Reformatory’s move to Pendleton sparked by fire


By Dan Fountain | For The Times-Post

Part 1 of a two-part series.

To begin this 100-year journey, we need to go back to that dreadful night on Feb. 6, 1918, at the Indiana Reformatory in Jeffersonville, Indiana.
At about midnight the screams of “Fire!” rang out in the prison; the cabinet shop in the trade school building was on fire.
Even with the help of three fire departments responding, the fire was out of control with the help of the wind and shortage of water.
After the fire was out the damage was extreme, destroying several buildings.
There were no deaths, and only one inmate was injured.
After the fire that crippled the prison, the battle of arguments from the Statehouse politics began.
Gov. James P. Goodrich’s committee recommended the new reformatory be built adjacent to the State Farm in Putnamville.
The newly elected Gov. Warren T. McCray appointed a committee to select the site for the new institution.
There was also opposition to the removal of the reformatory from Jeffersonville to Pendleton by the people from southern Indiana.
On New Year’s Day 1919, Chamber of Commerce President W. S. Rowe received a round of applause from the audience after a speech he made. In part he said, “The sentiment, it is to be hoped, will be crystallized into some definite and determined action to at least show Southern Indiana’s disapproval of a plan which is pure and simple robbery on the part of the Statehouse.”
The state legislature approved the new location of the reformatory. In May 1922, construction contracts were awarded, and the construction of the new Indiana Reformatory in Pendleton began.
According to a Pendleton newspaper article, “The new Indiana Reformatory will be an asset to Pendleton. It is bound to help the town. It means that not less than sixty families will come here with the institution, and you cannot bring sixty families into a community without helping that community. These people who will come here from Jeffersonville will receive a warm welcome.”
The superintendent of the Jeffersonville Reformatory, George A. H. Shideler, was also appointed superintendent of the Pendleton Reformatory, therefore divided his time between both prisons.
During his absence at Jeffersonville, Assistant Superintendent Andrew F. Miles was left in charge.
On June 21, 1922, the first transfer of inmates from the Jeffersonville Reformatory to the reformatory in Pendleton was made. These inmates were put to work on the construction process.
An August 1922 news headline stated, “Work on Big Wall Started and Cement Work on Two of the Buildings Well Under Way.”
“More then 300 men are working as carpenters, bricklayers, cement workers and laborers of all kinds. Two big steam shovels are going, twenty to thirty big army trucks are moving in all directions and a number of teams are being used in grading. More than 2,000 feet of trench has been dug for the wall, and more than 1,000 feet of wall foundation has been placed.”
On Thanksgiving Day 1923, all the officers and inmates who were still in Jeffersonville were transported to the reformatory in Pendleton.
The Jeffersonville Reformatory was sold to Colgate Co., which erected a massive clock on top of the roof of Building No. 1.
Interesting fact: Inmates who were waiting to be transferred out of the Jeffersonville prison to the new reformatory continued working and helped with the new remodeling for Colgate Co., which was moving in at the time.
On Dec. 2, 1923, Assistant Superintendent Miles permanently arrived at the Indiana Reformatory in Pendleton to be with Superintendent Shideler, where both continued the work building the Indiana Reformatory.
Sadly, and unexpectedly, Shideler died Dec. 11, 1923.
During the funeral trip from Indianapolis to Marion by rail, the train stopped in front of the Pendleton reformatory so the inmates inside the facility could have a moment to pay respect and pay tribute to the memory of their superintendent.
The Board of Trustees appointed Miles to be the next superintendent of the Indiana Reformatory in Pendleton.

Dan Fountain is a retired counselor from Pendleton Correctional Facility, where he worked for 34 years until 2016. He and his wife, Kathie, live in Middletown, where he is president of Middletown Fall Creek Township Historical Society and a member of Middletown Town Council. He has been working on a book about the history of Pendleton Correctional Facility for several years, hoping to get it published in 2024. The two-part series here is comprised of excerpts from his manuscript.

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