History of the Friends

The Friends of the Indiana State Archives was organized in 1990 through the initiative of James E. Farmer, an Indianapolis journalist, lobbyist, and former executive assistant to Governor Roger D. Branigin. Concerned by the neglect of the State Archives and its collections, Farmer created the Friends for a “citizen effort to save Indiana History.” Organized under the Indiana Not-for-Profit Incorporation Act, the Friends’ original incorporators on June 29, 1990, were James E. Farmer, Jack L. New, Charles R. Brown, and Justin E. Walsh.

Under Farmer’s leadership, the Friends of the Indiana State Archives focused its efforts initially on increasing public awareness of the “crowded and unsafe” storage conditions in the Archives. As a result of these efforts, a concurrent resolution passed the 1994 Indiana General Assembly calling for a legislative review of the Archives’ space and security problems. The review was assigned to the Interim Study Committee on Library Issues. Prompted by concerns raised by the Friends during public hearings and by a disastrous flood in the Archives on August 28, 1994, the Interim Study Committee recommended relocating the State Archives in new space. A temporary move of the most threatened collections was completed in May of 1995.

Other early initiatives of the Friends included recruitment of volunteers to assist in processing Archives’ collections; securing a grant from the Indiana Bar Foundation in 1992 for the restoration of the 1816 Indiana State Constitution; assistance in reprinting Governor Matthew Welsh’s A View from the State House; and support for special exhibits at Baker and Daniels and the Indiana State Museum. The Friends served as the sponsoring organization for two Indiana Heritage Research Grants that allowed the Archives to enter records of public land sales at the Fort Wayne and LaPorte-Winamac Land Offices into computerized databases. Name indexes of purchasers generated from these databases have been published and marketed by the Friends.

Gene E. McCormick, retired Eli Lilly Company corporate historian and Archives volunteer, succeeded Jim Farmer as president of the Friends in November 1994. In order to expand and strengthen the role of the Friends, McCormick initiated a strategic review committee in 1995 that drafted a new mission statement and recommended a number of steps to implement it. These included establishment of a quarterly newsletter, an enlarged and restructured board with an executive committee and standing committees, an aggressive membership campaign, and fundraising to support the needs of the Archives. Implementation of these recommendations was well advanced prior to Gene McCormick’s untimely death on February 11, 1996. William J. Doherty, professor of history at Marian College, was elected President at the Friends’ Annual Meeting in April 1996. He was succeeded in 2002 by Stephen E. Towne.

In recent years the Friends has undertaken a broad range of initiatives in support of the Indiana State Archives. In 1995 it secured a grant from the Indiana Bar Foundation for the restoration of the 1851 Indiana State Constitution. Friends Board Members James W. Merritt, Jr. and Harry V. Huffman subsequently obtained funds from the Indiana State Bar Association to construct a case to display the two restored constitutions in the rotunda of the Indiana State House. In 1997 the Friends sponsored the publication of Senator Jim Merritt’s book Passing the Torch: Preserving Indiana’s Heritage. The Friends also sponsored two additional Indiana Heritage Research Grants that permitted the Archives to enter early Posey County court records and 19th Century physician records into searchable databases. Funds from the Friends permitted the State Archives to buy a new microfilm reader for patrons and three laptop computers for volunteers. More recently the Friends purchased a projector, which allows Archives staff to present image based presentations at meetings and conferences in an effort to enhance awareness about the Archives in the general public. In 2016 the Friends purchased a new press for the conservation lab. Considering the older presses in the lab were built by WPA workers in the 1930’s, the Archives is very grateful for this new addition.

Since 1991 Friends volunteers have contributed nearly 60,000 hours of time to the Indiana State Archives. Recent volunteer projects include indexing land purchase records from the Vincennes Land Office, naturalization records from 24 Indiana counties, student records from the Indiana School for the Deaf, early admission books from Central State Hospital, and records Hoosier veterans of 19th and early 20th century wars. Friends volunteers have processed resident packets from the Indiana State Soldiers Home and foster home files from the Board of State Charities. Without the Volunteer Program the Indiana Digital Archives would not have been possible. It is populated almost entirely by databases created through their efforts.

The Friends has co-hosted numerous programs, receptions, and public lectures to showcase State Archives’ resources and publications. Among these was a lecture by Eric Dean, author of Shook Over Hell, and celebrations at the State House marking Statehood Day. The Friends recently collaborated in publishing the new souvenir booklet Indiana’s State House. Over the last few years the Friends has sponsored the openings of the exhibits such as “Lincoln Was a Hoosier” and “Fit to Breed”, a special exhibit concerning the Eugenics movement produced from State Archives and State Library materials in conjunction with IUPUI and Herron School of Art and Design. The Friends also sponsored the opening of Dillinger! Forging a Hoosier Legend, which opened in July of 2009 and ran until January 2010 at the Indiana State Library.

In the last few years the Friends have turned their focus toward helping the Archives secure a new and more suitable building.