A Village

Recently I was trying to add information to some collateral branches of my paternal family tree. Specifically, I was looking at my Great Grandfather, Arza Millikan’s (1883-1964) cousins. His father, Lewis Elwood Millikan (1855-1949) had four sisters who had children. His sister Flora Ellen (1860-1923) married Leroy Michaels (1851-1918). They had 5 children, their third son being Edgar Ernest Michaels (1889-1913). There is some question as to the last name “Michaels” or “Michael” or even “Mikels.”

I searched Ancestry.com for information in Edgar Ernest & found that some records were under his middle name, Ernest. He shows up as a 10-year old on the 1900 US Census with his family in Jackson Township of Hamilton County, Indiana.


The 1910 US Census finds him in a different place:


Here he is listed as a 19-year old ward of an institution, “Epileptic Village.” Wonder what that was all about?

I did a little more research on an Epileptic Village in Indiana and found that in 1905 a bill was introduced to the Indiana Senate to purchase land and establish a village for epileptics. The bill passed and the state purchased 1,200 acres of land about two miles northeast of New Castle in Henry County. According to the New Castle Henry County Tribune, (30 March 1906, p1) the intent would be for “the care and cure of its unfortunate citizens afflicted with epilepsy. At the present time we know of no remedy in medicine or surgery which will relieve more than a small percentage of them. The greatest benefit or relief comes from living a simple life, away from excitement, responsibility and care, and out of doors. Under these circumstances there are many who will greatly improve, and some who will become well. At the present time these unfortunates are being cared for by friends, in county poor houses, jails and asylums. They are not insanes, neither are they criminals, but human beings unfortunately so afflicted that they cannot care for themselves at all times, nor is it safe for them to be left alone.” The idea was that the Village would be a large self-sustaining farm which would allow the residents to work and provide for themselves in a supervised environment.

The Indiana Village was modeled after other institutions that had been established first in Europe, then in New York, and by 1908 in 8 other states. Epilepsy had a long-standing social stigma. Seizures are sudden and dramatic episodes which are frightening to witness. They were unexplainable and mysterious. At one time, people believed seizures were caused by evil spirits. There was also a thought that seizures were contagious. Hence the institutionalization and isolation of those suffering with epilepsy.

While it was finally recognized as a brain disorder in the 1700s, consistent treatment for epilepsy was lacking until the late 19th century. Sedatives like potassium bromide were found to be effective medications against the convulsions. Phenobarbital was developed as an anti-convulsive medication in 1912 and became the common treatment. However, even with medication, generations of people with epilepsy were limited due to the social stigma, in what they could do to be contributing members of society. So in the early 1900’s the establishment of colonies was based on the presumption that this would allow them to live, work, be educated and socialize in a “home-like” atmosphere, even if isolated from the rest of the community. The prospect of treatment with medication wasn’t mentioned much in the early references to the Indiana Village for Epileptics.

The New Castle Henry County Tribune reported on the planned use of a few of the farm houses on the land and on bids being taken for supplies and construction of needed facilities. In January 1908, the report was that the new village was getting ready for occupancy. However, there were already residents on site at the village by that time. The Richmond, IN Palladium-Item (24 Sep 1907, p1) reported that “The first inhabitants of the new epileptic village, at New Castle are from Marion county. Three men were brought to the village by Sheriff Jos. Clay. They are John H. Farrington, Alfred F. Sloan, and Ernest Michael.” Ernest would have been 17 years old at that time. According to the 1910 census, Mr. Farrington was about 26 and Mr. Sloan about 40 years old. No doubt these first residents helped build the new facilities. Eighty-two male patients were eventually housed at the village by the end of 1908. (source: Asylumprojects.org)

In November, 1908, the National Association for Study in Epilepsy met in Indianapolis. One thought was that this meeting would bring more emphasis and therefore more money to the cause of treatment and care for those with epilepsy in the state of Indiana. One of the attendees of this meeting reportedly commented that Indiana was laying a good foundation at the Indiana Village. Multiple buildings were added through the years. By the end of 1911, there were reportedly facilities for 186 male patients. (source: Asylumprojects.org)

In 1913, the New Castle Morning Star (30 May 1913 p1) reported that there was a death at the Village: “Ernest Michael, a patient at the Indiana Village for Epileptics, died at an early hour yesterday. He was twenty-three years old, and death was due to bronchial pneumonia. The body was brought to the rooms of W.A. Fox, and last night was forwarded to Indianapolis, where the relatives of the deceased reside.”

Ernest’s Death Certificate from Ancestry.com gives the same information. It is signed by the superintendent of the Village, Dr. W.C. Van Nuys, who certified that he attended Ernest from 1907 until his death.


Ernest’s obituary in the Sheridan News (6 June 1913 p2) gives a little insight as to how his family wanted him to be remembered: He “was always a kind and obedient boy and was converted when about 16 years old. Soon after this time he became afflicted and was unable to work. In his letters to his parents he always spoke of living a Christian life and was anxious that the other members of the family should live true to their Heavenly Master.” Maybe he also had that witness to others in the Village. There is no indication where he was buried.

That’s what I know about Ernest Michaels, my 1st cousin 3x removed, who lived a short life, half of it with that mysterious affliction of epilepsy. As for the Indiana Village for Epileptics, it continued to expand through the years to have facilities for women and children. It was originally planned to offer some hope for treatment of those living with epilepsy, did it live up to its intent? Or did it just serve as a place to warehouse & isolate these individuals? Hard to say. In the 1950s Dr. Van Nuys, the superintendent from 1907 finally retired & the last remaining colony for epileptics started changing its focus from institutional care to rehabilitation. It was later renamed the “New Castle State Hospital.” The facility closed in the 1980s.

©2022 MJM