|Established by an Act of the Legislature
in 1872, the Institute for the Blind had almost as transitory
a history as the school for the deaf, occupying three sites
in its long existence.
The school opened the February 26, 1873 in the William Nesbitt
home and was taught by Miss Nellie Simpson who was herself
blind. Two students were present at the school's opening,
but before the end of the term, five students had been enrolled.
Then in April of 1874, a disaster occurred that interrupted
the school year and caused its closure. Mrs. Nesbitt had been
thrown from a wagon, with fatal consequences. No one could
be found to take her place as matron. In July Miss Simpson
left the state. By October of that year, a new superintendent
had been appointed and the school resumed, its location at
13th Street between Court and Chemeketa. Within five years
it again had closed. Reopened in 1883 with C. E. Moore as
superintendent, the institute found a new home on 12th Street
between Ferry and State. This building later became the home
of Salem's first hospital.
When the Deaf-Mute School moved to East Salem in1894, the
Blind School took over their property on the east side of
Church and Mission Streets. Their mission--to provide a residential
facility for the state's blind people to receive training
in self-help skills, language development, and work skills--remained
the same. Physical education was also emphasized as "in
many cases the cause which produced blindness brought also
a weakening of the entire constitution." Music and debating
societies were featured activities, and, just as with the
other Salem institutions, a small garden and orchard was attached
to the facility to provide food for the table and employment
for the older students. A library stocked with books in Braille
had, almost from the school's first inception provided reading
opportunities for the boys and girls, men and women.
In 1909 industrial work was added to the curriculum: basketry,
weaving, chair caning, hammock- making and piano tuning. For
the thirty-plus years the school had been in existence, the
need for training blind adults as well as educating the younger
ones had become apparent. Often the student body was composed
entirely of adults. This need led, four years later, to the
establishment in Portland of the Oregon Blind Trades School,
where training in broom making, chair caning, rug and carpet
weaving, bead and fancy work were offered in a residential
That same year, in Governor West's Biennial 1913 message,
he recommended closing the blind school as it had become a
fire trap; besides which, the school was "so located
that a railroad track, a mill race and a creek, which at times
is a raging torrent, must be crossed by the blind children
in going to or from the school or city."
The Governor's concerns were apparently ignored. Fortunately,
no tragic conflagration occurred for a new fireproof cottage
wasn't built there until 1923 as a boys' dormitory. Not until
the 1950's was the old school building torn down and a new
brick edifice put in its place.
The school operates today on the same eight and one half
acres Asahel Bush donated to the state in perpetuity, so long
as it was used to provide educational opportunities for the
Daily Oregon Statesman. February 13, 1873, p. 3; July
16, 1873, p. 3; January 7, 1894, p. 2.
Oregon Statesman. Illustrated Annual, January 1, 1900, p.8.
Biennial Report of the General Superintendent of the Oregon
Institute for the Blind. Sept. 1874-Sept. 1876.
Satchwell, Wayne & Mildred S. Gibbens, Status of the
Blind in Oregon, Oregon Council for the Blind, 1977.
Governor Oswald West's Biennial Message. 1913.
Conversation with Mildred Gibbens, former music teacher at
the Blind School. Dec. 7, 2000.