This blog reports events and interesting tidbits from Rensselaer, Indiana and the surrounding area.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Plaques: Benjamin Harris

If you cross the railroad track by the Amtrak station and walk just a bit north, you will find the plaque below that reads:
In memory of Bejamin Harris 1838-1916 whose will founded and provided for the perpetuation of the Benjamin Harris Home for widows and orphans.


If it were not for the plaque above, I probably would not even know that there was such a thing as Harris Homes. They stay out of the news. I tried to find something about Benjamin Harris and could not. I did find his tombstone in Weston Cemetery.
On the back side of the marker (or maybe it is the front--how can you tell?) it says, "Founder of the widow and orphans home Rensslear Ind." His claim to fame apparently was not what he did while he was alive, but what he did after death, the Benjamin Harris Home, which is a better claim to fame than most of us will have.
From several people I heard that originally the Harris Home was meant for war widows. I am not sure which war it would have been, because the U.S. did not enter WWI until 1917, the year after his death. How many widows were there from the Spanish American War? Maybe widows of Civil War veterans were the target audience--there might have been quite a few at this time since many would have been in the 60-70 age group just before Harris died.

Times changed, and there were not enough war widows, so the criteria for admission changed. There is a waiting list to get in, and there is careful screening of those who apply. When the children grow up and leave, the woman also has to leave. Also, the 14 or so housing units that are there now appear to be less than sixty years old. I wonder what the original structure was.

Someone who lives in the Harris Homes told me that there are five people on the board of directors, and some of the revenue that supports the homes comes from farm land west of Rensselaer. I found a couple bits of info on the Internet in lists of Rensselaer charities. The Harris Homes seems to be in very good financial shape. Whoever has been administering this almost-century-old eleemosynary institution has done a much better job than Bernie Madoff did with the funds under his care.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

What does eleemosynary mean?

Elle Weems said...

"What does eleemosynary mean?"

Needing charity. In this context the Harris Homes are dependent on charity to run.

Anonymous said...

How do you get ahold of someone to get into housing?