The Arsenal Technical High School Centennial Museum at 1500 East Michigan Street
It’s part of the Historic Indianapolis ethos… helping Indy fall in love with its own rich and fascinating history, and applauding those who lovingly, and tenaciously preserve it. The latter is the case with the intrepid supporters of the Arsenal Technical High School Centennial Museum (ATHSCM), located on the campus of Arsenal Technical High School, in the original Arsenal Building, second floor, Room 8. As indicated by the name, the museum displays artifacts from the school’s better than 100 years of operation at the same location — but there are also items from the site’s two other incarnations.
The property did not begin as a school, but as a Civil War-era munitions storage facility. The grounds were procured for the Army in 1861, and the first soldiers arrived in 1865. The federal government maintained the post for military purposes until 1903.
Then property was purchased by members of a Christian organization called the Winona Chautauqua Movement in 1904. The Winona Technical Institute at Indianapolis became the second of the Movement’s two Indiana schools. It offered courses in Pharmacy, Printing, Lithography, Building Trades, Electricity, Iron Moulding, a Library school and other departments. Though Winona’s goals were admirable, they proved to be too lofty, and the school went belly-up in 1909.
As fate would have it, in 1912 Indianapolis was desperately in need of another high school and the abandoned property seemed perfect for that purpose. Principal Milo Stuart opened Arsenal Technical High School — the third high school in Indianapolis after Shortridge and Manual — with only 183 students and eight faculty members.
The school offered state-of-the-art instruction in printing, machine shop, automotive construction, agriculture, electricity, and salesmanship, in addition to its college prep program. Innovative for the time, “Tech,” as it came to be called, was lauded as the “School of Tomorrow” and was featured in many national publications — most notably a multi-page spread in the September 1945 issue of Better Homes & Gardens.
Jump ahead through 100 years of fascinating and quirky history — and some 60,000 graduates! In anticipation of the school’s Centennial Celebration in 2012, former campus administrator and principal, Sarah Bogard, began noting the locations of important and historic items around the enormous campus. “The campus has always been so big that people didn’t need to throw things away. They just stored things in basements and attics and unused cupboards, “said Bogard. “I had been principal of Manual High School during its Centennial, so I knew through that experience that there would be a call for artifacts of the school’s heritage for the centennial celebration. I just started collecting with no idea where these Arsenal items would eventually go.”
She was also “lucky” enough to be at Tech when the school underwent a $30M renovation. “I would see that they were taking down old plaques and pictures, so I would go around and collect them for storage. Alumni love to come back to see their names or photos still on display and I just couldn’t let those things go missing, or worse. When Howe High School left the IPS system, people just took things. There was no one with the authority to keep them from doing it. So much history just disappeared. I couldn’t let that happen here.”
During the chaos of the Arsenal restoration, Bogard procured a room and began setting up displays. “The whole thing is put together from IPS surplus and flea market finds,” said Bogard. She had been self-funding most of the purchases but eventually news of the growing collection got to key alumni board members. Some financial and operational assistance came with involvement from Alumni Association as well as the Parents Teachers and Students Association (PTSA). More historical items came in as well. “Knowing we were putting together a museum, when alumni passed away, their families would donate the parents’ Tech memorabilia back to the school. We got class rings and medals, term papers and love letters… all kinds of things, really.”
“None of our items are properly cataloged,” Bogard admits. “I think some of the folks from the IMA who were helping us with art items were truly horrified, but I’m not a professional. I’m not even an alum. I wouldn’t know where to start,” she said. “I agreed to continue to volunteer as curator in my retirement. This has become a passion. It’s my labor of love.”
Once Bogard’s “temporary” museum began to take shape, no one wanted to see it dismantled and the attraction was well received during the school’s centennial celebration. A motion was made with the School Board to allow the space to become a permanent museum and the Tech Alumni Association agreed to assume the ongoing role of caretakers. “I don’t think anybody, even me, believed that this would grow the way it has,” said Bogard. Today, the public can view thousands of items that have been “donated, loaned or recovered” such as yearbooks, senior cords, dance tickets, equipment, costumes, and other ephemera from the location’s 150ish year history — including some rare Civil War-related items found on site. While at the museum, one can pick up a campus walking guide, peruse beautiful personal scrapbooks–some desperately in need of a conservation effort, chat with an alumnus about his years at “Tech,” and learn about the crucial part Tech students played in various war efforts. It’s a true hands-on museum– but please handle with care!
Admission is free, but donations are welcome to help in the preservation efforts for some of the more delicate items in the collection. No appointment is necessary to visit the museum on the 1st and 3rd Fridays and the 2nd and 4th Tuesdays of every month. Friday hours are 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. and Tuesday hours are 3:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. More volunteers are needed to staff the site in the hopes of increasing open hours. For appointments to visit the museum outside the regular schedule or to volunteer, contact Beth Aubrey Meyer at (317) 796-7743.
The Museum Open Hours (Summer Schedule, 2014)
Fridays: July 11, 18, 25 and August 1
10:00 AM – 2:00 PM
Planning Your Visit:
During the school year, one can make a whole afternoon of it by also visiting the “Colonel’s Cupboard” for lunch, a restaurant run by Tech Commercial Foods students in the West Residence building. They also cater and do carry-out. Check the school’s website for days of operation and menu.
As they say, “If everybody owns it, nobody really owns it.” It happens too often in a large and long-existing public institution, that historic treasures get pilfered, misplaced, abused or simply go unrecognized. Historic Indianapolis salutes the history heroes at Tech who are actively striving to acknowledge and protect the property’s heritage for future generations! And, thanks to Sarah Bogard, for simply doing what needed to be done!
What is your favorite aspect of Tech history, or favorite memory? What have you done with your old school mementoes–whether you attended Tech or somewhere else? Please share!