The Old Bourbon Gym is heading for a listing on the National Register of Historic Places. This may open the door for funding to complete some restoration work on the beloved community landmark. Personally, I've never been in a better preserved gym from the time basketball was quickly becoming THE Hoosier pastime. Good luck Bourbon, and God bless for saving this icon of Indiana. The following is a brief history of the gym courtesy of KW Garner Consulting.
The Bourbon Community Building-Gymnasium was used for entertainment and recreation, as well as other community functions associated with the school. School plays were held in the building using a stage built into the east wall. Usually two plays a year were held: a school play and a senior play. Graduation commencements were also held in the gym. Prior to its construction, the community often used opera houses in the downtown or church sanctuaries for commencement programs and other entertainment functions. It appears the first graduation commencement ceremony held in the gym occurred in 1931. A program for the event indicates the location as the “Community Hall”. The new building also included a projection room from which moving pictures could be shown to a large audience. The new community hall/gymnasium had filled a previous unmet need in the community for a facility large enough to accommodate such social activities.
The most pervasive use of the building was for athletic purposes, and more specifically for basketball. With the growing popularity of basketball at the turn of the century, communities typically found large open halls in the upper floors of downtown buildings in which to play the sport. Bourbon was no different. In 1915 basketball was played in the Davis Opera House, a facility that also had served as a site for graduation ceremonies. The Bourbon teams were called the “Comets”. A girls’ basketball team was formed in 1918. In 1928, with the construction of the community hall/gymnasium, the community had a new facility in which to play the sport. The Bourbon boys’ basketball team won the Marshall County championship game over Plymouth in 1940. They won sectional titles in 1943, 1950, and 1962. The 1962 sectional title was won in a close game over the Bremen Lions with a final score of 56 to 55. After consolidation in 1963, the corporation’s team names were changed to the Triton Trojans.
Basketball was invented at Springfield College in Massachusetts in 1891. Its inventor, Dr. James Naismith, conceived the sport to provide athletic activity for young men during the winter months. Reverend Nicholas McKay was one of the students who learned the sport from Naismith while attending college at Springfield. McKay was sent to Crawfordsville, Indiana after his studies ended in Springfield. McKay, working for the YMCA, organized the first game of basketball in Crawfordsville in 1894 where a team fielded by the Crawfordsville YMCA played against a team fielded by the Lafayette YMCA. The game was played in a large upper floor hall in downtown Crawfordsville, using wood peach baskets for hoops into which the basketballs were tossed. The sport was particularly well-received in Indiana. By 1911 the state’s first tourney was held at Indiana University in Bloomington; twelve teams participated. By 1938 over 800 schools participated in the state tournament. The popularity of the sport continued to grow through the 1940s and 1950s, but attendance began to waiver as school consolidation during the 1960s began to reduce the number of schools participating in tournament play.
E. P. Smith, who served as Bourbon’s principal from 1928-1956, described the gymnasium-community hall addition in a Bourbon News-Mirror newspaper article on September 5, 1929. Smith said that the community hall or “gym” as it was more practically called provided seating for 500 people in the built-in bleachers on the south side of the gym. “Knock-down” bleachers on the north side of the gym provided for seating for 400 more people. The gym was described as having two shower room and two dressing rooms (these are located beneath the built-in bleachers on the south side of the building). The shower and dressing rooms could accommodate either two boys or girls teams. The article stated that the building also had a fireproof room for a moving picture projector, though it appears that the building was not furnished with a projector until the class of 1940 purchased it as a senior gift. The building also had a 20’ x 30’ stage constructed off its east side into the existing school building. Curtains for the stage were purchased by the class of 1928 as a senior gift. The article described the interior finishes: the walls were composed of glazed tile and the gym floor is maple. The principal stated the need for the facility because physical training had become a required course of study in Indiana.