Looking for something different to do when visiting Indianapolis? Or maybe you’re a local who has already checked out all the traditional Indy tourist spots. Or do you just love history and good food? Whatever camp you fall into, I’ve got a treat for you! Join me on a presidential adventure with one of the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site tours.
Explore the Benjamin Harrison House
Located just minutes from downtown Indianapolis, in the Old Northside Historic District, is the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site. The 23rd President’s former home has been beautifully restored and is chock full of interesting artifacts, presidential mementos, and history. The Old Northside Historic District itself has undergone significant revitalization and now includes a mix of historic homes and modern developments.
The Harrison family home is a beautiful three-story Italianate Victorian mansion built in the 1870s. This house, with its turrets and intricate woodwork, stands as a testament to the architecture of its time.
Inside, the home is furnished with many of Harrison’s original belongings, giving visitors a glimpse into his private life and the late 19th-century domestic setting. The house boasts over 10,000 artifacts, including Harrison’s personal items, furniture, and memorabilia from his presidential campaign.
The Benjamin Harrison House tour starts at the welcome center located behind the mansion, and you’ll easily find free parking either right on Delaware Street or in a small lot behind the welcome center.
I visited on a Monday morning and we had a full tour of 12 guests. Many were from the Indianapolis area, but others were history buffs passing through the city on their way to another adventure.
In addition to getting admittance to the tour in the welcome center, there is a small gift shop and a rotating exhibit. The current exhibit is on political humor – and it was a fun one to explore. If you enjoy political cartoons and jokes, you’ll definitely want to spend some time in this exhibit.
The tour I took lasted about an hour and was led by a wonderfully knowledgeable docent named Patricia. I’m always impressed with how interesting the docents I’ve encountered at various historical sites are. A good tour guide can easily make or break a tour!
Not only did she know the history of many of the items in the house, but she also had some fun stories to share about the President and his family. For example, she shared a hilarious story of a time when one of the children’s pets (a goat) got out of the White House lawn and the President chased him down the street to catch him. Can you imagine that happening today?
A few of the highlights of the tour included an original commission for Benjamin Harrison entering the Civil War signed by Abraham Lincoln, a letter sent to his wife from Helen Keller, and quite a few pieces of china from the White House. Since I diffuse oils at home and on the road constantly, I got a kick out of the diffuser in one of the bedrooms.
We began the tour at the front entrance and took a peek into the front parlor. This room contained a beautiful T.C. Steele portrait of Benjamin Harrison. Patricia shared with us how he moved to the area from Ohio and highlighted a few of the unique gifts in this room given to the President while he was in office.
In the back parlor, we were treated to a short song played on a Reginaphone – similar to what we would consider a record player.
The tour also includes his study, the upstairs bedrooms, and a visit to the third floor. Originally a ballroom, the third floor now is used for rotating exhibits. Glitz and Glamour is the current exhibit and it showcases the social aspects of life in the White House. If you love fashion, parties, and weddings, this is the exhibit to explore.
After enjoying the third-floor exhibit, we exited down the servants’ staircase. With extremely narrow stairs, it is hard to imagine a servant carrying food and drinks up and down them from the kitchen to the ballroom, but it obviously happened. Yikes. The kitchen is bright and cheery and full of “modern” appliances such as an icebox, pie safe, and Hoosier Cupboard.
The house sits on a lovely bit of land and also boasts a small garden area. On a sunny spring day, it’s a joy to wander around. In fact, in late May the site hosts a free garden party in the early evening, so that would be well worth checking out. The other big event each year is the Wicket World of Croquet. It’s one of the biggest fundraisers and transforms the grounds into a croquet party. It’s typically held in early June.
The site is also known for hosting the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site’s Candlelight Theatre. This special event provides a unique theater experience with performances relevant to the era or the life of President Harrison.
Grab a bite to eat at a local Indy restaurant
After soaking up so much history and walking around the house, you’ll probably be ready for a bite to eat (I know I was). Being this close to downtown Indianapolis means there are dozens of delicious restaurants to choose from, so making a choice can be a challenge.
Luckily, one of the best sandwich shops in the city is located just down the street at 2503 N. Delaware. Goose the Market serves delectable handmade sandwiches using only the freshest local ingredients. Add a side of Broad Ripple Chips and you’ve got the perfect lunch.
If it happens to be evening, feel free to head downstairs to the Cellar Enoteca for a glass of wine or beer and a beautiful charcuterie board. After peeking at the cellar, that’s on my list of future Indianapolis adventures for sure!
And, Goose the Market hosts frequent events, so check out their event schedule if you have extra time.
When Should You Join One of the Benjamin Harrison House Tours?
Wanna check out Benjamin Harrison’s place on Delaware Street? You can catch guided tours every two hours from 10 am-2 pm, Mon-Thurs. On Fridays, it’s every hour from 10 am-2 pm. For the weekend crowd, it’s every hour 10am-3 pm on Saturdays and 12 pm-3 pm on Sundays.
The Benjamin Harrison Home is closed in early January for an annual cleaning as well as several major holidays and during special events, so do check ahead to make sure it’s open when you want to visit.
Benjamin Harrison House tickets can be purchased at the welcome center or online.
Map of Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site & Goose the Market
Conclusion: Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site Indianapolis
So, next time you are in the mood for something a little different, take a few hours of your day to check out this important historical landmark and make an afternoon of it by enjoying a tasty treat from a local business.
You’ll learn something new and enjoy doing it! This would also be a perfect road trip stop if you are driving through Indianapolis on your way to somewhere else. It’s just enough to do for a decent driving break and to create a fun memory!
Thanks to the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site for hosting my tour. As always, opinions and pictures are 100% my own.