By Libby Roerig, Indiana State University
One hundred and fifty years ago this week, a decision was made that forever changed the city of Terre Haute. The superintendent of the Terre Haute schools had spent many weeks convincing residents to sign a petition that he planned to present to the Terre Haute City Council. The petition urged the council to raise $50,000 and provide a plot of land to encourage the state to select Terre Haute as the site of the new Indiana State Normal School.
The Indiana General Assembly had approved the establishment of the school in December 1865. However, the legislation did not provide any funding or a building. Instead, it called upon communities to donate a minimum of $50,000 and land or buildings to be considered as the site.
As superintendent, John Olcott knew the importance of preparing teachers for the common schools of Indiana. He also knew his school corporation would benefit from having the State Normal School nearby. Nearly 1,500 residents of Terre Haute agreed. When Olcott presented the petition to the Terre Haute City Council on May 1, 1866, the council members also agreed it was a wise investment. Two weeks later, Olcott and his committee presented the proposal to the Indiana State Normal School Board of Trustees. The board accepted the proposal — the only one it received — and declared Terre Haute as the site of the new school.
“That decision was the beginning of a great partnership between Indiana State, the city of Terre Haute and the local school system. It is a partnership that has grown throughout our 150-year history and one that stands stronger than ever today,” said Dan Bradley, president of Indiana State University.
The city and school corporation also helped keep the school open after a devastating fire destroyed its only building in 1888, Bradley said. The city again pledged $50,000 to rebuild. In the meantime, local churches and the school corporation provided space for classes, so the Indiana State Normal School could continue to operate.
“These are just a few of the many ways the city and the school corporation have collaborated with Indiana State to contribute to our success. We owe both entities a debt of gratitude. It is our hope that our appreciation is reflected in the many ways Indiana State University students, faculty and staff give back to the community,” Bradley said.
The Indiana State Normal School became Indiana State Teachers College in 1929, Indiana State College in 1961 and Indiana State University in 1965 recognizing its growth and expansion into a comprehensive university.
“The Vigo County School Corporation and Indiana State University has enjoyed a wonderful working relationship that has lasted for many, many years,” said Danny Tanoos, superintendent of the Vigo County School Corp. “Our great school system turns to Indiana State University when looking to hire the best-of-the-best teachers to educate our students. We cherish our past relationship with ISU, we celebrate our current partnership and look forward to working together in the future for the betterment of every student who graces the doors of our schools.”
Mayor Duke Bennett noted the important role Indiana State has played in the development of Terre Haute.
“Can you imagine Terre Haute without Indiana State University? It would be a much different, and probably much smaller, place. Indiana State is one of our largest employers, and the recent growth in enrollment has had a visible impact on local businesses. In addition, the university has been a great partner in the revitalization of downtown and the riverfront, and its commitment to community service has had a measurable impact on our community,” Bennett said. “We are fortunate to be the home of this great university.”
In honor of the 150th anniversary of the decision to locate the teacher preparation school in Terre Haute, the Indiana State University Board of Trustees approved resolutions paying tribute to the Vigo County School Corporation and the City of Terre Haute at its meeting Friday (May 6).
Following the board meeting, Indiana State and Vigo County School Corp. officials planted a tree with a commemorative plaque at Woodrow Wilson Junior High in John Olcott’s memory. The Board of Trustees were set to host a dinner Fridaynight, where the resolutions will be formally presented to Superintendent Tanoos, School Board President Paul Lockhart, Mayor Duke Bennett and City Council President Todd Nation.
Bradley said the University is also planning a community event for residents of Terre Haute later this year as part of the city’s bicentennial celebration and in conjunction with the university’s Sesquicentennial Era Celebration, which continues through early 2020.