The beautifully restored Hillforest Mansion in Aurora, Indiana is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Located along the banks of the Ohio River, the beautiful curved porch with wooden rockers conjures thoughts of days gone by. ”
I love to tour historic homes but the Hillforest Mansion in Aurora, Indiana is one of my favorites. My husband and I stopped by this gorgeous property in southeast Indiana during a trip to Cincinnati last year to celebrate our anniversary. While I would have loved to have spent more time exploring Aurora, sadly, we didn’t have time for more sightseeing in this charming river town.
Exploring the Hillforest Mansion in Aurora, Indiana
Whether you are a fan of historic homes, Midwest history, or just passing through Eastern Indiana on a road trip, the Hillforest House in Aurora, Indiana, is a great place to stop. Perched on a bluff overlooking the Ohio River, Hillforest is a National Historic Landmark and is open for tours from April through December. At just over 30 minutes from Cincinnati, it makes a great day trip destination, too.
The Hillforest House is an Italian Renaissance mansion designed by architect Isaiah Rogers, who was known as the “father of the modern hotel.” The home was designed for Thomas Gaff, a Scottish immigrant who made his fortune in alcohol. He and his brothers ran Gaff & Co distillery, producing rye, bourbon and Scotch whiskey, in addition to owning the Crescent Brewing Company.
The brothers invested in many other businesses, from mining to cereal, relying on the Ohio River for distribution of their products. The Gaff family moved into Hillforest when it was completed in 1855, and remained there until 1891, seven years after Thomas Gaff’s death. The home remained in the Gaff family until 1926.
After the Gaff’s sold the home, it served several purposes until 1956 when it became a museum. For a short time, it served as the clubhouse for the local VFW, before it was sold to the Hillforest Historical Foundation, a non-profit group of local citizens interested in preserving the house.
The style of Hillforest is Italian Renaissance in both design and location, as the hillside spot was chosen to mimic Italian Renaissance palaces built into the mountainsides. Local touches were also added to include shipping and riverboats into the design elements. The home’s circular porches, curved windows, and doors, plus the circular belvedere atop the house, all reflect the influence of steamboats on the design of Hillforest.
Visiting Hillforest Today
Hillforest has been open to the public since 1956 and was granted National Historic Landmark status in 1992, ensuring that many future generations will be able to enjoy this slice of history on the Ohio River. One hour tours are given by docents on every day but Monday when the museum is closed. There’s also a fun event calendar, including many special holiday celebrations such as Victorian Christmas tea settings. Visitors can enjoy spectacular views of the Ohio River from the cupola on the roof. Plan for several sets of stairs throughout the tour, and photos are not allowed, which really bummed me out, so don’t bother carrying a camera along.
For those that are interested, like many historic homes, Hillforest does claim to be haunted. However, thankfully, we didn’t experience anything out of the ordinary during our visit.
Address: 213 5th St, Aurora, IN 47001
Phone Number: 812-926-0087
Hours of Operation: Tours are offered April 3- December 30 1:00-5:00 p.m. The last tour begins at 4: 30 p.m. (Check the website or call ahead to confirm 2019 days and hours of operation)
Cost: $10 for adults, $4 for children ages 7-13, free for those under six
© 2019, Tonya Prater. All rights reserved.