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Borden Institute

Borden (New Providence), Indiana



The best sources of information are James C. Standiford’s 1933 Butler University thesis A History of Borden Institute and “The Borden Legacy” from The Indiana Historian of 1995.  The image of William W. Borden (right) is from Baird's History of Clark County, Indiana


After making his fortune as part owner of a silver mine in Colorado, William W. Borden returned to New Providence and created Borden Institute, a “coeducational school primarily to serve children of southern Indiana farmers. The low-cost, progressive program included teacher preparation and laboratory-based scientific studies.”


In 1886 the Indianapolis Journal reported an enrollment of “about fifty male and female” students.  By 1900 The Indianian reported that Borden Institute enrolled “about two hundred students during the year.”  Standiford lists names of 707 alumni.


Borden Institute took students who had completed the equivalent of fifth grade.  There were four courses: preparatory, teachers, scientific, and commercial. Ultimately Borden Institute offered both Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Arts degrees.


Additional courses were added to meet the needs of the community.  All students were welcome to take courses in music.  To assist those who wanted to read for law, Borden added a law course.  And since very few towns had high schools, Borden Institute developed a regular high school course for those students.


“The Borden Legacy” noted, “Things proceeded very informally.”  It added, “There were no examinations,” but “ learning was most thorough. "


Standiford notes that there were very few extracurricular activities available.  Still, the school sponsored literary societies to help students develop composition and public speaking skills.  Each commencement featured exhibitions of these skills.  He also says that the music program produced an orchestra, a band, glee clubs and choruses.


Standiford says the school closed in 1903, citing Borden’s unhappiness that the town had allowed a saloon to operate.  Indianapolis Journal gives 1904 as the closure date, also noting a rift between Borden and the town.  “Borden Legacy” says the school closed in 1906 with the death of Borden.



Bricks and Mortar

The cornerstone for Borden Institute was laid on September 6, 1884.  The building was of fireproof brick, two stories above a basement.  The basement housed the laboratories.  The three ground floor rooms, the two second-floor rooms, the hallway and stairs were all finished in native woods.  The school library, containing more than 2,000 volumes, occupied one ground floor room.  In addition to the standard works in history, science, and literature, the library contained numerous rare books—a Second Edition of Shakespeare, a Douay Bible, and the illustrated four volumes of Audubon.  The second-floor chapel/auditorium had seats for 500. 


In 1900 Borden built a museum, incorporating parts of the old tavern which had served as the Borden home.  The two-story brick/limestone building housed Borden’s lifetime collection of fossils, minerals, marine shells, archeological finds, and curios.  That building still stands as a community center.


From 1910 until the 1950’s, the main building served as a local high school.  In 1973 it was placed on the National Register.  But attempts to save the crumbling structure failed, so it was removed from the list and razed in 1986.


The Borden campus showing the main building and the  girls' dormitory in the foreground.  Note the ravine between the buildings.  Image courtesy of the Indiana Historical society.


Standiford reports that the Borden campus featured a woody slope and a deep ravine crossed by a rope bridge, making it unsuited for a sports field.  But Professor Harry D. Buerk, a former Harvard athlete, had made a study showing that exercise was universally beneficial to students.  Therefore, he encouraged exercise at Borden, himself organizing and playing on the Institute football and baseball teams.  


College football Data Warehouse shows one game—a 1899 5-5 draw with Hanover College. Indianapolis Journal shows two baseball games—also in 1899.  After defeating Indiana University 4-3, the team then lost to the Hoosiers 12-1.   However, Borden surely had a team in 1898 because Odie Porter of that team went on to pitch for I.U. in 1899-1900.  The lefthander started one game for the Philadelphia Athletics in 1902.   The image of Porter is from the 1900 Arbutus

Odie Porter at Indiana University

Note: Images are used in accordance with their “terms of use” as I understand those terms.  Recopying or republishing these images may be restricted or forbidden.

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