Backers of Indiana children’s home seek to protect artifacts

The 1886 administration building at the Indiana Soldiers' and Sailors' Children's Home in Knightstown. Photo courtesy Tom Hoepf.

The 1886 administration building at the Indiana Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Children’s Home in Knightstown. Photo courtesy Tom Hoepf.

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) – Opponents of a state plan to close a home for troubled youth are battling to preserve its legacy by keeping military uniforms, band instruments, photographs, paintings and other artifacts dating back to the Civil War.

Alumni and staff of the Indiana Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Children’s Home in Knightstown and the Indiana American Legion, which supports the home, want a judge to bar the state from removing historical photographs and other items from the campus.

Diana Bossingham, president of the home’s alumni association, said pictures, paintings and artifacts dating from the home’s opening in 1865 remain its property and could later become part of a museum.

The alumni group has filed a request for a preliminary injunction barring the items’ removal in Rush County Circuit Court. A hearing on the request is scheduled Thursday.

The complaint says the state indicated its intention to remove property from the home and has already taken away some items. It also says much of the property at the home was donated for the children who lived there, and that ownership should be established before the state removes anything.

“We’re looking to retain things that were part of our childhood,” said Bossingham, a 1973 graduate of the home.

Jennifer Dunlap, spokeswoman for the Indiana State Department of Health, said the Commission of Public Records for the state archives removed four photographs from the school at the end of January.

The Indiana State Museum also visited the children’s home Feb. 4 to survey and inventory historical artifacts to determine what will need to be preserved if the school closes. Museum officials planned to return but were asked to wait because of the sensitivity of the school closure, Dunlap said.

The Health Department also asked that the photographs removed by the state archives be returned, she said.

The department announced last month that it planned to close the home at the end of the school year in May and move the 114 students in grades 5-12 into community settings. The agency cited the costs to renovate and maintain the facility, saying $65 million to $200 million is needed to renovate the 50-acre, 53-building campus.

The privately funded home was founded in 1865 to care for children of Civil War veterans and once housed 1,000 children. The state took control two years later, and in the 1890s the school began accepting the destitute children of all veterans. Eventually, it opened its doors to other at-risk children.

Dunlap said the decision to close the home came as a result of three years of discussion.

“This has been a long process of assessment and evaluation. This was not a quick decision,” she said.

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