Residents in Jackson County are looking for ways to revitalize a long-vacant gymnasium that has played a major part in Indiana’s rich basketball heritage. The James M. Shields Memorial Gymnasium in Seymour was placed on Indiana Landmarks’ 10 Most Endangered List for 2021. “This was really the lifeblood of this community in terms of recreation and just entertainment for small down Indiana,” said Greg Sekula, director of the southern regional office for Indiana Landmarks.
The gym was built in 1941 and served as the home of the Seymour Owls until 1970, though the district continued to use the building until 1981. The building was renovated by the Indiana Bible College, but then fell into disrepair when the school moved to Indianapolis.
Indiana Landmarks says a group of local businessmen acquired the property in 1996 and demolished the adjacent school building. Some repairs have been made to the gym’s roof, but much more work needs to be done.
Former Congressman Baron Hill was a player on Seymour’s basketball team and played in the final game held at the gym in 1970. He says not much has changed in the building, which still has the original hardwood court.
“It’s a little dirtier now and it has graffiti on the walls and it doesn’t have that pristine look that it had when I was playing basketball, but it’s still the same gym. The fundamentals are all still here in place,” said Hill.
Indiana Landmarks says the building sits within the Walnut Street Historic District, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The gym is surrounded by open land that could be used for residential development in addition to a redevelopment of the building as a community center or event center.
“If we can do something to save this place, I think it would be great not only for nostalgic guys like me but for the community as a whole because everybody can understand that there is a connection here with everybody in our community, and preserving this place preserves the connection that we have to this place. Yes, I did serve in Congress and I traveled all over the world, but there’s not place like home, and there’s no place like the memories I have here.”