/ Assembly Hall / James Faris

Faris Way, Bloomington, IN 47408

In April 2015, the trustees of Indiana University named a road within its athletic complex on the Bloomington campus “Faris Way.” The land on which Memorial Stadium and Assembly Hall sit is that of the historic Faris family farm. James Faris (1791-1855), my great-great-great grandfather, originally owned the land. More than sixty years ago, the trustees’ minutes instructed that “in view of the fact that this land has been the Faris homestead since the original entry, the name ‘Faris’ be preserved by so designating a street or other part of the proposed development” (October 23, 1954). The street name was promised in negotiations when the state condemned the farm through eminent domain against the will of the family to construct the stadiums.

When I was five years old in 1982, my father took me to a Syracuse versus Indiana football game at Memorial Stadium. From the stands, he pointed at the land all around the stadium and told me that this land had belonged to my namesake but had been taken. That night, I was instructed to remember this injustice and the abuse of governmental power against God-given liberty.

Today, the street name Faris Way seems fitting and will serve as poignant reminder of the historic Faris way of life that sought to enlarge liberty. It will also stand as a witness against the abuse of government power and eminent domain. To understand how the Faris Way sign should shape our thinking, let’s journey down the road of the story.

In 1826, James Faris moved from South Carolina to Bloomington, Indiana. He had been orphaned early in life – “a penniless orphan” in the words of his son and biographer, D.S. Faris. He worked diligently to put himself through South Carolina College (now the University of South Carolina) and graduated in 1816. The Pendleton Academy in Pendleton, South Carolina then recruited him to be its principal. It was a prestigious position that paid accordingly as he educated young men who would go on to serve in as leaders in state government and beyond.

James was also an early member of the Pendleton Farmers Society. The society was committed to improving agricultural yields and stewardship in a new nation that had lost sight of agricultural discipline because of America's seemingly unlimited natural resources. James Faris specialized in improving Merino sheep. He constantly sought that which would promote human flourishing under the Lordship of Christ.

The one great blight of the South which James, along with the rest of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, abhorred was the sin of slavery. When his efforts to advance freedom in South Carolina failed, he felt he could not conscientiously remain there as a faithful servant of Jesus Christ. James chose to move to Bloomington because Indiana was a free state, he could pastor the Reformed Presbyterian Church there, he could continue farming, and he was especially attracted to the new university there. He wanted to teach, and he wanted a place where his children could be educated – eight of them would live to adulthood.

The move to Bloomington came at remarkable personal cost. He had laid up $2000 in five years as the principal at Pendleton; by contrast, his new salary as pastor in Bloomington began at $50 per year. He had given up his income as a principal, many valuable relationships, and liquidated his property as he and his young wife, Nancy, uprooted to Indiana. Worst of all, their firstborn son died amidst the moving preparations.

In Bloomington, they quickly purchased 160 acres of land for $800 just north of town. In the log house they built, their next six children would be born; Nancy’s mentally-challenged Aunt Becky rounded out the busy household.

James was quite ordinary in most ways – simply a sinner saved by grace. His son describes his sins and weaknesses as well as his strengths. His biography notes that, “His style lacked the elements that form an attractive speaker.”  Yet, his strength as a man of God was found in his conviction and character.  “He had a pretty strong temper, but usually well bridled, which gave him strength of character.”

He applied for the chair of mathematics at Indiana University when there was a vacancy, but his son recalls that,

he was defeated by an up-start of a fellow, who had a better command of the ropes and wires. His ability as a teacher, however slighted by the trustees, was recognized by a clever student by the name of Joseph Wright. This brilliant young man soon sounded the depths of the professor, and sought more efficient instruction, in the science of that department outside of the college.”
Joseph Wright would go to become the governor of Indiana (1849-1857) and serve as a senator for the state in Washington, D.C.

He faithfully farmed, tutored, and pastored through the years. In 1842, he purchased additional property on the south side of Bloomington, where he and his wife Nancy built a brick home that was completed the year before he died in 1855. Three more children would be born there. That home is today an historic site. Whether living on the site that Assembly Hall and Memorial Stadium now occupy or on the “New Place” on the south side of town, the family was involved in the Underground Railroad; it was no small risk. They valued human freedom and willingly defended God-given rights.

The following excerpt from his son gives a rich sense of what we might call the “Faris way” beginning in South Carolina:

None were more practical advocates [than James Faris] of freedom for the slaves. It was a mistaken move in this direction that led him to join the Colonization Society. The true character of this association was soon found to be pro-slavery; and he became an abolitionist. About the end of his career as Principal of Pendleton Academy, he paid $500 for a man named Isaac [some records indicate the price was $600 – in either case, the value would be over $10,000 in today’s dollars], in order to set him free. He had thus intended to give the faithful janitor of the School an opportunity to free himself. But Isaac was about to be sold to the plantations, and upon his earnest entreaty, he made him the favorite subject. Isaac was to have the privilege of working for his freedom. He paid back $100 while in the South. The rest maybe set down to the score of benevolence, for though he received a note with Isaac's name on it no part of the money ever came. The note lay for long enough as a mark in one of the books in the library. When he went to Philadelphia, he took Isaac along. Once or twice they were arrested on suspicion of his being a runaway. He proved to be a worthless negro, fell in with bad women, and might as well have been in slavery, for any good he ever did. Many a time my father rued the selection and wished it had been the other man. Before he took the man North, application was made to the Legislature to pass a law enabling slaveholders, desiring it, to rid themselves of the evil, by setting their slaves free; but the petition was in vain. Freedom was not to be allowed in South Carolina. David Crossin, knowing his sentiments, died, willing a large family to my father, that they might be set free. They were offered their chance to go to Liberia. They chose to come to Indiana. Even there they had to be formally sold, and security given for their good behavior.

Our house was a station on the U.G.R.R. Many a poor panting fugitive found their way to Canada on that line. James Clark, son-in-law of Dr. Todd, who lived on the main road often brought them. His coarse, bass voice grew rather familiar. The call, "A stranger here!" made in the dead of night, was well understood. Safe quarters were found in the house, barn, fields or woods, according as they had supposed there was danger of search. In one case, in which a habeas corpus was sent out on Sabbath and the man retaken, but afterward eluded his captors and came back. I never knew where the negro with secreted away; but the hunters rode through the surrounding woods, cracking whips and breaking brush, at a fearful rate and it made it a night to be remembered. The man in spite of them got safely away.

The leading anti-slavery papers found their way to my father’s study...He read the speeches of J.Q. Adams and of Joshua R. Giddings and John P. Hale with deepest emotion; and regretted the extreme Southern course of his old friend, John C. Calhoun, and one of his former pupils, by name, Francis Burt. He lived to see the conflict at its height, but departed from the scene before deliverance came.
The appreciation for the farm and the development of people is also evident in what D.S. Faris records about his mother at the time of his father’s death:
She knew it was Father’s desire to have his boys educated for the ministry. So she understood the last intelligent look he turned from her to them with a tear in his eye. It was a task for her to put them through college, without breaking into the real estate too soon. By renting their land to the older boys, and by strict economy, she managed to get them all along till they could sell out their interest in the land. So great a task did this seem to one of the sisters, that she bade her not to undertake it. But believing it to be his wish, and herself desiring to have her children prepared for a useful life, she resolutely encountered the difficulty, and accomplished her purpose.
Through her self-sacrificial efforts, the land was kept and the children were trained. Four sons became pastors after graduating from Indiana University.  Two would go to Natchez, Mississippi in 1864 to teach freed slaves even before the War Between the States concluded.

Such was the life and legacy of the Faris farm in Bloomington, Indiana. Liberty was ardently defended and advanced through reading, teaching, dialogue, worship, prayer, risk-taking, and sacrifice.

The original farm stayed in the family (a different branch than my own) for the next century until Indiana University sought to purchase the farm in 1950 in order to build new athletic stadiums.

The minutes of the trustees in September 1950 record that:

The fieldhouse we need is one of 20,000 capacity for basketball, with parking space to match … The 160 acres west of Fee Lane, which is now unanimously proposed as the site of the stadium and stadium parking, is owned by the mother and grown children in a Faris family, all of whom live in or near Bloomington. They may be difficult to deal with but negotiations should begin at once, as it is imperative that the entire tract be acquired without delay so that development of our plans may proceed … The cost of the entire 160 acres is entirely speculative at this time. The need of it is so urgent that the Board agreed negotiations for it should be started at once, and that the exercise of the right of eminent domain should be employed if our negotiations fail.
They guessed correctly that the family would be difficult to work with. Yet it was clear from the outset that the trustees would not be denied the land they were drooling over for a new 20,000 seat field house. The trustees also determined not to pay more than $400 per acre in those early deliberations. In 1951, one member of the family sold her 40 acres to the university for $450 per acre.

The university initiated negotiations for the remaining 120 acres but would not meet the family's asking price of $2250 per acre. When countered, the family would not play ball. In March 1954, the Indiana University Board of Trustees invoked the power of eminent domain to condemn the property. The family objected on the grounds that eminent domain was being used to procure the property solely for public entertainment.

The minutes of the trustees in May of the same year note:

Objections to the suit have been filed by certain of the heirs in the Faris estate, questioning the right of the University to exercise the right of eminent domain in acquisition of this land on the grounds that the proposed acquisition is solely for the purpose of providing an area for public entertainment. The Board expressed surprise at this basis for objection, as all planning for use of this land has been based on its employment in expanding facilities for improvement of the physical education program of the University. Since purchase of the Fee farm in 194[?], it has been planned to move the physical education plant north of the Illinois Central Railroad, thus providing new playing fields for intramural competition and improved driver training lay- out, as well as freeing existing areas on the main campus, now used in athletics, for more efficient scheduling of student programs and for use in the military training requirements of ROTC. Erection of a stadium on the Faris land will not only permit use of present stadium grounds for military purposes but would add to space needed for the School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation in their curricular work based on intercollegiate athletics. Attention of the Board was called to criticism of the military program because of limited space for drill and tactical training, which would be effectively met by use of the present stadium area for ROTC.
Whatever the stated plans of the university, prior minutes had trumpeted the need for a new field house. Now, rather suddenly, physical education and the needs of the ROTC came to the fore and condemnation of the Faris property was a matter of military interest.

Some negotiations continued over details and timing, but the university got its way, like Ahab and Jezebel of old with Naboth, to the chagrin of the rightful owners whose backs were to the wall. The final price of the remaining acres came to $1,667 per acre.

The grievance is not ultimately over the loss of a few hundred dollars per acre, but rather that the state exercised power to condemn land against the wishes of its owner for the purpose of public entertainment. If the university simply could not afford the owners' asking price and the concern truly and essentially had been for ROTC drill space and the development of facilities to address public health, surely other land could have been procured. Or, the intercollegiate athletic programs could have been suspended. Of course, the simplest solution would have been to meet the owners' asking price. The trustees' minutes capture the reality; they wanted a basketball palace on a certain plot of land, and they were willing to override individual rights to achieve their pleasure.

Perhaps some would support this use of eminent domain. To do so, they must assert that state-sponsored intercollegiate athletics are so essential and indispensable to society as to trump individual property rights.

Many anecdotal tidbits could be added, but one will illustrate how the proceedings were perceived in the community at the time. In June 2011, I met a neighbor in Indianapolis named Harvey who was in his nineties then but is now deceased. He grew up in Bloomington, and after first hearing my last name, wondered if I was related to the Faris family in Bloomington with whom he had grown up as a youth. I answered affirmatively. When I mentioned the farm, he cut me off, pointed his finger at my chest and indignantly said, "They stole it, and EVERYBODY knows it!"

Whether everyone knows it or not, Memorial Stadium and Assembly Hall now sit on the Faris land as seen in this report of the campus expansion.

The recent naming of Faris Way on the campus of Indiana University in Bloomington reminds me again of that night at Memorial Stadium as a five-year old. I saw the family land. I heard the story. The lesson stuck. It is a place where freedom was fought for and gained in one century and where freedom was fought for and lost in the next. What is the way forward? The road named Faris Way will remind coming generations to stand and protect the God-given rights of people – whether of those enslaved by other men or those whom the government wishes to dominate for its own pleasure.

NOTE: The plaque in the picture above adorns a limestone boulder in a grassy island in the parking lot at the southwest corner of Memorial Stadium. The marker incorrectly identifies Sarah Irving (1834-1875), the daughter-in-law of the Reverend James Faris, as his wife (her husband was James Beckett Faris (1828-1894)). The Reverend James Faris was married to Agnes “Nancy” (Smith) Faris (1806-1881).

James Faris

James Faris

Child of God. Husband to Elizabeth. Father of six. Pastor of Second Reformed Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis, Indiana. Ordained as a pastor in 2003.

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