The Braille School property…
Those seem to be the buzz words around town, and probably will be for some time to come. “It will be nothing but a huge expense, should the City take it,” “just knock all those old buildings down and build housing,” “why isn’t the Main Building on the National Registry of Historic Places,” “what’s going to happen to Americorps’ use of the campus?” These are all very interesting thoughts and questions.
For the most part, I suppose the sky’s the limit; there are lots of beneficial ways to use the property. I believe we can optimistically embrace the future without forsaking our rich history. “What history,” you ask. The School has been woven in to Vinton’s economic and social fabric since its beginning here in 1862. On the state level, countless blind students have received a comprehensive education here. By comprehensive, I mean to say that our education went far beyond the books and classrooms. Life skills were taught, fear and uncertainty were turned in to confidence, and deep social bonds were formed. That’s what happens in a residential school where you’re spending most of the school year away from home. Iowa Braille, Iowa’s second oldest educational institution, has had a profound impact on our state’s history! Now, let’s consider the impact nationally. Most of us are aware that Mary Ingalls, sister to the famous Little House on the Prairie author, Laura Ingalls Wilder, came from out of state to attend our facility. During the Braille School’s peak years, we had one of the largest libraries for the blind in the country! We were among the leaders in educating blind children. Personally, I believe much of the success of the School was due to the fertile environment in which it was planted–that is to say that Vinton made much of this possible. I am well aware that, for many who worked at the School, it was far more than just a job. You volunteered extra time, gave gifts to students anonymously, and even opened your homes when the need arose. For these and many other acts of kindness, I thank you. It is my sincere hope that, among the many uses that will be found for the property, that the Main Building can be used in such a way that will allow for it and its historical artifacts to be preserved and enjoyed. For the past few years, several bus tours have visited the Braille School as part of their Iowa tour itinerary. I hope this, and many events like it, can happen for years and years to come.
Though it’s been a very bitter pill to swallow, I have accepted the fact that the education of Iowa’s blind children will never again reach the level of superiority that was offered on the Vinton campus. Now, it is up to us as a community to make the property an asset to our town–one that honors the past and graces the future. As I prepare to pay this year’s property taxes, the Braille School project will, no doubt, be foremost in my thoughts.
Julie Piper, Secretary
Iowa Braille School