A Battle Over Historical Significance for the Carlisle Indian School Farmhouse

The struggle to save the farmhouse at the former Carlisle Indian School (CIS) now includes an official request to re-evaluate the building’s historic value while the Army continues with its planned destruction.

Advocates trying to save the farmhouse, the only building at CIS where Native American students lived and attended classes, are challenging the Army’s statements about the structural integrity of the building; and are requesting a new evaluation of the property.

The Coalition of Carlisle Indian School Descendants, Relatives and Friends had not received any reaction from the Army regarding their efforts (including an online petition drive) until August 24, when an Army spokesperson finally responded to the requests with a five-page email claiming the farmhouse was not structurally sound and did not earn historical preservation status.

“The farmhouse is one of dozens of buildings to be demolished and replaced with modern family housing… [they] have structural, foundation, plumbing, and electrical issues… [and] are scheduled for demolition in the coming months,” asserted Lt. Col. William G. McDonough III, Garrison Commander of Carlisle Barracks in an email to the Coalition.

In response to the commander’s email, the coalition submitted a letter on August 27 which challenged most of McDonough’s claims, including the following: “This current level of poor and inadequate maintenance is being used by Carlisle Barracks as an excuse for the demolition of the structure, when this deterioration can be directly traced to a failure of maintenance by the United States Army Garrison…it is obvious they have failed in their regulatory, legal and ethical responsibilities.”

Along with the coalition’s statements about the building’s physical status they presented a case for why the farmhouse was not appropriately evaluated in the first place.

The coalition says “… no evaluation was made under National Register of Historic Places criteria (a): that are associated with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of our history. Building 839 [the farmhouse] has direct association with three broad patterns of American history at Carlisle Barracks.”

In a further challenge to McDonough’s point that a 1996 Architectural Survey asserted the building “has only minor associations with educational activities of the school,” the coalition pointed to a 1918 publication by CIS that clearly discussed the use of this building for classes and housing by Indian students. The coalition also noted documented proof that the farmhouse played a role in Carlisle’s Civil War history and was used as a social club for the segregated African American soldiers during World War II.

The coalition advocates have requested a re-initiation of the Section 106 process per the National Historic Preservation Act, which requires consultation with interested parties. Coalition spokesperson Dr. Louellyn White, Mohawk, an assistant professor of first peoples studies at Concordia University in Montreal, Quebec, said the official request was addressed to McDonough with copies sent to the Pennsylvania Historic and Museum Commission, which is the State Historic Preservation Office for Pennsylvania.

Neither McDonough nor other Army officials have contacted the coalition after the August 29 letter, but at the very end of his email, which included several paragraphs describing the Army's honoring of Native American and CIS history, he re-iterated their position regarding the plan for demolishing the farmhouse.

“While the farmhouse will be razed to make way for new housing, we have and will continue to have myriad ways to share the CIS story.”

Related article:

Carlisle Indian School Descendants Fight to Preserve Part of Painful History