This old School Building in Indiana has been converted to Senior Housing

Jerman School, Greensburg Indiana
Date added: January 18, 2024 Categories: Indiana School Multi Family
Front Elevation (2004)

Jerman School is the only historic public school building left in Greensburg, Indiana, and was the community's main high school from its construction in 1914 until 1955. It was the work of well-known Indianapolis architect Herbert Foltz.

Greensburg and its Schools

Colonel Thomas Hendricks, a veteran of the War of 1812, platted Greensburg in 1820. In 1822, with the formation of Decatur County, officials designated it the county seat. Hendricks offered his own log cabin for use as the courthouse for a time, while he and his family continued to live there. State officials contracted for the construction of the Michigan Road through town in the 1830s, as part of the Internal Improvements Act. Greensburg was a stagecoach stop on this vital, early route that connected the Ohio River port of Madison, then the largest town in Indiana, to the new capital in Indianapolis, and on to Lake Michigan. The local economy centered around farming, agriculture-related trades, goods, and services to cater to Michigan Road travelers and legal services relating to county government. By 1837, with 800 residents, Greensburg was incorporated as a town. The county had a population of 5,854 in 1830; during this decade, county officials built a separate courthouse on the square that Hendricks had provided for in his plat.

In the 1830s, Greensburg residents began their first efforts at public education. Using existing state legislation, the county trustee had raised enough funds to build a seminary. An act of the State Legislature authorized the construction in 1832 and the building, at the corner of Franklin and McKee Streets, opened to students in 1834. In 1840, Benjamin and Elizabeth Nyce began to conduct a private school in a small building on the later site of the county jail. In 1848, Miss Martha Anne Gageby opened a subscription school on Jackson Street. Another school was located in the basement of the Presbyterian church, begun in 1850 by Rev. David Monfort and Miss Mary Carter. In 1851, Mrs. Luther taught a one-room subscription school on West Washington Street.

Civil engineers for the Cincinnati, Indianapolis & St. Louis Railroad were planning a route from Cincinnati to Indianapolis in the 1850s; in 1853, workers built the line through Greensburg. No longer bound to road transportation, Greensburg began to attract industries. Grain mills and grain trading, and furniture makers are examples of natural resource-related industries that began the industrial trend in town, before the Civil War. In 1849, Decatur County had about 19,000 residents, by the mid-1860s, Greensburg had about 1,200 residents.

The first free school in Greensburg opened on July 20th, 1857, in the basement of the Baptist Church. The next grade met in the basement of the Presbyterian Church. In all, four teachers instructed the students. By 1861, the school was graded, but still met in the basement of the Baptist Church. Though intended for town families, several rural students attended school in Greensburg. The school board had the authority to assess their families six dollars per three-month term. During the Civil War, schools were closed for one year because of financial difficulties. The trustees had been hiring teachers a year before funds were available; new regulations prevented this practice and the shortfall resulted in the closing. Besides, with war raging, Greensburg's citizens were no doubt preoccupied. Troops drilled on the grounds of the new courthouse before going to war. Also, General John Morgan's Raid of southern Indiana came dangerously close to Greensburg.

Despite the difficulties of war, Greensburg was advancing its schools. In 1862, officials hired R.B. Thompson to build the town's first purpose-built grade school building on Monfort Street, midway between North and Washington Streets. Classes at the old seminary building were discontinued. The courthouse square was busy with new construction as well, after the Civil War. Stone and brick commercial blocks were lining the gracefully aging courthouse (which mysteriously acquired a tree on its bell-cast tower roof).

The issue of race in schools became an issue in Greensburg in the late 1860s. African-American families in Greensburg petitioned for a separate school, which was granted for a short time around 1870. Thereafter, African-American students attended the general schools of Greensburg. One of the graduates of the high school in the 19th Century was a son of one of the eight original families that issued the petition, and he went on to become a professor of mathematics at Hampton Institute. In 1876, school officials let contracts for a two-story high school adjacent to the first school. Greensburg now had a complete system of public education with specific facilities for graded, elementary, and high school. The community's free public schools would remain concentrated at this location until 1955.

As the turn of the century arrived, Greensburg was struggling to keep and attract new businesses. Initial advantages of proximity to the Ohio River, access to an early road, and railroads were not enough to compete with the sudden industrial growth of the gas belt region in the 1880s and '90s. Local leaders formed a Greensburg Improvement Association to recruit industries and firms to town in 1892. The population of Greensburg had reached 5,034 by 1900, and many were employed in manufacturing plants that were subject to relocation or fire, jeopardizing the growth of the town. The group was successful in luring a furniture plant, a carriage company, and Bromwell Wire Works to Greensburg at this time. Also, in 1907, an interurban line reached Greensburg, furthering its transportation ties.

Greensburg earned all the trappings of a modern American city during the 20th Century. The town square had movie houses. Carnegie funded a library in town. Fraternal lodges added new buildings downtown. Industries continued to come and go. New ones included a shirt-making mill and brush and broom plant. Greensburg's population grew more slowly, staying just over 5,000, with a pre-war peak of about 5, 700 in 1930. Adding to the social and cultural mix of the town, was the achievement of a new high school, Jerman School.

Jerman School

By 1912, the school trustees realized that the 1876 high school was inadequate, and they let contracts to build a new high school. The trustees hired Indianapolis architect Herbert Foltz to design the building. Pulse and Porter, a local contracting firm that had their own woodworking plant, won the contract to build the school for $65,410.09. The site was 300 block of West Walnut, formerly the site of the 1880s county children's home. Construction was almost complete in 1914, when classes opened for the winter term in the new school. The community named the school after Elmer C. Jerman, Greensburg's Superintendent of Schools from 1897 - 1903. It served continuously as Greensburg's only public high school until 1955, when population increases and shifts away from the city center caused officials to move the high school to a different building. Jerman became a junior high school. In 1971, Greensburg Community Schools built a new high school and shifted the junior high and elementary students within the remaining buildings in service. Jerman was utilized as an elementary school. In 2001, students in grade five were incorporated into three existing elementary schools; Billings, Rosemund, and Washington. Students in grade six were sent to the Greensburg Junior High School, creating a junior high school that served grades six through eight. The Jerman School's long career ended with this consolidation in 2001.

Architect Herbert Willard Foltz (1867-1946) was born in Indianapolis, graduated from Shortridge High School, and attended classes at Rose Polytechnic Institute (Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology) in Terre Haute, Indiana. He apprenticed with the Illinois Steel Company in Chicago for a time, and returned to Indianapolis to open his own practice in 1891. Foltz designed schools early in his career, including a new school for Irvington (George Washington Julian School, IPS #57) in 1903. The Irvington school design shows many of the innovations of school design in the 1900s, however, its traditional load-bearing masonry shell limited the amount of window space. Foltz' lack of school commissions in Indianapolis later in his career is explained by his two tenures as a commissioner for the Indianapolis Public School Board, first from 1917-1920, then again from 1918-1919. He did seek school commissions outside Indianapolis, and learned to adapt to the new concrete and steel framing innovations, both as evidenced by Jerman School. Like nearly all architects of his generation, Foltz was adept at many styles and building types. He designed residences in the Arts and Crafts style during his career, as well as Tudor Revival churches like First Meridian Heights Presbyterian Church on Central Avenue (with partners Osler and Thompson, 1928), and Irvington United Methodist Church (1926). After serving on the school board, Foltz did win the commission to design a new school for his alma mater, Shortridge, in 1928. Now a junior high, Shortridge High School shows many of the same design principles evident in Jerman School over a decade earlier, but this time cloaked in a Neo-Classical Revival style exterior.

In 2003, John Maxwell, Inc. rehabilitated the school into seniors-only apartments utilizing special tax credits from the Indiana Housing Finance Authority, and the 20% Federal Investment Tax Credit for historic structures. The spaces were modified and the building was returned to service.

Building Description

The Jerman School anchors the 2.0-acre property in the 300 block of West Walnut Street in Greensburg, Indiana. The building is comprised of two full stories set on a raised foundation. It occupies the eastern half of the block bordered by Sheridan Street on the north, Monfort Street on the east, Walnut Street on the south, and Ireland Street on the west. The main entrance faces Walnut Street. The distance from the public sidewalk to the entrance steps is approximately fifty feet and is flanked by an expansive lawn. Shrubbery accents the entrance and the two ends of the front facade. Two distinct entrances on the east and west elevations of the building enhance the school's formal design. The west elevation faces accessory parking while the east elevation opens up to a lawn area. A gymnasium and library/auditorium project from the center of the building on the north side as does the elevator tower constructed in 1985 to serve handicapped students. The rear entrance canopy extends in front of the tower and provides access to the connector between the original school and the recent addition. The roof is covered in rubber membrane material ("Duro Last" brand). In 2003, John Maxwell, Inc., working for Jerman Housing, LP, designed and implemented a certified rehabilitation of the school, including a small addition. The school now serves as elderly housing.

The school is constructed of masonry accented by limestone detailing. The building is supported by an internal steel skeleton. Utility-size brick is used for the seven-foot-high raised basement section while standard brick, laid in both common bond and in decorative patterns, is used above. The raised basement, resting on a limestone sill, is divided into four broad horizontal bands by recessed courses. An 8" limestone water-table molding separates the basement from the wall above. A simpler limestone band wraps the later additions at the same height and helps to tie them to the original construction visually.

The Walnut Street facade is divided into five sections comprised of two projecting end bays, two classroom wings, and the central entrance bay. The end bays are distinguished by panels of diaper pattern brickwork in frames of soldier-coursed raised header-edged brick anchored by limestone corner accents. Subtle changes in the brick coloration enhance the diaper work pattern. The classroom wings on either side of the entrance are characterized by grouped window units. Almost all original sash in the oldest section of the school has been replaced by aluminum units, however, opening sizes have remained the same. Windows are grouped into two sets of four windows that align vertically on each floor. The first-floor windows are framed by limestone string moldings above and below. Second-floor windows have a limestone string molding at the sill and limestone hood moldings above. The entrance bay is defined by a pair of wall buttresses distinguished by the limestone water table and string moldings already mentioned and by decorative brickwork with limestone accents. The bay is divided into thirds by two slender piers that rise through the third story. The original entry doors have been replaced by modern, metal doors and frames. The transom immediately above the doors contains a large, single light, however, the sidelights and sidelight transom sections appear to have retained their original multi-pane treatment. The entry is approached by a short flight of stairs and the entire entrance is set under a shallow Tudor-like limestone arch. The second-floor level of the entrance bay is comprised of a central, infilled, window opening and two narrow side openings. The third-floor level of this bay is filled with replacement window sash set in the original openings all topped by a tapered pediment-like limestone band. The wall buttresses extend into the parapet and flank a limestone panel decorated with a tassel motif. The upper floors of the original section of the building are surmounted by a limestone-accented, Tudor-style parapet that contains a diaper brick pattern on the central and classroom wings of the Walnut Street elevation. The parapets of the end cap bays lack the diaper work but have instead a central raised pediment with elongated limestone diamond surrounded by header brick with stone accents.

The east and west elevations are identical to each other in form but have differences in fenestration. Both elevations are characterized by a central projecting stair tower with a Tudor-style entrance approached by a broad stairway. While the entry doors and sidelights have been replaced by modern metal units, the original multi-pane transoms remain on both elevations. The upper, entrance tower window sash has been replaced as has the sash in classrooms. The west elevation has the grouped, four-window units on the first and second floors already described on the south elevation. This pattern is repeated on the south portion of the east elevation but three shorter, paired window units on the north portion break the symmetry. While the limestone water table wraps across both elevations, the string moldings found on the south elevation are not repeated. Instead, each window group is accented by a limestone sill and simple lintel. A limestone string mold sets off the parapet which on these elevations is not decorated by the diaper pattern found on the main facade. The central limestone accent panel in the parapet is carved with the tassel motif found above the south entrance.

The north elevation of the school is the most complex as a result of the additions made to the building over time. The opening in the original U-shaped plan was infilled with a one-story addition on a raised basement that projects beyond the wings of the original building. The basement level of this addition is treated like that of the original building; the roof level is lower than the adjacent wings. The upper floor is punctuated by five window openings with modern sash. Limestone sills and lintels accent each opening. In 2003 a separate, brick, rectangular unit was constructed in front of this addition and connected to the main mass by an elevated bridge. To the east of this, an elevator tower, added in 1985, projects from the original wing. The 2003 addition is visually tied to the rest of the building by a limestone water-table molding that divides the second floor from the first at the same height as the water-table on the rest of the building. Limestone accents at the roofline echo those in the parapet of the original school.

The interior of the school has been rehabilitated into senior housing, but it retains many key spaces and details from its long use as a school. The basic plan of the original portion of the school consists of a central former gymnasium area at the core, with a corridor surrounding it on the south, east, and west; and former classrooms around the perimeter of the building. Entering the south, east, or west entrances of the school brings the visitor to a small vestibule, clad with tiled wainscot, plaster walls, and terrazzo flooring. Terrazzo remains throughout all stairwell areas, but has been carpeted in public corridors. From the vestibule, you would proceed either down a half set of Stairs to the first (lower) floor or up a half set of stairs to the second floor. At either the east or west stairs, one can reach the third floor. The main entrance stairs, however, reach only the first and second levels.

The main entrance has distinctive finishes and treatments. Here, the tiled wainscot in the vestibule is carried through along the stairs to the second floor and terminates at decorative paneled pilasters. The stair space is covered by a plaster shallow pointed arch barrel vault that skews to follow the staircase slope as it rises. Painted wood ribs tied to a painted wood cornice mold divide the vault into a grid. At the stair landing on the second floor, the vault terminates and a lower pointed arch with freestanding spandrels faces each hallway direction. Engaged square pilasters/columns with simple cornice mold capitals meet each side of the arches at the wall corners. Each arch has a simple archivolt molding with ribbed intrados. A recessed shallow groin vault with a suspended light fixture in the center fills the crossing of the arches.

From this crossing, the corridor spans over ten feet in width and runs the length of the building. Visitors can proceed either east or west toward the flanking entries and find classroom space toward the outside walls (now apartment units as of the 2003 rehabilitation) to the south. Along each corridor, milk glass schoolhouse fixtures are suspended from the ceiling to recreate the original feeling of the building. Each apartment utilizes the original classroom entrance, a simple wood frame set into plaster reveals, with a six-light transom above it. The doors are part of the 2003 rehabilitation and provide privacy and security to tenants. The original doors were removed in 1978. Each classroom entrance has a small, segmental barrel vaulted foyer area inside it, retained as part of the rehabilitation. Apartment interiors utilize many of the original classroom closet spaces. High classroom ceilings, covered in the original stamped metalwork, remain in place in nearly 50% of the former classroom spaces. Apartments were divided at window mullions, so that no division is apparent from the exterior.

On the north wall of the central corridor are two entrances to the former auditorium/library space. Each is a wide doorway with wood moldings and multi-paned transoms, set into a radius-edged plaster reveal. The auditorium/library features a barrel vault roof structure that rises over fifteen feet above the outside walls and is adorned with a gridded skylight at either end. At some point in its history, school officials order the skylights to be boarded shut and roofed over, likely due to water infiltration. From inside the space, however, the original interior skylight grid remains intact. The auditorium was broken down into four apartment units in 2003. These are accessed through the large, transomed entrances. Within each entrance area to the former auditorium, are now small foyers where the rise of the vaulted ceiling begins (the roof centerline being parallel to the main corridor). These foyers have new walls with doors to the various units. Each bot in the former gym area still has the slope of the vaulted ceiling, and the original skylight grids.

The third floor reflects much of the same qualities as found on the second floor. The original east-west corridor is intact. This hallway differs from the others; since the central auditorium roof is below this floor, banks of windows light the hall from the north at the center. Each apartment unit has the original transomed doorway, and, on the interior of the room, the small vaulted foyer, as on the first floor.

The first floor or lower level area comprised larger spaces that housed the cafeteria, kitchen, a faculty lounge, a gymnasium, locker rooms, an art classroom, and the central heating/cooling plant. This level currently includes an entry lobby, resident's lounge, manager's office, and apartment units. Various storage spaces are located throughout the first floor. Unlike the plaster walls on the other floors, walls here are of glazed brick. Ceiling heights are lower, and the long central corridor is non-existent. The main corridor space was originally taken up with electrical, mechanical, and plumbing support. Glazed brick walls remain on all original walls throughout these areas, along with pressed metal ceilings, and even now-functionless ceiling hot water radiators. At the core of this level, dividing the west wing from east wing, once stood a massive, ten-foot diameter air circulation fan and associated mechanical systems. In 2003, the HVAC systems throughout the building were changed, and the fan and its motor became unnecessary. In all, this room included 900 square feet that were changed into an activity room, hair salon, accessory support space, and a corridor to connect to the side entrance stairwells. The north end of the building on the first floor of the school was occupied by a large space used as the gymnasium. In 2003, this was transformed into dwelling units with many historic features, such as blackboards and scoreboards, still in place. The floor was raised in the gym to match the level in the rest of first floor, but, glazed brick walls and pressed metal ceilings still remain in the various apartment units.

Jerman School, Greensburg Indiana Front/South Elevation (2004)
Front/South Elevation (2004)

Jerman School, Greensburg Indiana Front, central entrance, flanked by piers with limestone detail (2004)
Front, central entrance, flanked by piers with limestone detail (2004)

Jerman School, Greensburg Indiana Parapet over central entrance (2004)
Parapet over central entrance (2004)

Jerman School, Greensburg Indiana Front Elevation (2004)
Front Elevation (2004)

Jerman School, Greensburg Indiana Front, western corner (2004)
Front, western corner (2004)

Jerman School, Greensburg Indiana West Elevation (2004)
West Elevation (2004)

Jerman School, Greensburg Indiana Northeast corner elevation (2004)
Northeast corner elevation (2004)

Jerman School, Greensburg Indiana Northeast corner elevation (2004)
Northeast corner elevation (2004)

Jerman School, Greensburg Indiana Northeast corner elevation (2004)
Northeast corner elevation (2004)

Jerman School, Greensburg Indiana Northeast corner elevation (2004)
Northeast corner elevation (2004)

Jerman School, Greensburg Indiana North elevation breezeway (2004)
North elevation breezeway (2004)

Jerman School, Greensburg Indiana Northeast elevation (2004)
Northeast elevation (2004)

Jerman School, Greensburg Indiana Northeast elevation (2004)
Northeast elevation (2004)

Jerman School, Greensburg Indiana North elevation entry (2004)
North elevation entry (2004)