VINCENNES, Ind. (AP) — Lisa Ice-Jones pointed upward at a sparkling chandelier hanging above a circular wood table in the council room at Grouseland, its crystals catching the afternoon light.
“This table and chandelier were gifts to this house by the Harrison family,” she said. “This table had been in his North Bend, Ohio, house at one point.
“So these pieces, though they weren’t here at Grouseland, are authentic Harrison pieces because they came to us by way of the Harrison family.”
The chandelier and table are just a couple examples of the many hundreds of pieces on display, carefully arranged throughout the mansion to create the impression that William Henry Harrison, his wife, Anna, or any member of their household might walk through the door at any moment.
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What’s out there for guests to see, Ice-Jones noted, is just a small snippet of what the historic site has in its inventory.
“We have a lot of furniture, but we also have a lot of other personal effects,” said Ice-Jones, executive director of the Grouseland Foundation. “If I were to count everything — like the Harrison letters, a book that has his signature in it, individual political buttons — and not just the furnishings, I couldn’t even give you an estimate of what we have.”
The items have been collected and donated over the past 100 years or so since Grouseland first started serving as a living history museum, given or obtained in the interest of paying homage to the man who once called it home as well as the history that happened within its walls.
The mansion was built over a five-year period, from 1800 to 1805, while Harrison was serving as the governor of the new Indiana Territory and was occupied first by his family until 1812, when it passed to his son, John Cleves Symmes Harrison, who owned the mansion until his death in 1830. It was then inherited by his heirs, who collectively owned it, according to a recent historic structure report.
Grouseland passed through a series of owners throughout the remainder of the 19th century and ultimately ended up in the hands of the Vincennes Water Supply Co. in 1914.
Years of neglect nearly subjected the house to demolition, but it was saved by local members of the Francis Vigo Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution in 1916 with the purpose of preserving the building as a museum in honor of Harrison and his legacy.
The DAR acquired the property in 1935 and it’s now maintained and operated by the Grouseland Foundation.
Ever since the mansion was rescued by the DAR, there’s been a concerted and continual effort to build a museum of items that are either authentic period pieces from the 1800s or authentic pieces related to Harrison himself.
When Harrison moved his family out of Grouseland for safety’s sake during the War of 1812, they left some things behind with local people, Ice-Jones explained. Decades later, when the home was first opened as a museum, some families returned items to the house.
They wanted them to come home, she said, in Harrison’s memory.
“A local family had the crane and the hearth from the warming kitchen as a souvenir from the house. When they realized the house was going to be opened, they returned it,” Ice-Jones said. “There are a lot of great stories about things like that . and what that tells me is that for the people who were here and did know Harrison and his family, there is a reverence for what all it symbolizes.
“They considered these items as coming home.”
Authentic Harrison items throughout Grouseland include several sets of China, a common prayer book with his signature, an iron said to be used by Harrison’s tailor, a buffet that was part of the original dining room furniture, the Harrison bed and the family cradle.
In the 1960s, decades after Grouseland first opened as a museum, Eli Lilly made a donation that helped its guardians complete a major restoration. Many items were acquired then as well, Ice-Jones explained, to help furnish the house.
A lot of historic sites have reproduction furnishings, she noted, but thanks to the efforts of DAR members, the things that fill the rooms at Grouseland are the real deal and are authentic antiques from the Harrison period.
Throughout its history as a home museum, Ice-Jones added, scores of items have been donated from the private collections of families across the country, including a 1795 whisky ration signed by Harrison that came from the collection of the Dyrud family of Phoenix.
Mrs. Dyrud is a direct descendent of Nicholas McCarty Harrison, Ice-Jones explained, who is a descendent of Harrison himself.
As Grouseland continues to gain more and more visibility, its inventory just keeps growing. Recently, a man from Iowa sent to Grouseland a Harrison handleless 1840 campaign teacup.
“He had this item that was precious and he wanted it to be somewhere it would be truly appreciated,” Ice-Jones said. “We’re fortunate in that we have the stability of being a museum for so long and we have the local reputation of everyone in the area caring about local history, so when people have a piece or two they think is special, they like it coming to a place like this.”
The items on display aren’t rotated out too often, Ice-Jones said, for a few different reasons, one being that historic artifacts really shouldn’t be handled more than is absolutely necessary.
Plus, if Grouseland staff and volunteers know exactly where things are, they’ll notice when something is missing or out of place.
All the items that are not on view for the public to see are properly sorted and stored in an archive room, Ice-Jones explained down in her basement office, to ensure they’re preserved for posterity.
There’s also a storage unit to house items as well.
“There’s a lot of unseen things that go on here besides the tours,” Ice-Jones said as she shuffled through a file cabinet containing archives of every item on display upstairs, plus some Harrison letters that aren’t on view. “There’s a whole maintenance thing not only of the building, but of the artifacts.”
The continual upkeep, evolution and expansion of the Grouseland collection is all in an effort, Ice-Jones said, to ensure Harrison’s legacy, and the impression he made on Indiana and U.S. history, stays alive.
“The DAR canvassed the country and purchased items, private families donated original Harrison pieces, philanthropists like Lilly donated money to acquire things — that’s how all this came to be, with a lot of effort from a lot of people who believed in the cause,” Ice-Jones said. “People still continue to donate and when they do, it’s a big boon to this place because it increases the assets.
“The assets here are just mind-boggling.”
Source: Vincennes Sun-Commercial
Information from: Vincennes Sun-Commercial, http://www.vincennes.com