It is almost impossible to dig a hole anywhere on our campus and not discover a piece of our history. Sometimes it’s just an old rusty nail, a blackened brick, a broken soda bottle or, recently, an intact glass milk bottle embossed with “The Charlton Industrial Farm School, Ballston Lake, New York.” We also have a fairly well stocked archive of old photos and documents that paint a fascinating picture of our past.
It all started with John S. Hawley, a long-time Charlton resident who made his money as a candy manufacturer in New York City. In his travels in the 1890s, he saw that there were a lot of homeless and orphaned children in the cities and towns all over New York. When he returned to Charlton, he brought together some of his friends, including Dr. James Sweetman and James Valentine, owner of the Valentine Farm located on Lake Hill Road, which eventually became our campus.
These individuals decided to establish a “home for wayward and homeless boys.” Mr. Hawley donated $15,000 as initial seed money. He also made a commitment for an additional $2,000 a year for the first five years of the Farm School. He established the John S. Hawley Permanent Endowment Fund with a gift of $50,000 as a way to fund the school’s operations for the future. This initial gift is still a part of our permanent endowment and was the beginning of Charlton’s commitment to build an endowment and to use it in support of our programs.
The Charlton Industrial Farm School for Boys officially opened in 1895. Initially, there was only one building but within five years this had been expanded to a large residential building, a school building, a barn and a several small out buildings.
The boys, ages 8 to 18, worked in the gardens and orchards in the morning and went to school in the afternoon. The Farm School had a wide variety of vegetable gardens as well as apple, cherry, plum and pear orchards, which at one point totaled 1,200 trees. The school also established a small herd of dairy cattle which produced milk for consumption and for sale. Together with the garden, the orchards and the milk business provided the boys with food and the school with income.
The boys worked hard and played hard. They worked in the fields, went to school, swam in the Alplaus and played a variety of sports. At one point there were as many as 40 boys from all over New York State in the program. Between 1895 and 1938 over four hundred boys had been cared for and educated at the school. This came to an end in the chilly dawn of April 2, 1938, when a fire quickly and totally destroyed the main three-story brick dormitory. No longer with a place to live, the boys were sent elsewhere. According to the Board minutes at the time, some of the boys were sent to other institutions like Schenectady Home for Children (now Northeast Parents & Child Society) and Albany Home for Children (now Placement Child and Family Center). Others were sent to foster homes. The farm school was closed.
In 1951, a campaign was initiated to raise $1,500,000 over a five-year period to reopen the School. The Charlton School was the new name designated by the Trustees, and a decision was made, with the support of New York State Board of Social Welfare, to accept only girls.
In 1954, construction on the first cottage was completed and named after John Hawley. Hawley Cottage had a capacity of 20 girls. In 1959, Clemens Cottage was opened. In 1961, the school building and gym was added.
Today, The Charlton School is a sophisticated, multidimensional residential treatment and education program. As in 1895, our focus remains on the individual student and her needs. There continues to be a focus on the importance of creating and maintaining a caring and safe environment and on quality relationships in the healing and learning process.
We at The Charlton School realize that as times and needs change we also must change in order to remain effective, relevant and viable. Today, The Charlton School is in a transition in regard to the resources available to support the types of programs we provide. The students of today often bring complex personal and family dynamics along with many educational needs. As we move forward, Charlton is committed to remaining effective with a wide variety of students and to remain viable financially by constantly increasing our efficiencies.