An 1892 Indianapolis News image of the Alpha Home for Aged Color Women, when it was located on Darwin Street.
In May, 1887 an Indianapolis News reporter toured the Alpha Home for Aged Colored Women, which had opened a year earlier in a home on Darwin Street “for the purpose of providing a home for indigent and aged colored women.” The Alpha Home was among a host of Progressive social service institutions that emerged in late-19th century communities to serve impoverished families, parentless children, and destitute elders. The most vulnerable new Hoosiers after the Civil War included African-American elders who often were unable to work, had no surviving family, and lacked any medical care at all. Unlike many of its peer social agencies run by churches, hospitals, social groups, and in some cases the state, Alpha Home was founded and long managed by African-American women to care for their most elderly neighbors who had survived captivity, and Alpha Home’s residents provide a unique voice for more than a century of African-American life.
In July, 1886 the Indianapolis News reported on the opening of the Alpha Home (click for an expanded view).
The new Alpha Home care facility was dedicated July 6, 1886, “in Fletcher’s Oak Hill addition, and the house, which Mrs. Merritt had built, will accommodate seven or eight persons and is well arranged.” The home on Darwin Street was donated by Paulina McClung Merritt, whose husband George managed the George Merritt and Company wool mill. The New York-born Quaker was closely linked to post-war philanthropy in the Circle City: after the Civil War, Merritt improved the former muster grounds now known as Military Park, he served on the Indiana Sanitary Commission, and he was instrumental in the establishment of the State Soldiers’ Orphans’ Home in Knightstown, Indiana.
In March, 1900 this image of the Alpha Home facility on Darwin Street appeared in the Indianapolis News.
Merritt’s wife was an active philanthropist as well. She apparently was enlisted to support the Alpha Home cause by Eliza Goff, a former captive who was “for years a servant of Mrs. Merritt, the donor of the home.” Goff formed the initial Alpha Home association in 1879, and “after many years of discouragement” Merritt purchased a lot and contributed the new building in 1886. A year after it opened the Indianapolis News reporter waxed poetic about the home, indicating that the “place is so located as to catch all the sunshine, and has a pleasant, home-like appearance. On either side of the walk leading to the door are flower beds, and the yard is clean and well kept. … The room was neatly carpeted and famished. Over the mantel hung a steel engraving of Abraham Lincoln and a likeness of General Grant in colors.” Continue reading