The Indiana State Archives Building: A Century of Little Progress


In 1913, as plans were being made to celebrate the Centennial of Indiana, the Indiana State Archives was officially declared a division of the Indiana State Library. Our predecessors in the Library, the Archives, and the Historical Society were calling for a permanent Centennial Memorial Building to be dedicated on statehood day in 1916. Why not build a lasting monument that would not only celebrate a century of progress, but also protect the state’s rich history? The Wayne County Historical Society, the Indiana Historical Society, and Indiana University were among the organizations that drafted resolutions calling for a new Memorial Building to house the Library, Archives, Museum, and Educational departments.

The Centennial Committee stressed the importance and need for a Library and Historical Building, imploring the decision makers to judge the matter in terms of a century from now or even two centuries from now. Do not bog down in the budget concerns of the next few years, but concentrate on the importance of preserving the historical documents and artifacts of the state of Indiana for the people of Indiana. A centennial plaza was also imagined, which should include the Centennial Memorial Building.

The plan eventually was voted down, despite being called for by the three major political parties of the day, Republicans, Democrats, and the Progressive party alike.

Over the next few years some progress was made toward realizing the historical needs of the state.  After World War I, the War Memorial building was constructed. All but one building of this mammoth plaza was finished.

During the Depression, the State Library and Historical Building was built as a beautiful Art Deco Works Progress Administration project.  The building was to house all divisions including the Library, the Historical Bureau, the Historical Society, as well as to make room for the archives of the state, though it was understood that division would continue to grow as the state did and would eventually need its own special building or wing. The State Museum would remain in the State House for the time being.

In the 1940’s, blue prints were drawn up and paid for by a grant from the Federal Government related to post war building. A new building should be constructed for housing the Archives. This plan was eventually scrapped.

In the 1950’s and early 1960’s the State Museum began plans for a new building. Eventually, it was decided that they would occupy the empty City Hall building on Alabama street.

In the 1960’s the first talk of building a judicial facility and archives across from the state house began. This idea would resurface several times over the coming decades.

In the 1970’s the State Library finally added another wing, but little provision was made for the State Archives, as the Library divisions and Historical Society moved into the new space and the archives were squeezed into whatever space was left in the old building—typically the basement level prone to leaking.

In 1979 the Archives Division became a guest in its own home when the Indiana Commission on Public Records was created and assumed control of the Archives of the state. Sadly, the Archives seemed to be lost in the new agency title and people all but forgot it existed.

In the 1990’s the Historical Society built its own palatial building across the street from the Library on the Canal. The space it vacated was originally to be given to the Archives. Floor plans hung on the walls for all to see the scheduled construction, but instead the Archives received an eviction notice. By 2001 the rare, the historic, the fragile, the important and the original records of the state were cast out into a warehouse on the city’s eastside, into a building with a leaky roof that could blow down in high winds or a tornado. No worries, this was only supposed to be temporary.

In the meantime, the State Museum left the old city hall location and moved to a large complex in White River State Park.

Over the years, we’ve seen plans drawn up more than once. Promises have been made. Suggestions for locations have been offered, which included returning the Archives with its sister organizations, the Library and the Historical Society, in empty state owned land on the canal. Other locations suggested included the War Memorial Plaza.

Two years ago, the Commission on Public Records was renamed The Indiana Archives and Records Administration. Indiana had an archive again! This rebranding has helped patrons find the archives, but they are still dismayed by the facilities it occupies.

Then most recently, new plans were drawn up for the archives, once again taking advantage of the momentum of another celebration. The hundred year mark the Centennial Committee feared would pass without proper housing for the state’s historic records had finally arrived. Again, talks of a Bicentennial Building and plaza surfaced. Déjà vu, or just common sense repeating itself?

The legislature approved the new plans, but only provided a modest budget, half that of Pennsylvania’s and a quarter of Tennessee’s funding for their new Library and Archives. There was another catch. The building was actually banned from its most logical location across from the State Library on on side of the street and across the canal from the Historical Society. The archives were not valuable enough—with its historical precious documents—to grace the canal space.

Finally, a lot was chosen on the IUPUI campus. Not the beautiful spot next to the State Museum on Wabash, but at the other end of the campus as far from its sister organizations as possible. This area came with another set of difficulties. Indiana University demanded space and exterior building features that ate away at the already meager budget that had been allotted.

Then, even that minimal funding went away. And now those who support the importance of a building that will not only protect the state’s historical records, but also vital records needed by military veterans and students to obtain burial and medical benefits, home loans, and admission to higher education programs, are left wondering, how many more centuries will it take Indiana’s lawmakers to make the right decision? Will they let another century go by before stepping up and doing what is necessary to protect the records and the history of its citizens?

Write to your legislators as individuals. Draft resolutions as organizations. Demand that Indiana finally do what is needed to protect its history and records relevant to all of its citizens. Do it now. Do not let the legislative session end without proper funding and a proper location for our state’s archival treasures.