The latest chapter in the saga of the Indiana State Archives is playing out in the halls of power in Indianapolis. How the story ends is not yet known.
For many years, the records forming the Indiana State Archives resided in the basement of the Indiana State Library, located on the state government campus in downtown Indianapolis. A series of damaging floods and leaks during the 1990s prompted policymakers to remove the State Archives from the building to allow renovations and remodeling. In 2001, workers moved the State Archives to a state-owned warehouse on the eastside of the city, miles from the State House and most state employees who used the records. The plan was that the move would be “temporary,” and policymakers considered finding a new home for the state’s documentary treasures, including building a new building to house them. However, inertia took hold in the State House, and new occupants of the governor’s office put the matter on the back burner or, worse, flatly refused to consider a new building. In the meantime, the terrible environmental conditions in the warehouse have taken their toll on the records. Wild temperature and humidity fluctuations have damaged paper and microfilm. Roof leaks, some of them caused by flying bullets, continue to soak records. Perhaps worst of all, the flat-roofed glorified shed is not strong enough to withstand tornadoes; one narrowly missed it several years ago.
A few years back, with the state’s bicentennial (2016) approaching, the administration of Governor Mike Pence recognized the opportunity of both doing good and creating a lasting monument. A new State Archives building would celebrate the state’s history in stone and mortar. After years of effort with legislators, in 2015 the General Assembly voted to authorize a new State Archives building to the tune of $25 million. The money was to come not from the state’s general budget, but from leasing cell towers on state-owned land around Indiana. In September 2016, Gov. Pence announced a deal with an Ohio telecommunications firm. But Indiana telecoms immediately cried foul, complaining that the deal was unfair. Renegotiations commenced, but the situation changed when Pence found himself elected vice president and whisked away to Washington, DC, leaving the matter to his successor. Governor Eric Holcomb promptly canceled the deal with the Ohio telecom and has suggested he is open to rebidding the cell-tower lease. He has suggested but not committed to asking the General Assembly to fund the State Archives building in the regular budget.
The hold-up on the cell-tower deal has halted architectural planning and negotiations with Indiana University, which had tentatively agreed to put the new State Archives building on the campus of Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) in downtown, just a few steps from the State House. Everything is on hold.
Legislators are currently in session and considering their options. Some are convinced that a new State Archives buildings is long overdue. Others fret over costs. Meanwhile, historians, archivists, genealogists, jurists, and other citizens are writing their legislators and governor to voice their frustration, tired of hearing that nothing is done to place the archives in a secure, safe, appropriate, and accessible facility that will serve citizens for years to come.
If you are an Indiana citizen, please consider writing your state legislator urging funding of a new State Archives building. If you are a researcher, please consider voicing your support for proper preservation of important records that document Indiana's history. Thank you.
Stephen E. Towne, President
Friends of the Indiana State Archives
Associate University Archivist
IUPUI Special Collections and Archives