|During the 1880's youthful offenders--some
as young as 12--were routinely sent to the penitentiary, where
it was said they would "most surely contract the vicious
ideas of the old criminal."
In 1885 a bill to establish a reformatory in Salem was presented
to the state legislature. The Honorable R. B. Hayes of Lane
County was its author. The bill failed passage in February
of that year.
Legislation to create a reform school for boys finally passed
in 1889. Construction began on the former R. B. Gesner property
four miles southeast of Salem and on November 5, 1891 it opened
"to the reception of recalcitrant youth" (in the
words of a reporter from the Oregon Statesman.
B. J. Miles, from the Iowa state reform school, was appointed
its first superintendent and three boys formed the first student
body of the institution. By April of the following year, fifty
boys--most of whom were committed for larceny or "waywardness"--had
filled all the available beds at the home. Its population
increase necessitated an addition to the facility.
A farm and orchard covered 250 acres of the school property.
It was source of income for the facility, of employment for
the students and of food for the staff and students. Inside
the main building, besides the students' dormitories, were
classrooms and an industrial department. Each student was
required to spend four hours a day in class work and four
hours either working on the farm or working at a trade. The
options offered for training were carpentry, shoemaking, engineering,
tailoring, cooking and baking, painting, or blacksmithing.
A library and music room were available for recreation. Sunday
services, provided by visiting ministers, was a requirement.
Up until 1898, boys were committed to the school for fixed
terms; after that, sentences were indefinite and boys could
earn good conduct paroles. Even so, some young men saw fit
to "elope" from the premises.
An escape by blanket rope in January of 1892 netted the three
boys a full day of freedom in Polk County. The ringleader
of the group was disabled and had only one leg. Later, a mass
escape in 1918 of thirteen students was made through the main
gate of the school. Recovery became more difficult when five
of the boys stole a car in East Salem, their destination,
Portland. Most of the boys had been committed for auto theft
and the authorities admitted, " . . . automobile thieves
are much harder to keep at the school than boys who are unable
to run motor cars."
As early as 1891 when the Reform School opened, a concern
was expressed for a parallel facility for "erring daughters."
The original act covered both boys and girls with this proviso:
"Whenever said state reform school shall be equipped
with proper and sufficient buildings to accommodate youth
of both sexes ... for the time being, boys of the proper age
only shall be admitted to the school.".
By 1898, when the law regulating the conduct of the reformatory
passed, it clearly called for a girls' training school."
Nothing was done on this score until 1912 when Hillcrest School
in South Salem was opened.
Governor West, in his 1913 Biennial Message, recommended
the closure of the State Training School (its new name) and
the establishment of a new reformatory in Union, Oregon. This
was because the present "institution is being used as
a dumping ground for boys who should be living in better homes."
His proposal to turn the facility into a Drunkard's Home or
Home for the Aged was ignored.
By the 1920's Salem's city limits were creeping ever closer
to the Reform School and townspeople were becoming alarmed
by the city's proximity to the School and the relative ease
of escape by its inmates. Of even more serious consequence
to the future of the school was a disastrous fire in 1927
which gutted the main building of the institution. Rather
than reconstruct the building, the decision was made to relocate
the facility to Woodburn, where it remains to this day, now
called the MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility.
Researched and written by Sue Bell
Daily Statesman 9 Jan. 1887, p.@3.
Oregon Statesman 1 Jan. 1899 (Special Edition), p. 20.
Daily Statesman 28 Oct, 1891, p. 3. Ibid., 6 Apr. 1892, p.
Oregon Statesman Illustrated Annual 1 Jan. 1903, p. 10.
Daily Statesman 9 Jan. 1892, p. 3.
Oregon Statesman 1 Dec. 1918, p. 2.
Daily Statesman 15 Nov. 1891, p. 3.
Oregon Statesman 1 Jan. 1901 Supplement, p. 37.
Biennial Message of Gov. Oswald West . . . 1913, p, 7.
Record Number: AB42
Location: Arthur Bates Postcards
Source: Salem Public Library
Date of Photo: 1890-1900.