Leaves crunch underfoot walking up the paved road toward the historical and abandoned old campus of what was once called the Stonewall Jackson Manual Training and Industrial School. Bricks fall from the mortar that has held them to the original buildings since 1909, wooden structures crumble under the weight of time and once glistening white paint chips from columns and roof eaves. On many of the buildings, nature has taken hold, ivy crawling up the sides of the dormitories, trees and bushes taking root in the center of shattered wooden porches.
Despite the proximity to Old Charlotte Road, despite the tall, arching fence enclosing the part of the facility still in use just yards away, there is an eerie, deadening silence: the silence of over a century of imprisonment, fear, pain, mistreatment, sterilization and eventual redemption of the facility.
Now home to ghosts of long-dead boys, the abandoned campus serves as a spooky neighbor and front field for the Stonewall Jackson Youth Development Center, a juvenile correctional facility in the North Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention that works to turn around the lives of the 150 boys, ages 12 to 21, who are admitted there on serious weapon or drug-related charges. These vacant shells of North Carolina history also face potential renovation, according to author Peter Kaplan’s keynote address at the 2014 Annual Membership Meeting for the Historic Cabarrus Association, Inc.
The crumbling buildings, which are built in the colonial revival architecture style, could be well-suited for apartments, condominiums or office spaces, with measures made for the historic preservation of the site, said Kaplan during his speech. Kaplan, who has written a book titled “The Historic Architecture of Cabarrus County, North Carolina,” describes what a lucrative investment the property could be to the right developer.
Peter Brown, director at the Stonewall Jackson Youth Development Center, says one of the old buildings has been used as office space for the current facility in the past, but it is unlikely that the property would be used as office space or apartments for outside entities.
“There is a building that was utilized for programming space four years ago, and we plan to use this building for much needed office space as soon as possible,” he said.
As the property is registered on the National Register of Historic Places, any extreme remodeling would also be impossible, as the changes necessary for the buildings to be converted into apartments or offices would extensively change the structures.
The land and the buildings are also owned by the state, so it is unlikely that a private developer would be able to acquire the land. In addition, Brown says that there is an abundance of trespassers who get thrills from visiting the dilapidating buildings. This makes the grounds a poor place to sell property, as well as a safety hazard.
“Trespassing continues to be a huge problem,” said Brown. “The older buildings attract many people … I often rely on the Cabarrus County Sheriff to assist us with this issue.”
Residents of the area are not on board with the development of the buildings either. Sylvia Smith, wife to Russell Dan Smith, who was imprisoned in the facility during the 1960s and later founded People Organized to Stop Rape of Imprisoned Persons in 1980, says that turning the old campus into apartments or offices would be an injustice to those who suffered there.
“Turning them into apartments would be like turning the death camps of the Holocaust into a resort,” she said in a comment on an article describing the potential renovations in May 2014.
The mistreatment Smith refers to is the compulsory sterilization and the physical and sexual abuse that happened at the facility during much of the 20th century.
In 1948, six boys held at the facility were sterilized, according to the Biennial Report of the Eugenics Board of North Carolina, 1950. These procedures were authorized by the Eugenics Board in collaboration with the nationwide fight against feeblemindedness that resulted in the compulsory sterilization of over 60,000 individuals. S.G. Hawfield, who was superintendent of the school and resigned just before the sterilizations began, wrote in his book “History of the Stonewall Jackson Manual Training and Industrial School” that the statistics on the educational distribution of the boys at the school in the early 1940s show, “a great amount of retardation in school among the boys who have been enrolled here.” According to his book, 283 of the 323 inmates, 87 percent, in 1944 were classified as “retarded.”
The old campus is not completely out of use, either. The facility currently has a pet therapy program, where rescued dogs are used to rehabilitate the at-risk youth of the center. This program started in 1992, and is one of the longest running programs in the state’s juvenile justice program. There are five dogs in the program today, housed in a concrete shelter on the old campus. The animals serve as a learning opportunity for the boys in the facility, who learn about state cruelty laws, how to care for the animals and how to administer basic first aid. The program also allows them to just play with the dogs, and perhaps receive unconditional affection that they may not get otherwise.
“It was started by Stonewall Jackson staff for the purpose of providing juveniles with the opportunity to work together as a team and provide them with an additional meaningful activity. Since that time it has become much more of a kennel management activity, meaning that the juveniles assist in the care and upkeep of the dogs as opposed to an actual clinical intervention,” said Brown.
There is also a horticulture and aquaponic program at the facility, operated out of the greenhouses on campus.
“The very nature of the treatment program here at Stonewall Jackson is in and of itself therapeutic and designed to rehabilitate the youth,” he said.
While the facility harbors a dark past, both members of the community and those who work at the facility look toward the future. New programs hope to help the boys sentenced to the correctional center today, men victimized by the horrors of mistreatment share their stories and the ivy continues to twist along the walls that stand as crumbling monuments to those who died before their stories could be public.