We were coming home from a trip down south, and made the detour to go through Vincennes, Indiana and visit the home of William Henry Harrison. It was a Sunday afternoon and the place was about to close so the tour we got we quick and rather impersonal.
Funny about Harrison. He was the ninth president. Seven of the presidents before him were born into fairly well-to-do families – only Andrew Jackson was born in a log cabin. Harrison was born on a plantation in Berkeley, Virginia, land that was given to his family by King James. The house was large – 16 rooms, in fact. Yet, the thing repeated over and over again during the campaign was that Harrison was a simple Ohio farmer who lived in a log cabin – which was true. Sort of. He had lived there for five years. But he had also lived here at Grouseland – a house he built to look like his family’s Virginia Plantation after he was elected governor of the territory of Indiana. In other words, nothing poor about him.
During the campaign, his managers talked about Harrison’s humble beginnings and his war record – especially the battle of Tippecanoe. (Recognize the slogan? Tippecanoe and Tyler too?)
Anna Harrison, William’s wife was sick at the time of the inauguration and decided not to make the trip to Washington until May. (Anna was the daughter of a influential family and had a very impressive education for women of that day.)
After the election, Harrison was finally allowed to express his views which he did in a two hour inauguration address on a cold, windy March day.
Making him the president with the longest speech and the shortest term – a month later he was dead of pneumonia. But even during his short term, he caused talk by insisting that he’d do his own grocery shopping and bringing a cow to the White House to guarantee fresh milk.
Anna Harrison was packing for her move to Washington when her husband died, so Anna was a First Lady who never lived in the White House.
After William’s death, Anna lived with her son John Scott and helped to raise his children – including Benjamin – the future president.
The Harrison’s oldest son owned Grouseland and left it to his children who sold it in 1850. For awhile it was a warehouse and then a hotel and then a home again. The Water Company eventually bought it with plans for tearing it down. The Daughters of the Revolution took over with bake sales and rummage sales to save the historic site. Many of the original furnishings have been restored and are in the house.