Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site

Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site

Indianapolis, IN

Preserving a Presidential Legacy

Benjamin Harrison is the only President of the United States to have called Indiana home, so his residence holds a special place in the state’s history and heart. RATIO has been privileged to work with the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site since 1996, leading numerous design and restoration projects in and around the President’s home. Originally designed and built in 1874-1875, the site saw substantial expansions and renovations over the next hundred years, some of which concealed meaningful historic details. RATIO’s design philosophy has been to authentically restore the site to its original grandeur and to preserve its legacy.

Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site

At times, RATIO’s various projects at the presidential site have required more detective work than design flair. Archeological digs have uncovered original site components. Surveys of century-old photographs have enabled historically-accurate repairs and reconstructions. And careful inspections of remaining furnishings, and of original receipts for missing items, have led to precise restoration and preservation of important design details.

Early projects at the site included reconstructing the original carriage house; restoring the main house’s interior—including wall coverings, floors and fixtures; improving accessibility to all levels of the building; and modernizing aging infrastructure and systems, all without compromising the site’s historic integrity. Additional work has included a comprehensive interior restoration, including the precise recreation of original paint colors and wall coverings. At the core of each project is RATIO’s dedication to understand every detail of Benjamin Harrison and the home he created, and to tell that story the way the former president would want it to be told.

Most recently, the RATIO team created a ceremonial arrival experience suitable for a presidential site and its visitors, many of whom are young students studying U.S. history and a local icon’s role in shaping it. A new citizenship plaza will also set the stage for the naturalization services that take place at the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site, with design features that celebrate the foundations of American democracy, and that inspire new citizens’ participation in it.

Improving Conditions

In the years since RATIO’s overall condition assessment, the Presidential Site has benefitted from the integration of new mechanical systems, thermal upgrades to the original wood windows, and improvements for accessiblity.

Detective Designers

A thorough restoration of the BHPS’ interior required comprehensive searches of historic photographs and newspapers, but old documents couldn’t provide details like color and scale that would be necessary to recreate 19th-century wall coverings. An ‘ah-ha’ moment arrived when a poster-sized remnant of the original wallpaper was discovered behind a walnut bookcase in Harrison’s library, making it possible to create an exact replica.

Recreating a Carriage House

An original 1880s carriage house had become underutilized when cars replaced carriages and was razed in 1937, but as an integral part of Harrison’s life at the BHPS deserved to be brought back to life. Archeological excavations and Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps revealed the footprint, while oral histories and historic photographs helped to confirm details of the appearance, space layouts, functions, and materials. Modern construction techniques, such as a moisture control system inside the walls, ensure this carriage house can last.

Scholarly Symbols

To honor Benjamin Harrison’s role in establishing the practice of flying the American Flag over public buildings and schools, the new arrival experience and plaza will feature Indiana limestone as well as a garrison-sized flag with an 89’ pole.