Indiana School for the Blind

Establishment: 1847-1850

Founded in 1847 by an act of the Indiana General Assembly, the earliest School for the Blind originated in the blocks bounded by Meridian, Pennsylvania, North, and St. Clair streets. Interestingly, the call for state-supported institutions for the blind, deaf, and mentally ill came a decade before state tax support was created. William H. Churchman, the first superintendent of the future school, said that proper education for the blind could grant them a much more productive and comfortable life. He also believed that educators must take into consideration the student’s degree of blindness as well as his or her age when blindness occurred to maximize individual instruction. Once the state secured construction funds, Churchman arranged for architect Francis Costigan to complete the school’s main building for the expense of $68,000. Construction on the five-story main building and four-story wings ended in 1850.

Operation: 1850’s-1920’s

The academic school year of 1850-1851 ended successfully with 30 students. In 1911, the enrollment was up to 157 students. Blind students between the ages of 8 and 21 could enroll in the twelve-year educational program. Students represented all 92 counties in the state, but more than half came from urban areas. The institution offered classes in the departments of Literary, Musical, Industrial, and Physical Training, as well as socializing opportunities like clubs, picnics, dances, and parties. The Literary Department provided lessons in reading New York Point, spelling, writing, geography, form, memorization, history, and grammar. Music classes included mastering instruments like the piano, violin, organ, and mandolin. Common industrial courses included trades such as chair caning and broom making for males and sewing, knitting, lacework and beadwork for females. Notably, the school provided students with one of the first Braille gardens in the country. The gardens were divided by perennials, roses, and fir trees, which were easily followed by Braille inscriptions detailing each plant in the students’ manuals.

Relocation: 1920’s-1930’s

In 1919, the public-supported five-block Indiana World War Memorial Plaza initiative began what would be a slow process of removing all buildings from the planned area, including the blind school. By 1921, in talks in the state legislature, it was agreed that the school should be relocated so that the industrial education component could expand; that year, 105 students received industrial training, which led to employment for many. By 1930, the 80-year-old landmark was demolished and the school relocated to 60 acres at 7725 North College Avenue, where it still remains today. The original location currently encompasses the American Legion Mall, the northern portion of the Indiana World War Memorial Plaza. This includes the Indiana Department of the American Legion and the American Legion National Headquarters, as well as the Cenotaph Square memorial.

Images

Former Location

Former Location

The sunken ground is all that remains of the original location of the School for the Blind, at 700 N. Pennsylvania St., Indianapolis, IN 46206. The American Legion Mall stands on the location now. The Indiana World War Memorial is to the south of the former location; the Indianapolis Marion County Public Library is directly to the north. Image courtesy of Kurt Lee Nettleton, 2013 | Creator: Kurt Nettleton View File Details Page

Exterior, 1928

Exterior, 1928

Designed by Francis Costigan, the five-story building was enclosed by two, four-story wings. The Classical Revival Style structure, echoed by the cupolas, cornice, portico, and verandas, was completed in 1850, with later additions finishing in 1853. Columns flanked the building™s entrance and a cupola sat on top. Image Courtesy of W.H. Bass Photo Company Collection, Indiana Historical Society. | Source: W.H. Bass Photo Company, Indiana Historical Society | Creator: W.H. Bass Photo Company View File Details Page

Illustration, 1850s

Illustration, 1850s

Trustees stated that the building was a “model structure for the use of the blind in this country, if not in the world.” The brick and stucco building was designed in the Corinthian order, and the front portico and side verandas were made out of sandstone. Credit: Image courtesy of Indiana Historical Society | Source: General Prints and Lithographs Collection, Indiana Historical Society | Creator: C.A. Jewett & Company, Cincinnati, Ohio View File Details Page

Blind School, 1930

Blind School, 1930

Francis Costigan™s exterior revisions to the building were for ornamental purposes only, such as extending the entrance to the second floor with more steps, adding three cupolas, removing porches from third and fourth floors, and the building setbacks from the street. Image Courtesy of W.H. Bass Photo Company Collection, Indiana Historical Society. | Source: W.H. Bass Photo Company Collection, Indiana Historical Society | Creator: W.H. Bass Photo Company View File Details Page

 1887 Sanborn Map

1887 Sanborn Map

The institution expanded throughout the years, with the addition of many more buildings for industrial teaching. This map depicts the main school building, the broom and chair caning building, the laundry building, a wood shop, bakery, and greenhouse. Credit: Image courtesy of Sanborn Map Company, IUPUI Center for Digital Scholarship. | Source: IUPUI Center for Digital Scholarship | Creator: Sanborn Map Company View File Details Page

Street View, 1923

Street View, 1923

The School for the Blind sits to the right behind the newly completed Veteran™s Plaza. The Scottish Rite Cathedral is on the left. William Spering, Mary Spering, and Lewis Laforgue sold the school™s land to the state on February 26, 1847 for $5,000. Image Courtesy of W.H. Bass Photo Company Collection, Indiana Historical Society. | Source: W.H. Bass Photo Company Collection, Indiana Historical Society | Creator: W.H. Bass Photo Company View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Jordan B. Ryan, “Indiana School for the Blind ,” Discover Indiana, accessed March 28, 2017, http://indyhist.iupui.edu/items/show/20.
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