State Reform School for Boys

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State Reform School for Boys
State Reform School for boys in Westborough Massachusetts.png
As seen from 1848 to 1852
Westborough is located in Massachusetts
Location of State Reform School
General information
LocationWestborough, Massachusetts
CountryUnited States
Coordinates42°18′03″N 71°36′32″W / 42.300698°N 71.608960°W / 42.300698; -71.608960Coordinates: 42°18′03″N 71°36′32″W / 42.300698°N 71.608960°W / 42.300698; -71.608960
Construction startedJuly 1847
OpenedNovember 1, 1848
InauguratedDecember 7, 1848
RelocatedApril 1884
Renovated1853 / 1877
ClosedApril 1884
Cost$52,000 ($1,479,000 in 2015 dollars)
Renovation cost$50,000 / $90,000
OwnerState of Massachusetts
Technical details
MaterialFoundation-Stone, Exterior-Brick, Roof-Slate
Design and construction
Architect(s)Elias Carter of Springfield, James Savage of Southborough
Main contractorMr. Daniel Davies of Boston
Known forFirst publicly funded Reform School in the US

The State Reform School for boys in Westborough Massachusetts was a state institution for the reformation of juvenile offenders from 1848 to 1884. Originally conceived the facility was built to house up to 300 young boys but by 1852 an addition was added to house an additional 300 inmates. By 1857, there were 614 inmates at the reform school.

After a devastating fire in 1859, that consumed half of the building and was set by one of the inmates, the school created a nautical branch to house some of the older boys on school ships. The youngest boys were housed in an old mill in the nearby village while some remained in what was left of the Reform School.

By 1861 what was left of the Reform School was rebuilt and 3 "trust houses" were built, each holding approximately 30 boys. The "trust houses" as an experiment in juvenile reform in which boys were placed in a family setting known as the "cottage system". By 1872, the nautical branch was disbanded and in 1877 a "correctional" addition was added to the original building to house the older boys. After a riot broke out in 1877, information leaked to the media about cruel and unnecessarily severe punishment of the boys. Legislative hearings were held and the abuses uncovered were denounced by many in the public.

By 1880 the legislature, having deemed the Reform School a failed experiment in a congregate setting, and needing additional space for an overcrowded institutional system for the insane, used the land and the buildings to establish the Westborough Insane Hospital. By 1884, the State Reform School for Boys was relocated a couple of miles away, in Westborough, and renamed the Lyman School for Boys being established under the "cottage system".

It is widely written that the Reform School for Boys in Westborough was the first juvenile reform school to be built in the United States. This is somewhat misleading as there were several reform schools built before 1848 including; The Boston Farm School (1833) and the New York House of Refuge (1824) that were either private or corporate institutions. The State Reform School for Boys in Westborough is believed to be the oldest publicly funded reform school in the United States.

Juvenile reform school movement[edit]

The reform movement for juveniles began in the United States in 1824 with the founding of the House of Refuge in New York City. In 1826, the Philadelphia House of Refuge was built, and in 1827 the House of Reformation for juvenile offenders in Boston was established. These early attempts at reforming child criminals were spawned from work previously done in England and of the Society for the Improvement of Prison Discipline and for the Reformation of Juvenile Offenders (1815).[1][2] In New York, the Society for the Prevention of Pauperism was established in (1818) later reorganized as The Society for the Reformation of Juvenile Delinquents (1823).[3]

These organizations were founded on the principals that children under the age of 17, convicted of a crime punishable by imprisonment, should not be put in jail among older hardened criminals. They should be reformed of their criminal ways by moral, religious, academic and vocational education in a setting more resembling a home environment than a prison environment.[1]

Massachusetts vision 1846–47[edit]

Early in 1846, a petition from magistrates and citizens of the Commonwealth was brought before the General Court asking for the creation of a state institution for the reformation of juvenile offenders. A committee was appointed to consider the matter and on February 20, 1846, a circular was issued containing 9 questions regarding the formation of a reform school.[note 1] The answers received from the citizens convinced the committee of the need for such an institution. April 16, 1846, the governor was authorized to appoint 3 commissioners to purchase land, erect a building and establish a system of governance for the first public institution of its kind.[4]

Theodore Lyman ll, former governor of Boston, answered the committees circular.[note 2] Mr. Lyman was particularly interested in the subject of a State Reform School, having been president of the board of managers of the Farm School at Thompson's Island. Mr. Lyman donated $30,000 for the purposes of purchasing land and erecting a building for the purpose. Later in his will, he would donate an additional $20,000.[note 3]

In 1847, the commissioners purchased the farm of Lovett Peters in Westborough containing 180 acres situated on the north side of Chauncy Lake for $9000. Soon after, the farm and land across the road was purchased by the Trustees for $3500. Shortly after opening the school and additional 23 acres was purchased, west of the main building from the Warren Farm for a total of 280 acres.

On June 15, 1847, the contract for the building was given to the lowest bidder, Mr Daniel Davies of Boston, for $52,000 with a stipulation that the contract completion date would be December 1848. On that same day, the commissioners selected the location, on the 180-acre old Peters Farm, where the building would be erected.

The institution was built to accommodate 300 students, with apartments for the superintendent and his family; rooms for other persons employed; a chapel; hospital, offices, 7 "solitaire dormitories" for disciplined, school rooms, workshops and sleeping dormitories. The foundations of the building were built with stones, the walls were brick and the roof was slated.[5][note 4][note 5]

Governing structure[edit]


  • The Legislature would appropriate yearly budgets for the institution, appropriate special budgets and pass general laws regarding the reform school based upon recommendations of the Trustees and Superintendent.


  • The Governor would appointment of Trustees and Board Members

Board of State Charities

  • The Board of State Charities would investigate and supervise the whole system of public charitable and correctional institutions of the State and make such recommendations, changes and additional provisions as they may deem necessary for the economical and efficient administration of those institutions.[6][note 6]

Board of Trustees

  • The 7 member volunteer board of trustees would hire superintendents and other officers, make monthly visits and hold monthly meetings to review the operations of the institutions. They would manage the Lyman and Mary Lamb funds for the betterment of the institution. Make recommendations to the legislature regarding funding and additional laws that may be warranted. Transfer inmates between charitable institutions and coordinate the selection of inmates and masters for the indentured servant program.[note 7][note 8]


  • The superintendent's responsibilities were the management of the facilities, inmates and all those employed within it.[note 9]


On the December 7, 1848, Emory Washburn of Lowell gave an address to members of government and many other citizens assembled from the varies portions of the commonwealth at the new Reform School in Westborough.[7]

Excerpts of the Address

The experiment which is here begun is full of interest to every generous mind. It represents the state in her true relation, of a parent seeking out her erring children, and laying aside the stern severity of Justice while struggling for their reform. There is a fitness that this first experiment, in this country by an entire body politic, to reform the young by an institution for punitive discipline, should be made by Massachusetts.

It is proposed, by schools like this, to remove those from the reach of temptation, so far as may be, who have been led astray by the undisciplined passions of youth, or the more resistless power of corrupt associates, by educating and training them to useful trades and employment, and thereby giving them the means of acquiring personal independence. It is proposed, by the discipline which awaits them here, to quicken the torpid actions of conscience, by calling into play the moral sentiments which have been suffered to lie dormant.

The measures adopted by its trustees in, among other things, the selection of its superintendent - so vital to its success - form an additional guarantee to the public, that, if the experiment fails, it must be from causes intrinsically incident to such a work, and not from anyone of interest or capacity on the part of those to whom its concerns have been confided. May the work go prosperously on! May the priceless, immortal souls that are to be subjected to human discipline through this institution, be purified from the stains by which they have been polluted, and set free from the bondage of Vice in which they have been enslaved! We commend the school, with its officers and inmates, to a generous and grateful public, with the trust that the future lies of the Young who may be sent either for correction and reform, may prove the crowning glory of an enterprise so auspiciously begun.[8]

Early years 1848–59[edit]


  • William R. Lincoln (1848–53)
  • James M. Talcott (1853–57)
  • William E. Starr (1857–61)[9]

The early years were marked by rapid expansion and an ever-evolving inmate governance. The practical workings of the institution were founded on the daily participation of the inmates in education, industrious or agricultural work, religious teachings, and preparing them for an apprenticeship with minimal time for recreation or idol time. The washing, ironing, and cooking were done by the boys as well as making and mending their own clothes. The farm was to be a centerpiece of the work experience at the Reform School. It was thought that young boys would prosper from the knowledge and physical labor of working on the farm. Additionally, it was hoped that a well-managed farm with good soil and abundant free labor could help defray the cost of the Reform School.

At the time of admittance, the boys were classified by age, temperance, education level and physical abilities. This fundamental classification system would allow for grouping of boys in the dormitories by age, in the classroom by prior education levels, and for working in groups, temperance, and physical abilities would be considered. Additionally, a grading system for conduct was adopted consisting of 4 grades designated as 1 through 4. When a boy was admitted he was placed in the third grade and overtime if his conduct was bad he was degraded, as a punishment, to the 4th;  if his conduct was good he was promoted to the second. The first grade had a subdivision called "truth and honor" which was the highest rank available. This system was applied to their conduct while in the schoolroom, in the shop, on the playground or on the farm. For punishment, they were degraded from a higher to lower rank and for encouragement promoted from a lower to higher rank. Many privileges were granted for good conduct including excursions on the lake in a boat in summer or sledding and skating in winter.

A grading system, for the School Department, was used by dividing the students into four grades designated 1 through 4. First grade was for beginners in reading and taught basic reading. The second grade was for students who could read easy words and they primarily studied reading and spelling. The third grade was for students who could read ordinary passages; they were taught reading, spelling, arithmetic and geography. The 4th grade was for students who could read and spell well in class and they studied arithmetic geography and grammar.[10] These classification and grading systems would evolve over time as the Reform School changed and best practices were better understood.

The typical day for an inmate would start at 5 a.m.. After attending to their morning duties they would attend the religious exercise of the morning. Breakfast would be served from 6 to 7 a.m.; labor from 7 to 10 a.m.; and school from 10 to 12 a.m.. Lunch and play was reserved from 12 to 1 p.m.; work from 1 to 4 p.m. and supper and play from 4 to 5 p.m.. Schooling would take place from 5 to 7 p.m. From 7 p.m. to bedtime was used for examination of the days misdemeanors;  moral instruction and devotional exercises.[11]

Boys making chairs in the workshop (1871)

The labor of the boys was divided into three categories farming, mechanical and domestic.

Farming included labor on the farm and garden, labor in the gardens of the neighbors, and all of other outdoor laborers around the building. It also included hauling coal from the train station, two and a half miles away in the village of Westborough. After the new tracks of the Agricultural Branch Railroad were opened to Northborough in 1855, the coal was hauled from the State Farm Station about 1 mile from the institution.

The mechanical employment included working in the shoe-making shop and in the sewing and knitting shop. The domestic employment included ironing and washing, baking and cooking, scrubbing and the miscellaneous work inside the building.

The original building was designed to accommodate two separate workshops for the purpose of teaching the boys a mechanical skill as well as creating commodities of value that could be sold. These workshops were not originally fitted up with tooling for any particular trade as this decision was deferred until the institution was up and running. After much deliberation in 1849, it was decided that they would have a shoe shop and a sewing and knitting shop the latter would be run by the matron and the former would be overseen by a person proficient in the trade of making and repairing shoes in boots.

The smallest boys were typically placed in the sewing shop where they work daily on making all the necessary clothing for 300 boys as well as all the bedding, bed ticks, towels, pillows, curtains, aprons and the like.

The larger boys were taught in the shoe shop to manufacture shoes and close both shoes and boots. These were made not only for the boys in the institution but they were also sold.[note 10]

By 1852, the State Reform School was contracting the shoe shop work out to a local business. A contract would be made with a shoe manufacturer and they would provide all the material and oversight. The reform school would provide the workshop and the labor of the boys. The shoe manufacturer would pay the State .10c per boy per day. The boys would make nothing off this arrangement.

By 1855, the business of shoe making was all but suspended due to a decline in demand for shoes and boots. Additionally, the labor for the sewing and knitting shop was decreased as well. These boys were put to other light work instead of being left idle.

In 1856, a chair seating department was added. For the year 111 boys worked here producing 27,000 seat and 2100 backs.

Building Addition 1853[edit]

As seen from 1853 to 1859

In March 1852, the legislature approved expenditures for the enlargement of the state reform school from 300 to 600 inmates. At that time the board of trustees were authorized to direct the erection of the building and by June of that year construction commenced. The new edition was dedicated on November 3, 1853, with a dedication speech from Nathaniel P Banks in the presence of a large company distinguished guests and residents of Westborough and its vicinity.

The new addition measures to 225 feet on the front and rear and 200 feet on the east end. It has a chapel to accommodate 600 boys, large school rooms, a well arranged hospital department and accommodations for the officers and assistants necessary for the care and instruction of 300 boys. This addition was completed at a cost of $54,000. By the end of September in 1856, there were 614 inmates in the State Reform School.

The chapel was completed along with the addition of 1853. Conveniently located between the original building and the new addition it was easily accessed from either department. It was large enough to accommodate 600 boys with a balcony area. The chapel was heated by a furnace, it was well ventilated and lighted with large windows supplied with blinds and furnished with comfortable settees. The chapel was used for the morning devotional exercises, for the Sunday school  and worshiping. Every Sunday the reform school would send a carriage to the village of Westborough to transport chaplains from different churches and faith to help conduct Sunday school at the chapel. During the reconstruction of the chapel, after the fire of 1859, 14 cells were installed in the basement for the detainment and discipline the boys for their offenses. This area was known as the lodge.

The third department was an area of the new building created to house the more hardened, boys segregated and isolated from the others. The third department consisted of 20 cells (lodges) and a workshop. The boys in the third department would work 8 hours a day in the workshop and for the rest of the day and night would be spent in their "lodge" where they would eat, read and sleep except twice a day they would be taken to the yard when no other boys were present. The discipline in this department was stricter than the other departments but the food was the same as the other boys are fed. Time spent in the lodge was determined by the individual boys behavior.

Agricultural experiment 1854–59[edit]

Artist rendering of the Reform School showing the farm barn and agricultural landscape

At a meeting of the State Board of Agriculture held on May 12, 1853, a committee was formed to determine if the Board of agriculture could conveniently use the farm at the State Reform School for scientific experiments in the cultivation of the soil and in the raising of livestock. The committee, after referring to the governor, reported favorably to a leasing arrangement with the board of trustees of the Reform School. The purpose of the arrangement as stated in the agreement was too:

Relieve the trustees of the state reform school of the care and management of the agricultural portion of the establishment at Westborough, to provide an experimental farm for the Board of Agriculture, and to purchase greater facilities for the employment and instruction of the inmates of the reform school in agriculture and horticulture… while the products of the farm shall continue to be applied for the use of the school substantially as they were while the farm was under the immediate control of the board of trustees.[12]

By an act of the legislature of February 27, 1854, an agreement between the board of trustees of the state reform school and the Department of Agriculture for the transfer of all operations of the farm to the Department of Agriculture for 5 years was approved. On April 1, 1854 all land associated with the State Reform School, with the exception the main building and its immediate vicinity; livestock, produce and farming utensils were transferred. The agreement stipulated that all child labor used on the farm would be payable to the institution at a rate of $0.10 a day  for each boy. All milk, vegetables, beef, pork and other produce supplied to the institution would be charged at the usual prices in the neighborhood. All improvements made to the farm and land by the Department of Agriculture would not be billed. In 1855, the agreement was modified to specify that 150 boys would be employed on the farm each workday during the season. In the first couple of years of the management of the farm the boys were primarily used for permanent improvements to the farm, that were desperately needed. By 1857 200 boys a day was employed on the farm and they were instructed in the details of practical farming.[13][14]

A "Stone Elevator",[15] used for lifting and moving heavy rocks on the farm

The daily work of the boys would include removing stones, building stone walls, trenching the gardens and hauling coal from the train station in the village of Westborough. In 1855, a large reservoir was required for the waste disposal of the institution. Periodically this reservoir would be drained and the solids would be removed and made into liquid fertilizer to be spread on the hay field. Over the five years, the boys would be involved in creating gravel walkways, setting apple and pear trees as well as the daily chores in the operations of the gardens and livestock.

During this period, the Department of Agriculture paid for and built a, combination piggery, slaughterhouse and store house; a granary and sheds. The piggery gained negative attention in the farming community for its perceived extravagance expense.[16]

Over the five-years the Board of Agriculture had management, the capacity of the farm was increased considerably. Produce, milk, pork and beef output were all increased with a recommendation of purchasing additional dairy cattle. It was found, however, that over this five-years the expenses of running the farm were greater than would be considered normal for a regular farm because of the use and instruction of child labor.[17] In 1864 the farm was declared, by the Board of State Charities, to be too large to be profitable and always was a financial burden to the institution.[18][note 11]

Cemetery 1858[edit]

In 1858, a cemetery at the Reform School was laid out and graded. A receiving tomb was constructed and a gravel walk was laid around the lot.[19] This cemetery would be used from 1858 to 1884 to bury boys who died while in state custody and were not claimed by parents or relatives. Prior to burial, a service was held in the chapel with boys from the reform school present. After the service, the coffin would be loaded on a wagon and transported to the cemetery some distance from the main building.[note 12] Over the 36-year history of this institution, there were approximately 75 boys that died there. It is unknown, how many of those, were buried on site. Although the institution opened some 10 years earlier, it is unclear what the school did with their dead during that time. After the reform school transferred its land and buildings to the state mental hospital, it is unclear what became of the original cemetery.

The exact location of the cemetery was never recounted although there are some entries in the Annual Reports that give insight into its location.[note 13]

Fire 1859[edit]

On August 13, 1859, influenced by 5 other boys, Daniel Credan set fire to a wooden ventilating flue in the new addition of the school. The fire quickly spread through the ventilation system to the attic, where the dry wood and open space allowed the flames to quickly spread throughout the structure.[20] The officers, boys and fire departments from neighboring towns worked to put out the fire, but not until three-quarters of the institution was destroyed, including the new addition minus the chapel, which was heavily damaged. At the time of the fire, there were approximately 572 boys housed there.

In the days after the fire, it was determined that what remaining portion of the school was only capable of housing 300 boys. As a temporary measure, 240 were sent to the new jail in Fitchburg and about 26 of the less trustworthy boys were sent to the Concord jail. While the legislature was deciding what  the future of the reform school should be, it was necessary to make other arrangements for the housing of the boys. After much consideration by the board of trustees and in consolation with the Governor, a large building in the town of Westborough was leased and set it up to house 150 of the younger boys.[note 14] Additionally the remaining building would be repaired to house the remaining boys.

In September 1859, then Governor Nathaniel P. Banks, address the Speaker of the House of Representatives on the destruction of the Westborough Reform School. The governor recommended that the remaining structure should be repaired to accommodate no more than 200 boys and that the family cottage system should be implemented. Additionally a Nautical Branch should be created for the older boys to instruct them in the duties of being seaman. The legislature formed a committee chaired by Martin Brimmer of Boston to take up the matter and on October 12, 1859, the committee's report was forwarded endorsing the governor's position[note 15]

In the months after the fire little changed in the day-to-day operations of the institution. The farm recently being transferred back to the board of trustees provided work for a good number of boys during the summer months. Two contracts were signed, one for chair seating and one for shoe making allowing for productive work to continue in the workshops. During this time the Sunday school services were held at the Town Hall in Westborough due to the extensive damage to the chapel. Most of the services were conducted by clergy and devoted women in the town of Westborough for the boys of the main building as well as the nursery.

Reorganization to the cottage system 1860–72[edit]

State Reform School as seen 1860–77


  • William E. Starr (1857–61)
  • Joseph A. Allen (1861–67)
  • Orville K. Hutchinson (1867–68)
  • Benjamin Evans (1868–73)
  • Allen G. Shepard (1874–78)[9]

With the destruction of three-quarters of the building by fire in 1859, the legislature had the task of deciding what to do with the reform school. With the recommendations of the Governor and of a committee formed, the legislature in 1860 appropriated money to build 3 houses and make renovations to the remaining structure as deemed necessary for a new classification system. Additionally, some laws were added to address better governance of the institution as requested by the Trustees.

In the spring of 1860, the legislature approved $30,000 to renovate two existing farmhouses and build one new house, rebuild the chapel and to alter the old building to provide cautions against fire. On October 11, 1860, a dedication ceremony was held in the chapel with 333 boys in attendance. After a dedicatory prayer by the Reverend A.A. Arnold of Westborough, President Felton spoke.[21]

The new system would have all boys, upon committal to the reform school, housed in the old building. Using a credit system for good behavior a boy could earn his way into one of the trust houses. In this way boys that were good candidates for reforming, in a family setting, were transferred to the trust houses and the older more harden boys were kept in the older building and separated according to class.

In that same year, the Legislature authorized the formation of the Nautical Branch of the reform school with the purchase of a school ship. It was thought that the older incorrigible juveniles, that were prone to violence, could be completely separated from the reform school but not be committed to the prison system. Additionally, it was thought that this class of boys would make good seamen for commercial and naval sailing vessels.

The Legislature also passed a law that year reducing the maximum commitment age from 16 to 14 years old. This was in keeping with the general thought that boys over the age of 14 were less likely to be reformed. They also abolishment of the alternative sentence. The alternative sentence was handed down by the judge at the time of sentencing and was designed to specify a sentence to prison if the boy was incorrigible at the reform school. In practice, however, it was found that in most cases the alternative sentence to prison was of a lesser duration than the reform school, sometimes amounting to only days. Because of this, some boys would act out at the reform school hoping for their alternative sentence to be enacted and for their sentence to be carried out in prison for a few days or weeks instead of the sentence to the reform school throughout their childhood.

Also enacted was an order that every sentence, to the reform school would be until the age of 18; previously it was 21. At the time, it was thought that the reform process should take upwards to 4 years to thoroughly educate the boys in character, schooling, industry, and labor. Additionally the power to commit inmates was restricted to judges of the Superior and probate courts, and all boys should have legal representation in court provided by the state. It was thought that by limiting the number of judges able to commit boys to the state reform school the number of boys committed for minor offenses would be reduced.

In 1864, the legislature created an agency which they named the Board of State Charities. Its purpose was to make recommendations regarding the management of all of the State prisons, Reform Schools and Almshouses in the State. It was also charged with coordinating transfers between institutions and also managing the indenture of youth in the system. In 1866 and Visiting Agency was incorporated into the Board of State Charities to follow up and visit the indentured. Prior to the establishment of the Visiting Agency, very little information was gathered and kept on those indentured. The children indentured from the State Reform School from 1848 to 1863 was 1283.[note 16] Approximately half of that number, the master never wrote the board of trustees as to the well-being of their apprentice as required by their contract.[22] It was hoped that the Visiting Agent could keep tabs on the indentured children and follow their progress.

Nautical branch[edit]

In 1856, the legislature explored the idea of having a reform school on board a sailing vessel as a means of training an older class of juvenile boys to be seamen. This idea was implemented in 1856 in Liverpool, England, with the naval vessel Akbar.[23] This early idea would not gain much traction in the legislature until the fire of 1859 which destroyed three-quarters of the state reform school and created the conditions to revisit the idea. Once enacted a board of three commissioners was appointed to carry out the plan.

Reform school ship Massachusetts

In December 1859 they purchase the ship Rockall making alterations to use it as a reform school for 200 boys and christened it the Massachusetts. Soon after the commissioners purchased a schooner the Wave and on June 5, 1860, dedicated both as the nautical branch of the state reform school.

On July 26, 1860, 50 boys were transferred from the state reform school to the nautical branch. The first station for the Massachusetts was in Boston Harbor but it was soon changed to Salem by the governor in December 1860.

In 1861, the Massachusetts was fitted out with four guns and was used as a guard ship for merchant vessels in Boston Harbor. In 1862 the Wave was declared useless and was sold.

In 1865, it was found necessary to acquire another ship, the Massachusetts being found inadequate to accommodate all the boys available. The trustees were authorized to purchase a second ship larger in size than the Massachusetts. Once purchased this ship was named the George M. Barnard and was commissioned in February 1866. In that same year the Massachusetts was permanently moved to New Bedford where it would remain.

In 1867, the legislature severed ties between the nautical branch and the state reform school and the school ships became independent institutions and were titled the Massachusetts Nautical School.

Life for the boys aboard the ship involved learning navigation, general education, and working about the ship. The boys were divided into two watches; when one watch was in school the other watch would be doing the work that sailors must do.

Starting in 1862, judge Thomas Russell was accustomed to taking trips to the George M. Bernard in Boston Harbor on Sundays to address the boys.[note 17] He would frequently invite gentlemen and ladies to accompany him. Among the distinguished guests were: Charles Dickens, Goldwin Smith, David Farragut, Oliver Howard, John Andrew, Joseph Hawley, William Claflin, Marshall Jewel, and Lucius Fairchild, Matthew Simpson Frederic Huntington, Edward Taylor and George Haskins,[note 18] Charles Sumner, Mrs. Julia Ward Howe and Anna Dickinson.[24] Thomas Russell also served as host when on June 23, 1867 President Andrew Johnson made a visit to the school ship in Boston Harbor.[25]

On board the school ship Massachusetts

In the 12 years the nautical branch was run, there were 2062 committed and 140 more transferred from the state reform school. The average age of the boys committed was 13.5 and the average time spent on the ship was between 10 and 18 months. Over this period, the average cost per student was twice the average cost per student at the state reform school. Besides their general educational studies and work on the ship, it was very difficult to find suitable work and there was little opportunity to do anything else. It was found that classification of the boys was impossible and, therefore, vicious and comparatively good boys were crowded together. The system as a whole wasn't suitable for the reformation of the boys.

The legislature in 1870 ordered the discontinuance of one school ship and in 1872 ordered that the nautical school be discontinued entirely.[26][27][28][29]

The State of New York followed Massachusetts in 1869 with a similar experiment, with the purchase of the school ship Mercury.[note 19]

Family cottages[edit]

The progressive thought of juvenile Reform, in England, in the 1830s was to place 1 to 3 dozen inmates with similar characteristics in separate small houses under the supervision of a surrogate father or mother. The "family" thus created was to work, live, and attend school together, mixing only rarely with the inmates placed in other families. This was a radical departure from "congregate system" that the State Reform School for boys was founded on.

The congregate system is a prison-like facility for housing delinquents in large dormitory areas, bringing them together under strict routines in classrooms, workshops, cafeterias and recreational areas. The main disadvantage of the congregate system is the older, more vicious boys are housed with the younger, more impressionable boys. This disadvantage is overcome with the cottage system.[note 20]

In the late 1830s, the Colonie de Mettray in France was built on the cottage system.

In the United States, the cottage system was slow to catch on because of the greater expense of land, buildings, and services required, and the supposed increase difficulty of control of the inmates. Eventually, it was introduced with the opening of the Industrial School for Girls in Lancaster Massachusetts (1854) and the Ohio Reform School (1857) which was modeled after the Colonie de Mettray.[30]

Dining room in "Peter House" (1871)
School room in "Garden House" (1871)

By an act of the legislature in 1860, three Trust Houses were to be constructed on the school grounds at Westborough. One would be named the "Farmhouse" the second the "Peter's House" and the third would be named the "Garden House". The farmhouse was an existing structure pre-dating the reform school. It would be renovated to house 30 boys, a master and matron.[note 21] The Peter's house was also an existing structure pre-dating the reform school. It was the home of the original owner of the property. It to was renovated to house 30 boys, a master and a matron. The garden house was a new building built on the ruins of the reform school section destroyed by fire. This was a brick structure intended to house 30 boys with a master and matron.

The daily lives of the boys in the trust houses was intended to be like a large family. The boys, along with the master and matron, would set at the same table to eat their daily meals, which were prepared by the boys under the supervision of the matron. The chores of the house would all be done by the boys. The boys would be schooled by the master in one room of the house. Being employed mostly on the farm they could run away at any time if they so chose, but few of them did. Discipline was more parental in nature there being no physical restraints or confinement.

After the first year of the trial, the trustees were so convinced of the benefits of the cottage system that they recommended to the legislature that two more homes be built and the number of boys housed in each be reduced to 20.[31]

The trust houses would remain as the central focus of reforming the younger boys throughout the remaining years of the institution. When the Reform School for Boys closed in 1884 the newly formed Lyman School for Boys was recreated under the cottage system.

Final years 1873–84[edit]

State Reform School 1877–84


  • Allen G. Shepard (1873–78)
  • Luther H. Sheldon (1879–80)
  • Edmond T. Dooley (1880–81)
  • Joseph A. Allen (1881–85)[9]

Change was a constant theme throughout the years, and it was no different in the final years. Discipline, rewards, work, classification of the boys and overall management of the institution continued to change trying to adapt to the times, philosophies of the changing superintendents and legislative laws.

As a result, of the abolishment of the Nautical Branch, it was necessary to find a place to house not only those older boys that had been previously on the school ships but also future commitments of boys of that class. Despite the recommendations of the board of trustees and the superintendent, in 1870, the legislature once again changed the minimum age of commitment at the reform school from 14 to 17 allowing for the older class of boys to be committed there. Also that year, the legislature pass provisions allowing the visiting agent to work with the courts to identify suitable boys to indenture directly from the courts without being committed to the reform school first. This would lessen the amount of younger boys committed to the reform school while making additional room for the older incorrigible boys. As a consequence of these two legislative acts there were not enough young qualified boys committed, to fill the trust houses and the quantity of older incorrigible boys increased.

Work for the older boys changed as well. They could not be trusted to work on the farm, without escaping, so their only means of labor was in the workshop seating chairs. The trustees thought these boys should be taught some industrial trades, but the legislature failed to appropriate money to build additional workshops, buy the machinery and hire overseers necessary to implement it. What occurred, because of these changes, was a total change in the character of the institution. It went from a place of reformation for young offenders to a place for housing older incorrigible offenders with a building and officers who were ill-equipped to deal with it. With the abolishment of the nautical branch, the trustees and superintendent sought relief from the legislature, asking that the older boys be sent elsewhere or money appropriated to build an addition to house and segregate the incorrigible ones. The legislature responded with small Appropriations enough to make minor Improvement in the security of the existing building. Then in 1875, the legislature passed appropriation of $90,000 for an addition to the school as a Correctional Department. The next year, when completed, the addition would have two large schoolrooms, sleeping halls and a dining room for about 200 boys. It would also have workshops, cells for solitary confinement, a hospital and room for the officers. Once the new addition was completed and occupied in April 1877 a series of mechanical trades were introduced including sleigh making, blacksmithing, painting, and woodworking, including making handcarts, wheelbarrows and hand sleds. With this new addition, the older incorrigible boys were able to be completely segregated from the other boys.

Throughout the 1870s, a number of organizations were established to benefit the boys with good conduct. One of these was the "Tried and True" class. In order to be a member, a boy would have to be voted in, based upon his overall good conduct over a period of time. The members would wear nickel-plated badges with the words tried-and-true and had privileges such as visiting neighboring villages unattended. During this time, the "Band of Hope" was formed complete with uniforms and instruments in which the boys would play at the school and in parades in the area villages. Two Baseball clubs were organized and uniforms were provided. One of the teams called the "Lyman", visiting several places in the state and playing with other clubs. A "Fire Company" was formed and uniforms were given to the boys who were admitted. The fire company would respond to alarms of fires outside of the institution's grounds. The fire company along with their horse-drawn, hand pumper, fire engine built by Hunneman Co of Boston would test their engine with the fire department in Westborough.[note 22] A military company called "Lyman Cadets" was formed, composed of 60 boys completely furnished with uniforms, Springfield Rifles, a full set of accouterments and drilled in accordance with the Upton's tactics. They would march in local parades and were seen at local fairs throughout the state.[32]

In the late 1870s and early 1880s, accusations of abusive and mismanagement were constantly being reported in the newspapers fueled by former disgruntled officer and inmates.[33] Two formal investigations were conducted and the finding documented. These accusations highlighted the underlining problem of housing incorrigible boys at Westborough.

By 1880, there was a decrease in commitments by the courts, and an effort was made by the board of trustees for the boys' prompt release once they reach the Honor System. This began to decrease the number of boys house at the institution, and as a result sections of the institution were closed. The salaries of those employed were reduced and duties were consolidated in order to reduce the number of staff employed. By 1882, all boys and officers were removed from the new addition, built 5 years prior, and placed in the old building. In 1883, various committees visited the Institution to determine the best way to move forward with the reform school and to use the unoccupied buildings. By a vote of the legislature in April 1884, the school was relocated to a temporary location in Westborough while a new campus could be built, and on September 30, 1884, the State Reform School for Boys was renamed the Lyman School school for boys.

Some notable improvements during this period included a new coal shed located at the "State Farm Station" 100 feet long and 24 feet wide, allowing for the storage of coal from the railroad.[note 23] This allowed coal to be stored and hauled 3/4 mile in Northborough rather than being 2.5 miles from Westborough.[34]

In 1878, the first telegraph wire was erected from the institution to the office of Samual M Griggs near the railroad depot in the center of Westborough.[35][note 24]

Riot and judicial inquiry[edit]

On January 12, 1877, after eating supper and while still in the dining room, one of the inmates threw a bowl at a teacher and hit him in the head, creating an ugly cut that bled profusely. Other boys joined in and before it was over, 97 bowls were thrown at officers. The boys all rushed into the yard, where they were soon collected, and the officers took them to the schoolrooms. The boys who had plotted the riot grabbed ice skates and attacked the officers in schoolrooms. At the same time, other boys turned off the gas lights, and in the darkness the officers escaped out the door. The boys then barricaded the doors and proceeded to use settees as battering rams on the barred windows. They destroyed all the desks and other furniture in the classrooms and were able to gain access to the roof. The superintendent summoned Edwin B. Harvey, a trustee from Westborough, and informed him of the riot and asked that he immediately ride over. The superintendent and the officers gathered a fire hose and sprayed water through any windows that the boys were throwing furniture out of. They also subdued the boys that had made their way to the roof in hopes of escape by spraying water on them as well. When Mr. Harvey arrived at the institution the riot was still in progress and the superintendent asked him to go to the Village of Westborough and gather men to help put down the uprising. After an hour, the trustee came back with 12 able men and they organized and dragged two fire hoses up the stairs and gained access to the schoolrooms. Once in the schoolroom they were able to subdue all the boys by spraying them with water.[36][37]

It was determined over the course of several days that 15 inmates were the main leaders of the riot. The following week these 15 inmates were transferred to Superior Court in Worcester to stand trial. Thirteen of these boys were convicted and sentenced to various terms in the House of Correction.

Soon after the riot, several articles appeared in area newspapers detailing the riot and alleged abuses against the boys at the reform school. In March of that year, a committee was formed in the legislature to look into allegations of mismanagement and abusive at the reform school. The committee called as witnesses trustees, superintendents, and inmates of the institution. The committee focused on the allegations of abuse through the use of various forms of corporal punishment.

Whipping upon the bare back of the boys by the officers with leather straps made in the shoe shop was a frequently used measure. Boys were held in the basement of the chapel in cells, where they were kept for days or even weeks with only rations of bread and water to eat and a cot to sleep on. There were two other forms of restraint that were called the straitjacket and the sweatbox. The straitjacket was made of leather with an attached gag to be put in the boy's mouth and the boy would be laid down until it was time to go to bed. If he did not submit, the treatment would be continued the next day. The sweatbox was a wooden box made in the woodworking shop that stood about six and a half feet tall and was just wide enough for a person to stand upright without being able to move. They would put an inmate in the box, standing up with their arms by their side with slits in the box in front of their faces to allow air to enter for breathing. They would stand in there unable to move until the end of the day. Spraying cold water from the fire hose on a boy was used as a way subdue him and hopefully modify his behavior.[38]

The results of the investigation by this committee were submitted to the legislature in a 900-page report on May 7. Based on this report, the legislature authorized the governor to appoint a new board of trustees, and they enacted laws regulating the use of corporal punishment in the reform school.

Bird's eye view of the institution[edit]

Hospital bird's eye view 1886

This is a bird's eye view artist rendering of the Insane Hospital in 1885.[39] Most of the buildings depicted are as they were while the Reform School for Boys was there. This picture has annotations. Click the image to go to the annotated page.


  1. ^ The commissioners circular as it appeared in 1848
  2. ^ Theodore Lyman's response to the commissions circular in 1848
  3. ^ Extracts from Theodore Lyman's Will
  4. ^ The basement floor plans of the original buildings
  5. ^ The 1st and 2nd Floor Plan of the original building
  6. ^ List of State Institutions under their supervision in 1864
  7. ^ List of Trustees that served from 1848 through 1883
  8. ^ By Laws for the government and regulations of the State Reform School
  9. ^ List of Superintendents that served from 1848 through 1883
  10. ^ The number of boys working at varies duties in 1849
  11. ^ Inventory of farm equipment in 1857
  12. ^ The coffins were bought by the State and line item-ed in the annual treasure's report.
  13. ^ The annual reports recounts the work that was done on the cemetery over the years. The investigative report of 1877 recounts the cemetery as being 1/4 mile from the main building.
  14. ^ The temporary housing of the younger boys in Westborough was referred to as the nursery.
  15. ^ Martin Brimmer was the son of the 9th Mayor of Boston Martin Brimmer
  16. ^ Discharge statistics of the State Reform School for 1848–1863
  17. ^ Additional information on Judge Thomas Russell
  18. ^ More on Father Haskins
  19. ^ More on the school ship "Mercury"
  20. ^ The cottage system is also known as the "family system". The individual buildings were usually referred to as cottages or houses. In Westborough the houses were referred to as "Trust Houses", with each house having its own name.
  21. ^ Each house is under the charge of a gentleman and his wife who have control and management of the boys, subject to the general rules of the institution, and subordinate to the superintendent.
  22. ^ Information of the Hunneman hand drawn pumper. Video of the operation of a hand pumper.
  23. ^ State Farm Station was located approximately 3/4 mile north from the institution along the Agricultural Branch Railroad in Northborough and opened in 1855. It would later be renamed the Hospital Station and later still the Talbot Station. The State Farm Station is labeled on this map as the depot.
  24. ^ Information on Samual M Griggs can be found in The History of Westborough Massachusetts

External links[edit]


  1. ^ a b Snedden, David (1907). Administration and Educational Work of American Juvenile Reform Schools. Teachers College, Columbia University. p. 10.
  2. ^ Society for the Improvement and Discipline and for the Reformation of Juvenile Offenders. 1818. p. 12.
  3. ^ Baynes, Thomas Spencer (1889). Encyclopædia Britannica. p. 253.
  4. ^ First Annual Report of the Board of State Charities (1864). State of Massachusetts. 1865. pp. 168–185.
  5. ^ 1st to 12th Annual Reports of the Trustees of the State Reform School (1847-1858). State of Massachusetts. 1849. pp. 109–113.
  6. ^ First Annual Report of the Board of State Charities (1864). State of Massachusetts. 1864. p. 8.
  7. ^ 1st to 12th Annual Reports of the Trustees of the State Reform School (1847-1858). State of Massachusetts. 1849. p. 20.
  8. ^ 1st to 12th Annual Reports of the Trustees of the State Reform School (1847-1858). State of Massachusetts. 1849. pp. 85–108.
  9. ^ a b c 1st to 8th Annual Report of the Trustees of the State Primary and Reform Schools. (1879-86). State of Massachusetts. p. 86.
  10. ^ 1st to 12th Annual Reports of the Trustees of the State Reform School (1847-1858). State of Massachusetts. 1850. pp. 160–164.
  11. ^ 1st to 12th Annual Reports of the Trustees of the State Reform School (1847-1858). State of Massachusetts. 1849. pp. 25–26.
  12. ^ Annual Report of the Secretary of the Massachusetts State Board of Agriculture (1906). State of Massachusetts. 1909. p. 343.
  13. ^ Annual report of the Secretary of the Board of Agriculture (1859). State of Massachusetts. 1859. pp. 15–23.
  14. ^ Annual Report of the Secretary of the Massachusetts State Board of Agriculture. State of Massachusetts. 1906. pp. 342–344.
  15. ^ Annual report of the Secretary of the Board of Agriculture. State of Massachusetts. 1858. pp. 200–201.
  16. ^ Annual Report of the Secretary of the Massachusetts State Board of Agriculture. State of Massachusetts. 1857. p. 78.
  17. ^ Annual report of the Secretary of the Board of Agriculture (1854). State of Massachusetts. 1854. pp. 22–23.
  18. ^ First Annual Report of the Board of State Charities (1864). State of Massachusetts. 1864. p. 201.
  19. ^ 1st to 12th Annual Reports of the Trustees of the State Reform School (1847-1858). State of Massachusetts. 1858. p. 16.
  20. ^ 13th to 19th Annual Reports of the Trustees of the State Reform School (1859-1865). State of Massachusetts. 1859. p. 6.
  21. ^ 13th to 19th Annual Reports of the Trustees of the State Reform School (1859-1865). State of Massachusetts. 1860. p. 122.
  22. ^ First Annual Report of the Board of State Charities (1864). State of Massachusetts. p. 190.
  23. ^ First Annual Report of the Board of State Charities (1864). State of Massachusetts. pp. 223–224.
  24. ^ Ninth Annual Report of the Board of State Charities (1872). State of Massachusetts. 1872. p. 126.
  25. ^ Knickerbocker, Wendy (2014). Bard of the Bethel: The Life and Times of Boston's Father Taylor, 1793–1871. Cambridge Scholars Publishing. p. 438. ISBN 9781443862325.
  26. ^ Tenth Annual Report of the Board of State Charities (1873). State of Massachusetts. p. 158.
  27. ^ Ninth Annual Report of the Board of State Charities (1872). State of Massachusetts. 1872. pp. 122–127.
  28. ^ Ninth Annual Report of the Board of State Charities (1872). State of Massachusetts. pp. 36–38.
  29. ^ First Annual Report of the Board of State Charities (1864). State of Massachusetts. pp. 120–135.
  30. ^ Meyers, David (2009). Central Ohio's Historic Prisons. Arcadia Publishing. p. 65. ISBN 9780738560038.
  31. ^ 13th to 19th Annual Reports of the Trustees of the State Reform School (1859–1865). State of Massachusetts. p. 162.
  32. ^ 20th to 37th Annual Reports of the Trustees of the State Reform School (1868–1878). State of Massachusetts. 1878. p. 602.
  33. ^ 20th to 37th Annual Reports of the Trustees of the State Reform School (1868–1878). State of Massachusetts. 1871. p. 320.
  34. ^ 1st to 8th Annual Report of the Trustees of the State Primary and Reform Schools. (1879-86). State of Massachusetts. p. 187.
  35. ^ 20th to 37th Annual Reports of the Trustees of the State Reform School (1868–1878). State of Massachusetts. 1878. p. 4.
  36. ^ Investigation into the management and discipline of the State Reform School. State of Massachusetts. 1877. p. 21.
  37. ^ Investigation into the management and discipline of the State Reform School. State of Massachusetts. 1877. p. 103.
  38. ^ Investigation into the management and discipline of the State Reform School. State of Massachusetts. 1877. p. 141.
  39. ^ Annual Report of the Trustees of the Westborough Insane Hospital. State of Massachusetts. 1885. p. 19.

General references[edit]

  1. 1st to 12th Annual Reports of the Trustees of the State Reform School (1847–1858)
  2. 13th to 19th Annual Reports of the Trustees of the State Reform School (1859–1865)
  3. 20th to 37th Annual Reports of the Trustees of the State Reform School (1868–1878)
  4. 1st to 8th Annual Report of the Trustees of the State Primary and Reform Schools. (1879-86)
  5. Annual Reports of the Board of State Charities (Volumes 1864–1877)
  6. Annual Report of the Secretary of the Board of Agriculture vol 2 (1854)
  7. Annual Report of the Secretary of the Board of Agriculture vol 4 (1856)
  8. Annual report of the Secretary of the Board of Agriculture vol 5 (1857)
  9. Annual Report of the Secretary of the Board of Agriculture vol 6 (1858)
  10. Annual Report of the Secretary of the Board of Agriculture vol 54 (1906)
  11. Investigation into the management and discipline of the State Reform School (1877)
  12. Suggestions in Regard to the Proposed Removal of the State Reform School (1882)
  13. Administration and Educational Work of American Juvenile Reform Schools
  14. Society for the Improvement of Prison Discipline and for the Reformation of Juvenile Offenders 
  15. Society for the Prevention of Pauperism in the City of New York.
  16. New York Times Article (1860) on the House of Refuge