Louisville Industrial School

Louisville Industrial School. (From the Courier-Journal, Louisville, Kentucky, 4 September 1898)


Louisville Industrial School Workshop. (From the Courier-Journal, Louisville, Kentucky, 4 September 1898)

It was reported that there was an imperative need of an institution that would place an effective restraint upon juvenile criminals and, similarly, surround them with influences that would militate for their ultimate good instead of condemning them to a life of continued crime by means of forced association with the hardened offenders who filled the jails, penitentiaries, and penal settlements. The Reverend J. H. Heywood gave an account of a ‘home’ for the education of children in Hamburg and its good influences exerted upon the population of that area. In Louisville, there were a number of remarks being made about the necessity of a house of correction and home for unfortunate children in the town of Louisville. Proponents included Rev. W. W. Everts, Rev. Charles B. Parsons, Edgar Needham, Esq., and William Kendrick, Esq., and it appeared to be a unanimous expression of the meeting that the “crisis” imperatively demanded that something should be done and as quickly as possible. Rev. J. H. Heywood motioned that a committee of five to be appointed with instruction to prepare a basis for action and a report of such information and suggestions within their reach be made at an adjourned meeting to be called by the committee. Joseph B. Kinkead, Esq. seconded the motion. The committee proposal was composed of Rev. J. H. Heywood, Rev. W. W. Everts, Rev. Charles R. Parsons, Thos. T. Shreve, Esq., and Edgar Needham, Esq.

The results of the aforementioned committee were to secure from the city of Louisville a plot of land which had been purchased for $10,000 with the intention of using it as a cemetery. At that time, only three interments had been made (Note: these bodies were removed once construction began on the school). The institution was formally incorporated by Kentucky’s General Assembly on 9 March 1859 and appropriated $60,000 for the erection of a building which was approved by the mayor on 2 July 1859. The construction of the building was nearly completed when the Civil War began. During the war, the building was used by the government as a hospital but the trustees were able to obtain possession of the building. By July of 1865, the first boy was committed to the care of the institution. During the first year of the institution, 135 boys and one girl were received. It was noted that the ravages of the war had left many children homeless and fatherless.

By 1898, the institution had erected a total of three large and commodious brick buildings that were powered by electricity and heated by steam. These served as home for the white girls, the colored girls, and the colored boys, the white boys’ dormitory being in the main building. The entire building and all of its rooms were kept immaculate as cleanliness was deemed essential to a healthy state of the body and the mind. In the late 1890s, there were five teachers for the boys, a principal, and four assistants. Classes taught in public schools were commonly taught at the institution. Classes were conducted every day of the week except for Sunday. The boys have the privilege of very thorough instruction in different studies. The girls’ buildings contained large school rooms where a matron and an assistant took after the mental needs of the girls in their charge. There were also two large workshops and a dormitory and dining department for boys under ten years of age. A chapel that could seat about 500 held services every Sunday afternoon. There was also a gymnasium and greenhouse.

The carpenter’s shop was headed by Mr. W. L. Day who had thirty years’ experience in his work. The shop had an engine, four wood lathes, two trip saws, a farmer, two scroll saws and a sticker, and a complete set of carpenters’ tools. Wood-turning lathes and screw lathes were supplied for the smaller boys. All of the furniture of the institution was made here by boys ages ten to eighteen. This included bookcases, desks, mantels, vases, and many other “gems.” The printing department ensured that the boys had practical training in setting type and doing press work for a little paper. This paper was called The Gem and was published every week. Mr. Thos. Cummings headed the printing department and was instructor of the School of Reform Band which contained 21 pieces. A garden of thirty acres provided fresh vegetables and kept thirty youngsters employed. Their training in this area was, “at the hands of an old negro who is adept in that essentially African art of ‘raisin’ craps.” The cane-seating department made seats for the institutions 10,844 chairs; the mattresses were made in this department as well. Additionally, there were young blacksmiths and shoemakers. Boys who did not find work in any of these departments would go ‘at large’ to work on the buildings throughout the campus. The girls were taught household duties that would help them to become “effective helps in the homes of others or to beautify and make attractive of their own.” All of the sewing, cooking, and other ‘numberless’ details were conducted by the girls who were equally successful in the boys.

Recreation was an important element and large playgrounds were provided to both boys and girls. The “national game” found many adherents among the boys. There was a large playroom fitted for the boys for when the weather was not conducive to outside play.

The method relied upon in the transformation of the embryonic criminal mind into the respected citizen was provided by Mr. Caldwell. He went on to say that this particular method or approach would:

“Supply what has been most lacking in the child’s life; kindness where has been unkindness; mental and moral training for ignorance; firmness for weakness; soap for dirt; the workshop instead of the street; and obedience to law and order where there has been rebellion against law and order. In short, to furnish the child with a well-regulated home, subject to such provision and supervision as any child needs, regardless of birth, blood, or social condition.”

The Louisville School of Industrial Reform shut down in the early 1920s and Ormsby Village would go on to replace it.

Industrial School Gallery

(Photos from the Courier-Journal, Louisville, Kentucky, 25 August 1912)

Contributed by Shawn Logan | contact@kyhi.org

⁘ Works Cited ⁘

  1. The Lexington Leader, 9 December 1949
  2. The Lexington Leader, 12 December 1952
  1. The Courier-Journal (Louisville, Kentucky), 4 September 1898, p. 20.
  2. The Courier-Journal (Louisville, Kentucky), 25 August 1912, p. 1.

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