FLANNER HOUSE HISTORY
A history of community innovation, support and resilience
Serving the Community Since 1898
Flanner House was named after Frank Flanner (1854–1912), a local philanthropist and mortician. In 1898, he donated a piece of property containing two buildings to the Charity Organization Society, a group operating a social settlement for the city's white population. The purpose of this gift was to create an African-American community service center. This became the first settlement house, called Flanner Guild, for African-Americans in the city. The organization was incorporated in 1903 and within a short time the main building was built in what is presently Lockefield Gardens.
The purpose of the organization was to promote the social, moral, and physical welfare of the African-American community through the establishment and maintenance of academic and vocational education and self-help programs benefiting the surrounding community. Flanner Guild began operations in a small building on Colton Street under the direction of Sarah Colton Smith. The early programs of the organization were divided into several departments and included Employment, Recreation, Vocational Aids, Music, and a Day Nursery. One of Flanner Guild's first projects was the creation of a rescue home for unwed mothers and their children in 1908.
After Flanner's death in 1912, the agency faced financial difficulties that caused the Board of Directors to turn to the Christian Woman's Board of Missions for support. The Board was reorganized
and the name of the organization was changed from Flanner Guild to Flanner House. Support received from the Board of Missions allowed Flanner House to continue operations and purchase a new facility by 1918. The new location at the corner of West and St. Clair Streets was purchased, remodeled and equipped with four buildings allowing for the creation of additional services including health clinics for tuberculosis and child care, a make over shop for clothing and furniture, and training classes through the Red Cross.
Flanner House was incorporated as a not-for-profit organization in 1935. In 1936, Cleo Blackburn began his tenure as Superintendent of Flanner House. Blackburn's primary goals included teaching individuals to achieve personal, economic and social progress. Under his leadership as Superintendent (1936-1975), a new facility was built and opened in 1944 at 16th and Missouri Streets (333 West 16th Street) as a result of the "Indianapolis Study." This study, an analysis of the city's black population, began in 1937 with a grant from the Indianapolis Foundation. Completed in 1939, the study gave the city's first complete survey of the financial, educational, cultural, and medical background of its black population.
Cleo Blackburn developed several dynamic programs that gave Flanner House national attention. Among those was his self-help housing project that began in 1946 called Flanner Homes, Inc. The project became a national model for providing local and federal funding to help low-income black war veterans (the first project participants) build their own homes. Developed with the support of the American Friends Service Committee, the Marshall Field Foundation, and Rosenwald Fund Support Division of Self-Help, the project helped revitalize the homes of the area while participants received free training house construction.