Bet You Didn’t Know…”
Regardless of the side of town in which you live, if you’ve been in Indianapolis for a while you know some things about historic Arsenal Technical High School… A.K.A. “Tech” to those most familiar with the school.
But how well do you know it?
For those who need a little refresher, the property was once part of the US Army’s Arsenal system. In 1863, Army planners chose the present-day 1500 East Michigan Street site, because it was close to Indianapolis — but not too close. The densely forested acreage was purchased from an immigrant by the name of Herman Sturm, and the first soldiers arrived for duty in 1865. The US Government maintained the complex until 1903, using it to store heavy artillery, light arms (at one point, as many as 100,000 rifles!), and munitions. After the Spanish American War, the facility was considered obsolete for the military’s needs, and, by that time, the city had engulfed the property.
Once the Army left, the location briefly played host to a technical college called Winona but it lasted only six years, closing its doors by 1910. But that is a story for another day…
In 1912, Indianapolis Public Schools procured the old arsenal to be the city’s third high school. One-hundred-one years later, the school remains in the same place with many of the original Civil War-era buildings still in use.
It’s time to test your Arsenal acumen with a trivia quiz that was developed by ardent alumnus and HiIndy fan, Kevin Brewer:
The answers are below the next photo, in case you really want to play along.
1. The Arsenal building was completed in 1864. In what year was its tower, housing an authentic 19th century wind-up clock, added?
2. There are two cannons stationed on the campus. What kind of guns are they, and from what war?
4. There is a jail located on the property. It’s in what building?
5. Tech is alma mater to some famous visual artists. Can you name at least one?
6. What famous (but ill-fated) US Army general is purported to have once stood on the porch of the West Officers’ Residence?
7. About how many soldiers lived on the base when the Arsenal was in full operation?
1. The Arsenal Building was the first structure on the compound to be completed. The clock and tower were added just a year later, in 1865. The keystone over the front tower entrance shows this date. Nine additional buildings were eventually completed between 1865 and 1874. In 1994, Indiana University archaeologists dug test pits near the Arsenal structure. They recovered a silver spoon, a smattering of refuse associated with the construction of the building, as well as several prehistoric artifacts — but strangely, only two tiny pieces of ammunition!
2. There are two Howitzers located inside the Michigan Street gate. Information about their provenance is sketchy at this time, but they appeared for the first time in the Arsenal yearbook, (aptly named, The Cannon) in 1950. Given the timing of their arrival on campus, they are most likely decommissioned WWII-era guns.
According to sources in the US Army’s Presidential Salute Battery (a ceremonial division of the Old Guard responsible for rendering honors to visiting foreign dignitaries and heads of state, and firing final salutes during funerals at Arlington National Cemetery) the Arsenal guns appear to be M5 tank destroyers attached to M6 chassis (similar to the guns used by the Old Guard PSB unit). Historically, M5 guns were considered unfit for use during the Korean War and later, due to their weight and the kind of warfare being waged (jungle, climate, etc.). They were decommissioned at about the time it appears that Arsenal came into ownership of the guns. If correct, this would place the Arsenal guns in the same era as the highly-prized and pampered Old Guard Howitzers.
3. There are jail cells in the basement of the Michigan Street Guard House (1872). If you were a soldier 150 years ago who was straggling back to base late after a little too much “R&R,” you’d have been detained there until you sobered up.
Originally, there were two guard houses on the grounds, similar in style. The first guardhouse to be completed (pictured below), was built in 1867, and stood in the center of the campus quadrangle closer to the Tenth Street entrance. Unfortunately, it was destroyed by fire in 1921.
4. Robert Clark, A.K.A. Robert Indiana, (of LOVE sculpture fame) is an alumnus of Tech High School and of Herron School of Art’s Saturday school. Three of his prints are hanging in the school halls. He also painted five illuminated manuscript Bible pages of the Christmas story from the chapter of Luke. These pages hang outside of the Principal’s office on the first floor of the Arsenal building. He is a member of the Class of 1946.
Bill Peed (A.K.A. Bill Peet) was an illustrator and screenwriter best known for his work in Disney animation. He was hired by Walt Disney in 1937, when he was just 22. Peet also wrote and illustrated 35 children’s books. One of his sketches still graces the second floor of the Arsenal Building. Peet is a member of the Class of 1933 and also attended Herron School of Art on scholarship.
Two other Tech graduates went on to be Disney artists as well: Bill Justice ’31, and Victor Haboush, ’42.
6. The West Residence was completed in 1870 to complement the elegant commandant’s quarters known as the East Residence which once sat east of the Arsenal Building. The East Residence was razed in 1929. The West Residence housed the Arsenal’s highest-ranking officers. Gen. George Armstrong Custer is purported to have visited the Arsenal on his way west and stayed in the West Residence. The building now houses the Colonel’s Cupboard, a restaurant run by Arsenal students and open to the public.
7. The 1867 Barracks is one of the earliest buildings on campus and is located behind Stuart Hall. Civil War era soldiers slept in the Barracks Building. The Arsenal, when operating at full capacity, was home to only about 50 soldiers at any one time. The Barracks now houses the school’s JROTC program.
Tell us in the comment box below: How did you do on the quiz? What are YOUR favorite bits of Arsenal trivia?
Special thanks to Kevin Brewer, the administrator of the Arsenal Technical High School Alumni Association Facebook site, the ATHS Alumni Association for the images in the article, and to members of the US Army’s Presidential Salute Battery who evaluated photos of the Arsenal guns. Can’t get enough Arsenal history? There’s so much more to explore by viewing Tech’s yearbooks dating back to 1914 which are now available in The Indianapolis Public Library’s online digital collection.