Vincennes Hoping History Can Bring Tourism

The William Henry Harrison mansion, called Grouseland by its builder, was the site of several important land treaties with Native Americans and served as a center for the then-western frontier.

updated: 4/16/2008 9:41:32 AM

Vincennes Hoping History Can Bring Tourism

InsideINdianaBusiness.com Report

A new effort begins this week to boost tourism in the Vincennes region. The multi-year initiative will focus on building regional and national history-related tourism, highlighting the work of William Henry Harrison and the region's role in the Revolutionary War and War of 1812. Historian Robert Owens, who recently authored a book about Harrison, will kick off the effort Friday with an appearance at the Grouseland Foundation’s Annual Dinner.

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Press Release

Vincennes, Ind. -- The visit of national historian Robert Owens on April 18 will launch what local officials plan to become a multi-year effort to build regional and national history-related tourism for the Vincennes region.

The middle-sized river town of Vincennes once governed more U.S. territory than any other city outside of the nation’s capital, earning a nickname as “a little New Orleans.” Recounting that history, local officials plan to attract a new generation of tourists and national history aficionados interested in the region’s important “lost history.”

Popular reenactments of local Revolutionary War events have attracted multiple thousands to the Vincennes region, and officials plan to now highlight the region’s major significance in the War of 1812.

The first step in increasing regional awareness will be taken with the appearance of historian Robert Owens at the Grouseland Foundation’s Annual Dinner on April 18. Dr. Owens authored Mr. Jefferson’s Hammer, the first major new work in years about future U.S. President William Henry Harrison and his far-reaching pivotal work in early Indiana.

“While many know of the important role of George Rodgers Clark, many people today are largely unaware of the critical role that Vincennes and the Harrison mansion played in early American history,” said Jim Corridan, president of the Grouseland Foundation.

Vincennes played a major role leading up to the War of 1812 and local officials plan to replay that role for the benefit of increased regional tourism and history-related economic development.

“International intrigue, open conflict, presidential attention and diplomatic history were all part of Vincennes and Grouseland, which we think will be attractive to tourists as we approach the War’s bicentennial,” Corridan said.

Considerable private and public correspondence from President Thomas Jefferson, cabinet officials and military generals came to Harrison at Grouseland, earning the imposing brick facility the anecdotal title as the “Western White House.”

In addition to governing the vast Indiana Northwest Territory in the early 1800s, Vincennes also briefly served as the capital of Upper Louisiana, an immense region stretching to modern-day Montana and Canada.

The Harrison mansion, called Grouseland by its builder (a future U.S. president), was the site of several important land treaties with Native Americans and served as a center for the then-western frontier.

Calling the 1800s Harrison home “a national treasure,” best-selling author Edwin Bearss (historian emeritus of the U.S. National Service) compares the historical importance of Grouseland to Independence Hall in Philadelphia.

While several are aware of the Battle of Tippecanoe in northwest Indiana that led to public outcry and outright declaration of a second war against England in 1812, a limited number understand that the origins of that conflict lie in failed diplomatic negotiations between Harrison and the Native American leader Tecumseh in Vincennes.

As the bicentennial of the War of 1812 approaches, interest in the historical properties associated with the war is expected to rise.

“Indiana has a legitimate claim to critical events leading up to and during the War of 1812, and we hope to achieve a new standard of success in both making people aware of this and enticing them to visit,” Corridan said.

Once part of the Commonwealth of Virginia with direct ties to Williamsburg, Vincennes and Grouseland hope to become a cornerstone of a new interest from visitors seeking remaining historical structures and sites associated with early American history.

“Many people probably associate top-of-mind awareness of the War of 1812 with the popularization of the Star Spangled Banner and events on the east coast,” explained Corridan. “The fact that Vincennes and Indiana played a major role will doubtless be surprising to some, thus making it attractive.”

Rescued from near-destruction by the local Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) group in the early 1900s, Grouseland has been painstakingly restored over the years, earning it the praise and attention from historians such as Bearss. In addition to raising funds for much-needed restoration efforts, the Grouseland Board of Directors hopes to restore the area in front of the mansion, which was the site of the Harrison-Tecumseh failed negotiations and is known in history as “the Walnut Grove.”

Corridan said that other activities to increase tourism and awareness of Vincennes and Grouseland are in the planning and execution stages. Grouseland officials plan to work closely with the Vincennes 1812 bicentennial commission recently established by Vincennes Mayor Al Baldwin and Indiana state efforts as they develop.

Tickets for the Owens dinner and lecture are still available. For more information, visit www.grouselandfoundation.org or call 812-882-2096.

Source: Grouseland Foundation

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