Benjamin Harrison was born into a politically active family. His father, John, was a United States Representative. William Henry Harrison, the ninth President of the United States, was his grandfather. He was named after his great-grandfather, Benjamin Harrison V, who signed the Declaration of Independence. Harrison was 21 when he and his first wife, Caroline Lavinia Scott, moved from Ohio to Indianapolis. They lived in two other Indianapolis residences before building this house which was constructed from 1874-1875. The home is a two and a half story brick Italianate style house.
Upon settling in the city, Harrison began his law career. He served as the city attorney, the secretary of the Republican State Committee, and the Supreme Court reporter for Indiana before the arrival of the Civil War disrupted his burgeoning political life. After hearing Governor Oliver Morton lamenting the shortage in Indiana troops, Harrison agreed to help recruit a regiment, and traveled throughout northern Indiana enlisting new soldiers. Impressed with Harrison’s abilities, Morton offered the young lawyer command of the newly-formed regiment, but Harrison declined citing his lack of military experience, and instead took the position of Second Lieutenant. When the regiment was commissioned as the 70th Indiana Infantry a month later, Harrison was appointed Colonel and was later promoted to Brigadier General in 1865.
With the conclusion of the Civil War, Harrison returned home to Indianapolis and the political life that had been on hold since his departure. Harrison ran as the Republican candidate for governor of Indiana in 1876 but lost that election. In 1881, he was elected to the United States Senate and served one term. He sought re-election for a second term, but the Republican Party chose another candidate.
However, he evidently still had good standing with the party since he ran for President in 1888. He beat Grover Cleveland to become the 23rd President of the United States. During his administration, he established Sequoia, Yosemite, and Kings Canyon national parks and he removed the ruins at Casa Grande, Arizona from public domain. Established as a preserve, this marked the first time that land had been set aside to protect and commemorate the country’s cultural heritage. Harrison ran for a second term in 1892, but this time he lost to Grover Cleveland.
Caroline Harrison died on October 28, 1892 and Benjamin Harrison returned to Indianapolis in 1893. He remarried in 1896 to Mary Lord. This is important in the history of the house as Lord proceeded to redecorate. Benjamin Harrison died in the house on March 13, 1901. Mary and her daughter continued to live in the house until 1913 when they moved to New York City.
Upon the departure of the Harrisons, the house functioned as a rooming house until 1936. The Arthur Jordan Foundation acquired the house in that year, and it became a girls dormitory for the Jordan Music Conservatory. The carriage house was demolished sometime after 1937. The Conservatory remained in the house until 1951 when it moved to Butler University. The President Benjamin Harrison Foundation, a branch of the Arthur Jordan Foundation, eventually took ownership of the house and restored the second floor and opened it to the public. From 1973-1974, a major restoration took place. It included the basement, first, second, and third floors. An 1895 porch designed by Louis H. Gibson was removed in favor of a more suitable porch. The Benjamin Harrison Home is currently open as a house museum. Visitors can take a guided tour of the site, which includes stops in ten rooms and temporary exhibits mounted in the third-floor ballroom. When Mary Harrison left Indiana, she left many of the homes furnishings behind and they are incorporated throughout the house today. The Benjamin Harrison Home was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1966 and as a National Historic Landmark in 1964.