Sleighton Farm School is an abandoned reformatory school for delinquent girls aged 12 to 18 in Pennsylvania. The complex, named after Henry Sleighton, the property owner of the lots the state school was built upon, had begun as the House of Refuge before becoming the Glen Mills School Girls Department.
The Sleighton Farm School began as the House of Refuge in Philadelphia in 1826. 1 4 It was founded by the Quakers, with assistance from the Pennsylvania Prison Society, on the basis that juvenile offenders should be treated differently than adults. The House of Refuge believed its primary goals were to retrain and re-educate at-risk youth, most of whom came from unstable homes. 4 It accomplished this by establishing a sense security, and a sense of responsibility and self-respect. 3
Male offenders were moved to Glen Mills in Delaware County to the newly formed Glen Mills School in 1889, while the female offenders remained at the House of Refuge. 1
The House of Refuge sought land in the rural Delaware County countryside in 1906 in a shift of curriculum. 1 14 The reformatory school found the belief that students would be better served in a setting that emulated a large family, where the therapeutic power of growing things on a working farm would be better than keeping them in the inner-city hardscape.
Cope and Stewardson, a Philadelphia architectural firm, was hired to design dormitories and associated buildings for the rebranded Glen Mills School Girls Department in 1908. 1 Construction of the school began in 1909, and it opened in 1911.
The original facility included nine cottages (Campbell, Dubois-Miller, Harrison, Lincoln, Logan, Lucrettia Mott, Robinson, Washington, and Watson) that were designed in the Colonial Revival style, an administrative building that was developed in the Greek Revival style, small cottage, stone barn, and power plant. 1 Over the years, various lots surrounding the Gates Mill property were acquired, including a house owned by Alfred Darlington that became Stokes Cottage. Another was a circa 1803 residence owned by George Baker that became known as the Little House.
On April 17, 1931, the school split into two, one for boys and one for girls. The boys’ school kept the Glen Mills name while the girls’ school became known as the Sleighton Farm School for Girls. 1 4 12 By 1949, Sleighton had grown to 350 acres, housing 350 to 360 females. 4
Enrollment in 1975 totalled just 24 women 12 and was drowning in $1.4 million in debt. 13 The executive director at the time, Gloria Levister, decided to open the school to boys, which boosted the population to 201 students — 79% of whom were male. 9 12 13
Physical improvements included the Ulmer Memorial Chapel that was dedicated on October 23, 1965. 2 The building was the gift of Edward M. Ulmer and his sister, Mrs G. Lathrop Smith, who donated $140,000 toward the cost of the chapel as a memorial to their parents. The 300-seat chapel was used for Catholic, Jewish, Protestant, and non-sectarian services. A gymnasium and prevocational centre were added in 1978. 12
In 1993, the Pennsylvania Agricultural Land Preservation Board purchased the easement to 120 acres owned by Sleighton for $1.62 million. 5 The easement purchase program, introduced in 1989, was designed to protect prime farmland from being developed by selling development rights to the state.
Sleighton merged with Elwyn in February 1998, 9 which served adults and children with physical and mental handicaps. 8 At the time, Sleighton had a substantial deficit, and Elwyn had offered more than $1 million for the facility. Elwyn began looking for buyers for the Sleighton property starting in February 2001 and announced in May that the school would close in September. 8 9
Middletown Township started talks to secure 22 of Sleighton’s 350 acres for use as a municipal park, which thwarted plans by Pulte Homes to build 79 houses on 128 acres. 7 The new township park, Sleighton Park, opened in October 2012. 11
The Washington Cottage was destroyed in a suspected arson on March 29, 2014. 10
The Campbell Cottage, named after Mary Campbell, was designed by Cope and Stewardson in the Colonial Revival-style and built in 1909.
The Deborah-Logan Cottage, named after Mary Campbell, was designed by Cope and Stewardson in the Colonial Revival-style and built in 1909. It was destroyed in a fire in the later 21st century.
The Dubois-Miller Cottage, partly named after W.E.B. Dubois, was designed by Cope and Stewardson in the Colonial Revival-style and constructed in 1909.
Falconer Education Center
The Falconer Education Center, named after the first superintendent, Martha Platt Falconer, was added after 1909 with an addition circa 1930. A portion of the building was demolished in a fire in 2012.
The Farm Office was located in a 2½-story house that was erected in 1913.
The gymnasium was added in 1978. 12
John Sergeant Administrative Building
The Administrative Building was named after John Sergeant, the first president of the Board of Managers of the House of Refuge. 1 It was added in 1909.
The Harrison Cottage, named after George Harrison, a land donor, was designed by Cope and Stewardson in the Colonial Revival-style and built in 1909.
The Lincoln Cottage, named after President Abraham Lincoln, was designed by Cope and Stewardson in the Colonial Revival-style and built in 1909. It was destroyed in a fire in 2014.
Lucretia Mott Cottage
The Lucretia Mott Cottage, named after Lucretia Mott, who was known for her role in women’s voting rights, was designed by Cope and Stewardson in the Colonial Revival-style and built in 1909. It was the receiving cottage for females who first entered Sleighton.
The powerhouse was designed by Cope and Stewardson in the Colonial Revival-style and built in 1909.
The Robinson Cottage, named after Henry Robinson, was designed by Cope and Stewardson in the Colonial Revival-style and built in 1909.
Ulmer Memorial Chapel
The Ulmer Memorial Chapel, designed in the Colonial Revival-style, was completed in August 1965 6 and dedicated on October 23. 2 6 The $200,000 6 building was the gift of Edward M. Ulmer and his sister, Mrs G. Lathrop Smith, who donated $140,000 in 1964 toward the cost of the chapel as a memorial to their parents. 2
A chapel fund had been started at the conclusion of World War II, but the bottom line did not significantly increase until 1961 when proceeds from the annual Village Fair were earmarked specifically for the construction of the new building. 6
The 300-seat chapel was used for Catholic, Jewish, Protestant, and non-sectarian services. 2
The Washington Cottage, named after President George Washington, was designed by Cope and Stewardson in the Colonial Revival-style and built in 1909. It was destroyed in a suspected arson on March 29, 2014. 10
The Watson Cottage, named after James V. Watson, was designed by Cope and Stewardson in the Colonial Revival-style and built in 1909.
[su_spoiler title=”Sources” icon=”caret”]
- “Brief History.” Save Sleighton, article.
- Hann, Mary Ford. “Miss Corey Likes Work as Sleighton Chaplain.” Chester Times, 24 Sept. 1965, p. 8.
- McCaw, Sandy. “Social Work Rewards Several BC Students.” Barnard Bulletin, 28 Oct. 1954, p. 1.
- Votaw, Galja Barish. “Hundreds of Girls Helped at Sleighton Farm School.” Chester Times, 27 Oct. 1949, p. 24.
- Ordine, Bill. “Selling easements keeps ’em on farm.” Philadelphia Inquirer, 3 Jun. 1993, p. MD1.
- “Chapel at Sleighton Farm to be Dedicated Saturday.” Chester Times, 22 Oct. 1965, p. 10.
- Dale, Kevin. “Former school site for sale, paving the way for builders.” Philadelphia Inquirer, 8 Sept. 2002, p. L1.
- Klimkiewicz, Joann. “Middletown seeks Sleighton land.” Philadelphia Inquirer, 25 Oct. 2001, p. B1, B9.
- Hardy, Dan. “Sleighton School near shutdown in Delco.” Philadelphia Inquirer, 15 May 2001, p. B5.
- “Fire roars through building on old Sleighton Farms school in Edgmont.” Delaware Daily Times, 30 Mar. 2014.
- Alburger, Bette. “Middletown Township cuts ribbon to open Sleighton Park.” Town Talk, 10 Oct. 2012.
- Scott, Nancy. “Over the years, House of Refuge stays the course.” Philadelphia Inquirer, 26 Mar. 1989, p. 23-DC.
- Scott, Nancy. “Helping students live by the rules.” Philadelphia Inquirer, 26 Mar. 1989, p. 4-DC, 23-DC.
- Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia. “Preservation Matters.” 2003.