Fort Benjamin Harrison (Hoosier History)
Named after the 23rd US President (and resident of Indianapolis), this fort was completed in 1908 and remained in operation until 1991. Since then the buildings and grounds make up Fort Harrison State Park. The fort's most active moments came during both world wars. An historical marker was located on Otis Avenue between Hess and Lawton Roads, however, it no longer stands. In 1918, World War I came to an end and solders returned home from Europe. But when they case back, so did the spanish flu. As they constantly moved from base to base, the flu began to grow in different cities. It hit Indiana the hardest in October that same year. The state managed to fight the virus, having one of the lowest per capita rates in the nation at 290 per 100,000 people.
Backstory and Context
Land was purchased in 1903, with the post being officially named for President Harrison in honor of Indianapolis being his hometown. In 1901, former President Benjamin Harrison's son Russell through lobbying efforts sold a nearby U.S. Arsenal where the U.S. Army used the money to buy land where the fort is located today.
During the end of the first World War, the spanish flu crept its way towards America and eventually to Indiana via Fort Benjamin Harrison. Not much was know about this virus or how hot spread. A cure or vaccine had not been invented yet to fight it. This made it all the more scarier. Merchants and vendors sold false hope through vapor creams, sore throat cures, and tonics. None of these had been backed by research and were labeled as home remedies.
The city of Indianapolis, along with Marion County, worked actively to slow the spread of this flu. They shit down everything. Streetcars were not allowed on public roads and buildings and parks were closed. Anyone who was thought to have the virus was taken off the street. The police even enforced a no spitting law. Together the city fought the spanish flu and drove it out. After months of this, the city reopened. People flocked to the streets to celebrate.
Fort Benjamin Harrison saw its highest level of activity during World War I and World War II. The Fort Benjamin Harrison Reception Center opened in 1941 and was the largest reception center in the United States by 1943.
Within Fort Harrison was Camp Glenn, named in honor of Major General Edwin Forbes Glenn, who had served as Fort Harrison's commandant from 1912–1913, and who commanded the officer training that began at his camps in 1916. Camp Glenn was a Citizens Military Training Camp (CMTC) that was also used to house Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) workers. When the United States reestablished the Military Police Corps in 1941, an MP school was established at Camp Glenn and was operation by early 1942. The area was also used to detain Italian and German prisoners of war in 1944 and 1945.
In 1947, the Army declared Fort Harrison to be surplus property, but declined to completely close the fort due to a lack of adequate training space for the Indiana National Guard. From 1948 to 1950, the post functioned as Benjamin Harrison Air Force Base. The Tenth Air Force was moved from Omaha, Nebraska and headquartered at Schoen Field on Fort Harrison, as well as Stout Army Air Field in Indianapolis. Overcrowding and inadequate facilities soon forced the 10th Air Force to move to Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Michigan, and the Army reacquired control of Fort Benjamin Harrison.
The U.S. Army Finance School was located at Fort Benjamin Harrison during the 1960s and '70s. The Interservice Postal School was located at Fort Benjamin Harrison in the 1970s under the US Army Institute of Administration (USAIA), and was staffed by instructors from all four services. It moved to Fort Jackson in South Carolina in 1995.
Beginning in 1965, it was also home of the Defense Information School (DINFOS). This was staffed by enlisted personnel and officers from all branches of the US military along with members of allied military personnel. DINFOS trained service members and Department of Defense employees to become journalists in print, radio, television, and photography, as well as training them in advanced supervisory roles in editing, public affairs, and media and community relations. In 1995, DINFOS moved to Fort Meade, Maryland.
With the movement and creation of a number of training classes in financial, clerical and information technology (most notably the Programmer/Analyst Course and the Computer Machine Operator Course) the fort was given the derisive moniker "Uncle Ben's Rest Home" implying that no real military training took place there. The Fort was the site of the Athletes' Villages for the 1987 Pan American Games. New barracks were built to house the athletes during the games. After the games, these barracks were used to house military students attending courses at Fort Harrison. The barracks were torn down a few years after the post was closed.
Fort Benjamin Harrison was closed as part of the 1991 Base Realignment and Closure Commission. The site of the base has since been redeveloped, and includes residential neighborhoods, a golf course, and is the site of Fort Harrison State Park.
Although the base has officially been inactivated, there is still a very significant military presence in the area. The Defense Finance and Accounting Service—Indianapolis, several U.S. Army Reserve, Indiana National Guard units, the United States Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS) a post exchange and commissary are still located at the former post.
Since 1999, the American Legion has had its John H. Geiger Operations Center located at Fort Harrison. The center houses the Membership Services staff to maintain the organization's membership database, and provide direct-marketing services for membership renewal and new-member acquisition. It also houses the Emblem Sales Division which provides Legion merchandise, and the Fundraising Division which draws support for both national and department-level programs.
On May 29, 2009, the Indiana National Guard held a ground-breaking ceremony for a new facility to be erected at Fort Benjamin Harrison, the Lawrence Readiness Training Center, which opened in 2011. The facility will house four units, including the 76th Brigade Combat Team headquarters. The Veterans of Foreign Wars maintains its headquarters for the Department of Indiana on the site at 9555 E. 59th Street.
Fort Benjamin Harrison Historic District was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1995. The district encompasses 100 contributing buildings, 1 contributing site (Parade Grounds), and 3 contributing structures (Water Tower, Kent Ave. Bridge, Bandstand). It includes one and two-story, Colonial Revival style brick buildings that were part of the original fort complex. They include residential and administrative buildings, service / utility buildings, and the hospital unit.
Bower, Stephen E. (1995). The American Army In The Heartland. A History of Fort Benjamin Harrison 1903-1995. Indianapolis: Indiana Creative Arts.
"Fort Benjamin Harrison". Indystar.com.
"Timeline : Fort Benjamin Harrison". www.IndianaMilitary.org.
The Story of Camp Glenn National Historic District (pamphlet). Museum Collection and Archives, Fort Harrison State Park, Indianapolis, Indiana: Indiana Department of Natural Resources: Division of State Parks and Reservoirs.
Staggs, Brad (10 March 2011). "76th IBCT prepares to move to Lawrence". Indiana Guardsman. The 76th IBCT was based out of Tyndall Armory in Indianapolis from 1969 to 2010.
"Groundbreaking Planned For New National Guard Armory". Inside Indiana Business. 2009-05-28.
"Indiana State Historic Architectural and Archaeological Research Database (SHAARD)" (Searchable database). Department of Natural Resources, Division of Historic Preservation and Archaeology. Note: This includes Jare R. Cardinal and David R. Bush (December 1990). "National Register of Historic Places Inventory Nomination Form: Fort Benjamin Harrison Historic District" (PDF). Site map, and Accompanying photographs.
Mitchell, Dawn. "Here's how Indianapolis escaped the 1918 Spanish flu with one of the lowest death rates." IndyStar (Indianapolis) January 31st 2018. .