Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The State Industrial School for Colored Girls

The rear of Denney Hall
In the last post about the Kiamensi Truck Shed, I mentioned that in the photo collection from the Delaware State Archives there were shots of a site that I vaguely knew about, but which I had never seen photos of before. While it was not technically in Mill Creek Hundred, it was listed as Marshallton, so close enough. The site was in operation for about 40 years, but comes from a corner of history (and society) not often celebrated. The facility in question was the State Industrial School for Colored Girls, and it sat on Newport Gap Pike, just south of the CSX (B&O) railroad tracks south of Price's Corner.

In the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, the issue of how to deal with delinquent minors was just beginning to be addressed in a more modern way. Instead of going to prison, children (mostly teens) were sent to Industrial Schools to (hopefully) be reformed, educated, and reintroduced as productive adults. In Delaware, both white and African-American boys were remanded to the Ferris Industrial School on Center Road (Rt. 141). White girls ended up at the Industrial School for Girls, later called the Woodshaven School, on Darley Road in Claymont. There was, however, two decades into the last century, nowhere in Delaware set aside for the care and rehabilitation of girls of color.


In 1919, the Federation of Colored Women's Clubs of Delaware began a quest to change that. Several deaths of girls from tuberculosis in the nearest facilities (in Philadelphia and Baltimore) seems to have been the catalyst for the drive for a home-state school for these troubled young women. Funds began to be raised, and in June 1920 the school was dedicated. According to a 1927 newspaper article detailing the early years of the facility, the Federation had purchased a property on Newport Gap Pike referred to as the Grier Farm. It cost $7500, was only an 11 acre farm, but it had a 14 room house. I'm not completely sure, but I think this might have been on the east side of the Pike.

The "Old Farm House" in 1941, presumably the former Grier Farm

The house needed to be modernized and remodeled for proper use as a school, and the Federation women (using private money) got to work on the needed tasks. The article doesn't mention it, but two of the leading proponents and champions of the school were Edwina Kruse and Alice Dunbar-Nelson. Kruse, for whom the school would later be named, was the long-time principal at what was at the time the state's only high school for African-Americans, Howard in Wilmington. Dunbar-Nelson was an educator, activist, poet, and author, and was connected to the Harlem Renaissance by more than just her short marriage to poet Paul Laurence Dunbar. Although outside of my normal subject matter, Alice Dunbar-Nelson is more than worthy of her own story (including her reportedly more-than-just-professional relationship with Kruse).

The private Federation soon realized that in order for the school to operate properly and have a secure future, it needed to be a proper state institution. The group offered to donate the school and the land to the state, however they were already $2000 in debt, and lawmakers hesitated in having the state take over the debts. However, all was worked out, with some of the women promising to pay the back debts and none other than T. Coleman du Pont kicking in the final $200. On April 7, 1921 the school officially became a state institution.

In 1923 the school got a new influx of funding, when the legislature approved an additional $40,000 for maintenance and remodeling. That year, "through private subscriptions", another large addition was made to the school's holdings. The 63-acre Woodward Farm, located on the west side of Newport Gap Pike and basically covering Delcastle High School's property, was purchased for $20,000. The estate had been owned by J. Paul Woodward, who stayed on to manage the farm for the school. Woodward has a connection to a recent post, because it's Mill Creek Hundred and so of course he does. He was the son of George Klair Woodward and the brother of (among others) Eugene H. Woodward. It was Eugene and his wife Breata Rubencame Woodward (and her sister Mary) who sold the house in Milltown to William Dudkewitz.

Denney Hall in 1927

As best as I can tell, the main house on the Woodward farm was located along Newport Gap Pike, just above the "back" entrance to the high school. This house was enlarged in 1924, and reopened as Denney Hall, named for Governor William D. Denney who signed the 1921 state law. Denney Hall had space for 35 girls, all in individual rooms. The "old farm cottage", according to the 1927 article, had reopened the year before as a "receiving cottage" for new arrivals. I think this was the old Grier farm on the east side of the road, which judging from the old aerial photograph may have been about where Appleton catering is now.

Bowser Cottage, 1941

At some point a bit later, probably in the 1930's, a new, larger dormitory building was constructed on the south side of Denney Hall. This new building, Bowser Cottage, was perpendicular to the road and faced north towards Denney. It stood almost on top of the current entry road. To get an idea of the buildings' orientation, the same swingset can be seen in the Bowser Cottage picture and the one of the rear of Denney Hall.

Academic Building

The newspaper article also notes that in 1922, "the old barn on the small farm" was remodeled as a school. The above photograph from 1941 is labeled "Academic Building", and I assume this is the same thing. It appears that the old barn is now the center section, with end additions likely added after 1927. By the description of "small farm", it would seem that this was located on the east side of the road on the former Grier Farm. However, in looking at the aerial photo (at the bottom of the post), it might have been on the south side of Bowser Cottage. The barn seen below, called the "Main Barn", would have been on the Woodward Farm. The house is called the "Assistant Farmer's Cottage". If you look in the far right background of the cottage picture, you can see what I think is St. Barnabas Episcopal Church on Newport Road. If so, then it would bolster my belief that this is the house that stood about where the separate, southeast parking lot is in front of the Delcastle High School.

Main Barn

Assistant Farmer's Cottage
The aerial photograph below may help give you an idea of exactly where everything stood during the era in which the school operated. In 1960, the facility, now known as the Kruse School, merged with the formerly all-white Woodshaven School in Claymont. The newly renamed Woodshaven-Kruse School continued on for several decades, until finally closing. The buildings there were only recently demolished, the site turned into a county park.

The site in 1937

The Kruse School site, like the Claymont location, (mostly) remained a government-owned property. The Delaware National Guard Armory occupies parts of it on both sides of the Turnpike. The aforementioned Delcastle Vocational-Technical High School sits on much of the old Woodward Farm. Given its function dealing with some of the most easily overlooked members of society, it's not surprising that the facility itself has been easily overlooked. These pictures, taken in a country on the verge of war, are a priceless insight into a lost piece of local history.

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