This is the earliest known photograph of the farmhouse that was saved from demolition. It is now being considered as a heritage center. It was taken by John Leslie, a Native student.

Could the Farmhouse at Carlisle Become a Heritage Center?

Rick Kearns

The historic farmhouse at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School has been saved from the wrecking ball, but input from stakeholders from across the country is needed to develop a proposed heritage center.

A coalition of Carlisle descendants and friends wants to turn the farmhouse into the Carlisle Indian Industrial School Heritage Center, which will be dedicated to “healing, research, public understanding, education and interpretation” according to their recently released plan.

In late September the coalition released its Draft Interpretive Plan for converting the farmhouse into a Heritage Center; a plan that will depend on the ongoing process of returning the lease to the U.S. Army and then applying for and receiving official landmark and historic registration designation, which could take up to a year.

In the meantime, coalition members are reaching out to the nationwide community of descendants and supporters.

The coalition, which is led by descendant Dr. Louellyn White, wants input “from the principal parties, The Farmhouse Coalition, including direct descendants of Carlisle students, and the U.S. Army Garrison Carlisle Barracks, on the preservation, renovation and utilization of the farmhouse as a place of memory for Indian School descendants, a site for research and discovery, and a vehicle for interpretation of the historical significance of the school,” according to the coalition’s plan.

“In order to reach consensus on the significance of the farmhouse, additional input from a variety of constituents, tribal representatives and descendants must be sought. As a starting point, we hope to include not only fact-based definitions of significance, but also the symbolic and spiritual importance of the farmhouse, the school and the descendants’ stories,” the plan states.

Towards that end, the coalition plan includes consideration of the farmhouse as a sacred place for commemoration of their stories—their struggles and accomplishments—along with celebrating its historic, cultural and iconic significance as well as its legacy and impact.

The plan is also divided into a series of interpretive themes, each with a variety of topics that fall under the following headings: Preservation of the Farmhouse; Far From Home; Resistance; Changing Philosophies; Grief; and Celebration.

Some of the topics listed under The Preservation of the Farmhouse include: “The need to tell the story of Carlisle through multiple points of view, including descendants’ voices; and the importance of allowing descendants to tell their own stories in their own ways and words… The need to study, understand and integrate Native histories into our larger stories of American History in order to have a more richly textured understanding of our shared past.”

Within the theme of Resistance, for instance, there are topics like: “Running away and running home” and “changes in rebellion under various administrations.” Under the Grief theme there are notations about “Rape, abuse and neglect; The story of the cemetery; Grieving the loss of identity; and The role of Indian boarding schools and federal policy and creation of systemic problems in tribal society.”

While most of the themes and topics deal with injustice and tragedy, there is also a section called Celebration where topic headings feature: “Student bonds and fond school memories told in student and descendants’ voices; The National Congress of American Indians; Indians in Show Business and Film; and Post-Carlisle movement to reclaim Native Culture at Indian boarding schools; and Notable Graduates/Students” among others.

For coalition members and descendants Grace Slaughter and White, the creation of the Heritage Center would be very important for a variety of reasons.

Slaughter is the great-granddaughter of Carlisle graduate and noted actor/lecturer Richard Davis, so the school and heritage center has special resonance for her.

“It all goes back to the learning, the education he [Davis] received at Carlisle,” Slaughter said. “The fact that he earned the right to manage the dairy farm is remarkable and noteworthy. The farmhouse at Carlisle is home for my family. The place where my grandmother, who raised me, lived as a small child. Where she lived with her sisters Mary and Esther. They were the Pennsylvania girls, these eldest of Richard and Nannie’s children. Where Richard and Nannie, both students from Carlisle, lived as adults and stood as example of what hard work and learning could accomplish.”

“There is family memory in connection with the farmhouse,” she continued. “It is a place that I was pleased to show my daughter and her children—this is where our ancestors walked. We are walking there too.”

“I mostly think of my grandfather Mitchell Arionhawakon White who went to Carlisle over 100 years ago,” White noted. “It's quite possible he stayed at the farmhouse learning agricultural skills preparing him for the Outing program. It would be the only place existing today that I could visit and know he was once there.”

“And the cemetery,” she added, “ is a place that hits you deep in your gut when you’re standing there looking at graves of ‘Unknown’ children and those of tribes across the U.S. I cry every time I go. But then I have to get in my car and leave. Using the farmhouse as a Heritage Center dedicated to Carlisle would provide a safe space to honor those children.”

Coalition members are also asking interested stakeholders to visit the Carlisle Farmhouse Friends page on Facebook.

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Lu White
Lu White
Submitted by Lu White on
You can also email the Farmhouse Coalition at [email protected] to be placed on the mailing list for updates, for copies of the Interpretive Plan, for questions, and for providing input. Nia:wen! Louellyn White