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12/5/2004 10:23:00 AM
Rich history to be preserved in museum about Muscatatuck

The Republic

By Kelsey Vanarsdall

The Republic

BUTLERVILLE — Check one: Idiot, imbecile or moron.

When the Indiana Farm Colony for the Feeble Minded opened in Butlerville in 1919, all patients were admitted under one of those classifications.

It was not harsh. It was not politically incorrect.

“Those labels probably stayed up until the 1950s,” said Robin Stearns.

“We hear that nowadays and we shudder to think of it, but that’s just the way it was then.”

The facility, after five name changes and now called the Muscatatuck State Developmental Center, changed.

Society changed.

But those classifications remain in the history books.

The center’s closing was announced in 2001.

Stearns, a former Muscatatuck employee and now a regional coordinator for the facility’s operating agency, Family and Social Services Administration, is working to preserve that history.

After everyone has moved out, a small museum will remain in the Hingley Medical Center building, one of the 68 on the campus.

“We’re going to have old documents, annual reports, employee plaques and even some of the old furniture and equipment used at the facility,” said Stearns.

“There’s such history here.”

At the height of operations, nearly 2,400 residents lived on the Muscatatuck grounds, then called the Muscatatuck State School.

Residents farmed and cultivated their food with acres of farmland, including fruit orchards and cattle barns. For the winter, the facility ran a canning factory to preserve produce from the summer and fall harvests.

Federal laws in the 1960s made it illegal for the residents to work without pay and the farming operations ceased.

At that time, at least 30 people would live on one floor of each residential hall. Rows of beds separated by thin, white cloth partitions served as the only means of privacy. Bathrooms consisted of a row of toilets, unseparated.

In 1952, the facility opened a nursery to care for children under the age of 6.

“There was no other place in the state to send those children,” said Stearns.

“It was state-of-the-art at that time.”

The bi-level Springdale Nursery consisted of eight rooms separated by glass-window walls. Each room housed 12 cribs.

“It must have been a sight to see rows of cribs just lined up in these rooms,” said Stearns. “They aren’t that big.”

A new children’s hospital that opened in Evansville in the 1970s forced the closure of the nursery and children younger than 6 were no longer admitted.

Another Muscatatuck building rich with history is Hingley Medical Center, now housing offices.

It was a fully operational hospital with research and surgical departments and a morgue.

In 1967, Muscatatuck and Purdue University researchers discovered the infant disorder Phenylketonuria in the basement of the medical center.

Phenylketonuria is a genetic disorder that makes an infant’s body unable to process amino acids, thus causing mental retardation.

“It’s amazing the things that went on here,” said Stearns. “We have to keep this history alive, even if we can’t keep the center alive.”

Related Stories:
• Changes in health care force residents, employees to leave Muscatatuck
• Muscatatuck workers sad to see residents, jobs go
• Perseverance pays off for former Muscatatuck employee
• Former resident adjusts after leaving Muscatatuck
• Muscatatuck center's closing costs region millions
• Muscatatuck’s new purpose

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