[Thinking of our recent law allowing for dropping of children of any age at
Kearney Hub “editorial” – Dec. 20, 1893 in a section headed “After Thoughts”
Where is your wayward wandering boy tonight?
Is he roaming the streets or is he at home surrounded by good family
And if he has no home where is he?
The county judge of Lancaster county told me on Monday that ten boys were
there before his court on application to have them sent to the reform
[A Lincoln newspaper] reported: “That reform school at Kearney must be a
very large institution,…or it would have been full long ago. Every day the
papers tell of a lad, or two or three lads, that have been sent there from
Lincoln, and if other towns do as this there must be several thousand unruly
kids somewhere in that country.”
Many county judges are lax in this respect and will send boys to the school
who should be kept home by parents who are too ready to shirk the
responsibility of their keeping and moral training.
Yet the school is mostly filled with incorrigibles – not waifs and street
arabs, but sons of christian parents, business men and politicians,
well-to-do mechanics and other good people who should apparently be able to
bring up their children properly.
The question is a serious one. The state is handling it as well as it is
possible to handle it in a public institution, and the Nebraska industrial
reform school is a model of its class,
yet it must be evident to honest, earnest, thoughtful people the root of the
evil is in the home or with the father or mother not suited for the most
sacred trust reposed in man on earth – the rearing of a child.
Newspaper comment kept on file at the school [don’t know if it is still
there or not]:
“There is question in our minds whether or not it would be a good idea to
establish a reform school for parents rather than boys.”
Oldest state institution in Kearney
1879 – Established by State Legislature in conformity with Sec. 12, Art. 8
of State Constitution
For children under 16 coming in, but could stay until age 21
Definition “The work of ‘this school is educational and industrial training,
not penal, and the departments and superintendent should not have to curtail
their work for the lack of necessary funds to educate, feed and clothe the
inmates, build and strengthen faulty characters, and prepare boys to go out
from the institution to become honorable citizens.’”
Appropriated $10,000 to establish and maintain the facility
[for both boys and girls]
Kearney’s Bid – led by Nathan Campbell and F. G. Keens
320 acres of land on west side of Kearney [half section]
1880 – Constructed the first building, a 2-story brick building 40’ x 50’
1881 – Building completed and put into use.
Third floor added later
1st boy – 8 years old, from Fremont, stole a buggy whip
1st girl – 13 years old, from Kearney
1887 – Used a Family System.
60 girls Two sections of girls @ 30 each were two families
Learned home making skills including knitting & crocheting
184 boys Four sections of boys @ 46 each were four families
244 total Learned to make clothes & shoes, worked in bakery, engine room, office,
& were taught farm skills
1889 - 4-story boiler house & workshop – connect two existing smaller
Sept. 1889 (Hub item)
On the issue of the new boiler house and workshop to be built, the bids were
opened in Lincoln.
Low bidder was J. O. King of Omaha.
But the other bidders pointed out that his bid listed various parts of the
job with costs for each.
[apparently without a total?]
The rest had bid lump sums.
So they did it over again.
The others, knowing what King’s bid had been, bid lower
But King put in a bid under the name Gibbs Bros. that was lower yet and won
the bidder again.
Two ponds – Maybe one formed by Kearney Canal?
2nd one made
Stocked with (1) carp and (2) pike, bass & other game fish
June 1890 - An Industrial School boy drown when he jumped off the bank of
Kearney Canal into the deep end of “the second lake on Kearney Canal” on
Industrial School property. His parents were unknown. He was sent to Platte
county Nebraska from New York by the New York Aid Society several years ago.
He lived with a farm family in Columbus until 4 months ago when he was sent
to the Industrial School.
[Came on an Orphan Train]
Independent of the city – own wells
Water tower had been put in within couple of years of opening
Now 10 years later it needed to be updated
May 1891 - The old water system was inadequate so the old wells were to be
taken out and 4-5 new ones drilled. During that time the School would get
its water from the Kearney Canal.
Girls Industrial School – established by the state legislature in 1891
To be established at Geneva.
To be ready by Dec. 1, 1891
1892 – Superintendent chosen –
J. D. McKelvey, had been for years at the Kearney Industrial School.
Mrs. McKelvey has been chosen as matron
About 75 girls to be removed to the school from Kearney.
March 15, 1892 – Made the move
57 girls were inmates.
55 were taken to Geneva.
Father of one took her home yesterday.
Other one was going to work for a lady in Kearney.
Major expansion – added 202 acres of flat land south of existing
Large barn started – 142’ x l68’
[after 1975, maybe in early 80’s moved south west of town,
Was being remodeled into a house, blew down.]
West Kearney High - School given name
Testing program proved boys were not feeble minded
Lacked subject matter knowledge, lacked skills, but not IQ
Trades & job skills training
1940 – Commercial & industrial training plus farming, dairying & poultry
When a boy left he had to have a home to go to and should have a job
1965 – Farm land was rented out on 3-year leases
Raising crops discontinued
Kept dairy & poultry
Gas station on corner of YDC road and Highway 30 opened
First original building demolished - constructed in 1880-81
1974 – 3rd floor was condemned
1975 – 2nd floor use discontinued, required fire doors, costing $2,500
1976 – Whole building condemned.
Demolished by Skeen
Found that basement walls were 3’ thick
1985 – Service station closed
Facility used as a headquarters by Nebraska State Patrol
1879 – The Nebraska State Reform School for Juvenile Offenders
1887 – State Industrial School for Juvenile Offenders
1945 – Boys Training School
1972 – Youth Development Center – Kearney (YDC)
199? – Youth Rehabilitation & Training Center (YRTC)
1887 – Merit System [Demerit System, very negative]
Child entering received demerits
Amount of demerits depended on severity of the crime
Had to work them off through good behavior
Otherwise he stayed until he was 21
Average took 26 months to work off
Lesser offense, less demerits, took 16 months to work off
Example 1889 Hub
John, from Buffalo, 16, was sentenced to be at the school until he is 21,
five years, but he “can work his way out in 16 months with good grades in
school and good conduct.” The Hub thought he could do it and make a man of
1937 – Merit system discontinued
Bond of Honor system – get special privileges (swimming, fishing)
1974 – Positive Peer Culture
Other Items of Interest
1890 – established a military band, played at parades & celebrations
Had already had a band the last two years
Needed continuing reorganization because boys came and went
1909 – communicable diseases had been a problem.
Improved with the establishment of an Infirmary
May 12, 1890
A tough 20-year old from Otoe Co. was brought to the school.
He was accused of burglary in Nebraska City.
He has been very disruptive.
He talked one boy into trying to escape with him and resisted arrest when
They have kept him in irons and locked up.
He jumped out a 3rd story window with handcuffs on.
The superintendent is asking the judge to change the sentence and send him
to the penitentiary where he belongs.
He is tired of running a state penitentiary.
That is not his business.
Last month he released on good behavior and found homes for 15 boys and
So far this month 3 girls and 3 boys have been discharged.
[If he thought it was difficult then, he should be here now.]
Follow-up on the Industrial School –
Communication w/ Tim O’Dea & Jolene Jarecki
Go to <memory.loc.gov>
In Search put
Kearney Industrial School
Or for the
Butcher collection put in S. D. Butcher
Prairie Settlement Collection