Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site
The Benjamin Harris Presidential Site stands as one of Indianapolis’s greatest historic and political charms. Located in the Old Northside Historic District and featuring an Italianate style architecture common in the 1870s and ‘80s, the Benjamin Harris Presidential Site also marks the spot where Harris created his famous Front Porch Campaign during the 1888 Presidential Elections. Benjamin and Caroline Harrison built the home in 1874-1875. Harrison lived in the home until he died in 1901, except for his U.S. Senate and presidential years. His family continued to live in the home until 1913. His second wife, Mary Lord Harrison, made the home a rental property until 1937, when she sold it to the Jordan Conservatory of Music with the understanding the home and its artifacts would be forever preserved. The school used the home as a dormitory while maintaining certain rooms as presidential museum space. In 1966, a not-for-profit operating foundation was established to run home as a historic site open to the public. From the 1950s until 1974, tours were by appointment only. After a 1974 renovation, the entire home was opened for regular daily tours. The Benjamin Harris Presidential Site is a U.S. National Landmark and it is listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.
Backstory and Context
History of the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site
The year was 1854, and Ohio native Benjamin Harrison had just arrived in Indianapolis with his wife, Caroline, to practice law at the office of John H. Ray. With a prominent career in place and the arrival of the Civil War, Benjamin Harrison was at a crossroads between supporting his family and answering President Lincoln’s call for more recruits for the Union Army.
Eventually, and after many discussions with Indiana Governor Oliver Morton, Harrison commanded the 1st Brigade of the 1st Division of the XX Corps, a distinction that would put him on the front lines and eventually get him nominated to the grade of brevet brigadier general of volunteers by Abraham Lincoln himself.
Back in Indianapolis after the war and elected as a reporter for the Supreme Court of Indiana, Harrison’s reputation grew. By 1872, Harrison campaigned for the Republican nomination for the Governor of Indiana, but ultimately lost his bid, and despite the Panic 1873, Harrison’s personal wealth from the law office led him and Caroline to build the Italianate mansion on 1230 N. Delaware in 1874.
The home was finished in 1875 at a cost of around $24,000, and it features the building plans of architect Herman T. Brandt. Within the red brick house, there are 16 total rooms.
Harrison became the 23rd President of the United States between 1889 and 1893. During his presidency, Harrison led the nation along the path to a world empire better than any president before him, and he stood as the model for later president Theodore Roosevelt.
Some of his foreign policy successes include supporting the annexation of Hawaii, the establishment of a protectorate in Samoa, and his push for a trans-isthmus canal in Central America. In other areas, especially domestic industrial development and poverty, Harrison is not considered to be the best Reconstruction Era president, though he is far from the worst.
Aside from his term as an Indiana Senator and U.S. President, Harrison and his family lived in the Italianate house. Caroline, his wife, died in 1892 while Harrison was president, and he returned to the home as a widower. Harrison then outfitted the home with electricity, an English-Regency front porch, and updated plumbing systems.
After Harrison died in 1901, his children, Mary and Elizabeth, lived in the home until 1913, and then from 1913 to 1937, several occupants rented the home.
By 1964, the United States Department of Interior named the home a U.S. National Landmark.1
Features of the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site
Nowadays, the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site stands as a snapshot into the life of Indiana’s only U.S. President and the state’s most accomplished citizen.
Daily guided tours are available throughout the year, and many rotating exhibits are available on the home’s third floor. As an example, one exhibit was “Death in the White House,” which paid tribute to the eight presidents and three first ladies who have died in the White House.
The collection at the Benjamin Harrison home includes a gallery of Caroline Harrison’s art, Women’s Suffrage information and archives, and a research library.2
Harrison, Benjamin. Speeches of Benjamin Harrison, Twenty-third President of the United States (1892), compiled by Charles Hedges.
Harrison, Benjamin (1901). Harrison, Mary Lord, ed. Views of an ex-president. Indianapolis, Indiana: Bowen-Merrill Co.
Volwiler, Albert T., ed. The Correspondence between Benjamin Harrison and James G. Blaine, 1882–1893 (1940)
Adleson, Bruce (2006). Benjamin Harrison. Twenty-First Century Books.
Socolofsky, Homer E.; Spetter, Allan B. (1987). The Presidency of Benjamin Harrison. University Press of Kansas.
Sievers, Harry J. (1968). Benjamin Harrison: v1 Hoosier Warrior, 1833–1865; v2: Hoosier Statesman From The Civil War To The White House 1865–1888; v3: Benjamin Harrison. Hoosier President. The White House and After. University Publishers Inc.
Kinzer, Donald L., "Benjamin Harrison and the Politics of Availability" in Gray, Ralph D. ed. (1977). Gentlemen from Indiana: National Party Candidates, 1836–1940. Indiana Historical Collections. 50. Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Bureau. pp. 141–69.
Calhoun, Charles William (2005). Benjamin Harrison. Macmillan Publishing