Country Decor Inspiration: Grouseland
Ask people what they know about President William Henry Harrison, and most of them will mention the same fact: He gave his inauguration speech in the dead of winter, caught pneumonia and died in office 30 days into his first term.
Based on that little nugget of trivia, Harrison doesn’t seem like a good fit for our series on finding country décor inspiration from historic homes.
But we think Harrison and his home – called Grouseland – are still pretty interesting, if not inspiring. Let’s go back to 18th century America to begin our story.
Harrison was born in Virginia in 1773. His father, Benjamin, was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. William was studying to be a doctor until his father’s death in 1791. He gave up his studies and enlisted in the Army.
Harrison was assigned to the western frontier, where American troops were in the midst of a war with the Ohio Indians. He was promoted to captain after distinguishing himself during the Battle of Fallen Timbers, and became commander of Fort Washington.
During this time, he met Anna Symmes, daughter of a powerful judge. They were married in 1795 despite objections from the judge, who doubted a professional soldier would be able to support his daughter.
Governor of Indiana
But Harrison’s star would only rise in the next few years. He became secretary of the Northwest Territory, which included all the land that would become Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin and a portion of Minnesota.
Harrison was elected the territory’s congressman in 1799, and helped make land purchases easier for settlers. In 1800, President John Adams appointed Harrison the governor of the new Indiana Territory. He and his family settled in the territorial capital of Vincennes, where Harrison built, Grouseland (named after a bird he loved to hunt).
More successes followed: Harrison helped the federal government with its westward expansion as an interim director of the “District of Louisiana.” He became a national military hero after the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811. (He’d carry the nickname “Old Tippecanoe” for the rest of his life; when he and John Tyler ran for office in 1840, they used the slogan “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too.”)
The following year, he resigned as governor to rejoin the army during the War of 1812.
Two presidential campaigns
Harrison remained in the public eye after the war. He served as a federal Indian treaty negotiator, spent time as an Ohio congressman, state senator and U.S. Senator. His senate term was cut short when he was appointed envoy to Gran Colombia, a South American nation that encompassed much of the northern part of the continent.
In 1836, his political allies drafted him to run for president. This campaign came during a difficult time for Harrison. Five of his children had died during adulthood, leaving him to support an extended network of widows and orphans.
On paper, he seemed like a great candidate. As the Grouseland Foundation puts it:
“By then, Harrison had become an elder statesman, a symbol of rugged frontiersmanship, and a direct heir to the revolutionary generation. Harrison’s military exploits became the stuff of legend in his own time, and his myth grew, as the opponents of Andrew Jackson and his party, sought both reform and republican revival.”
Harrison lost that election, but ran four years later against President Martin Van Buren. His campaign is often considered the first modern presidential campaign, in which candidates traveled the country to try to connect with voters.
In Harrison’s case, this involved one of the most unusual gimmicks in presidential history: his supporters rolled a giant paper and tin ball – decorated with his campaign slogans – from Kentucky to Maryland. This is where we get the phrase “keep the ball rolling.” Harrison’s grandson Benjamin would adopt the same tactic during his presidential campaign 40 years later.
The shortest presidency
Harrison arrived in Washington in March 1841 determined to make a memorable entrance. He rode on horseback rather than in a carriage, wore no coat or hat, and gave an 8,445-word inaugural address, the longest in U.S. history.
The new president became ill with a cold on March 26, three weeks after the inauguration. His cold quickly became pneumonia. At the time, people believed Harrison got sick because of the weather during his speech, but a 2014 medical analysis concluded that Harrison died from typhoid fever.
His final words were to his doctor, telling him to pass along a message to the vice president: “Sir, I wish you to understand the true principles of the government. I wish them carried out. I ask nothing more.” He had been president for 30 days, 12 hours and 30 minutes.
Grouseland and his legacy
Soldier, governor, senator, ambassador, president. William Henry Harrison lived an outsized life. Yet we like Grouseland because it’s not an outsized home.
Even though it cost Harrison a lot to build – it was the first brick structure in Indiana – it seems relatively modest by today’s standards. It’s where William and Anna and their children ate their dinners, but it’s also where Governor Harrison negotiated treaties and ran the territorial government.
Visit Piper Classics today to find the country décor that will allow you to build your own Grouseland.