. This was necessary as some of the supports had been weakened by dry rot, by blasting by the Water Co. in the neighborhood, and alas! by pilfering relic hunters who had at some time removed some of the wooden pins.

Perhaps the most interesting feature of the attic, especially to boys, is the lookout which surmounts the center of the roof. It is still reached by a small, crude ladder. It was evidently used by Harrison for observation purposes. In ease of Indian attack, signals from this lookout could be seen from Fort Sacville less than a mile down stream, and in the Old Post village, or Vincennes.

The second floor of the secondary building, or servants' quarters, is reached by a narrow and steep winding stairway ascending from the middle of the north end of the house, and comprises two bedrooms and a narrow hallway. This hall is lighted by a door opening out onto the roof of what was once the open court. At the north end. of the hall is a dark passage opening into the east bedroom, and was probably only another means of escape in case of attack to the back stairs, or else was a hiding place. This is one place in the house that successive owners have not meddled with.

Each of these bedrooms have a small fireplace and mantel, a dormer window, and a small "Eye-brow” window. The floors, still the original boards, are scarred by the glowing embers which dropped from the small grate unnoticed, burning the wood quite deep, but being discovered before any real damage was done. Members of the State Conservation Department consider this secondary building as interesting and valuable as an architectural study as the main building.