A simple farmhouse at the former Carlisle Indian School in Carlisle (Cumberland County) has the potential to become an interpretive site and place of healing. To raise awareness about their project and the building’s potential demolition, the Carlisle Indian School Farmhouse Coalition nominated the farmhouse to Pennsylvania At Risk (listed in 2018; click here to read the newsletter). The group is working with Preservation Pennsylvania toward a reuse plan based on consultation with advocates and descendants of CIS students.

As the result of a 2012 round-table discussion with the Carlisle Barracks Deputy Garrison Commander, Public Affairs Officer, members of the Carlisle Indian Industrial School Farmhouse Coalition were able to postpone plans for demolition and now are working toward submitting a formal request to secure a lease agreement.

The Coalition group envisions a positive, productive reuse for the farmhouse focused on healing and creating a safe space where descendants can remember, honor and commemorate their loved ones as well as educate and raise awareness of the history and legacy of the CIS. The need for healing has become more evident with recent efforts to repatriate loved ones buried at the CIS cemetery.

Preservation Pennsylvania is serving as an advisor and fiscal manager to help raise awareness of the history and modern relevance of the CIS and support the ongoing efforts of the Coalition to achieve its vision for the farmhouse. Click here to make a tax-deductible donation to the CIS Farmhouse Coalition. To receive updates, click here to email the Carlisle Indian School Farmhouse Coalition.

The first federal off-reservation Indian boarding school was founded in Carlisle, Pennsylvania in 1879 by Richard H. Pratt on the grounds of an old Army Barracks. Over the next four decades, Indigenous children of all ages, and from virtually every tribal nation, entered the Carlisle Indian Industrial School (CIS) to serve as subjects in a national experiment in “civilizing the Indian.” This educational experiment aimed to assimilate Indigenous children into mainstream White American society while eradicating their cultures, identities, and languages.

The CIS farm and farmhouse played an integral role in the education and experiences of Carlisle’s Indian students. The farmhouse not only housed the head farmer and his family, but also provided an agricultural classroom, sleeping quarters, and meals for the student farm laborers (see Tolman, C., 2016).

The Farmhouse has historical significance beyond its use during the Carlisle Indian School era. During the Civil War, when Lt. Gen. Richard S. Ewell’s troops invaded Carlisle in 1863, a party of Confederate soldiers came to the Farmhouse and were fed and sheltered for the night. The next morning, they were called to Gettysburg. As time passed, the Indian School was closed, and the farmland was occupied by modern Army Garrison buildings (see Tolman, C., 2016).

During the 1920s and early 1930s, a detachment of African-American soldiers were assigned to work on the farm and likely used the farmhouse as a segregated living space and social club. The farmhouse eventually housed officers and families from the U.S. Army War College, which has operated on the post since 1951 (see Tolman, C., 2016).

In 1961, the surviving buildings of the Carlisle Indian School were designated a National Historic Landmark. However, the farmhouse was not included within the boundary due to its quarter-mile distance from the main campus, its “unknown historical significance” and “average exterior and interior integrity” due to several remodels.

In 2004, when Carlisle Barracks saw the need to replace out-dated family housing, the fate of the farmhouse was in jeopardy. In the fall of 2010, the official decision to demolish the farmhouse was made, pending congressional funding (see Analysis of Building 839, 2013).

In 2012, news of the impending razing of the farmhouse prompted the creation of The Carlisle Indian School Farmhouse Coalition, a small group of concerned descendants and friends determined to save the structure.

Finally, after the Farmhouse Coalition worked tirelessly to save the building, a detailed analysis of the building was published by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which found that the farmhouse indeed was historically, culturally, and architecturally significant (see Analysis of Building 839, 2013). The farmhouse would remain standing, indefinitely.

Although the farmhouse has finally been nominated to the National Register of Historic Places, it is not immune to eventual demolition given its continual physical deterioration.

The farmhouse has been vacant since 2012. It is currently closed to the public and visitors are not allowed inside of the building due to its caretaker status by the Carlisle Barracks (see Historic Structure Assessment for building 839, 2017). The building has undergone many renovations in its 150 years but is in desperate need of repair, renovation, and ongoing maintenance.

The Coalition seeks to renovate and repurpose the farmhouse as a Heritage Center dedicated to CIS, its students, descendants, and the broader legacy of Indian Boarding Schools.

Through a descendant survey, the Coalition has learned that healing must take precedence over other forms of interpretation and programing to address the intergenerational impacts of Indian boarding school experiences. Creating a safe space where descendants can remember, honor, and commemorate their loved ones continues to guide the Coalitions efforts to provide a variety of interpretive spaces at the Carlisle Indian School Farmhouse Heritage Center.

Your donations will help the Coalition secure legal guidance; a feasibility study; expertise in fundraising, non-profit management and strategic planning, and in historic building renovation and interpretive planning. Click here to make a tax-deductible donation.

See Carolyn’s Tolman’s website for extensive research on the history of the Farmhouse

Coalition Facebook group: Carlisle Farmhouse Friends

International Coalition of Sites of Conscience, membership profile page for the Carlisle Indian School Farmhouse Coalition

Carlisle Indian School Digital Resource Center, at Dickinson College. This website represents an effort to aid the research process by bringing together, in digital format, a variety of resources that are physically preserved in various locations around the country. These resources help to increase knowledge and understanding of the school and its complex legacy, while also facilitating efforts to tell the stories of the many thousands of students who were sent there. 

Newspaper articles
May 18, 2016 Farmhouse on post used to house Indian School students 

Aug 18, 2012 Carlisle Indian School descendants fight to preserve a part of that painful history

Mar 27, 2011 Woman chronicles history of soon-to-be-razed farmhouse

Journal Articles
White, L. (2018). “Who Gets to Tell the Stories? Carlisle Indian School: Imagining a Place of Memory Through Descendant Voices,” Journal of American Indian Education, Vol. 57, No. 1 (Spring 2018), pp. 122-144Intro: “Who gets to tell the stories of our loved ones? Most Indian boarding school research emphasizes student experiences. When descendants are considered, the intergenerational impacts on subsequent generations are emphasized. The discussion in this article privileges descendant voices. I analyze a descendant survey paying attention to how descendants rec-ollect their family’s experience at Carlisle. I argue stories passed on to descendants become our own stories, informing how we make sense of boarding school history and integrate narratives into our lives. Memo-ries and recollections are co-constructed, reconstructed, and sometimes contested while making significant contributions to Carlisle’s legacy. Ownership and responsibility for our stories must be considered as we look at possibilities for creating a heritage center at the Farmhouse located at the U.S. Army War College.” 

Book Chapters

Tolman, C., (2016), “Carlisle Farmhouse: A major site of memory.” In Carlisle Indian Industrial School Indigenous Histories, Memories, and Reclamations, ed. Fear-Segal, Jacqueline and Susan D. Rose.

Analysis of Building 839, (2013), U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Engineer Research and Development Center, Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania.

Historic Structure Assessment for Building 839, (2017), U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Engineer Research and Development Center, Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania.