I had once buzzed through Corydon, stopping briefly (and I do mean briefly) at the Capitol Building. This time I was going to do it right with a full tour of the historic sites in Corydon.
In 1813, the capital of the Indiana Territory moved from Vincennes to Corydon. From June 10 to June 29, 1816, Corydon hosted Indiana’s first constitutional convention. Following the convention, Corydon became the state capital and remained the capital until 1825, when the seat of state government moved to Indianapolis, a more central spot in the state (as opposed to the location of Corydon on the Ohio River at the far southern end of the state). (Those at the Corydon Capitol State Historic Site like to say that they are maintaining the buildings for when the capital moves back to Corydon.)
The Indiana State Museum oversees the Corydon Capitol State Historic Site, which is a collection of historic buildings: the Governor’s Headquarters, the Porter Law Office next door, and the Capitol Building on the square.
The tour started at the Governor’s Headquarters, a two-story brick building. Davis Floyd, a state legislator, built the house in 1817, but lost it in the Panic of 1819. At that time, the state government bought it. In 1841, Judge William A. Porter acquired the house, which remained in his family until 1979, after which it reverted back to the state.
(Interesting side note about Floyd: in 1805, while he was a territorial legislator—long before building what became the Porter Law Office—he fell into an unsavory situation with Vice President Aaron Burr. In 1807, he was convicted of aiding Burr in what was known as the Burr Conspiracy—an attempt to take territory in the West from the US government. In the end, Floyd was not convicted of treason.)
Why is it called the Governor’s Headquarters? From 1817-1825, this brick building was the home and office of William Hendricks, Indiana’s second elected governor (1822-1825). (Hendricks was actually the third Indiana governor. Jonathan Jennings, the first governor resigned to take office in the US House of Representatives. Ratliff Boon, his lt. governor, replaced him as the second governor.)
Hendricks had quite a role in early Indiana politics. He served in the territorial legislature (1813-1816), as secretary (not delegate) to the Indiana constitutional convention (1816), as a US representative (1816-1822), and after being Indiana governor, as a US senator (1825-1837). (He was also the uncle to Thomas A. Hendricks who later served among other numerous offices as Indiana governor and Vice President to President Cleveland. Now I am curious about what happened to the Hendricks political dynasty, which seems to have died out with Thomas.)
William Hendricks ran unopposed for governor and, um, garnered 100% of the votes (a whopping 18,340). Lucky Hendricks dealt with the remaining debt and deficit caused by the Panic of 1819 by selling public land to raise money. (I felt a bit uneasy by this. Selling public land = land recently taken from the native Americans who were forcibly removed from Indiana.)
Hendricks was also responsible for roadways being built (hmmm…what type, I wonder? Corduroy or plank?). Under him, all residents were required to spend time building roads. (Oooh. Corvée labor. That must have been very popular. Forcing people to work on socialist projects surely wouldn’t fly today.)
Hendricks was also the governor who approved moving the capital to Indianapolis, a move that relegated Corydon to being a trade town on the Ohio River.
His wife pushed for free education, which led to the first state-funded system in the nation. (Sad that Indiana hasn’t led the nation in education in more recent times!) Each township was granted land to build a public school. The state seminary, which became Indiana University, was established in 1816.
The tour consisted of the downstairs only. The house itself is quite a large structure with two front doors, a “normal” front door with foyer and then a second door that opens directly to the governor’s office (which was originally the parlor). (The upstairs, I was told, consists of two bedrooms the same size as the two front rooms on the first floor.)
A kitchen exists directly behind the office/parlor. The kitchen was a later addition to the house, with a brick wall acting as a fire barrier between it and the house proper. (Kitchens were often separate from early houses due in part to being fire hazards.) The brick floors and limestone walls made the kitchen feel instantly cooler as I stepped inside. The large hearth sported a cooking crane, a large metal swinging arm that would allow cooks easy access to pots hanging over the fire.
A quasi-courtyard framed on one side by the kitchen and another side by a high retaining wall includes an herb garden. The garden and retaining wall was built in 1840s by Porter when he acquired the property. The garden is built so that water from rains would drain down to the center of the courtyard. Before this improvement, the house would flood, water pouring down the hill and into the house. Residents would clear the flood water by literally opening the back door and sweeping the water through the house out the front door (!).
The docent pointed out some structures on the hill above the retaining wall: a three-seater outhouse on one side and a chicken coop on the other. (I’m not sure I could picture using a three-seater outhouse sans any privacy barriers. Even trough squat toilets I used in rural China had small dividing walls as a nod to semi-privacy.) The nearby 1848 carriage house serves as the office of the Indiana State Museum.
Interesting given the state’s proximity to the south and influx of southern folks, Hendricks used servants in his headquarters, not slaves (which were technically illegal in the Indiana Territory and state, despite territorial governor Harrison’s attempt to allow slavery). Hendricks apparently was a strong anti-Jacksonian, a quality I smiled approvingly of, particularly in today’s climate.