Overlooking the Ohio River in Aurora, Indiana, the Hillforest House Museum stands as a beautiful and memorable National Historic Landmark. The Victorian manor represents a lost time in history in which the owners garnered incredible success and wealth through local endeavors. This era of opulence is left alive by the stately mansion turned museum, which is available for touring and for special events throughout the year.
History of the Hillforest House Museum
The Hillforest House Museum was once just the idea of an Aurora financier and industrialist Thomas Gaff as well as the “father of the modern hotel” Isaiah Rogers. Rogers designed a magnificent hilltop mansion by the Ohio River for Gaff and his family, who lived in the manor from 1855 to 1891. The house was based on Italian Renaissance architecture yet gave a nod to Gaff’s shipping industry involvement with a porch reminiscent of a steamboat’s deck. The Gaffs were very involved in Aurora’s alcohol industry, opening the T. & J. Gaff & Co. distillery on the Hogan River as well as owning Crescent Brewing Company. Other endeavors included farming, silver mining, jewelry, machine works, steamboating, canal construction, and milling. The latter project produced the first ready-made cereal in the world.
The Gaffs were also heavily involved in the civic system. They founded the First National Bank of Aurora, helped organize the local school system, served on city council, and bought the town a fire engine and clock. Thomas Gaff lived in his regal mansion until his death. Years later, the home was purchased by a local furniture manufacturer, later became the clubhouse for the local Veterans of Foreign Wars, and was eventually purchased by a group of local citizens fearing its destruction after it had fallen into disrepair. This group was dubbed the Hillforest Historical Foundation and is dedicated to the house’s preservation. It was opened as a museum in 1956 and has since been honored as a National Historic Landmark.
Tours and Events
From April through December, the Hillforest House Museum in Aurora, IN, is open for tours from 1-5 pm with the last tour starting at 4:30 pm. The museum is closed for Mondays and major holidays, like Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day, but otherwise operates in full swing. Special offerings include group luncheons, which are available for 20 people or more, as well as tea time that can be booked for groups of 10 or more. The elegant three-course tea is held in the Hillforest Parlor, taking guests back to a past era. Pinkies out! Hillforest House Museum is also available for small wedding ceremonies, photography sessions, bridal showers, and rehearsal dinners.
Another Piece of History
Another nearby historic manor is Schenck Mansion, a luxurious bed and breakfast just over a half hour away from the Hillforest House Museum. With ornate rooms overlooking the garden, waterfall, and gazebo, Schenck Mansion will keep you absorbed in an era of opulence after your museum tour. Let history be the focus of your stay in Southern Indiana!