Wednesday, July 3, 2013


Finally, after 32 years, I was able to go inside The Old French House located in Vincennes, Indiana!

I attended Vincennes University and graduated in 1981 and never once was the little house open for a tour during my time at V.U. The Colonel and I drove through Vincennes and passed by the house and, Mon Dieu, it was open (I had called the Vincennes Visitors Bureau before leaving Florida to see if the house would be open at the time of our visit and had to leave a voicemail. No one returned my call before we hit the road so we did not know if it would be open).

I loved going to a college located in a very historical town. Vincennes is the oldest city in Indiana and was previously a French fur trading post. It was founded in 1732. Here in 1779, George Rogers Clark and his little army took the largest land conquest in the Revolutionary War away from the British. The British were inside Fort Sackville at the time and now the impressive George Rogers Clark Memorial stands on the site of the fort.

In 1800, the Indiana Territory was formed and Vincennes became its capitol for thirteen years.

Where does The Old French House enter into all of this?

The first owner of the house was Michel Brouillet (broo YET). He was born in Vincennes in 1774 and was the son of Michel Brouillet, Sr. who was an officer in the Vincennes militia under George Rogers Clark during the Revolutionary War.

Young Michel started in the fur trade at his father's trading post near Terre Haute, Indiana. In 1795 he was a clerk for a Detroit fur trader. About this time he married an Indian woman and their son, Jean Baptiste Brouillet, would one day become a Miami Indian chief.

From 1801 to 1805 Brouillet traded with the Miami and Kickapoo Indians. Indiana Territorial Governor, William Henry Harrison (whose house Grouseland is located in Vincennes, would became the 9th president and the first to die in office) used Brouillet as an interpreter in several treaties with the Indians. Later Harrison would use him as a spy against uprising Indians and a scout and messenger during the War of 1812. In 1819 area Indians sold their lands in central Indiana and moved west of the Mississippi. This was the end of the fur trade for Michel, so he took up tavern keeping in Vincennes. He died in 1838 and was buried with military honors in the Old Cathedral cemetery.

Old Cathedral

Old Cathedral Cemetery
32 years (that's how long it took me to get into Monsieur Brouillet's house) before his death, in 1806, Michel marries Marie Louise Drouet de Richerville. They build and move into the Old French House three years later, in 1809. They had ten children while living in the house.

By now you are probably saying to yourself..."Enough with the history lesson...I want to see the inside of this cute French cottage!" you get a tiny taste of what my long wait has been like.

Our tour guide was very cordial and full of knowledge. His pronunciation of French words was impeccable. He welcomed us into the main room of the cottage, the living room.

This was the room where family life centered around the hearth. Off the living room to the right were two bedrooms. The front bedroom had an enclosed bed.

Beds like this one were popular in the eighteenth century as a protection against drafts. This bed had a date carved on its doors of 1759. Later when these beds went out of fashion they were converted into armoires as this one was.

The back bedroom had a traditional bed in it. The bed is a trundle bed.

Those ten children had to sleep somewhere...which leads us to the next room we visited in the house...the loft.

Next to the chimney was a narrow staircase that led up to the loft. It probably served as a place for the older boys to sleep but now contains an exhibit on the fur trade, featuring a 150-year old "pirogue" (dugout canoe) made by Vincennes inhabitant Michel Bonhomme.

Here is a close up of the walls of the house. The French used upright posts and horizontal beams. The walls then were insulated with a mixture of mud and grass known as "bousillage". The walls were then coated with rough plaster then whitewashed.

We went back downstairs to the summer kitchen that was behind a door that was to the right of the fireplace in the living room. The living room and summer kitchen fireplaces were back-to-back and shared the same chimney.

Our guide told us that the dried pumpkin gourd pictured above could be considered French/Indian Tupperware. While we were in the summer kitchen two tiny, curious kittens watched us from the porch. They were very shy and even The Cat-whisperer (aka The Colonel) could not coax them out of their hiding place under the porch once they scurried beneath it. The kittens belonged to the neighbor lady living next door.

The Old French House was built (1809) in the heart of the former Piankeshaw Indian village of Chippecoke (from 1732 to 1786). The house sits on its original site alongside the first street in Indiana.

It was pretty neat to stand on and look down Indiana's first street. The Colonel and I enjoyed our tour of the Old French House. Well worth the wait.

On the grounds of the house there was also an Indian Museum that displayed artifacts from four periods of local Indian prehistory: Paleo-Indians (12,000-8000 BC), Archaic (800-1000 BC), Woodland (1000 BC -AD 1200) and Mississippian (AD 1000-1650).

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