I continue our look at historic sites in Indiana with some additional impressive Hoosier mansions. We have already featured Lanier and Culbertson mansions in a past column. A number of really nice mansions were located along the Ohio River and were constructed in the 1800s during the steamboat era. Hillforest was built in this time period. Located in the old riverboat town of Aurora in southeastern Indiana, it was the home of Thomas Gaff, a prominent industrialist and civic leader. It was constructed over a time period of 1852-1856 and was of a design that was in the 1800s known as Steamboat Gothic. This was due to the circular porches, coupled columns, and what really gave it its name, a round cupola on top of the house that looked like a steamboat pilot house.
It was a three-story home with several rooms, 12 of which have been restored. The material used in its construction was the finest money could buy and ranged from the prime circassian walnut that was used in the parquet flowing of the rooms to lovely porcelain that covered the keyholes. The interior has elaborate 18-inch wide plaster boarders that were formed from molds imported from Italy. Needless to say it was and still is a grand house. Gaff launched a total of 33 businesses that included a cotton plantation, steamboat lines, mills, general stores, gas and coke companies, breweries, freight lines and even a silver mine. He also founded the First National Bank of Aurora, was on the board of directors of the Ohio and Mississippi Railroad, and served two terms in the Indiana senate. He was indeed quite an entrepreneur and a very rich and busy man. Hillforest is at 213 Fifth Street in Aurora and is open at various times of the year to the public.
We now move across the state to Vincennes and the mansion of William Henry Harrison, Grouseland. A soldier, first governor of the Indiana Territory, and the ninth president of the United States, Harrison had Grouseland built in 1803-04 in a grove of walnut trees near the Wabash River and lived there while he was active in the Vincennes region. The mansion had 20 rooms and 10 fireplaces and was furnished in period furniture which it still is. It was built of bricks and native lumber and is a very impressive house. It had many interesting people visit the house while Harrison used it as both his home and office while he was territorial governor. Among them were Aaron Burr and Tecumseh. Three of Harrison’s children were born in Grouseland, including John Scott Harrison, the father of Benjamin Harrison, the 23rd U.S. president.
Grouseland is open to the public and is a 3 W. Scott Street in Vincennes and is just opposite the Indiana Territorial Complex.
Another mansion in Vincennes not open to the public is the Ellis mansion on Second Street. It was the home of Abner Ellis who was probate judge and a state senator. Ellis also helped promote the Ohio and Mississippi Railroad which became the B and O Railroad. This house was built in 1838.
We now move over northeast to Indianapolis to 1230 N. Delaware Street and to Benjamin Harrison who was our 23rd president. It is a 16-room brick house built in 1875 and is of Italianate design and was lived in by the former president from 1875 to 1901. There is a third floor ballroom that is now used to house the artifacts Harrison had obtained during his professional and personal life. It has period furniture and is open to guided tours. Benjamin Harrison was the grandson of William Henry Harrison and is sometimes known as the president no one has heard of. Harrison was a lawyer, a general during the Civil War, a U.S. senator, and was nominated for president and elected in 1880 and defeated Grover Cleveland in a close race. After he left office he returned to Indianapolis and became a successful lawyer.