Sunday, May 8, 2011

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Welcome to our blog!!! Shortly after we purchased the Morgan house late in 2008, family and friends urged us to create a blog so others could follow our restoration efforts. We welcome your comments, as well as personal stories or historical facts about the Morgan house. And while we have lots of ideas for decorating a house of this period, we're definitely open to input from readers! So until we're ready to hang out our "Welcome" sign, we hope you'll enjoy reading about our work, discoveries, and plans for this wonderful old house.

Historically known as the Proffit-Morgan house, the Morgan home was built in 1851-53 by Goodlet Morgan and his wife Emily (née Proffit). Included in its 5400 square feet are: downstairs--kitchen, utility/bathroom, dining room, (library?), front bedroom or parlor?, 50' x 8' foyer, and 2 matching parlors; upstairs-- 50' x 8' upper foyer, 4 large bedrooms, a nursery, former servants' quarters w/bedroom & dressing room, and 1 bathroom. Connecting the two stories is a curved "floating" stairway, featuring a turned walnut newel post and ballusters. A back stairway once used by household help is located between the foyer and kitchen. Also contained in that space is a stairway leading from the back vestibule to the arched ceiling basement, located below the kitchen and utility/bathroom area.

One of the home's outstanding original features--a large lookout tower or belvedere, measuring 8' square, with 3 arched windows on each side--was removed years ago due to deterioration. With the house situated on the highest elevation in the county, anyone in the tower could observe activities from quite far away. Upon hearing the roof was designed to support the weight of a cannon, we first assumed that claim was merely a tall tale. But considering the events of that period of history--the United States was still a very young nation, the War of 1812 was in the country's recent past, and most importantly, the political environment and events in the years immediately preceding the American Civil War---building both a lookout tower and a roof capable of supporting a cannon would have been considered wise plans. Additionally, a tunnel in the South wall of the basement led to a dry cistern used to hide slaves on their way to freedom during the American Civil War.

As neither Bart or I grew up in Petersburg, we were unfamiliar with the history of the Morgan house. But we were quite aware of its existence as one of the largest homes within city limits & location on more than 2 acres. The original parcel of land deeded in 1826 to Emily's father in 1835 (?) covered 1541 acres, stretching from what is now Illinois St. to Walnut Hills Cemetery on Hwy. 61. As the only surviving child of George and Mahala Proffit, Emily inherited about 162 acres upon her father's death in 1847. After Emily's marriage to Goodlet Morgan (about 1848) construction of their home began in 1851 with bricks made on site, and was completed in early 1853.

In addition to being proprietor of general merchandise stores in Petersburg (Pike Co.) and Portersville (Dubois Co.), George Proffit practiced law and built Pike County's first brick courthouse (1836). He later became very active in politics, was elected Indiana State Representative (1831-32 & 1836-38) and served in the 26th & 27th U.S. Congresses (1839-1843). Mr. Proffit was widely respected as a great orator, and delivered many speeches in support of General William Henry Harrison in the Presidential election of 1840. When Tyler assumed office after Harrison's untimely death, the Whig party lost many members to the newly-formed Republican Party. Rather than seeking reelection to Congress, Proffit was appointed by Tyler as Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to Brazil. He spent about a year in that role but returned to the US after the Senate refused to confirm his appointment, as many members reviled Tyler and the waning Whig party. George Proffit died unexpectedly a short time after his return, perhaps from a disease contracted during his travels.

Goodlet Morgan also owned a store in Petersburg. His father, Simon Morgan, had served as the first Clerk of Dubois Co. and was well acquainted with George H. Proffit, having cast a ballot for Mr. Proffit's election in Indiana's Congressional Convention in 1839. During the Civil War Goodlet Morgan extended credit to families of Union soldiers, to the extent that he was "financially embarrassed" (bankrupt) by the end of the War.

The Morgan house was the site of many important social events in the community. During the Civil War, women met at the Morgan house to make bandages for the Union troops from flax grown on the family farm. Equally important was the role the house played in hiding slaves on their way to Canada and freedom. However, homes that actively participated in the anti-slavery movement were typically not widely known by other citizens, due to risk of imprisonment and loss of fortune by anyone found guilty of violating the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850.

Although the Morgan house is considered Italianate, its architecture originally included features reflecting Emily's French lineage. As Surveyor-General for the French government, her paternal grandfather had documented plantations near New Orleans. (More discoveries about the house’s “French Connection” will be shared in future posts . . . ) Until reading a bit of the home's history in a September 2008 real estate listing, we had been unaware of its role in the Underground Railroad. So while the photo first caught my attention, we knew the home's history made it the perfect candidate for the bed and breakfast of our dreams.

(Sidebar: I consider two books to be my “all-time favorites”—Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe, and The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom. I first read Uncle Tom's Cabin in Jr. High, again in high school, then as a young adult. After watching the movie version of The Hiding Place in 1976, I couldn't wait to read the book. Since then I’ve read it two more times, as well as its sequel, In My Father’s House. Each time I was affected as if reading for the first time. Recently I discovered another first-hand account of slavery, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, which can be read online at Google. I highly recommend all of these books, especially to those who have never read accounts of those who actually experienced and survived the horrors of slavery and persecution.)

Our family is honored to have the privelege of continuing the legacy of such an important part of our community’s history. So while our plan is to open our home as a bed and breakfast, for historical tours, and to host special events, we are limited for now to sharing photos and progress toward those goals. We hope you’ll enjoy reading our blog and will share your own stories about the Morgan house, as well as corrections or clarification to any posts. Finally, we look forward to reading your encouraging comments and ideas for restoring our "new" old house.