In the late nineteenth century, young people, regardless of their age, who were convicted of crimes in North Carolina received punishments as adults. James P. Cook, editor of a Concord newspaper, the Standard, witnessed a thirteen-year-old boy receive a three year and six-month sentence on a chain gang for petty theft in 1890. Determined that such a system was unjust, Cook devoted the next seventeen years to campaigning for a state training school and correctional facility for young male offenders.
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With Cook’s help, a benevolent society known as the King’s Daughters persuaded the state legislature through public meetings and newspaper articles to build such a school in 1906. Success came only after a party of Confederate veterans sponsored the bill that supported the school’s construction. Supporters offered to name the institution after Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson, Confederate icon. The act that established Stonewall Jackson Manual Training and Industrial School became law on March 2, 1907. A similar school for girls, Samarcand, was founded in 1918 in Moore County.
Governor Robert B. Glenn appointed James P. Cook to the school’s first board of trustees. The board then elected Cook chairman, a position he held for the next two decades. In September 1907, Cabarrus County citizens formed a committee to raise funds and purchase land for the institution. Two months later, with land and funds acquired, the trustees chose Walter Thompson, superintendent of Concord city schools, as the first principal.
Male offenders under the age of eighteen were remanded to Stonewall Jackson Training School in lieu of prison time. Peak population reached nearly 500 students. At the school, the young men lived in a series of dormitory style buildings, and received an academic education as well as learning a trade. Students worked in industries including shoemaking, printing, barbering, textiles, and a machine shop. Many of the young men worked on the school’s farm, learning modern agricultural techniques, and maintaining the fields and cattle herds that supported the school. The print shop produced a small newspaper called The Uplift.
By the 1970s, North Carolina judicial policy had shifted and incarceration for young men charged with truancy and minor crimes became less prevalent. As a result the school’s population began to decline, and by the early 2000s, the school, by then referred to as the Stonewall Jackson Youth Development Center, held only 150 young men. The individuals currently held at the school tend to be much more violent offenders, with the majority being related to drug and weapons-related offenses. A fifteen foot-tall fence presently surrounds the sixty-acre complex, which consists of over twenty buildings.
In 1999, a fifteen-year battle between the school’s administrators and historic preservationists over several of the institution’s buildings ended. School administrators agreed to help preserve some of the oldest campus buildings if allowed to demolish other derelict buildings on the property.
William S. Powell, ed., Encyclopedia of North Carolina (2006)
Charlotte Observer, January 13, 1999
(Concord) Independent Tribune, June 19, 1996; January 13, 1999
S. G. Hawfield, History of the Stonewall Jackson Manual Training and Industrial School (1946)
North Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention website: http://www.ncdjjdp.org/department/department_history.html