The Francis Vigo Statue on the grounds of the George Rogers Clark National Historical Park and the Lincoln Memorial Bridge carrying U.S. 50 over the Wabash River.
Way back in the 1730s, the French established a fort along the Wabash River and named it after a French officer, Vincennes. Vincennes became a profitable fur trading center and at various times was controlled by the French, British, and Colonial Americans until the Revolutionary War. In 1779, George Rogers Clark and his small army took from the British the largest land conquest of the Revolutionary War. Today, Clark’s legacy is prominently displayed in Vincennes.
Vincennes was home to William Henry Harrison, who was appointed governor of the Northwest Territory when it was created in 1787. Harrison gained acclaim in 1811 during the Battle of Tippecanoe near Battle Ground, Indiana. Each year, the battle is commemorated at Fort Knox II during the “Muster on the Wabash,” a weekend festival that features authentic encampments, battle reenactments, demonstrations, food, and “period” vendors. This year’s festival is the weekend of September 24th-25th. If you can’t make it for the festival, you can still visit the Fort, which was built in 1803 north of Vincennes. Harrison went on to be elected the 9th U.S. President in 1840.
Grouseland, home of William Henry Harrison, Governor of the Northwest Territory and 9th President of the United States.
Harrison’s home, Grouseland, was the first brick home in the Indiana Territory, built in the Georgian style in 1803-1804. The mansion is an early historic preservation success story, having been saved from destruction and restored by the Francis Vigo Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution in 1911. The National Historic Landmark is open for tours daily. The Territorial Capitol Building was first built in 1805 as a tailor shop and is considered the oldest “major” government building in the Midwest.
Vincennes is also home to Indiana’s oldest cathedral, the 1826 St. Francis Xavier Cathedral, as well as Indiana’s oldest college, Vincennes University, which was founded in 1801 as the Jefferson Academy. Vincennes can also boast Indiana’s first newspaper, bank, medical society, Presbyterian Church, and Masonic Lodge. It’s no surprise then, that much of the city was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1974 as the Vincennes Historic District.
Basilica of St. Francis Xavier Cathedral and French and Indian Cemetery.
Despite its pre-statehood legacy, much of the Vincennes you see today dates to the turn of the twentieth century. The downtown business district is lined with commercial blocks boasting cast iron and pressed-metal facades. Likewise, residential neighborhoods showcase the popular styles of the 1880s-1920s, including Romanesque Revival, Queen Anne, Colonial Revival, and Craftsman.
The George Rogers Clark Memorial was erected in 1932 on the site of the former British Fort Sackville, which was captured by Clark. It is the largest memorial monument west of D.C. and the interior features murals depicting scenes from Clark’s expedition by artist Ezra Winter. The memorial was designed by Frederic C. Hirons and President Franklin Roosevelt was at the landmark’s dedication in 1936. The site was later designated a National Historical Park; it is one of only three National Park Service sites in the state of Indiana. From the park, you can spy another Depression-era structure, the Lincoln Memorial Bridge, which was dedicated in 1933 linking Vincennes to Illinois. Abraham Lincoln is said to have crossed the Wabash River at this location in 1830 on his way to Illinois.
The George Rogers Clark Memorial is an impressive landmark on the banks of the Wabash River.
A number of Vincennes’ sites are operated as Indiana State Historic Sites. These include the Indiana Territory Capitol, the Print Shop of Elihu Stout, the birthplace of Maurice Thompson, the Old State Bank, Fort Knox II, Sugar Loaf Mound, and the Jefferson Academy.
Vincennes State Historic Sites, Visitors’ Center.
From Indianapolis, Vincennes is about a 2.5-hour drive. Take I-70 West approximately 74 miles to U.S. 41 South. Continue south on U.S. 41 approximately 54 miles. Continue on U.S. 41 Bus. South/N. 6th Street to downtown Vincennes. Click here for directions.
A warm Vincennes welcome on a cool, winter’s day.
Lodging options are plenty in Vincennes. For a full listing, click here.
Harrison Inn Bed & Breakfast; 902 Buntin Street, Vincennes, Indiana 47591; 812.882.3243; call for rates.
Built in 1902, the inn offers three rooms.
Haus Edelweiss Bed & Breakfast; 2814 N. Church Road, Vincennes, Indiana 47591; 812.726.4603; rates from $85 per night.
Located two miles northeast of Vincennes on 20 acres with ponds for fishing, boating, and bathing.
Ouabache Trails Park; 3500 N. Lower Fort Rd, Vincennes, Indiana, 47591; 812.882.4316; rates from $60+ per night.
This county park’s cabins accommodate 4-8 and include kitchens, private baths, and fireplaces.
Note: Please be sure to confirm all rates, hours of operation, and other details directly with the companies/organizations in question before planning your trip. The mention of and/or links to companies/organizations in this post do not constitute an endorsement.
City of Vincennes, “History,” http://www.vincennes.org/category/about-vincennes/history, accessed 7 September 2011.
Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana, Knox County Interim Report: Indiana Historic Sites and Structures Inventory, 1997.
Vincennes, Knox County Convention & Visitors Bureau, http://www.vincennescvb.org/, accessed 7 September 2011.
Photographs courtesy and © of author, except as noted.
Shannon Hill is a Historic Resources Specialist at Bernardin, Lochmueller and Associates, Inc., a survey, planning, engineering and environmental firm. She contributes the monthly feature “Outside the Circle.”