STEAMBOAT OWNER'S HOME-HILL FOREST


| March/April 1972



Otterbein, Indiana 47970.

Southern Indiana in the spring at the time of the redbud and the dogwood is a must in the life of everyone. One of the spots to see is Hill forest, a mansion in Aurora, Indiana which is open every afternoon from 1 to 5 from April to December. It sets high above the historic city and the great Ohio River and represents the lush era when the steam-boat was supreme. Hill forest is the nearest thing to the grand Victorian manner of Natchez that you find in the North.

Thomas Gaff was born in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1808. His paper-maker father migrated to New Jersey in 1811, and James was born there in 1816. The Gaff brothers learned distillery operation in Philadelphia. In 1843, they organized T. and J. W. & Co. at Aurora. Their total capital was $800. By 1850 their distillery was the largest in the United States.

They opened a general store and trading post, accepting the farmers' produce for homemaker supplies. They developed their own steamship line between Aurora and Cincinnati and then sent boats up to Pittsburgh and down to New Orleans.

They had a brewery and a warehouse where they accepted general freight. They had a cattle yard and pork-packing plant. They built toll roads to help open up the hinterlands.

In 1852 Thomas Gaff decided to signify his rapid rise by starting construction of a big mansion on the high hill at the end of Main Street. It took four years to complete the house on the steep 10-acre tract, but it was built so well, that the house is still Aurora's jewel.