Benton History 1910

Benton History 1910

PAGES 176 – 186

By George D. Eaton, Superintendent.

Captain Thomas Drummond --- Professor Samuel Bacon, First Principal --- College formally opened at Vinton --- Two Wings Added --- “Tom” Drummond Again --- “Yes; It Is Worth It All” --- Trustees To Be Remembered --- Present Organization of The College --- Music Department --- Industrial Training --- Ophthalmic Hospital In Operation--- Gymnasium Under Way

The official title of this institution, which, conducted under the supervision of the state of Iowa for more than fifty-seven years, has enjoyed a continuous record of useful and beneficent advancement, indicates that its object is, primarily, of an educational nature. Those of both sexes are advanced virtually to a university curriculum, and they are also taught practical occupations which are in general demand, as well as instrumental and vocal music in all its forms. Some who are wholly bereft of proper guardianship in the early period of their lives thus enjoy twelve years of education, training and well-considered guidance. These advantages are free to every person who is blind, or only partly afflicted, provided he is a resident of the state and of suitable school age and mental capacity. If the guardians or friends are able, they are expected to pay traveling expenses and furnish clothing: if not, such expenses are borne by the county from which the pupil comes. This school opens September 1st and closes the last Friday in the following May. For the support of the College for the Blind the state appropriates twenty-two dollars per capita per month, during nine months of each year, the same amount allowed the School for the Deaf at Council Bluffs.


The College for the Blind at Vinton has reached its present status only after earnest efforts on the part of both the state and the local management extending, as stated, over more than half a century. In October, 1910, it will have been located at that point for forty-eight years, and the large mural tablet fronting the main entrance of the principal building briefly tells the story of Captain Thomas Drummond’s life, to whose efforts the removal of the institution from Iowa City is due.

Captain Thomas Drummond
Fifth Cavalry. U.S.A.
Born Brooks County, Virginia, May 9, 1832
Edited the Vinton Eagle. 1857-60
Member Iowa House of Representatives, 1858
State Senate. 1860
He secured the establishment of this College.
Wounded at the Battle of Five Forks, April 1, 1865
Died the following day.


Prior to Captain Drummond’s introduction of the bill in the lower house of the Iowa Legislature, which provided for the removal of the Asylum for the Blind from Iowa City to Vinton, the institution had passed through nearly six years of trying times. In August, 1852, Professor Samuel Bacon, who had lost his sight at the age of eleven, been educated in the Institution for the Blind at Columbus and at Kenyon College, and, in his early manhood established an institution for the afflicted at Jacksonville, Illinois, founded a similar Institution for the Instruction of the Blind at Keokuk. By act of the general assembly, approved January 18, 1853, it was called the Asylum for the Blind and located at Iowa City. On the 4th of April it was opened for the reception of pupils, free to all the blind of the state. The board of trustees retained Professor Bacon as principal, and appointed T. J. McGittigen as teacher of music and Mrs. Sara K. Bacon as matron. Twenty-three pupils were admitted during the first term. In his first report the worthy principal suggested that the name be changed to that of Institution for the Instruction of the Blind, which was done in 1855, when the general assembly made an annual appropriation of fifty-five dollars per quarter for each pupil. This was subsequently changed to three thousand dollars per annum, with a charge of twenty-five dollars as an admission fee for each pupil, which, with the amounts realized from the sale of articles manufactured by the scholars, met the expenses of the institution during Mr. Bacon’s administration, which closed in January, 1862. The professor was both a good manager and a fine scholar, and stories relating to his remarkable mathematical gifts are told by old residents to this day; and they learned both to thoroughly love and admire his character.


Rev. Orlando Clarke succeeded Professor Bacon as principal, and in the following October (1862) the state board of trustees formally opened the institution at Vinton with twenty-four pupils. The building, which still stands as the central portion of the main college structure, is of limestone, one hundred and seventy feet in dimension, three stories and basement.

In August, 1864, when a new board of trustees was appointed by the legislature, Rev. Reed Wilkinson was elected principal, at which time sixty-five pupils were enrolled and each of the three departments of music, literature and mechanical industries was under the instruction of two teachers; there were also a matron and attending physician.

Mr. Wilkinson resigned in June, 1867, and General James L. Geddes was appointed in his place during the following September. A brave officer of the Civil War, he was somewhat lacking in executive and administrative ability, and at his retirement in September, 1869, was succeeded by Professor S. A. Knapp.

In the succeeding month the south wing of the main building was completed, and in November, 1873, the north wing was finished. Professor Knapp, who is considered one of the ablest principals who ever presided over the active affairs of the institution, resigned his position July 1, 1875, after which Rev. Orlando Clarke returned to the superintendency, but died while in office, April 2, 1876. John B. Parmalee, who had been assistant principal, succeeded, but resigned in July, 1877, and was followed by Rev. Robert Carothers. At that time the institution had one hundred and thirty-five pupils, as against twenty-three when it was first opened at Vinton. Mr. Carothers was followed by T. F. McCune, who was superintendent, or principal, for a period of thirty years, and was followed by Professor J. E. Vance, who resigned as superintendent of the Linn county schools in July, 1906, in order to accept his call to the College for the Blind. George D. Eaton, the present incumbent, succeeded Mr. Vance in August, 1908.


In any review of the history of the College for the Blind the name of Tom Drummond, as he was affectionately called by his hosts of friends, appears uppermost, and when his memorial tablet was unveiled May 26, 1904, there were numerous evidences that the old-time feeling toward him and his good work was still as strong as when he was present in the flesh. It was in the early ‘50’s that he came into the west and, as a young man, settled at Vinton. A natural politician and public speaker, witty and yet straightforward and practical, he was soon in active demand at all Republican gatherings and became one of the most popular and trusted men in the county. Sympathetic, as well as social, he enthusiastically espoused the cause of the weak and unfortunate, and his able editorship of the Vinton Eagle brought him the prominence which enabled him to secure election to both hoses of the state legislature and formulate legislation which resulted in the broad and firm establishment of the College for the Blind. He had only fairly completed his task in the state senate, when he joined the first company raised for the support of the Union in Benton county, and went to the front with all the enthusiasm of his ardent nature and Virginia antecedents.


Although of southern birth, Captain Drummond was of Abolitionist parentage, and was a soldier of moral convictions and fortitude. In December, 1861, he was appointed lieutenant colonel of the Fourth Iowa Cavalry: served as such in Arkansas and Tennessee, and in June, 1862, resigned and was transferred to the Fifth Cavalry operating with the Army of the Potomac. He participated in the battle of South Mountain and Antietam; was made captain July, 17, 1862, and August 3, 1863, provost marshal of a cavalry corps, with the rank of colonel. Rejoined his regiment at Winchester, Virginia, he was in command until the close of the Richmond campaign in the following February. He was also in command between Dinwiddie Court House and the battle of Five Forks, being mortally wounded at the latter engagement, April 1, 1865. He died at eight o’clock in the morning of the next day, and a few moments before his manly advance into the future life chaplain of his regiment asked him if he was willing to give his life for his country. “Yes,” he answered with one of his bright smiles, which died calmly on his pale lips --- “Yes; it is worth it all.”


Among the trustees whose names are inseparable connected with the progress of the College for the Blind should be gratefully mentioned those of Samuel H. Watson, Jacob Springer, Judge C. H. Conklin and Hon. Joseph Dysart. Mr. Watson came to Vinton from West Virginia, when a young man, locating there in 1857, organizing the First National Bank of that city and being engaged in the banking business continuously until his death August 7, 1895. He was a trustee and treasurer of the college from 1869 to 1888, and it was largely due to his faithfulness to its interests and his business ability that it was financed into a substantial condition.

Hon. Jacob Springer, who is so widely known throughout Benton county, had served as a trustee for twenty-five years when he retired June 30, 1898. Not only had he given freely of his time and means in furtherance of the institution, but his home was always open to any specially severe cases of suffering or misfortune which required a more than usual amount of attention.

As will appear in their sketches published elsewhere, Judge C. H. Conklin and Hon. Joseph Dysart were among the most brilliant and prominent professional and public men of the county and state.

Of the teachers early connected with the College for the Blind, who afterward attained high standing in the community, are instanced M. L. Ward, who is now a leading California lawyer, and C. O. Harrington, who became a state trustee and a prominent banker.


As at present organized, under the superintendency of Mr. Eaton, the College for the Blind embraces the administrative, financial, supervisory, medical, nursing, literary, musical and industrial departments.

The literary or educational department, provides for the regular courses of study covering the eight grades of the common branches and the four high school work, and embraces the library of over six thousand volumes, divided into point print, for those who are blind, and the ink print, for pupils of defective sight. The college is well supplied with apparatus for the teaching of physical science, and a number of typewriters are also furnished for practice and use.


Strictly speaking, the music department falls under the head of educational, and the training and culture in this line are most important features of the curriculum. Two teachers are provided for the piano, pipe organ, vocal music and the theory of music; and another instructor teachers the smaller instruments, such as the violin, flute, and other orchestral and band pieces. A high grade pipe organ is installed in the assembly room, which is a commodious hall, furnished with taste; and the eighteen pianos, twenty-six violins and the flutes, clarinets, cornets and other brass and string instruments, provide a sufficient supplies of means for the gratification of all musical tastes—and very few of the blind pupils are not thus inclined, one hundred of the total hone hundred and seventy-five being enrolled in the musical department.

In this connection is also the room set aside for the teaching of piano tuning, although this course is part of the industrial division. A competent graduate of the college is in charge of this work and his blind pupils have before them for practical demonstration the works of a number of instruments, which are tuned and unturned until proficiency in the trade, or profession, is attained. In the literary course proper some one hundred and fifty pupils are enrolled.


In the industrial department, which occupies a separate building, students of both sexes work at cane seating and netting. There is also a broom factory, in operation during a portion of the year, while the grounds give ample opportunity to indulge in gardening during the seasonable months. The girls devote themselves more especially to fancy work, rag carpets and bead work, the sale of these articles and of those turned out generally by the industrial department, being a considerable source of revenue.

The operations of the college are conducted by competent help and the kitchen, bakery and laundry are models of neatness and system. The laundry is conducted in a two-story brick building and is supplied with all the latest machinery and apparatus found in the metropolitan establishment.


A neat and convenient hospital building has been completed within late years for the special accommodation of pupils who undergo ophthalmic operations at the skillful hands of the visiting surgeon, Dr. L. W. Dean, of the Iowa University. Many of the students have also been greatly benefitted by the daily treatments carried out by the trained nurses under his direction. These operations and treatments are often beyond the reach of students at their homes, but constitute a gift which the state gladly accords them. Many of the students have also been fitted with artificial eyes and glasses. All troubles of the eye are treated under the direction of Dr. Dean, while the general health of the institution is conserved by Dr. C. C. Griffin, one of the truest friends the college has ever had.


The general assembly of 1908 appropriated twelve thousand dollars for the building of a new gymnasium, which, with the funds already on hand will make almost fifteen thousand dollars. This new gymnasium will be begun in the spring, and it is expected that it will be finished by the fall of 1910. With a well equipped gymnasium and a competent director of physical training, much good can be done to improve the physical condition of the blind.


In the history of the Iowa College for the Blind, due credit has been given to Professor S. A. Knapp for his fine labors both in the line of instruction and business which had such an impact bearing on the early development of that institution. After leaving the College of the Blind, he organized the Farmers’ Loan and Trust Company of Vinton, which, under his honest and able management, became a strong institution. He became the owner of several large farms, and successfully raised considerable blooded stock. In connection with these interests he also became managing editor of the Western Stock and Farm Journal, published at Cedar Rapids.

Professor Knapp was a highly educated man of quite varied and noteworthy accomplishments. He was a native of Essex county, New York; graduated from Union College, Schnectady, and afterward went to Fort Edwards, where for seven years he was associated with Dr. King in the management of the Fort Edwards institute. He then founded and was proprietor of the Ripley Female College at Poultney, Vermont, which remained under his management until 1866, when a change of climate was advised by his physician. In this search for health he came to Vinton, where the first two years of his residence were spent as preacher in the Methodist church, after which he was chosen principal of the Iowa College for the Blind.


Professor Thomas F. McCune, whose death occurred at Vinton, November 6, 1907, was for nearly thirty identified with the College for the Blind, both as teacher and superintendent. His service in the former capacity commenced in 1877, the year after his graduation from college at Washington, Pennsylvania, and he was head of the College for the Blind from 1883 until his retirement in July, 1906.


Professor George W. Tannehill, who died at his home in Vinton, March 23, 1909, was professor of mathematics at the State College for the Blind for nearly fifty-four years. He had been blind himself from his twenty-second year and devoted his life to the education of those similarly affected, resigning his position at the college only about a month before his death. Everybody in Vinton knew him, honored him, loved him and wondered at his remarkable mental gifts. He at one time sat in the city council and it never had a more capable or industrious member