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Reform School
 
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

Bibliography:
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. 3.

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.

Photo:
Record Number: AB42
Location: Arthur Bates Postcards
Source: Salem Public Library
Date of Photo: 1890-1900.

 

 
Oregon State Training School  (Reform School)
Oregon State Training School (Reform School) which was established in 1891.
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