CARLISLE, Pa. — Tearing down the farmhouse would have been a bitter harvest for Louellyn White.
The Canadian college professor was thinking of her grandfather the whole time she emailed dozens of tribal officials seeking signatures for an online petition.
“He would want that building to stand and for his story and all the others to be told,” said White, an Akwesasne Mohawk and specialist in Native American studies. “It’s quite possible that my grandfather stayed at the farmhouse while he was learning farming skills at Carlisle.”
Carlisle Barracks had slated the 19th century brick structure for demolition in October 2012 to make way for modern housing for U.S. Army War College students and their families.
Word of this plan sparked an outcry from descendants of Carlisle Indian Industrial School students, which prompted the Army to reexamine the history of the farmhouse at 839 Patton Road and its significance to the school.
The result was a recent study by the Army Corps of Engineers that recommended the farmhouse be added to the existing National Historic Landmark district of the main Carlisle Indian School campus. Negotiations are underway between the coalition set up to save the building and Carlisle Barracks officials on the best use of the structure.
“I am thrilled with the news,” said White, a Farmhouse Coalition representative. “I am relieved and impressed the officials took our concerns seriously. Having National Landmark status along with other buildings will help protect the farmhouse and give it the designation it should have as a part of history.
“We hope the farmhouse can be used as a visitor’s center for the school,” she added. “It could be a place for people to learn about Carlisle, to share stories, to remember their loved ones and to heal.”
Established at Carlisle Barracks in 1879, the Carlisle Indian School was the first off-reservation, government-run boarding school in the country. More than 10,000 students attended the school, which was designed to indoctrinate Native American children to the white man’s culture. It closed in 1918.
Developing the farmhouse into a visitors’ center could help ease generations of trauma caused by the long history of policies aimed at assimilating Native Peoples, White said. “To ignore or destroy the farmhouse would have felt like another slap in the face. This (building) can help preserve the past, the good, the bad, the ugly so future generations will know what happened and [that] such policies can be avoided in the future.”
The farmhouse is included in a lease agreement Carlisle Barracks has with Balfour Beatty, a private firm which manages housing on post, said Lt. Col. Kim Peeples, garrison commander. She added work is underway to process the necessary legal documents to remove the farmhouse from the agreement and place it back into the responsibility of Carlisle Barracks for upkeep and maintenance.
Meanwhile, Carlisle Barracks plans to submit a copy of the Army Corps of Engineers study to the state historical preservation office, Peeples said. It will be up to the state agency to review the document and decide whether to forward a recommendation to the National Park Service which has the final say on including the farmhouse in the National Historic Landmark district on post.
Regardless of the outcome, there are no plans to demolish the farmhouse, Peeples said. “We intend to maintain the building because of its historical significance. We are looking at all the options.”
Discussions on the future use of the farmhouse are very preliminary, she added. “We see it as an asset not only for the history of the Indian school but of the whole post.”
Peeples confirmed a visitors’ center is one of the options being explored along with a museum or a preserved site. Though the actual study came out in December, it has taken time to distribute the findings to interested parties and for momentum to gather not only in the Army but in the Native American community, Peeples said.
Previous evaluations determined the farmhouse played only a peripheral role at the school and that it should be excluded from the protections offered by the National Historic Landmark designation. The perception was that since the farmhouse lacked historic value, there was no need to preserve it like the other buildings that once made up the Indian school campus.
That began to change when Carolyn Tolman and her family moved into the farmhouse in July 2010. She is the wife of a career officer who was an Army War College student during the 2010-2011 academic year.
An historian and genealogist, Tolman took an immediate interest in the “oldness” and eccentricity of the farmhouse that had been converted into a duplex in the 1930s.
“There are just echoes of the past in that house,” Tolman said. “I just felt we were living in a part of history. I wanted to know more about it.” She was surprised there was very little to learn from the post community and that the Carlisle Barracks had plans to demolish the building.
At first, Tolman only wanted to document the history of the farmhouse. She visited the Cumberland County Historical Society where she met Barbara Landis, Indian School biographer. When Landis heard that the building was slated for demolition, she expressed the need to preserve it.
Tolman went to work to document the role the farmhouse played in the agricultural education and recreation of Carlisle Indian School students. She would spend three to four months researching tax and land records, census reports, newspaper articles and books gathering information for a report she issued to Carlisle Barracks and the Military History Institute of the U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center.
At first, the report yielded no results until it was posted on Facebook and Landis networked with her contacts in the Native American community to rally support to save the farmhouse.
“It started very small,” Tolman said. “I really think there is a greater purpose behind saving the house. Carlisle Indian School was the first in the country to take children off the reservation and indoctrinate them to the white culture. Every other Indian school in the nation was based on Carlisle.”
Her research found that the farmhouse was built by Daniel Keiffer sometime between 1853 and 1856. It was then sold to Richard Parker in 1860. Three years later, the Army of Northern Virginia invaded the Cumberland Valley and occupied Carlisle Barracks. It is said a party of Confederate soldiers was fed and sheltered in the house for one night prior to being redeployed to Adams County where they fought in the Battle of Gettysburg.
When the Indian School was established, the Parker Farm was rented to provide hands-on instruction on agriculture to the students. The school then purchased the farm in 1887. Students assigned to temporary farm duty slept and ate at the farmhouse and took classes on farming in one of its rooms.
Tolman also learned that the farm provided food to the school and was a favorite spot for recreation by students who would walk there on Sunday afternoons or on school field trips. As such, the farmhouse should be preserved as a symbol of the Indian residential school experience that had such a profound effect on Native American culture, Tolman said.
“Getting the Native community involved gave the farmhouse its purpose,” Tolman added. “I really hope it will strengthen them as a people. They have been through so much.”
She is pleased Carlisle Barracks officials have come around and are now willing to work with the coalition to restore a Native American presence on post. Tolman thanked Jeff Wood, owner of Whistlestop Bookshop in Carlisle, for helping the coalition secure the services of Stonefort Consulting, an Oklahoma law firm specializing in historic preservation. Coalition members plan to meet with Barracks officials in June to continue their ongoing negotiations, Tolman said.