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Sunday, August 3, 2014

An American Homestead: James Whitcomb Riley Boyhood Home


Along the Old National Road in Greenfield Indiana
sits the boyhood home of the Hoosier Poet, James
Whitcomb Riley.  The National Road was the Gateway
to the West, the pioneers traveled it in their covered
wagons.  Riley's parents had traveled west in their
wagon and settled in Greenfield where they built a
log cabin.  Eventually, they built this large beautiful
house for their growing family.


The house is filled with many items from the
family including the yellow eyed dog statue
and the clock on the mantle.  These items would
later appear in one of Riley's poems.


This settee was one of the items the Riley's
carried in their covered wagon.


As well as the family bible.


Riley's father was a lawyer and had his office in
the front room of the house.  He also made this 
magnificent desk.


As was the custom in those days, the clothes
were hand made in the house.  This is a Howe 
machine made by the man who is considered 
the inventor of the sewing machine.


I wish I had one of these sewing birds.


Of course there are gorgeous quilts
on the beds.


The tool on the right was one I was not 
familiar with, it is a glove stretcher.  When
you would wash your gloves, they would 
shrink and you would have to stretch them
to get them to fit your hands.


A crazy quilt, very popular at the time.


This was the bed of the poet when he was 
a child, his father made the log cabin to 
remind the children that they didn't always
live in such a beautiful house and came from
humble roots.


Just next to the boys room was the little room of a
12 year old orphan girl that lived in the house and 
worked as a servant in exchange for room and board.
The girls name was Mary Alice or Allie and she had
a vivid imagination.  She was always telling the kids
scary stories.

The goblins gonna getcha if ya don't watch out!


Years later, Riley remember the little girl that
lived with them and wrote a poem called Little
Orphant Allie but due to a printer's error we 
know her as Little Orphant Annie.  Allie was
always making up a story and as the maid she
had to clean each of the steps to the upstairs
by hand.  She named each of the steps since she
knew them so well.


Many years later, a family descendant wondered
what had happened to Allie.  He put an ad in the 
newspaper and many woman showed up claiming
to be Allie but when questioned they just didn't
seem to be authentic.  Finally a woman showed 
up and pointed to the steps and named each one,
they knew they had found Allie.  She is pictured
above in front of the house, she is dressed in black
and on the right side of the photo.


Allie would have spent much of her time here 
in the kitchen, it is always my favorite room.


Riley was not a great student and ended up
painting signs for a living before his writing
career began.


He ended up becoming very wealthy and wildly
popular due to his poems and stories.  He traveled
extensively reading his writings to packed houses.
The display above shows all the products with his
image or named the Hoosier Poet or Little Poet.

When his father returned from fighting in the Civil 
War he was injured and war weary, he was unable 
to work at his law practice and the family had to sell
the house.  The poet swore he would buy it back some
day and eventually he did.  He allowed family members
to live there and he would come to visit in the summer
months.  The house stayed in the family until the town
took it over as a historical home.

Riley is still well known.  School children come to visit
as part of their Indiana history lessons and people from
all over visit the home.  Of course his work lives on today
in Little Orphan Annie and Raggedy Ann, as well as many
of his other stories and poems.
















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