of Kentucky Institution for the Blind.
From Louisville: her commercial, manufacturing, and social
The efforts of two blind
citizens in the mid-1850s helped spur the creation of the American
Printing House for the Blind. In 1854, a blind Kentuckian, Morrison
Heady, began collecting donations to have Milton's Paradise
Lost printed in raised lettering for the blind. Dempsey B.
Sherrod, a blind Mississippian, began raising funds in 1856 to
establish a national printing house to print books for the blind.
Sherrod convinced the state of Mississippi to issue a charter
for such a printing house in 1857, to be located in Louisville,
Kentucky. The next year, the Kentucky legislature passed an act
to establish the American Printing House for the Blind.
In 1860, the printing house received
a total of two thousand dollars in donations from private citizens
in Mississippi and Kentucky. A printing press was ordered and
the American Printing House was established in the basement
of the main building at the Kentucky Institution for the Education
of the Blind. The Civil War brought the printing house operations
to a standstill, but in 1865, the state of Kentucky allocated
money for the printing house, and individual donations came
from Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, and Illinois. The Kentucky legislature
also started a fund in this year to support the printing house,
annually appropriating five dollars for each blind citizen of
The American Printing House
published its first book, Fables and Tales for Children,
in 1866. In 1879, the printing house received federal support
and recognition; the U.S. Congress passed the "Act to Promote
the Education of the Blind." This act funded the production
of books for the blind and named the American Printing House as
the central national source for these materials. With its national
status, production soon outgrew the basement of the Kentucky Institution
for the Blind. The state fund started in 1865 paid for construction
of a new building for the Printing House, adjacent to the Institute.
This building was designed by architect Charles J. Clarke and
was finished in 1883. The American Printing House for the Blind
continues operating from this building today, although the late
nineteenth century building has been enveloped by later additions.
The main building of the Kentucky Institution,
where the American Printing House had its start, was constructed
in the mid-1850s. The Kentucky Institution for the Education
of the Blind was chartered by the Kentucky legislature in 1842;
it followed the establishment of schools specifically for the
blind in Massachusetts in 1829 and in New York in 1831. Construction
of a permanent home for the Institution proceeded from 1852
to 1855; this building was a five story structure in the Greek
Revival style, with an entrance portico and three domes surmounted
by cupolas. Two four-story wings were added to the building
The design of this building
has been traditionally attributed to Francis Costigan, a well-known
architect of Madison, Indiana. In fact, an Institute Board of
Visitors report from 1854 mentions that "F. Costigan, Esq.,
an architect of great experience, refined taste and rare ability"
had been aiding in construction and had prepared "working
plans." Other evidence, however, appears to indicate that
Elias E. Williams, a Louisville architect, designed the building.
A payment is recorded in Institute records on Jan. 8, 1852 to
E.E. Williams for drawing plans and elevations for the Kentucky
Blind Institute, as well as for preparing a written description
and estimate for the building. In addition, a newspaper article
of August 6, 1852 reports that the Kentucky governor had approved
the plan of E. Williams, architect for the Kentucky School for
The Institute Superintendent, Bryce M.
Patten, may have also had a hand in the design. The 1854 Board
of Visitors report states: "In the year 1851, Mr. B.M.
Patten . . .was requested by a committee of the Legislature,
then in session, to lay before them plans of such a building
as he deemed desirable for the school for the blind. He therefore
immediately drew plans and presented them to the committee,
who, after an examination of the same, recommended to the general
Assembly the passage of a most liberal act, providing for the
erection of all the buildings necessary for the Institution."
It appears, therefore, that EE Williams was the architect of
the building, but that Costigan and Patten had some part in
the design and construction.
American Buildings Survey staff documenting the Kentucky Institution
for the Blind.
Historic American Buildings Survey photograph, 1934.
This the main building
of the Kentucky School for the Blind was documented by the Historic
American Buildings Survey in the 1930s. In recognition of its
importance in the history of US education, as the First Site of
the American Printing House for the Blind, the building was declared
eligible for National Historic Landmark status in 1965. It was
razed in 1967, however, for construction of a modern building
more suited to the needs of the school. The cupola from the main
dome of the building was preserved and exhibited on the state
capitol grounds at Frankfort; in 1999, this artifact was returned
to the school grounds in Louisville.