Most everyone in Indianapolis is aware of the Benjamin Harrison’s Delaware Street home, known today as the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site, but did you know that he once lived in the Lockerbie Neighborhood?
Born into a prominent Virginia family (his grandfather William Henry Harrison served as president, albeit for only 30 days), young Benjamin Harrison was raised in North Bend in southwestern Ohio. After attending Farmer’s College in 1847 (where he first met his future wife Caroline Lavinia Scott, the daughter of a professor) and graduating from Miami University in 1852, he became a law apprentice in Cincinnati. The following year he married Caroline and returned to his father’s farm after completing his law education. An $800 real estate inheritance from his aunt helped fund his removal in April 1854 to Indianapolis where he started his law career.
Several copies of this undated photograph are housed in local archives, but unfortunately the address of his first residence in Indianapolis is only given as “East Vermont Street” with no street address. The image does reveal some internal clues, however, to indicate the site and date. Because the printed caption refers to him as General Ben. Harrison rather than President, the photograph was likely captured when Harrison first campaigned for president in 1888. Photographer Harrie Rose’s gallery is only listed at 137 W. Washington St. in the 1888 and 1889 city directories (many photographers moved every few years, which helps us date their old images). Rose, a republican described as “a pleasant little man” ran for city council in 1889 and likely supported Harrison’s campaign. At this time he also documented and sold to a curious public photographs of the new Republican candidate’s Delaware Street house, his Wright Block law office on E. Market Street, and the nomination notification committee. The first house photograph would have been taken about 35 years after Harrison’s young family occupied the small house.
During the 1888 campaign, the Indianapolis Journal mentioned Harrison’s first house, again omitting the address:
An old citizen recalls the fact that the first house occupied by General and Mrs. Harrison in this city was rented from Mr. Stewart, a prominent citizen of that time. When he mentioned that he had rented the little house to Benjamin Harrison, a young lawyer recently arrived here, a member of his family exclaimed, “You don’t mean to say that boyish-looking young man is married?” The same house was occupied successively, after General Harrison vacated it, by Byron K. Elliott, now Judge of the Supreme Court, and Dan Macauley, of civil and military fame. [Indianapolis Journal, December 9, 1888]
Confirming the photo’s caption, “Vermont” is painted on the clapboard siding on the front of the house.
The best clue is visible above the front door. It appears that the street address is 223.
Harrison’s house photograph predates the city’s massive address renumbering project in 1898, so the 1887 Sanborn Fire Insurance map was consulted to determine where 223 E. Vermont was located in the 1880s. Today the location is numbered 421 E. Vermont. The placement of the house next to an alley with a set-back house to the east matches the photograph. The house material (yellow for wood), size of house (14′ wide with a semi-enclosed porch on the west) and the one-story height also corresponds to Harrie Rose’s photo.
Upon closer inspection of the enhanced digital file, one other clue jumps off of the screen–a church steeple in the background to the southeast. Although it doesn’t seem like it would be this prominent, I knew that the former Lockerbie Central Methodist Church stands about a block away on the southeast corner of E. New York and East Streets.
At first glance at a recent photo, the steeple of the former Lockerbie Central United Methodist Church appeared too plain to be the one in the distance, but an 1893 photograph of the church, designed by architect Diedrich A. Bohlen in 1882, reveals that the Gothic windows on each side of the steeple were later removed.
Harrison’s 1850s rental house was demolished by 1910 when St. Mary’s Catholic Church was constructed on the southeast corner of N. New Jersey and E. Vermont Streets. The congregation left their 1858 church at 121 E. Maryland St. when the downtown location became too commercial.