Drive down Meridian Street in Indianapolis, and you will pass the imposing residence of the governor of Indiana: aptly named the Indiana Governor’s Residence. Many people don’t realize that this historic mansion is not the original home or location of the Indiana governor’s residence.
In the 1820s, Indiana’s capital had recently moved from Corydon to Indianapolis, and the governor needed an official residence. The Indiana legislature voted to spend $4,000 to build a home for its governor and began the search for an ideal location, finally deciding on the then-empty Monument Circle.
Completed in 1829, the total cost of the project was over budget at $6,500. The home was two stories with a yellow brick exterior. It was set six feet off the ground, with an imposing staircase to the front door.
Inside, the home was a disaster. The interior was drafty and poorly laid-out. Each floor was broken into four large rooms with removable walls, so that rooms could easily be enlarged for gatherings. Details important to most families were omitted. For example, there was no kitchen in the home.
The mansion did feature a magnificent outdoor space. A rooftop patio allowed residents to enjoy nice weather. Gardens and a fence completed the landscape.
Once completed, Governor James Brown Ray brought his wife to see the home. She was horrified and refused to live there. Her biggest complaint was the location. Mrs. Ray immediately noticed that the home’s position at the center of the city would afford her family no privacy. She was said to have panicked at the thought of the city’s residents gawking at the family’s laundry hanging out to dry.
Future first ladies of Indiana echoed Mrs. Ray’s sentiments. In the end, the home was never used as a governor’s residence. Instead, the Supreme Court of Indiana used the home as office space. The Indiana State Library was temporarily located there during construction of a new building. The basement was even used as a kindergarten.
By 1851, the building had fallen into disrepair. It was sold at auction in 1857 and torn down. Without the imposing brick structure, the circle became an empty expanse of land, where cows grazed, and pigs wandered. Neighborhood children often played on the site.
Meanwhile, the state tried to secure a different residence for its governor. A two-story brick mansion at the northwest corner of Illinois and Market Street was acquired in 1839. The first governor to occupy the home was David Wallace.
Unfortunately, a plague of illnesses suffered by subsequent governors and their wives led to the conclusion that the mansion was making its residents sick. One governor died shortly after leaving office. Two governors’ wives died in the mansion. A third governor’s wife was sick the entire time she lived there.
In 1863, Governor Oliver P. Morton evacuated his family from the mansion in an attempt to remedy their poor health. The home was sold by the legislature in 1865. It was torn down and later replaced by the Cyclorama building. Today it is home to a bus terminal.
Although the original governors’ mansion on the circle was never occupied by an Indiana governor, it remained an important location for early state government operations. A suitable permanent home was eventually acquired on Meridian St. Today, Monument Circle continues to be the heart of downtown Indianapolis.
*A sincere thank you to astute reader Wendy Haines for her keen eye in spotting a couple historical errors.