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The Arsenal Centennial Museum is located in the original Arsenal Building, second floor, Room 8. Image credit: Lorentz

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.

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Click to enlarge. The Arsenal campus as it looked in its earliest years. Image credit: Lorentz

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.

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Click to enlarge. An attempted “Perpetual Motion Machine,” built during the Winona days. Image credit: Lorentz

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.

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Click to enlarge. Proudly displayed at the museum: the multi-page article touting “Tech” as the “School of Tomorrow” in a 1945 magazine. Image credit: Lorentz

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.”

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Sarah Bogard poses with a donated Robert Indiana print. Indiana (nee Clark) is an alumnus of Arsenal Technical High School. The school also has several of Indiana’s student works. Image credit: ATHS Alumni Association

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.”

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“Tom” Class of ’51, our museum guide, knew his stuff — putting science into an historical perspective. Behind him is Tech’s Ham Radio DX card board. Image credit: Lorentz

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Click to enlarge. Donated ephemera and scrapbooks make the school’s history feel very personal. Image credit: Lorentz

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!

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Munitions boxes from the days when the property was a US arsenal. Image credit: Lorentz

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During the mid-20th Century, Tech students (NOT grads) were recruited directly from campus to assist in war manufacturing efforts.

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.

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This enormous flag was found in the basement of the Arsenal Building. Many believe it may have flown over the post during the Civil War. Image credit: Becky Larkerbrink.

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!

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Click to enlarge. Displays from every era. Image credit: Lorentz

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During the school year, the Colonel’s Cupboard is open for lunch in the West Residence building. We have Bogard to thank for the proper restoration of this building, too. She was instrumental in making sure the front porch was restored true to it’s original form.

 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!

10 responses to “Friday Favorite: Tech History Heroes”

  1. Kevin J. Brewer says:

    Lisa, that was a wonderful article. Glad to have assisted. Now you and Joan need to instruct Sarah and Beth on how to correctly catalog and preserve.

  2. Lisa Lorentz says:

    Oh that wouldn’t be me, Kevin! I’m just an enthusiastic novice. Wouldn’t it be great, though, if they could forge a partnership with the State Museum or Historical Society, though?

  3. Ann Stewart says:

    As a very little girl I remember being terrified that I would have to go to Tech (when I was high school age, I was still very little and the thought of being on that big campus was very frightening. Luckily, we moved east to Irvington, and I was able to attend Howe, at least for two years before we moved again. I am so sorry to learn so many of Howe’s memorabilia were lost. Perhaps there’s someone like Sara Bogard who can take over at Howe.

  4. Jack Boeldt says:

    For the 1950-51 school year I lived within walking distance of Tech. IPS started it’s first grade school basketball program in that year and some of us from school #3 went to the games played v other grade schools at Tech on Saturday mornings. The Tech gym had a look and feel like none other. Although I went to Howe, all our games against Tech were at the Tech gym. The last time I was in there was in the 1980s when my daughter was a Howe JV cheer leader. The Butler Fieldhouse had the same look and feel of tradition. I notice my old acquaintance, Tom Jordan is a Tech museum guide now. I have been collecting Howe memorabilia since the city closed Howe in 1995. While searching for Howe stuff I have acquired 4 Tech yearbooks (The ARSENAL CANNON) including 1932, 1934, 1952, and a 1954. The 1932 is special as it has my father’s senior picture in it. In 1983 I taught electrical engineering in Tech’s adult evening program. I can’t finish here without mentioning Howe’s varsity football win over Tech in 1955.

  5. Alice Shipley Watts says:

    Wonderful article, thank you so much for all the information.
    Tech High School has always been so very special to me. My love for history was enhanced by my good fortune to attend jr high there, as well as high school, graduating in 1963. My brother was before me, graduating in 55′ and my sister in 56′
    .I was thrilled to have a teacher who took our class on tours of the buildings, to see areas not readily available to most visitors, and to learn the amazing history of that campus and those buildings.
    Early morning walks through the campus are still so vivid in my mind. No matter the season, those quiet mornings were beautiful, and snowy days were I believe my favorite..

  6. Jim ( Richard )Shelton 1952 says:

    Member of 1952 State runner-up in basketball as MGR. Most notable player best all sport athlete in Tech sports history Joe Sexson … Mr Basketball Trester Award Allstar Team. I lived 1 blk from Tech. It was my sometime playground before I went to school there. ahh fresh tomatoes growing by Tennis Court also played football for 3 yrs before injury. a great school,I was fortunate to attend what history / civil war & sports tradition congratulations on winning state in basketball 3 tries before & lost but you guys won for us very proud ..

  7. Jim (Richard ) Shelton says:

    Would like to know how many of 1952 basketball team are still living I know Joe Sexson passed & obviously I’m still alive only other one I know passed is Ernie Sellars . could you find out & let me we had a very nice group 2 good coaches in Herman Hinshaw & Butler standout Charlie Mass ..thank you .. Jim Shelton 1952

  8. Anonymous says:

    4.5

  9. Anonymous says:

    5

  10. Gisele Dollinger says:

    Update – the museum is now housed in three rooms in the Media Center. It is most certainly a wonderful, fascinating look at this school’s rich history.

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