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Employment: Industrial Home for the Blind

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      The article below was researched and written by Peggy Chong, an independent researcher from Des Moines, IA.
       

      The History of the Industrial Home for the Blind of Iowa

      By Peggy Chong

      In August of 1852, Professor Samuel Bacon, a blind man, began a private school called the Institution for the Instruction of the Blind of Iowa in the town of Keokuk. He began the school without any financial aid from the state of Iowa. In 1853, an Act was passed by the Iowa General Assembly that established the "Asylum for the Blind". Professor Bacon's Institution was adopted for this purpose and it was moved to Iowa City, Iowa. The law directed that a board of Trustees be appointed to oversee the school. It opened for students in Iowa City on April 4, 1853 at no charge to any blind person in the state.

      Professor Bacon became the principal of the school in Iowa City. Twenty-three students enrolled that first term. In 1854, Professor Bacon recommended to the General Assembly that the name of the school be changed to a title more in keeping with education. The name "College for the Blind" was officially adopted.

      In 1858, several citizens of Vinton began to raise money to bring the school for the blind to their community.  Land was donated and buildings were built in 1860. Soon after, the "College for the Blind" was moved to Vinton Iowa, where it remains.

      Soon after its move to Vinton, an alumni association was formed by the former students of the institution. During a meeting of the alumni in June of 1886 at the school in Vinton, a long discussion took place on the working conditions and opportunities, or rather the lack thereof, for the graduates of the College for the Blind. Many of the graduates, who had learned some skills at the College, left the school but found no one that would hire them. If they did get employment, it was for far less than they needed to survive. Many graduates ended up in the county poor house. 

      Two resolutions were passed at the alumni meeting in 1886. One resolved that a "Working home for the blind, where suitable handicraft, can be pursued by them, would serve best to aid them, and relieve the public of the burden of their maintenance."  The second resolution called for the alumni to submit the matter to the General Assembly of Iowa, and ask that the General Assembly work to establish such a "Working Home" so that the blind who live there can work at handicrafts to sustain themselves.

      The alumni appointed a committee of blind graduates of the college to write a report and go to the state capitol and talk to members of the General Assembly. The committee did as charged and they were met with a very favorable response according to newspaper accounts.

      On April 13, 1888, the Iowa General Assembly passed an act that called for the study of this issue. Three commissioners were appointed; the act mandated that one of the commissioners must be a woman. No blind persons were appointed to the commission. The first commissioners were L. A. Riley (Democrat), M. Fox, and Lorana Mattice from Benton County. All were reportedly experienced in the education of the blind. They were paid $3.00 a day plus travel expenses to carry out their duties and were to report back to the General Assembly by no later than September 1, 1889.  It was not reported where these commissioners were educated about the blind or where they had worked with blind people.

      The Commissioners began writing to several homes for the blind across the country and around the world. They sought advice from superintendents and directors of institutions for the adult blind, receiving a lot of correspondence from institutions in Oakland CA, Iberia OH and Philadelphia PA. They were quite impressed with the Pennsylvania home, partly because its director, H. L. Hall, was himself blind and seemed to be managing the facility very well. Pennsylvania was purported to be the best facility in the country for blind men to work and earn a living. There, the blind men were earning an annual average wage of over $128. Mr. H. L. Hill was not only the director, but its founder in 1874, the first of its kind in the country, according to the study of the Iowa commissioners. They also received letters from Dr. Armitage, Honorable Secretary of the British and Foreign Blind Association.

      They traveled to visit several institutions in New York, the Perkins School in Boston, Massachusetts, the Ontario Institution for the Education and Training of the Adult Blind in Brantford, Ontario, as well as institutions in many of the states surrounding Iowa.

      Their conclusion was that a "Home for the Industrial Blind" would be a great asset to the state of Iowa. Many of the homes for the blind cost the state or community very little to maintain as the work done at the homes covered much of the cost of the institution. The blind of the state where these facilities were located were not living in poor houses or a burden to the community or the blind person's families or friends.

      The commissioners began to look for a community to house such an institution. Using the ideas from other states, they proposed the establishment of a home to many communities. They told them that the idea of an Industrial Home for the Blind was not an experimental idea, but one that had proven to work and work well for all concerned in many communities across the country.  It would not be a financial burden on the community or state. They asked that the community that would host the institution provide land for the home as well as opportunity for goods to be sold and much more. Many communities competed for the home as many saw it as a wonderful addition to their town, bringing jobs and related businesses. The goal was to bring together as many resources as possible to build the home at no cost to the state.  

      They suggested that a large facility should be built so not to incur additional cost to expand the facility in a few years. They also recommended that women be included in the home and industrial component, meaning that they be able to work.

      Representative Dayton introduced a bill to establish the Industrial Home for the Adult Blind in late February, 1890. Senator Perry Engle of Newton took up the cause in the Senate. The bill passed both houses. According to the legislation, the purpose of the home was "[t]o instruct the adult blind of the state who may be admitted, in some suitable trade or avocation in order to enable them to earn their own support or contribute thereto."  In March of 1891, the state appropriated $22,000 to construct the necessary buildings and to purchase the equipment needed for the home. They did not appropriate funds for the operation of the home once it opened.

      In June of 1890, a commission to select the site for the Industrial Home for the Adult Blind was appointed and began its activities. It was chaired by Mr. J. B. Elliott of Knoxville, Iowa. This commission began with a tour of the communities bidding for the home. Their travels took them to Missouri Valley, McGregor, Waverly, Clarion, Mason City, Charles City, Humboldt, Muscatine, Oskaloosa, Carroll, Logan, Newton, Audubon, and Knoxville.

      Leaders in Knoxville had begun preparations to secure the site as soon as they learned that a search was commencing for a location for the state institution for the blind. Judge J. D. Gamble had been approached by city leaders to secure an option for his 40 acre corn field on the edge of Knoxville as a possible site for the home. City leaders raised money to purchase the land from Judge Gamble. Meetings were held among city leaders to strategize and plan to ensure the city's bid would be accepted. 

      Newspaper accounts from The Knoxville Journal's Diamond Jubilee Edition, September 25, 1930, tell of Knoxville’s grand performance to the members of the commission and their party as they arrived by train. The Knoxville Silver Cornet Band (all instruments were brass, it was noted) played as the train pulled into town. Mr. Elliott had arranged for his home community to be the last stop on their journey across the state. 

      City leaders escorted the delegates around the city. The band also serenaded the group during their tour. They visited the proposed site for the home. A grand banquet was held at the Lindell Hotel for the dignitaries. Congressman Ed Hays presented all of the reasons and benefits to having the Industrial Home for the Blind in Knoxville to the delegation. Again, the band played a few more classical pieces and the banquet was over.

      Ultimately, Knoxville was selected for the site of the home. The commission argued it was the most economical location because the raw materials needed for the workshop, such as broom corn, were readily available.

      According to an article in the Pella Weekly Herald dated January 8 1892, Knoxville donated 60 acres of land to the state. They also gave the Industrial Home for the Blind free water for five years. A bonus of $1,200 was paid by the city to the state for selecting Knoxville as the location for the home.

      Captain F. S. Whiting received the contract to build the buildings on the property. He oversaw the construction of the main building, a barn, workshop, store house, and an ice house. He was paid $29, 218.87 for this work. Captain and Mrs. Whiting were selected to become the first superintendent and matron of the home. They were given a combined salary of $1,500 a year and room and board. In March of 1891, the state legislature did approve $23,000 for the operation of the home.

      The commissioners submitted a report to Governor Boles at the end of 1891 detailing their activities and findings. They also recommended an additional $56,500 be authorized for the home for the next biennium to build an ice house and an electric plant and to supply the orchard. At least $30,000 should be allotted for the salaries of the officers and the employees. The employees were the sighted people who worked at the home; the blind individuals working and living there were referred to as "inmates". One of the final statements in their report read, "In organizing this home, we understand its object is to gather together deserving people who's support is now a tax on the community, to teach them useful trades, furnish them with material and employment and pay each what he earns."

      The Industrial Home for the Blind opened January 1, 1892. A blind person wishing to enter the home needed to apply to the board of trustees, complete a thorough physical, and be deemed mentally sound before they were granted permission to become an "inmate" of the facility.

      Some of the first residents were W. H. Ashby (Louisa Co.), A. T. Burdick (Marion co.), John Guinn (Madison Co.), Walter Haines (Polk Co.), William Lavio (Polk Co.), D. C. Newton (Marion Co.), Pat Quilken (Wapello Co.), Louis Schaafer (Jefferson Co.), John D. Thompson (Marion Co.),  John D. Taylor (Jefferson Co.), and Eva B. Wood (Linn Co.). Some residents, such as John Guinn came to the home at a very young age (20 years old). John Taylor was married but not living with his spouse and, therefore, was admitted to the home.

      Unlike the sighted workforce, a blind inmate was charged room and board. The deduction was made before the wages were paid to the inmate. Each male inmate was charged $2.25 a week. The women were charged $2.00 a week, which included board, lodging, mending, and laundry. A few of the female inmates performed housework for which they received boarding and were paid 75 cents per week. In the first year of the home's operation a blind inmate earned about $12 a month. By 1897, production slowed and there were several months when no work was available. Because they were still required to pay for their room and board, they would often receive only about $5-$6 a month. Many accumulated debt. When work in the broom factory became available again, an inmate had to pay off the debt before collecting any wages.

      Life at the home fell into a routine of work and passive recreation. The routine was described thusly: "The inmates are occasionally favored with sermons, lectures and musical and other entertainments, and have been kept posted concerning the current events of the day by readings in the dining-room daily, and an hour in the sitting rooms twice a week regularly. The evening readings in the newspapers were given by Miss Vivian, daughter of the superintendent, and Miss Jesse B. Moore, clerk, who cheerfully volunteered to render this acceptable service. Prayer meeting is held regularly every Monday evening in the ladies' sitting room." 

      A blind man named Albert Mussen took the train to Knoxville in hopes that he could live at the Home. He traveled by himself and found his way to the home. Because he was deaf as well as blind, he was refused admittance to the Home. The Home’s staff did not consider a deaf-blind person able to work. The sheriff was called by the superintendent, who took Mr. Mussen back to the train station and put him on the next train headed to his home.

      The first board of trustees for the Home was appointed in the spring of 1892. The trustees were President J. H. Nichols (Des Moines), Secretary L. T. Richmond (Albia), and Treasurer J. B. Elliott (Knoxville). Captain F. S. Whitney (Des Moines) served only one year as superintendent. Seventeen people applied for the position. Mr. M. Gephart (Democrat) was appointed as superintendent in August of 1893. Mr. Gephart was an agent for the "Q" road. His wife also served as matron of the home. A man's party affiliation was noted for every appointment to a high position at the home.

      A Republican governor was elected in 1896. Knoxville Mayor Cam Culbertson was appointed to be the superintendent of the Home as a reward for his service to the newly elected governor and to the Republican Party as the Chairman of the Marion County Republican Central Committee. His wife would serve as the matron. Culbertson received a salary of $50 a month and room and board for his family, which included at least two daughters (Vivian and Bonnie). His wife received $25 a month and room and board for her services. The Culbertson's began their service at the home on July 1, 1896.

      Trouble arose for many state institutions. Rumors of mismanagement of funds and supplies by many state agencies prompted the Iowa Legislature to establish a Board of Control in 1897. The Board was to bring order and financial oversight of state funds. The Board of Control replaced many members on the boards of trustees as many of these boards were becoming a drain on their institution’s funding. The members of the Board of Control visited all of the state institutions. They cited many concerns when visiting the Industrial Home for the Blind. Namely that the treasurer, a bank clerk in Knoxville, had not kept clear records of the institutions finances. When they asked Mr. Culbertson for the financial records in late 1897, he stated that no record of where the money went or of the source of funds for the Home was available. Many news articles from that period, however, told a different story.

      On October 15, 1896, a short news article that appeared in The Daily Iowa Capitol stated that the audit committee for the Home had been completed and that the committee was "well pleased with the work going on". The audit committee was made up of three of the now six member board of trustees. It also reported that in September alone, the Home had shipped over 642 dozen brooms and over 389 dozen whisks.   According to an article in the same paper earlier that year, January 18, the Board of Trustees, which numbered only three people then, was paid $1,247.24 for their services for the past year.

      Also in July of 1897, Mr. Culbertson and the Board of Trustees submitted a detailed treasurer’s report and financial report to the Governor. These reports included sales and purchase figures going back to 1892. The reports included information about the Home’s manufacturing, orchard, and farm. They also included detailed lists of articles sold and supplies on hand. Mr. Culberson and the Board of Trustees both quoted figures for expenses that justified their request for additional state funding in the next biennial period. Mr. Culbertson stated in his report that, "Based upon the average number of persons maintained at the home for the period, the average cost of maintenance per month for each inmate, excluding the edible products of the farm, you will note, is $11.39. Deducting amount paid for improvements and house furnishings, the actual cost of maintenance per month for the period for each inmate is $10.17." Despite having prepared detailed reports previously, they indicated they were not able to produce any records to the Board of Control. The Board of Control's directed the superintendent and board to maintain better financial records and to submit monthly reports on all income and expenses for the Home to the State Treasurer.

      Mr. Culbertson also reported they had refurbished the buildings on the property, built a chicken house and hay barn, and had beautified the grounds. While forty four acres were being farmed by the Home, no reported indicated whether any of the blind inmates helped with the work. The food and housing costs for staff, who received room and board in addition to their wages, were not identified in his report.

      The Board of Control report included several additional recommendations. They discovered that all supplies for the Home were purchased locally and frequently in small quantities. They strongly encouraged the Home to purchase its supplies in greater quantity to get a better price for goods and services. Specifically, they recommended that the Home combine their orders with those placed by other state agencies in the area.

      The Home superintendent and trustees responded to the state legislators by moving the three separate funds into two funds. They requested $1,000 to install electric lights as this was needed for the safety of the institution and the inmates. They also reduced the salaries of the inmates so as to better balance the budget. No reports of changes occurring based on the many suggestions made by the Board of Control appeared.

      Culberson tried to change the image of the Home through articles in the press and public activities. An article appeared in the Iowa Capitol on September 15, 1897 promoting the Home and its work. An article titled, "All roads lead to the big fair", stated:

      Of all the exhibits in Producers' Hall which completely engrossed the attention of the men, woman and children the display of the handiwork from the Industrial Home for the Blind in Knoxville leads. The crowds do not appear to tire of their investigation of the work done by blind hands. From the plain every day article the house broom to the delicate nettings, weavings of thread and mysterious formations into nets and hammocks, the work of the blind excites wonder. Cam Culbertson Superintendent has the exhibit in personal charge. He takes a great interest in the work and in seeing that that all visitors see what the inmates numbering in 57 are accomplishing.

      Not all publicity was favorable to the Home for the Industrial Blind. In the Pella Advertiser on March 13, 1897 an editorial comment stated, "Knoxville has not had a saloon in many years. Is a temperance town. Yet even the blind of Knoxville get ‘stone blind’ and get all they want. Newspapers report that the blind have a jollification when drunk."
       
      In an extra session of the legislature in late 1897, the legislators passed an amendment to the legislation governing Home. It directed the Home take in the indigent blind of the state. The Home was not as self-sufficient as the legislators had been lead to believe. This amendment did not appear to cause changes at the Home as the rooms were at capacity and it had a waiting list of able-bodied blind persons. The men were already living three to a room.

      The passage of this amendment may have signaled the end for the Home. The problems of the blind workers were becoming more difficult than the sighted people wanted to deal with. The blind were demanding that they be paid the same as sighted people. When work was scarce at the Home, the blind worker’s wages were cut even though the sighted worker’s wages were not. Marion County would not assist the blind with financial support to pay for things such as clothing. Several articles appeared in newspapers across the state, asking for donations for money to be sent to the Home to clothe a blind inmate from their region. The county made it quite clear to the state and the inmates that the inmates of the Home were not residents of Marion County. Therefore, they should be supported by the county that sent them to the Home. Some of the inmates had been in residence at the Home since January of 1892, yet were still not welcome by Marion County by 1897. The inmates had come of their own free will to the Home and were not placed there by their home county.

      More problems in the city of Knoxville began to surface. Townspeople did not want the blind in their city anymore. Until 1897, the blind and the Home were a welcomed addition to the town. Suddenly, they were not.

      The biggest concern that the townspeople had with the blind in their city is that the blind wanted to marry. As the blind were not wards of the state and were not placed at the Home, but came of their own free will, they could not be prohibited from marrying. If the blind inmates married, they had to leave the Home. (Sighted staff who married lived on the grounds with their spouses and families, however.) When the blind inmates did marry, they were forced to move into the town of Knoxville. Since no one would rent to them, they built their own homes.  

      Some of the blind people had learned to make hammocks while attending the College for the Blind at Vinton. Many, especially the women, made the needle work and hammocks that were sold by the Home. (The blind had to purchase the supplies themselves from the Home.) While hammock making was not part of the Home’s broom shop the blind who made them were suppose to give them to the Home to sell. Many of the blind people did not do so. They chose to sell them and keep the profits. This practice was discouraged by the staff at the Home as they could not then keep track of what the inmate had earned.

      Ledgers show that the Home staff tracked the income of blind persons who both lived at the Home and worked at the shop and the income of those who simply worked in the shop. The ledgers list the amount and source of income. Some of the blind people earned extra money playing music for the community churches and such.

      The blind workers at the Home did not like Superintendent Culbertson. A petition signed by blind workers and several people from the Knoxville area asked Governor Shaw to conduct an investigation of the Home by the Board of Control. It alleged that, while intoxicated, Cam Culbertson would abuse the blind inmates of the Home. The petition also accused the staff of mismanagement of the funds used for the manufacture of brooms. The funds appropriated by the legislature were to last for two years yet was nearly exhausted after only one year.  

      Walter C. Haines, a blind man who had been a former resident and purportedly fired from the Home for "good cause," was the spokesman for the group. He led a group of blind people that met with the legislature from January 21-24, 1900. They talked to members of the legislature and the Board of Control. 

      Governor Shaw immediately sent William Larrabee, Board of Control chairman, and former Governor John Cownie to Knoxville to investigate the claims in the petition. Most news articles reported that the reason for the visit was to investigate the claims. However, according to an article in The Iowa Capitol, dated January 23, 1899, the trip was to investigate the closing of the manufacturing plant and to close the Home as the money that had been appropriated for the running of the plant had been exhausted.

      A Knoxville paper had earlier printed the petition and sided with the blind workers at the Home. The Knoxville Express was quoted in The Iowa Capitol on February 4, 1899 saying that the editor of the other Knoxville paper had given "undue circulation by the editor".   

      Numerous articles appeared in newspapers across the state exonerating Cam Culbertson of all the charges. The articles all reported that there were no problems at the Home and it was in fine financial shape. The articles indicated that the blind man who prompted the investigation had been re-instated as an inmate at the Home. Culbertson reported to the Board of Control that Walter Haines (a blind worker) had been fired for disorderly conduct and insubordination. He also mentioned in his report that the residents of the Home were mostly well behaved. But when no work was available "there are occasions that call for the exercise of authority." The Home did have a solitary confinement that was said to last for only a few days or so after which the blind person was returned to the Home's regular routine.

      The press did not report that broom making in Iowa had not been profitable for any state institution for very long time. At a meeting of the Board of Control in early 1899, several state agency and institution representatives brought this fact to the attention of the board when Mr. Culbertson tried to gain support for a requirement that all state agencies purchase brooms from the blind, no matter the cost. These agencies and institutions also had broom making equipment on site and made brooms for their agency’s learning program for their inmates or students. Culbertson said that the brooms made by his shop were just as good as any other. Yet the Board members pointed out that brooms made by other state institutions had a hard wood handle and could be used over and over again. The brooms made at the Home were made of the straw which meant the whole broom was to be thrown out when the broom whisks were worn.

      At the meeting of the Board of Control in 1899, Cam Culbertson presented his report on activities from the previous year. Mr. Thomas F. McCune, Principal of the College for the Blind, supported the idea of the Home provided it was managed more like a business. He also stated that focusing on one industry was not a good idea. He stated "You cannot educate them for any one set of circumstances, but you can educate them to control circumstances." He gave examples of graduates from the College who had gone on to be teachers, lawyers and such.  Other Board members politely challenged Culberson as well. Mr. Culbertson defended himself by saying that the many financial mismanagement issues at the Home occurred before his tenure. In 1897, a new foreman with experience in broom making had been hired and the quality of the brooms increased. He reported that the wages of the inmates had been adjusted to help balance the books for the shop, meaning they had a reduction in wages. He also made a request for additional funds to purchase clothes for the Home. The inmates were expected to purchase the clothing from the Home from their wages. Purchases could be charged against a workers account if needed. Mr. Culbertson also asked that his wages be increased to match that of the superintendent of College for the Blind. He wanted his wages to increase from $50 a month to $100. He also requested that other staff wages be increased. 

      By 1900, the state legislature had had their fill of the Home and all of the troubles it had raised for the state of Iowa. All of the financial troubles, broken promises and still the personal needs of the blind inmates were not being met. By 1898, many citizens of Knoxville lobbied the state legislature to convert the Home into a Normal School. (A Normal School was a school offering a two-year course and certification to high-school graduates preparing to be teachers, especially in the elementary-schools.)

      In January of 1900, Representative Warren from Marion County introduced a bill that, he said, would bring the first Normal School to the state of Iowa. (Incidentally, Normal Schools had been in Iowa for over 30 years.)  His bill recommended that the Industrial Home for the Blind be used for this purpose. On February 22, 1900, an editorial entitled “Injustice to Blind” appeared in The Daily Iowa Capitol. It reported that the bill to abolish the Industrial Home for the Blind had passed the committee on appropriations. It allowed up to $2,000 to send the inmates back to their home counties and to hire a custodian to watch over the property for up to two years. The article reported that the Home had a total of thirty-five inmates at that time. Each inmate was to receive a train ticket home and $5 for expenses.

      The Home could not close immediately. Once existing orders had been filled and supplies depleted, the Home would be closed and the property abandoned.

      Michael Keating, an inmate of the Home, testified to the state legislature that $5 would not be enough to send the blind people from the Home. He said that $5 would barely pay for one week’s lodging in the town. Blind people had come to the Home because they had no place to go. They had no home to which to return. He recommended $100 be given to each blind person so they could establish themselves, be it a place to stay or to become a peddler of hammocks in the streets.  

      Over a year later, a different story was presented in the newspaper.  Many articles had a similar account to this article that appeared in the semi-weekly Iowa State Reporter, Dec 20, 1901, page 2.

      Blind Folks would Wed
      Caused Abandonment of the State home for Indigent Blind

      Cedar Rapids, Dec. 14--Hon. John Cownie of the state board of control explained the abandonment of the institution for the blind at Knoxville in an interview in the Cedar Rapids Gazette

      Mr. Cownie referred to the abandonment by the State, of the State Home for the Aged and Indigent Blind people at Knoxville. Most cities and towns are anxious to secure the location of state and national institutions as they are to acquire factories and mills. But after Knoxville had secured her prize and given it a fair trial, she asked for its removal and that with the least possible delay. It brought her an evil she did not expect and one that she desired wholly extirpated the home at Knoxville was designed for the care and support of the indigent blind and not for the propagation of the human species. The latter finally became the chief industry. Blind men and women came from all parts of the state and after having associated together for a time in the home would be seized with an inordinate desire to double up in matrimony. Marriage was not fully discouraged among these unfortunates by the management of the home, but was absolutely forbidden if the nuptial candidates were expected to remain within the hospitable wall of the comfortable home. But this prohibition was without avail and was void and of no effect.  The men and woman would marry and of course and were required to depart from the institution. The invariable result was that they located in Knoxville were thrown upon the generosity of the town or country for support and eked out a miserable existence. They colonized in a certain quarter of Knoxville, where there was a collection of the most un-picturesque and dilapidated huts ever seen in the country. Most of these habitations were constructed by the newly married themselves and out of the greatest variety of materials, several varieties being found in each.  They became foul with filth, dirt and refuse. It became a veritable pest and when it could no longer be tolerated the people of Knoxville arose in their majesty and power and protested to the legislature. After protesting several times to the lawgivers heard the cry in the wilderness and ordered the abandonment of the home.

      State records and newspaper accounts show only six inmates were registered as being married, less than 15% of the population at any time. No records show that the blind inmates had children depending on them. No reports substantiated the claims that the chief industry was the “propagation of the human species.”

      Mr. Cownie was quoted in many news articles that cast these blind Iowans in the most unfavorable light. In the May 3, 1900 edition of the Summer Gazette, he commented on the closing of the Home. Cownie stated, "It never had to exceed 52 members and most of the time only about 40. The expense of caring for these 40 blind persons not including interest on the investment but only actual appropriations, was nearly $200 per capita per year."  He continued stating that "blind people are very hard to get along with and manage. They are of a jealous disposition, owing to their infirmity. And yet they have as much natural feeling as a seeing person."

      The site of the Industrial home remained vacant until 1902 when the buildings were opened as a State Hospital for the Inebriates. The state appropriated $125,000 in 1902 to open the hospital in Knoxville. As the inmates of the Hospital would escape and cause the townspeople a lot of grief, Knoxville residents soon had the Hospital closed. On August 21, 1920, the buildings were reopened as a hospital for disabled veterans. It had a 171 bed capacity with 125 of the beds filled immediately. In 1922, the federal government purchased the 345 acres, buildings, and greenhouse for $200,000 from the State of Iowa to open a hospital under the Veterans Administration. At the close of 2009, much of the VA hospital was being merged with the Des Moines location. A community-based, out-patient clinic still remains.