Visitors entering the grounds of the Arsenal, be it the United States Arsenal in the 19th century or Arsenal Technical High School since 1912, first had to check into the guardhouse on Michigan Street. This small but decorative brick Italianate structure has housed guards and security since first completed in January 1872.
Soon after the Civil War, when the US Arsenal was constructed one-and-a-half miles east of downtown Indianapolis, the federal government ordered two guardhouses built on the grounds. The circa 1916 photograph above shows the first guardhouse, built in 1867, that stood in the center of the campus quadrangle closer to the Tenth Street entrance. It was destroyed by fire in August 1921. Although very similar, this structure was slightly longer and had five windows along the long side, as opposed to two on the Michigan Street guardhouse.
This photograph from 1902 shows the Michigan Street guardhouse. Journalism teacher Ella Sengenberger ‘s undated article titled Looking Back to Arsenal Days states: “A guard always paced back and forth on the porch of the Guard House which is located just inside the entrance to the Michigan Street gate. Two guards paced the grounds from north to south on a path in the approximate center of the grounds. One would start at the Michigan Street gate and the other at the Clifford Street (the present East Tenth Street) entrance. They would meet halfway, turn around, and retrace their steps.”
Along with serving as the sentry post of the Arsenal, unruly soldiers derelict of their duties or breaking the rules forbidding “intoxicating drink and passionate language” could find themselves locked up in holding cells in the basement. “The prisoners were watched rather closely. While in the Guard House they were not allowed to keep in their possession anything except the necessary changes of clothing. They were required to make their beds neatly in the short time between reveille and the morning call to work. All their meals were eaten in their cells.” The worst offenders were left in a dark basement cell for a week with only a bread and water diet.
In 1904 the government no longer needed the Arsenal and sold the land to the Winona Technical Institute, a short-lived manual training school that went belly up by 1910. In September 1912, Arsenal Technical High School opened on the grounds. Students and staff used the old guardhouse as a lunchroom or beanery, but soon outgrew the space. For most of the school’s existence, campus security has used the building, now known as the gatehouse, to register visitors and keep an eye on the comings-and-goings of students (as seen in this 1959 photograph).
1979 slide courtesy of Indiana Landmarks. Seen in front is architect H. Roll McLaughlin, long-time board member of Indiana Landmarks. Three years earlier he helped prepare the National Register of Historic Places nomination for the site.
Although the guardhouse has remained remarkably unchanged through the years, it was in need of work and the graduates of 1952 took up the cause for their 50th reunion project. The class spearheaded efforts to raise over $150,000 to restore the structure, including tuck-pointing and mechanical and technology updates.
Kudos to school administrators for valuing the rich history of this site and preserving the guardhouse and other buildings on the campus. Congratulations to Arsenal Technical High School students, staff, and alumni as they celebrate their 100th anniversary!
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