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Indiana School for Feeble Minded Youth ca. 1900
By Randy Harter
Fort Wayne Reader
The history of the Indiana School for Feeble Minded Youth (ISFMY) dates from 1879 when an asylum for “feeble-minded” children was setup at the Soldiers and Sailors Orphans home in Knightstown, IN (east of Indianapolis). In 1887 it was decided that a new facility constructed specifically for this purpose should be built, with Fort Wayne being designated as the site. At that time the 60 acre property chosen — bounded by the Hicksville State Road (now State Street Blvd), Thomasetta (now Kentucky Ave), Charlotte and Parnell Avenues — was considered to be out in the country.
The initial buildings completed in 1890 were designed in the Richardsonian-Romanesque style by local architects John Wing and Marshall Mahurin, who also designed both the City Building (now History Center) and John Bass’s home “Brookside” (now University of St. Francis) in the same style. The overall property scheme was in the “cottage” style of mental health facilities with nearly three-dozen individual buildings eventually being built on the site. Three of these buildings still exist, the now Psi Ote Barn, the gymnasium, and the offices/staff housing building, which is now the main offices of Fort Wayne Parks and Recreation.
By the 1920’s the property housed about 1,600 patients as well as operating nearly 1,000 acres of farmland in Allen County including the property that is now the campus of Purdue and Indiana Universities on Coliseum Blvd. Males, depending on age, were trained in carpentry, agriculture, painting, upholstery, and the making of bricks, shoes and mattresses, with females being schooled in cooking, canning, dressmaking, weaving, laundry and other domestic household activities.
The ISFMY’s name was changed by the state legislature in 1931 to the Fort Wayne State Hospital. By 1954 the buildings were showing their age and the decision to transplant the entire facility to Parker Place Farm at U.S. 37 and St. Joe Road was made. The state began the construction of 18 buildings at the new site with the initial move of patients commencing in 1960, and the facility then being renamed as Fort Wayne Hospital and Training Center in 1965 with all patients and services moving to the new location by the late 1970’s. During the 1980’s the name again changed, this time to the Fort Wayne Developmental Center. The Development Center permanently closed in 2007 and the property transferred to Ivy Tech Community College who has since transformed it into their north campus.
Back on State Street, the Mental Health Center (now Park Center, Inc.) was built on the southeast corner of ISFMY property in 1976, then in 1979 the State of Indiana deeded the rest of the grounds to the City of Fort Wayne. A bond package was secured in 1981 and the dreary remnants of the former State School demolished with the transformation and opening as Northside Park taking place in June 1983. With the retirement of longtime parks superintendent Bob Arnold in 1999, the park was then renamed in his honor.
(Image courtesy ACPL)
Randy Harter is a Fort Wayne historian, author, and tour guide for Fort Wayne Food Tours.