Warm late winter days that we occasionally experience in Western North Carolina are a wonderful cure for the cabin fever brought on by a long cold winter. The mild temperatures we enjoyed this past week brought a welcome opportunity to get out and take a short road trip to explore an abandoned reform school that I had read about. Stonewall Jackson Juvenile Correctional Facility was first established in 1907 as The Stonewall Jackson Manual Training and Industrial School. It was the first juvenile detention center in North Carolina. Originally encompassing 290 acres, the present facility is down to 88 acres.
The need for a reform school became evident in the early 1900’s as boys as young as 10 years old were part of the NC prison system. Some of these children could often be found working in ‘chain gangs’ alongside adult hardened criminals. An influential woman’s group, calling themselves the ‘Kings Daughters’ lobbied state legislature for years to get the school established. Initially young boys were sent to Stonewall Jackson for offenses as minor as school truancy. During the depression parents would often drop their young children off at the school because they did not have the means to provide for them at home. The children would receive an education and learn a trade such as machine shop, barbering, and shoe-making. Almost all youths worked on the farm that supplied the school with food.
Most of the buildings I photographed were part of a series of dormitory style buildings that have been abandoned for almost 20 years. As I walked around the now empty campus I could almost hear the long ago voices of the boys whisper through the courtyard. A narrow hand-chiseled trough in a huge rock near the gazebo drinking fountain bespoke of a traditional punishment for boys that had misbehaved. This chastisement served to drain standing rain water that collected on the rock as well as ‘teaching the boys a lesson’. Near the end of my day at the school, I ran into a grounds keeper that had been employed there for many years. He remembered when the old campus was still open. He said it had been a beautiful place at one time, mentioning that from time to time he sees old men, once students, walking around the now empty campus. When he asks if he can help them they usually reply that they have just stopped by for a moment to reminisce. Some have good memories, some not so good; but all of them say they will never forget their time at Stonewall Jackson.