Less than an hour north of Charlotte, the Stonewall Jackson School sits perfectly frozen in place. A campus of nearly 60 buildings that once housed unruly youth, quietly decays with time.
But if those walls could talk, they’d speak volumes. Stonewall Jackson Training school was the perfect example of good intentions gone terribly wrong, and now stands as a time capsule of cruelty.
Built With Compassion In Mind
In the 1800s if you were a misguided or rambunctious kid, one wrong move could land you in prison with hardened adult criminals. Often times kids in prison were preyed upon, as there was no separation based on age.
It wasn’t until local reporter James Cook witnessed a 13 year old boy sentenced to three and a half years of hard labor for petty theft did that change. The boy was shackled to a chain of full grown men, and shuffled out of the courtroom to prison.
Seeing this disgusted James, so he set out to spend the next 17 years campaigning for the creation of a training school for boys. A school that would hopefully give kids a second chance, and learn some valuable skills along the way.
This idea caught the interest of a group called The King’s Daughters, who was able to convince their state legislators of this new form of reeducation.
Stonewall Jackson School first opened it’s doors in 1909 with state of the art classrooms and learning materials.
It was here that boys could not only get a formal education, but also learn valuable trades such as shoe repair, textile work, farming, and metal working.
They even had a newspaper the boys printed called The Uplift, that was published every month.
In the early days, serving time at Stonewall Jackson School was by no means easy, but it was fair.
Things were about to take a dark turn, just after the end of World War II..
Eugenics & Sterilizations
After World War II, a number of states tried to ‘improve’ their population. In an effort to limit “feeblemindedness” North Carolina led the way in Eugenics and sterilizations. In 1948 Stonewall Jackson School was the scene of six forced vasectomies. This was authorized by the state’s Eugenics Board.
This was common practice during this time where mental hospitals and schools for troubled youth were at the top of the list.
The Evil Within Cottage 13
Stonewall Jackson School suffered from overcrowding and prisoner violence like many facilities did at the time, but some ‘parents’ at Stonewall made it their duty to make the kids lives a living hell.
Russel Smith, who experienced the horrors of Cottage 13 first hand, recalled some of the harsh treatment carried out by the staff. This type of abuse seemed particularly rampant during the 1960s.
“I was going to Cottage 13, run by cottages parents Mr. and Mrs. Thompkinson. [The P.C] also told me that the cottage had a reputation, that it was known as the “queer cottage”. I would in time realize that this was due to the great misrepresentation of prisoner rape as a “homosexual problem”, that Cottage 13 was a hotbed of prisoner rape…”
Abuse like this wasn’t just unaddressed, it was actively ignored. This was a dark theme that I would stumble across time after time. While digging into the history of Stonewall Jackson School I came across hundreds of comments from former juvenile inmates that each told their own personal horror stories.
It was clear this wasn’t an isolated incident, or particular to just one of the cottages. This was a streak of systematic abuse that impacted the lives of hundreds of kids.
“I was there in 1964 as a 14 year old boy. A favorite punishment of the cottage parents was to hold a child’s foot up and hit their bare foot with a ruler or strap until you could hardly stand it. This was called a “hot foot.”
“One of the boys there was run over by a dump truck and killed. The trucks came barreling in and never slowed down for anyone. If you were in the way, they ran you down. I’ve seen other boys beaten unmercifully, blood flying out of their faces. I ran away after 3 months determined to never go back.”
-Waitsel Beard – Lenoir, NC
As I read through the stories of those who stayed there I wonder just how many more were out there. If this many had come forward online, there had to be dozens if not hundreds of more out there.
Monuments Of Mistreatment
The more I learned about the Stonewall Jackson School, the more it seemed like a scar on the land itself. While I’m a huge proponent of preserving the past, does Stonewall Jackson School deserve such a place in history? And if so, what would it say about the state of North Carolina?
As I walked the dirt roads between the cottages I could almost feel little faces peering down on me from the broken windows. There’s an eerie sense of forced silence that permeates the grounds.
Vines now creep up the sides of what once was Cottage 13, and birds fly freely from holes in the roof.
I find it a bit poetic that a place with a history centered around controlling young men, has now been vandalized and overrun by them.
But the decay is slow, and the sturdy brick cottages still cast their shadows down on the town of Concord, as they have for over 100 years.
Getting Into Stonewall Jackson School
Stonewall Jackson School is located right off Old Charlotte Rd SW in Concord, NC. You should pass under a large overgrown bridge when coming in from the north. The grounds used to be open of people to take photos but now appears to have barbed wire fence surrounding the property.
The new Stonewall Jackson facility is just south west of the old property. The cottages are now used for storage, so entering may now be considered trespassing.
If you find abandoned prisons as interesting as I do, be sure to check out the old Roseville Prison in Ohio!