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Shawnee Tribe releases report detailing poor conditions of Shawnee Indian Mission in Fairway

Tribe looking to take over ownership of historic site
Shawnee Indian Mission
Posted at 5:34 PM, Jan 03, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-03 21:15:49-05

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Shawnee Tribe wants to take over ownership of the Shawnee Indian Mission site in Fairway, Kansas.

Shawnee children lived and worked at the Mission, and some died while enrolled there in the 1800s. It opened in 1839 as a manual labor school and shut down in 1862.

The Tribe says the site has fallen into disrepair and wants to run it in order to preserve and manage it as a sacred site.

The Kansas Historical Society owns the site and manages preservation, while the City of Fairway is in charge of daily operations. The city receives funding from the Shawnee Indian Mission Foundation. The state historical society receives its funding from the Kansas legislature.

The Shawnee Tribe contracted with ARG (Architectural Resources Group), a historical architecture firm based out of San Francisco, to take a look at the site and recommend a plan to stabilize and preserve it.

ARG visited the site in Sept. 2021 and conducted a visual survey outside and inside the three buildings at the Mission.

The firm finished its report in Dec. 2021, and The Tribe released it Tuesday.

According to the report, the three buildings "are in need of significant repair and maintenance work, ideally within the next 12 to 18 months."

The ARG estimates it'll cost $6.6 million to $13 million to fix the issues.

The costs reflect what was assessed in Dec. 2021 and ARG suspects it cost "significantly more today and will continue to increase the longer the site needs to unaddressed."

Chief Ben Barnes of the Shawnee Tribe released this statement:

"This report confirmed what we had always feared: the Shawnee Indian Manual Labor Boarding School is in deep distress and is an endangered site.  Over the last year, we have had numerous conversations with the city and state about the need to save this special place. When it became clear that there was no plan in place, we began conversations about the possibility of the Shawnee Tribe assuming responsibility for restoring and repairing this site. Those conversations are ongoing, and we hope to know more once the legislature reconvenes. We believe there will be significant support for our plan to save this site."

The report notes all three buildings have old, deteriorating roofs that haven't been replaced in many years, as well as ongoing water damage.

It suggests repointing of the foundation in all three buildings as well.

The west building is "uninhabitable" and hasn't been occupied in 20 years, and will need extensive repair to be reopened to the public, according to the report.

The west building is where the Mission superintendent, Thomas Johnson, and his family lived.

Shawnee Indian Mission interior west building ARG
"West Building. South door of foyer and stair, both defining features." - From ARG report on Shawnee Indian Mission site

Shawnee Indian Mission west building ARG report
"West Building. Missing ceiling in the first floor west room. Note the ghosting from a crown molding." - From ARG report on Shawnee Indian Mission site.

The east building, which houses the site's museum today, is also where the teachers and students used to stay.

The east building's attic is where all the boys slept, which is of historical and cultural significance to the Tribe.

Now, the attic is used as storage and is in "poor condition" with holes in the roof which are visible in the dark.

East building attic Shawnee Indian Mission arg report
"Attic, looking north." - From ARG report on the Shawnee Indian Mission site.

The interior of the north building, which housed the girls, seems to be in better condition of the three buildings. However, the report says it needs comprehensive window repair. The north building is now home to the site's library.

Shawnee Indian Mission north building window arg report
The ARG report shows the north building needs new windows.

Several repairs have been made at the site in the last few years.

A leak in 2013 resulted in "significant removal of interior finishes in mold remediation."

In 2016, repairs to the windows and masonry were underway at the north building.

In 2021, the ceilings and walls on one end of the north building had to be replaced due to a leak in the air conditioning system

The report says that while past stabilization efforts were done respectfully, there isn't enough information or documentation to know the extent of the intervention.

"What must be emphasize is that future interventions should be undertaken to preserve as much original material as possible and therefore be carefully planned," the report said.

The City of Fairway sent out a mass email detailing city officials' displeasure with the Shawnee Tribe's plan of action.

"Sadly, this attempt by Chief Barnes to disparage KHS and the City over the conditions of the buildings is not his first," the email stated. "In the spring of last year, Chief Barnes lobbied a national organization to label the site as 'endangered' using the same ARG report mentioned above. Fortunately, that designation did not occur, though we anticipate that issue has not fully passed."

The City of Fairway said in its email that Barnes hasn't shown proof that the Tribe has more resources than the Kansas Historical Society to run the site, pointing out that Barnes "has had to rely on obtaining grants" to do the studies."

The Kansas Historical Society opposes giving the land to the Tribe due to the site's historical significance to the state.

The KHS sent KSHB 41 the following statement after the Tribe released its report:

The Kansas Historical Society is committed to preserving and telling a complete history of Shawnee Indian Mission State Historic Site, a National Historic Landmark. The Fairway site has been owned by the State of Kansas and administered by the Kansas Historical Society since it was acquired by eminent domain for historic preservation purposes in 1927; it is the only such action by eminent domain in our state’s history. Three extant buildings are preserved on the 12-acre site. Since 2016 the Historical Society has partnered with the City of Fairway to operate the site.

In 2021 the Shawnee Tribe commissioned the Architectural Resources Group of San Francisco, California, to produce a conditions assessment report for the site. The Kansas Historical Society was not asked to participate in the report; however, we provided copies of our site records to ARG. In general, the report contained no surprises, and the repair of many of the smaller issues noted, such as plaster repair and wood fascia damage, had either been made or were underway by the time the report was distributed. The Historical Society also replaced the entire HVAC system in the East Building this past summer. Replacement of wood shingle roofs for the three buildings is the top priority for this site and has been submitted as part of our five-year capital improvement plan. The current roofs were installed in 2002 and are nearing the end of the 25-year life span. The roofs are not currently leaking and are regularly monitored.

The West Building is currently mothballed until its future use is determined. When we begin the planning process for a new usage for this building, the Historical Society welcomes consultation with all our partners, the City of Fairway, the Shawnee Indian Mission Foundation, and all tribes with an interest in this site.

The Historical Society supported the Shawnee Tribe’s application to the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Telling the Full History Preservation Fund. Awarded in 2022, the grant will facilitate a Historic Structures Report and focus on archival research, detailed documentation of the history of each building, and developing an update-to-date historic context for the mission. The Historical Society looks forward to working with the Shawnees toward this goal.

The Kansas Historical Society has been the steward of this important site since 1927 and has preserved the property at the highest preservation standards as they have evolved over time and will continue to do so in the future.

Patrick Zollner, director for Kansas Historical Society

The Tribe says they also have a letter from the National Trust for Historic Preservation that shows concern for the Mission, which they say they'll also release soon. The Tribe wants the Mission site to be placed on the NTHP's top 11 most endangered places list.

Previously, the Tribe and the Mission management were in talks to do a ground penetrating radar study to see if any graves are located on the 12-acre site, but it was stalled after the two parties couldn't come up with an agreement.

This story will be updated.