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Lyman Reform School for Boys


The Lyman State Reform School for Boys opened in 1848 as the nations first juvenile reform facility. Located 40 miles from Boston, Westborough Massachusetts on a hill next to Lake Chauncy. This was an ideal location being about 30 miles away from Boston. The reason for this was that runaways were just far enough from the city that they wouldn’t be able to return. Out of site, out of mind is what the legislature seemed to have in mind. The Lyman Reform School for Boys was originally designed as a juvenile prison with barred windows, locked doors and small rooms. It resembled an adult prison instead of a reform school. Over the years many issues with runaways, riots, fires, and brutality a new reform movement started to began. Instead of prison like institutions for juveniles, a less criminal approach would be implemented. The state agreed to a cottage style campus for the new boys reform school. The institution would be like an open campus feel of a college. With nice paved roads and beautiful landscaping. It would consist of individual brick buildings known as cottages. These cottages would not have barred windows, locked doors, and fences around them like the old reform school. They would be run my a master or married couple. The people who would over see the cottage would have their own private area in the building to live in while taking care of the boys. The buildings would hold up to 30 boys at a time. Each building had classrooms, recreation area, dinning room, and a big open dorm room for the boys on the top floor. 


The new location for the Lyman would be on Powder Hill which was then a mile down the road from the old facility. The old Reform School would be renovated into the states newest mental hospital called Westborough State Hospital in 1886. The new Reform school opened in 1885 with 100 of the most well behaved boy from ages 10-15 years old. Over the years the boys at the school had a mix of emotionally disturbed, mentally challenged, neglected children, delinquents who committed crimes and children who just needed some guidance. Like many state run schools, over crowding became an issue. The school continued to operate and train for custodial, industrial, and vocational education at the school. Most would also help work on the farm to supply food for the school as well. The academic program at the school was becoming less and less over the year when focusing on maintenance work on the cottages or working on the farm.


In 1947, an investigation took place at the Lyman School saying that the male facility were filled with alcoholics, misfits, and hacks. They sold about 200 acres of farm land to support the implementation a 40 hour work week, ending cottage parents and 40 plus hours a work a week. The money from the purchase of the land would go to hiring new staff for the cottages to watch the boys instead of a House Master. The legislature even cease the use of the boys for farm and maintenance work around the institution saying it was free child labor. 


In 1952, The Lyman Trustees were relinquished and the Division of Youth Services was created to manage the state’s juvenile delinquency program. With out the boys doing regular maintenance around the institution, the buildings and farm started to fall into disrepair. In 1953, two new buildings were built. A central Cafeteria and a one story brick school building. The classrooms could only hold 20 students at a time and the population was almost 600. The reform school still lacked any adequate learning facilities to help the kids.


By the turn of the decade with no farm work, vocational training, extra curricular activities and with the carpentry shop closed, the boy were left to stay in their cottages and stare at the television. Around 1965 another reform movement started to take place for incarcerating juveniles in institutions. The U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare investigated state facilities including Lyman. The findings were the complete misused and mistreatment of children. The schools were a dumping ground for America’s youth to rot away. 


In the early 70s, for a brief time the institution became coed with the opening of two cottages for girls. With new reforms and budget cuts the school was falling into major neglect. Many cases of runaways and constant intervention from local police ,the school closed in 1971. The remaining kids were shuttled off the property to Amherst to be part of a new social reform movement yet again. 


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