Christmas Candlelight Tour Dec. 6 will feature re-enactors from several time periods
By Lindsay Owens
The candlelight Christmas tour at Grouseland, the home of William Henry Harrison, has been getting families in the holiday spirit for several years now. While the free and open-to-the-public holiday tours, which are always the first Friday in December, typically feature a different time period when then-Governor Harrison and his family live in the mansion, there will be a few other surprises, according to Lisa Ice-Jones, executive director of the stately brick home.
“The main floor will feature the Harrisons and will be similar to what we have done in previous years. We will have a young Harrison and his wife, Anna, greeting our guests and welcoming them to their home,” said Ice-Jones, adding volunteers in character will serve as the Harrisons as well as several others who played a role in the mansion’s history. “The Harrisons will be talking about what it was like to build their home here in Vincennes.”
In the council room, Ice-Jones said guests can talk with an older version of Harrison.
“That room will feature Harrison when he was running for president,” said Ice-Jones, who said recently acquired china from Harrison’s campaign will also be on display. “We also have volunteers from the Knox County Public Library who will be talking about the mansion when it was a lending library.”
Upstairs, the Francis Vigo Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, who fought to save the mansion from destruction more than 100 years ago, will be talking about the mansion during the Victorian era.
“The fun thing about the Victorian era is we can have Christmas trees and Santa,” said Ice-Jones, who said during the Harrison’s time, Christmas looked a lot different than what we are accustomed.
In the basement, a volunteer portraying Eli Lilly will talk about his role in the mansion’s history during the 1960s and 1970s.
“Our Eli Lilly will be talking about why he felt Grouseland was important,” said Ice-Jones, adding that it was Lilly who brought the Rembrandt Peel portrait of Harrison to Grouseland. “We will also be giving out postcards featuring the Peel portrait.”
Refreshments and entertainment will also be a part of the evening that begins at 6:30 p.m. and runs until 9:30 p.m. on Dec. 6.
“We always have this on the first Friday in December,” said Ice-Jones.
Ice-Jones said in 2020, the community will also see some big projects coming to the historic home.
“We just announced the successful completion of our capital campaign, Grouseland: A Living Legacy, which will fund a $1.2 million restoration project to this national historic site,” said Ice-jones.
“The Foundation has received tremendous support from the Jeffris Foundation as the catalyst for this campaign. The Jeffris Foundation awarded $400,000 in the form of a challenge grant with Grouseland having raising over $800,000 in additional funds.”
The Jeffris Foundation, she said, is “dedicated to the Midwest’s cultural history and heritage through preserving regionally and nationally important historic buildings.”
Founder Tom Jeffris selected Grouseland as a project he wanted his family foundation to be involved with, stating he wants “Grouseland to be the best historic restoration in the country and there’s no reason it can’t be.”
It was announced in October that Foundation members have selected nationally acclaimed historic preservation architecture firm Mesick, Cohen, Wilson & Baker of Albany, New York, and Williamsburg, Virginia, to complete the restoration.
Ice-Jones said the firm’s award-winning designs can be seen at the presidential homes of Madison’s Montpelier and Jefferson’s Monticello and Poplar Forest.
“They are currently working at George Washington’s Mt. Vernon,” said Ice-Jones, who said Grouseland’s construction could begin as early as the spring of 2020.
Work at Grouseland will include updates to mechanical systems along with interior and exterior work. Main floor restoration will occur in the primary rooms of Harrison significance, including the two-story impressive entryway. Exterior work will include energy-efficient, period-correct windows and shutters, brick, mortar and foundation repairs, tuck-pointing and sealing of the brick, among other items.