Indiana Soldiers' and Sailors' Children's Home

In the summer of 1865 a meeting was called in the office of Indiana Governor Oliver P. Morton to make plans for the establishment of a home for disabled Civil War soldiers and sailors.
A former military hospital in Indianapolis served temporarily as a home until a more suitable location could be found. Early in 1866 the “Knightstown Springs” in Rush County, with 54 acres of ground, including a hotel and other buildings, was purchased. Disabled veterans were housed in the hotel. A handful of soldiers’ orphans were put up in a cottage across the road. In 1867, when private funding proved insufficient, the State of Indiana took over the facility. The Indiana Soldier’s and Seamen’s Home formally opened on June 15, 1867. Besides disabled soldiers and seamen, the law creating the Home provided that widows and orphans of veterans be admitted.

By 1872 orphans outnumbered disabled soldiers and sailors. When a fire that year destroyed the old hotel building, the disabled veterans were removed to the National Military Home at Dayton, Ohio. A separate facility, the Indiana State
Soldiers’ Home, was erected for disabled veterans and their widows at Lafayette, Indiana, in 1896.

From 1872 forward, the Knightstown home was solely a facility for children. It was renamed the Indiana Soldiers’ Orphans’ Home. From 1879 to 1887 the state’s Asylum for Feeble-Minded
Children was operated in conjunction with the Orphans’ Home. The two institutions were separated in 1887 with the creation of the Indiana School for Feeble-Minded Youth at Fort Wayne. The Knightstown home was renamed the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Orphans’ Home in 1887. The name changed again in 1929 to the Indiana Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Children’s Home.

The Home’s mission broadened during these years to include care and education of not only orphans of soldiers, but children of all Indiana veterans unable to provide for their support. The age limit for discharge from the Home was raised from 16 to 18 years in 1921-22. Enrollment reached a peak of 1,010 children in 1935. By that time the Home occupied 287 acres and had thirty buildings, including a hospital, a chapel, and separate cottages—called Divisions—for boys and girls.

The Home’s first school opened in 1870, with separate departments for primary, intermediate, and higher education. Commencement exercises began in 1890. The first four-year high school
class graduated in 1923. Morton Memorial High School was erected in 1927. Vocational training began in 1872 when the Industrial Department was established to offer chair caning. A separate Industrial Building was completed in 1888, housing courses in printing, carpentry, sewing, baking, and shoe making. The Home’s dairy and farms provided agricultural training. Military training has been an educational component for many years.

The Home’s Alumni Association was organized in 1892 and remains active today. Notable graduates have included U.S. Army General Paul Mayo, entertainer Monte Blue, journalist Frederick McCormick, and pro football player Tim Brown.

In recent years the Home’s mission has changed to include comprehensive care and education for a wide variety of “at-risk” Indiana youth. Both college preparatory and vocation education programs continue to be offered, along with counseling, psychological and health care, spiritual development, and varied social and recreational opportunities.

The Indiana State Archives holds an extensive collection of records from the Indiana Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Children’s Home. Among these are records for the 10,000 children admitted to the home between 1867 and 1980. Volunteers from the Friends of the Indiana State Archives and staff from the Indiana State Archives and the Indiana Historical Society have indexed these children’s records. An Index to Records of the Indiana Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Children’s Home in the Indiana State Archives was published in 1999.

The volume indexes six sets of records, including the admission ledger, discharge books, applications for admission, discharge cards, school record cards, and indenture papers. Children’s names are arranged alphabetically. The county from which the child was admitted is listed next. Year of admission and discharge are included when applicable. Children whose applications were rejected are also listed. A list of the types of
records available for individual children appears with each child’s entry. Researchers can examine these records at the Indiana State Archives.

The compilers of the index include Ruth Dorrel and Paula Corpuz of the Indiana Historical Society and Friends of the Archives volunteers Dale Drake, Mary Jane Estes, Pat Mills, Sharon Mills, Carolyn Sichting, and Margaret Denney.

Copies of An Index to Records of the Indiana Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Children’s Home in the Indiana State Archives are still available for purchase from the Indiana Historical Society. Information about ordering the book is available by telephone at 1-800-447-1830 or on-line at http://shop.indianahistory.org

The index may also be searched on-line at www.in.gov/icpr/archives/databases/issch/index.html

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