New owner aims to transform historic Vincennes building to hospice
The owner of a 140-year-old landmark in Indiana’s oldest city is looking for help in bringing the building back to life. The Knox County Poor Asylum was built exclusively for people who didn’t fit into the social norms of the 19th century, but has sat vacant since 2004. The building was included on Indiana Landmarks’ 10 Most Endangered list for 2022.
Around INdiana Reporter Mary-Rachel Redman spotlighted the site’s history, and one man’s efforts to revive it, in our Endangered INdiana series.
All 92 Indiana counties created poor farms between 1831 and 1860, according to Indiana landmarks. The building on the outskirts of Vincennes, surrounded by hundreds of acres of farmland, was built in 1882 to replace an older facility and has the grandeur of an old English estate.
“[It’s an] architecturally incredible structure built at a grand scale in a design that’s a little more unique for historic County homes in the state,” said Tommy Kleckner, director of Indiana Landmarks’ western regional office. “But the the structure itself embodies local heritage [and] was built to serve the less fortunate of Knox County area.”
The Knox County Poor Asylum housed a variety of individuals who would work in exchange for housing and food. Kleckner said the county bought 160 acres at the site, which allowed the poor asylum to become self-sufficient.
“They were farming. They were raising food that was was consumed by the residents,” he said.
The building was designed by Evansville architect Joseph A. Frick, who combined elements of Italianate and Greek Revival styles, according to Indiana Landmarks. It features a three-part design that includes a central pavilion for the superintendent’s residence and common meeting spaces flanked by wings for men’s and women’s living quarters.
The county operated the facility until 1985 and transferred ownership in 2020 to a nonprofit looking to transform it into a hospice facility. Owner Andy Barmes said the building is a perfect fit, but a lot of rehabilitation needs to be done.
“The bottom line is we need a facility to open up the hospice. Whether we build from ground up brand new, which is very expensive, or whether we rehab this historic building, it would be fantastic for this community,” said Barmes. “We get the best of both worlds.”
Indiana Landmarks said without the resources to make necessary repairs, the building faces demolition by neglect. But Barmes is hopeful that restoration will happen.
“It’ll be done,” he said. “[It’s] not up to me. I know it sounds kind of hokey, but it’s the honest truth. If God wants this building saved, he can save it.”