One of the oldest settlements west of the Appalachians, and the oldest continually inhabited European settlement in Indiana, Vincennes is a city that was founded in 1732 by French fur traders.
At the beginning of the 19th century this was the capital of the Indiana Territory, where the future 9th President William Henry Harrison (1773-1841) served as governor.
It was from Vincennes that Harrison led a force against Tecumseh’s confederacy at the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811, making a name for himself that would help him win the presidency decades later.
Vincennes still resonates with that history, at the Harrison Mansion, Indiana’s oldest Catholic church, monuments from the days when this was a territorial capital, or the site of forts that witnessed crucial moments in the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812.
1. Grouseland (Harrison Mansion)
William Henry Harrison’s residence when he was Governor of the Indiana Territory (1800-1812) is a fine Federal-style building, preserved as a National Historic Landmark.
Built from red brick and completed in 1804, this two-story building would have stood out compared to the simple log cabins that made up the Vincennes townscape at the time.
Grouseland, supposedly named for the abundance of grouse on the property, was more than just a home, playing a vital role in the territory’s social life, and serving as a fortress during times of unrest.
The interior, which can be viewed on a tour, is decorated with period furniture and personal possessions that shine a light on the 9th President.
2. Red Skelton Museum of American Comedy
One of America’s most beloved 20th-century entertainers was born in Vincennes in 1913.
Starting out on showboats in the 1920s to help support a family that had lost its father before he was born, Skelton would go on to have a glittering 70-year career, also making a name as an accomplished painter of clowns.
Skelton’s widow donated a huge collection of memorabilia and personal effects to Vincennes University, and this became the basis for a wonderful interactive museum that opened in 2013 on what would have been his 100th birthday.
The main exhibit is Red Skelton: A Legacy of Laughter. This features a hands-on chronology of his life and career, an introduction to physical comedy, a theater showing highlights from his TV and movie career and a trove of memorabilia including costumes for famous characters like Freddie the Freeloader and Clem Kadiddlehopper.
3. George Rogers Clark National Historical Park
On the riverside, at the site of the 18th-century Fort Sackville, is a spectacular granite rotunda erected to commemorate the extraordinary feats of George Rogers Clark (1752-1818) in the winter of 1778-79.
During the Illinois Campaign, he led 170 frontiersmen and Frenchmen on a heroic march north from Kaskaskia on the Mississippi, braving freezing floodwaters on the way.
When he captured Fort Sackville on the morning of February 25, 1779, the newly formed United States was able to take control of a vast area, comprising modern Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin and Michigan.
Clark’s march and victory is remembered as one of the great achievements during the American Revolution.
The rotunda is surrounded by 16 fluted Doric columns. Under the dome inside is a bronze statue of Clark, and the walls are adorned with seven murals depicting the 18-day trek.
4. St. Francis Xavier Cathedral and Library
Dating back to 1826, this Greek Revival basilica is in fact the third church to be built on this site. The oldest was a primitive log structure with a bark roof, raised around 1732.
The present building is the oldest Catholic church in Indiana, with a magnificent arched ceiling supported by tall Doric columns.
Look for the murals painted by Wilhelm Lamprecht (1838 –1922), above the high altar, Blessed Mother altar and the Saint Joseph Altar.
The cathedral is the centerpiece of a complex that includes a cemetery for some 4,000 early Vincennes citizens, as well as a rectory (1841) and a library (1840).
The latter is the oldest in the state, holding some 10,000 rare volumes and documents going back to the 14th century.
The museum here has a host of intriguing artifacts, some highlights being Lincoln’s campaign banner, a peace pipe smoked by Governor William Henry Harrison, maps from the 18th and 19th century, Shawnee chief Tecumseh’s war club and prehistoric stone tools unearthed in the area.
5. Indiana Military Museum
One of the nation’s most unique collections of military artifacts and memorabilia awaits you at this museum in Vincennes.
This amazing inventory spans centuries, from the American Revolution to the War in Afghanistan, and includes everything from field equipment to small arms, artillery, vehicles, uniforms, insignia, flags, souvenirs captured on the battlefield and much more.
Browsing the vast assortment of weapons you’ll see metal-tipped Native American arrows, flintlock rifles, Philippine swords from the Spanish-American War (1898), a British 60-pounder field gun, a gigantic eight-inch gun and a WWII twin machine gun turret from a PT boat.
Also interesting is the preserved WWII-era barracks brought here from George Field, a pilot training school a few miles away in Lawrenceville, IL.
6. Ouabache Trails Park
The largest recreation area for miles is a short way up the Wabash River from Vincennes. Made up of mostly rolling woodlands, Ouabache Trails Park covers more than 250 acres.
The woods support a rich array of birdlife, and you may see red-headed woodpeckers, barred owls and a variety of warblers during your visit.
You can discover the park’s habitats on over four miles of trails, while families will be pleased with the choice of three playgrounds at the park.
There are also extensive camping facilities here, with 35 RV sites and nine tent areas, as well as four modern cabins that can be rented year round.
7. Vincennes State Historic Sites
Next to Grouseland, on the edge of the Vincennes University campus, are yet more reminders of Vincennes’ storied past. Included in the Vincennes State Historic Sites are several important structures and locations around the city.
Among the most noteworthy is the Indiana Territorial Capitol (red building), the seat of government for the Indiana Territory from around 1800 to 1813.
This humble two-story frame building was relocated to its present site in 1949. On the same row are a number of replica buildings, among them an 1830-style log cabin, housing a visitor center and a reproduction of the Jefferson Academy building (1801), the predecessor to Vincennes University.
Also here is the Elihu Stout Print Shop, recreating the 1804 headquarters of the Indiana Gazette, and housing an authentic Ramage press from that time.
8. Kimmell Park
Named for the mayor at the time, this park on the Wabash River opened in 1938 and is ideal for passive recreation within shouting distance of downtown Vincennes.
Kimmell Park was a Works Progress Administration (WPA) project, and there are a few holdovers from this time, in the form of a limestone shelterhouse and a walled circular seating area with built-in ovens.
The park has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 2013 and caters to peaceful picnics and fishing, with a riverside trail linking this space with the George Rogers Clark National Historical Park two miles away.
9. Fort Knox II
Three miles up the Wabash, close to Ouabache Trails Park is the site of another early outpost for Vincennes. Built in 1803, Fort Knox II replaced the earlier fort of the same name from 1787.
The second fort was set at a river landing with commanding views of the Wabash. In late 1811 this was the place where Governor Harrison rallied his troops before the march to Prophetstown and the Battle of Tippecanoe, and was the place they returned to, with several mortally wounded.
Later, as the War of 1812 unfolded, Fort Knox II was deemed too far from Vincennes to protect the settlement, and was floated downriver and rebuilt near the site of Fort Knox I.
Today the original location for Fort Knox II is a national and state historic site, marked out with short posts and interpretive boards.
10. Old State Bank
One of Vincennes’ State Historic Sites, the solemn Old State Bank building sits at 114 N. Second Street.
In the Greek Revival style, this structure was the Vincennes branch of the Indiana State Bank, and was built in 1838 by local contractor John Moore. Catching the eye right away is the portico with its four large Doric columns.
There’s a historical marker in front, and if you’d like to see inside and learn more about the story of the building and the State Bank of Indiana you can book a tour via the Vincennes/Knox Co. Visitors & Tourism Bureau.
11. Rainbow Beach Family Aquatic Center
Gregg Park, east of downtown, is home to Vincennes’ outdoor pool complex, open Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day.
It’s easy to see why Rainbow Beach is so popular with families, with its two twisting water slides, zero-depth play area, splash pad and lap pool.
Parents can spend their time relaxing on a sun lounger in the shade of one of the large canopies. Rainbow Beach has existed in some form since the Depression era when it was constructed by the Works Progress Administration (WPA).
12. Lincoln Trail State Memorial
Right across the Wabash River from Vincennes is the site where, in 1830, Abraham Lincoln is thought to have first set foot in Illinois. He was traveling with his father Thomas, and around 12 members of his extended family.
They would have crossed the river on a flatboat or ferry, before continuing their journey northwest to Decatur, the site of their first homestead in the state, and the place where Abraham parted ways with his family.
The sculpture group marking this spot was erected in 1938 and designed by Nellie Walker (1874-1973). This monument, a bas-relief in Bedford limestone depicts the moment the family disembarked with their livestock. In front is a bronze likeness of Abraham Lincoln aged 21.
13. Charlie’s Caramel Corn & Candy Shop
This award-winning purveyor of fine candy has been in business since 1955. Before that, founders Mr. Charles & Mrs. Lorethea Hamke earned a reputation for their delicious caramel corn after sharing some with Charles’s coworkers.
Before long, people all over town wanted to see what all the fuss was about, and started knocking on the door after Lorethea placed an advertisement in the newspaper.
Almost 70 years later, the company is still adored for its caramel corn, made to the same recipe, and offers a wide choice of chocolates, special holiday treats and gift baskets. The turtles (chocolate-dipped pecans and caramel) are a decadent joy.
14. Apple Hill Orchard
Just past Ouabache Trails Park, around five miles from downtown Vincennes is a wonderful orchard growing more than 40 apple varieties.
Apple Hill Orchard is a summer and fall attraction, open July through mid-November. During the first couple of months peaches are a big draw, and these can be picked until around Labor Day.
The farm store is set in a quaint cabin, and stocks a wealth of seasonal produce grown on the farm, as well as apple cider, apple cider slushies, apple cider donuts, freshly baked pies, cobblers, salsas, spices and much more.
15. Windy Knoll Winery
You could while away an hour or two at this winery, just outside Vincennes in picturesque countryside.
Windy Knoll Winery produces mainly sweet varieties like Traminette, as well as fruit wines (cherry, peach, blueberry, raspberry, strawberry), all in small batches.
The winery is open daily for tastings, with seating available inside and outside where you can admire sweeping views of the vines.
For something a little out of the ordinary you can enjoy a wine slushy, and there’s also a gift shop stocked with crafts by local artisans.