News From 1866

Wednesday, March 21, 1866


Vinton, Benton Co., Iowa,
Feb. 17th, 1866.

     Ed. Record:—Believing that few of your readers may be thoroughly posted in relation to the Blind Asylum in our State, I will, with your permission, occupy a little of your space in attempt to interest them on this subject.

     Hon. H. C. Henderson, of Marshall county, on the part of the Senate, Hon. Cicero Close, of Black Hawk county, and your humble servent on the part of the House of Representatives, were appointed a committee to visit the Institution and report the result of our investigation to our respective Houses.

     The Asylum is located at the beautiful town of Vinton, the county seat of Benton county. On our arrival here, we were very cordially received by the Rev. Reed Wilkinson, the kind and gentlemanly Superintendent of the Asylum. James Chapin, Esq. Treasurer to the Institution, and who is the present District Clirk of Benton county and a gentleman of genial qualities, and Dr. Lathrop, who is physician to the Asylum, and who, by the way, is every inch a man worthy and well qualified.

     The plat of ground owned by the State on which the buildings stand, consist of forty acres in a square, pleasantly located on a rising ground, a little South east of and overlooking the entire village, nestled behind a grove on the banks of the Cedar river. The main building is of stone, about sixty by one hundred feet four stories high, and conveniently divided into large airy rooms and halls suited to the purposes for which they are intended.

     The whole is surmounted by a neat cupola, all in substantial modern style and reflects much credit on the architect who had charge of its construction, Mr. Finkbine, of Iowa City.—The building in which is carried on the manufacturing of is a plain brick structure, two stories high, about thirty by fifty feet.

     The other out buildings are of cheaper quality and will soon need to be replaced by those of a more permanent character. The principal crop raised, besides garden vegetables, is broom corn. The manufacture of brooms being now the principal business of the male inmates of the Asylum.

     The overseer, or rather the foreman of the shop department, (he cannot properly be called an overseer, as he has been entirely blind for twenty-three years,) is Mr. John Cisna, a very intelligent gentleman, and seems to enjoy himself in his capacity as tutor to the blind, though he is the blind leading the blind, as though his windows had never been darkened. His success in imparting instruction to his blind pupils is truly wonderful. I will give you a specimen.—Wm thompson, of Jefferson county, came into the Asylum in September last, is 40 years of age, entirely blind did not believe it was possible for him to learn to do any kind of work but when convinced by the experiment that his mind and hands could be successfully employed, and thereby be enabled to relieve himself of that feeling of dependancy which must so much depress a man of spirit and energy, his enthusiasm knew no bounds and he occasionally breaks out in poetry. The following is a specimen; (Then follow the verses we published a few weeks since—Ed. Eagle)

     There are at the present time fifty-six pupils in the Asylum, more than half of whom are men and boys.—Nearly all of these boys and men are unde the instruction of Mr. Cisna, in the mechanical department.

     Mrs. Jose P. Cisna, wife of John Cisna, also entirely blind, is employed as a teacher of music, both vocal and instrumental, and I assure you that she seems to be as much at home with her piano as though she had been a pianist.

     Prof. Jacob Niermeyer, also totally blind has charge of the musical department assisted by Mrs. Cisna.

     His bands of stringed and brass instruments are seldom equaled. Their time is perfect, their execution is spiced with variety and promptness, that would be thought creditable to a Boston Academy.

     In the vocal department, there has been attained a high degree of perfection, and when one listens to this whole household of blind singers, as they with a will, sing the old doxology, praise God from whom all blessings flow, to the tune of Old Hundred, if it will not reach the finer feelings of his nature, he must be of adamant, or scarred as with a hot iron.

     The female pupils are also taught to employ themselves usefully, some of them being able to cut and make their dresses very tastefully.

     They are taught to manufacture bead work. Many of them are able to construct beautiful work baskets and bags, and various other articles, both ornamental and necessary. The taste displayed in arranging the different colored beads is truly wonderful.—This department is superintended by Miss A. M. Ritgers, aged twenty-three, and has been blind fourteen years. Her success in teaching the manufacture of bead work is entirely beyond my comprehension. How it is done can not be told by the uninitiated.

     All the sciences usually taught in institutions of learning are taught here, including physiology, mental philosophy, geometry, and the theory of surveying.

     Mr. Wilkinson is assisted by his very estimable lady, and Miss Amelia Butler, in teaching these sciences, all exceedingly well qualified for the very responsible positions they occupy.—Religious exercises are held every morning during the week at 8 o’clock and on Sabbath at 3 o’clock, P.M.

     The pupils generally attend church on the Sabbath in town, choosing their own denominations.

     The arduous duties of Matron are preformed by Mrs. N. A. Marton, who possesses in an eminent degree, the requisite qualifications to enable her to anticipate and provide for the wants of the household. Are they sick, her tender sympathy is confidently sought and cheerfully extended. Are they in trouble, however trifling or severe, she is expected to be able to calm the trouble waters, and bring order out of confusion—and she can do it. Her precepts are listened to with attention, and her example has a salutary influence over all.—Just for a moment think of a family fifty-six in number, the most of them between the ages of 7 and 20 years, and all blind at that. Each one requiring constant care on the part of the person to whom they look for direction, just as much and more than an ordinary family of children. Most not the amount of discretion, fortitude and patience requisite to the performance of the duties of such a position be very great! And yet Mrs. Morton succeeds in accomplishing all this with little apparent effort.

     To the efforts of Mr. Wilkinson, the efficient Superintendent of the Asylum, is due a very large share of the credit for brining this institution up to so high a standard compared with similar institutions of other states. Every department is under his eye. Order and system prevail from the minutest to the most important particular.

     As a disciplinarian, judging from the attainments of his pupils, he has few equals, and his efforts to raise the moral tone of the Institution have been crowned with success. Truly in Mr. Wilkinson and his lady, these unfortunates have been blessed with kind and able friends, and the people of the State, have reason to congratulate themselves that this Institution was consigned to their care, and that experience has shown the choice of superintends eminently a favorable one.

     In behalf of the Blind Asylum, let me add, it needs but to be visited to convince one of its great importance and of the fact that our blind children whether rich or poor, have claims upon the liberality of the State that can not be repudiated. Our patronage should be cheerfully extended, not grudgingly, as though we were bestowing a charity on a subject of doubtful consideration or worth, but with a generous hand as we would care for our children. They are the children of the State, and as such let them be treated with parental tendernes.

D. G. Goodrich