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.