ON THIS SPOT: A Home for America’s Bad Boys

Including one wayward youth named Charles Manson.

wikiMap fort lincoln

Anyone who follows this blog knows that I am fascinated by old maps. Especially maps of our neighborhoods here in the northeast part of the city. I like to see how the region developed over time, and often get ideas for the blog by noticing something intriguing on one of them. That’s the case with this post. Any number of maps from the 1870s onward show “The United States Reform School Farm,” or “The National Training School for Boys” at the site of the present-day Fort Lincoln neighborhood at the intersection of Bladensburg Road and South Dakota Avenue NE. Curiosity aroused, I started doing some research into it.

1891 Hopkins map showing the Reform School. Library of Congress. Click to enlarge. 

In the early days of this nation, there was no separation between juvenile and adult criminals, a situation loaded with obvious problems. Social reformers soon took up the task and in 1825, the country’s first House of Refuge for lawbreaking children opened in New York City. The idea quickly spread. Houses of Refuge were usually large institutional buildings located in urban areas, and designed primarily to simply house delinquent and often poor children as well. By the second half of the 19th century, education and training began to be emphasized, as seen in this illustration from 1868:

© Robert Malesky 2017