As many of you probably know, February is African-American History Month. In recognition of that, I’ll be spending this month writing on African-American history in Mason County. This article is on a school that is often confused for another nearby institution.
Founded in an era where racism and segregation were the norm, the Lakin School was part of a much larger reform system organized by three African-American legislators. These men were T.G. Nutter, Harry Capehart, and T.J. Coleman. Between 1919 and 1921, they successfully organized state funding for several institutions, including a similar school for girls in Huntington, the WV Colored Children’s Home in Huntington, and the Lakin State Hospital for the Colored Insane, among others. All of these institutions were to be staffed solely by African-Americans.
But don’t let the name fool you. This wasn’t a regular school. The Lakin Industrial School for Colored Boys, as it was named, was organized as part of the state’s juvenile correctional system. Prior to this, the juvenile system consisted of two integrated and overcrowded reform schools, one for boys at Pruntytown and one for girls at Salem.
In constructing the Lakin School, no expense was spared. The main building, finished in 1924, was designed to be completely fireproof. An attempt at arson in 2000, which did almost no damage, serves as a testament to the quality of this building. The complex also contained a swimming pool, a working farm, and multiple workshops for the teens to learn trades. The equipment provided the means for the juveniles to work as anything from a barber to a mechanic. In that sense, it truly was a reform school more than it was a prison, but nonetheless, it was still a part of the state’s correctional system.
The school operated from 1924, when the main building was completed, to 1956, when Brown vs. Board of Education was decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. This court case led to the desegregation of public schools, which included reform schools. That year, everyone was moved back to Pruntytown and the Lakin School was abandoned. Pruntytown operated as a reform school until 1983, when it was consolidated with the Industrial School for Girls to form the Industrial School for Youth in Salem. This facility closed in 2013, and juveniles were sent to other facilities across the state.
After its closure, the ownership of Lakin School was transferred to Lakin State Hospital until it came under the control of the Department of Agriculture in 1976.
Sadly, this architectural masterpiece no longer remains. Over the years, vandals left their mark on the structure as well. The land was bought by AEP in 2006, and the buildings were subsequently demolished. The other buildings constructed as a part of this program have been demolished as well. Nothing remains of the Industrial School for Girls or Colored Children’s Home in Huntington, and only one building remains of the original Lakin Hospital. That hospital was across Rt. 62 from the Industrial School, and they were two separate institutions with different missions. A later article will be on its history.
Information from the West Virginia State Archives, Clio, the WV Encyclopedia, and the Point Pleasant Register.
Chris Rizer is president of the Mason County Historical and Preservation Society. The next meeting of the Mason County Historical and Preservation Society will be Feb. 17 at 6:30 p.m. at the New Haven Library.