In most Massachusetts cities and towns, habitual truants (children who stayed away from school) and juvenile delinquents had normally been committed to local almshouses and prisons. By 1873, state law updated policies to “humanize” the children and guide them on a better path. Habitual truants (age seven to fourteen), habitual absentees (age seven to sixteen), and habitual school offenders could be committed to a county truant school for a term of up to two years. At least one of these types of schools were found in each of Massachusetts’ counties, which seemed to get more crowded every passing decade. In the early 20th century, the outlook on shaping children’s growth changed and to reflect this, the truancy schools were renamed “Training Schools”.
The former Hampden County Truancy School in Springfield was outgrown and outdated. The county petitioned the state for a new school on open land, and a site was acquired in nearby Agawam. The choice of location was intended to provide a rural farm environment and to avoid the temptations of the city. The isolated location, surrounded by farmland, ensured that students could not easily walk away from the school to rejoin their friends and families. Despite the remote location, the Hampden County Commissioners report of 1918 noted that 36 boys still ran away from the training school a total of 69 times and that 5 were still at large at the end of the year.
Starting in the 1940s, the County Training Schools were seen as a waste of taxpayer money and many staff at these institutions were under-educated themselves to deal with emotional or social issues that some of the children exhibited. Many county schools were closed, with the Hampden County Training School closing in 1972.
The school building and grounds sat vacant for over a decade until funding was released to renovate the building for use as a police academy training center in 1984. The exterior of the building remained relatively unchanged during this time, and many of the original classroom spaces were left as found. The building served in this capacity for over twenty years until it was closed in 2005. In 2017, Soldier On, a private nonprofit organization that provides housing and supportive services for military veterans, rehabilitated the former school and now provides 51 permanent housing units here. The property was listed on the National Register of Historic Places (a report where much of this information came from) and was rehabilitated using Federal Tax Credits.
The Classical Revival-style Hampden County Training School was designed by the prolific Holyoke-based architect George Perkins Bissell Alderman. Alderman was well known throughout western Massachusetts and Connecticut for his monumental, classically derived designs for residences, schools, commercial blocks, civic buildings, and churches.