INDIANAPOLIS: Combine a bit of Victorian Christmas with Presidential History at the Benjamin Harrison Presidential site. Visitors to the home, and to the website can enjoy the home of our 23rd President.
Unfortunately, when we think of our greatest president, not many point to President Benjamin Harrison (August 20, 1833 – March 13, 1901) an American politician and lawyer. Harrison was the 23rd President of the United States, serving from
1889 to 1893.
However, Harrison was one of the early adopters of the idea of living a life of public service.
Arriving in Indianapolis in 1854 his career began as a lawyer. Harrison’s election campaign was fraught with corruption and the 23rd President won the Electoral College while losing the popular vote.
In 1867, following his service in the military, he bought a double lot from an auction. In 1874 construction of a house on the property began, and was completed in 1875, at the cost of $24,818.67 (equal to $553,983 today).
Harrison and a life of political service
The trend for wealthier citizens of Indianapolis to move to the north side of town started with Benjamin Harrison moving his family to 1230 Delaware Street. Harrison, except for the time Benjamin Harrison served as United States Senator from Indiana (1881–1887), and his time as President of the United States (1889–1893), would live in this home dying in the master bedroom of the house on March 13, 1901. While running for president in 1888, Benjamin Harrison would issue campaign speeches to listeners on the street outside his home, in what was called “front-porch speeches”.
Harrison served one term, defeating incumbent Grover Cleveland (#22 from 1885-1899 and then again as number #24 from 1893-1897). President Benjamin Harrison is the grandson of the ninth president, William Henry Harrison, creating the only grandfather–grandson duo to have held the office. Harrison died in March 1901 as a result of influenza.
Hallmarks of Harrison’s administration included unprecedented economic legislation, including the McKinley Tariff, which imposed historic protective trade rates, and the Sherman Antitrust Act. Harrison also facilitated the creation of the national forest reserves through an amendment to the Land Revision Act of 1891. During his administration, six western states – Montana, Washington, Idaho, Wyoming, and the Dakotas – became a part of the Union.
Visiting the President Benjamin Harrison Home at Christmas
Harrison is our sole President from the Hoosier State. His 1875 Italianate Victorian style home is now open to visitors following a $400,000 restoration following a grant by Save America’s Treasures.
Harrison’s presidency is the first to have a lighted Christmas tree in the Whitehouse. Today his home is full of garlands of greenery and bows on the wrap-around porch, cheerfully welcoming visitors.
The front parlor, as it was in Harrison’s time, is where the family tree hold’s court. Period decorations include wooden soldiers, cotton batting ornaments, hand-blown glass figures, and candles.
Fireplace mantles are heavy with greenery while bright red ribbons adorn the banisters, doorways, and mirrors.
A fun bit of Victorian-era holidays is the “Old Father Christmas.” This Victorian decoration is from the 1868 Ladies Godey’s Magazine.
Santa is made from pine cones, moss, sheep’s wool, and real fur.
The Candlelight Theater
Celebrating the holidays, the Presidential Sites Candlelight Theater is offering “Twas the Night Before…”.
Each sixty-minute show is full of interactive fun including Christmas carols, holiday folklore and stage performances featuring favorite yuletide characters. Tickets are necessary, so check the website before you go.
Touring the President Benjamin Harrison home
Visitors to the site will walk through the homes three floors, encompassing ten rooms. On display is a collection of over 10,000 artifacts from the time and place of President Harrison. What makes this display unique is that nearly 80% of the artifacts are original to the Harrison family.
They include furniture, paintings, and political memorabilia.
Of particular interest is a watercolor print by Tiffany. The 1903 watercolor drawing is of the design for a memorial window for President Harrison that once hung at the First Presbyterian Church of Indianapolis. Today the Tiffany Window hangs at the Indianapolis Museum of Art.
Much of home’s collections are available for 2D and 3D printing. Online visitors can download and print their own pieces of history for free.
The Presidential Site has lots of other exciting initiatives in the works as they strive to become the most innovative, impactful and civically-engaged presidential site in the country.
Visitors to the area interested in stained glass may want to add The Indiana Glass Trail to their visit.
Eagle-eyed visitors will note the many period features still found in the home. Intricate doorknobs, hinges, moldings and glass door panels all combined to create a luxurious home worthy of President.
If you go:
The Benjamin Harrison Home located at 1230 North Delaware St., Indianapolis, IN is a National Historic Landmark. Click here for the National Historic Landmark registration file: text and photos. The Benjamin Harrison Home is open Monday-Saturday from 10:00am to 3:30pm and on Sundays in June and July from 12:30pm to 3:30pm.
Tours are on the half hour with several exhibits on display. The house does close for all major holidays. For more information visit President Benjamin Harrison Home website or call 317-631-1888.
The Benjamin Harrison Home has been documented by the National Park Service’s Historic American Buildings Survey. The Benjamin Harrison Home is also featured in the National Park Service Indianapolis Travel Itinerary as part of the Northside Historic District.