University of Louisville

University of Louisville Buildings Once Housed Homeless Children

The old buildings that you see on Belknap Campus were once used as dormitories and workshops for Louisville's orphaned and delinquent children.

In the late 1850s, Louisville was a bustling river city of 65,000, but troubled by a growing horde of rootless children. Just before the Civil War, the city took land that had been set aside for a suburban cemetery to be used as a House of Refuge.

Baxter Building, Louisville House of Refuge, ca. 1898
Looking south at front of the Baxter Building, designed by Henry Whitestone. This image was published in the Louisville Anzeiger, 3 March 1898.

The first building, named for the institution's president, John G. Baxter, was completed just as the war began. Because of the conflict, the dream of saving waifs was shelved, and the building appropriated as a hospital for Union soldiers. The Baxter Building was damaged by a fire and was torn down in 1925 to make way for the Speed Museum.

Louisville's House of Refuge began in earnest at the end of the war in 1865, admitting only white males at first. By 1872, the building now known as Gardiner Hall was opened as a dormitory for white girls. Sometime later, next door to the east, present-day Gottschalk Hall was opened as a segregated residence for young black women, and what is now Ford Hall, to the west, completed a row of women's buildings.

The male inmates were housed in structures closer to Third Street, in buildings now used by the Kent School of Social Work and the Graduate School.

Drill Corps, Industrial School of Reform, in front of Jouett Hall, with Chapel in background
Industrial School of Reform Drill Corps in front of what is now Jouett Hall; the Chapel is in the background

In 1874, the House of Refuge constructed a rustic frame chapel for worship services, meeting a need for moral instruction. That building today is called "The Playhouse." It was originally located where the Ekstrom Library now sits, but in 1977 it was dismantled, to be rebuilt in 1980 on a new site on Third Street across the corner from Masterson's.

After 1884, the House of Refuge was renamed the School of Industrial Reform to reflect a new emphasis on preparing its wards for the city's growing number of factory jobs. New buildings such as modern-day Brigman Hall, now housing the offices for the Kent School and the School of Justice Administration, were built for carpentry, metal work and other manual arts.

In 1920, following a merger with the county detention facility, the trustees of the new Louisville and Jefferson County Children's Home sought a more secluded site. A perfect match occurred in 1925, when the children were relocated to Ormsby Village, a new campus near Anchorage, and U of L moved its main campus from cramped quarters on West Broadway, across from what is now the Holiday Inn, to the reform school's Third Street site. Now, all of U of L's schools except medicine, dentistry, nursing and public health are housed on Belknap Campus, some in buildings that once belonged to Louisville's House of Refuge.

For more images of the House of Refuge/School of Industrial Reform, visit our online scrapbook.

Adapted from Owen, Tom: "Buildings Once Housed Homeless Children," Inside U of L, September 10, 1984 and Cox, Dwayne and William Morison, The University of Louisville (Lexington, KY: The University Press of Kentucky: c2000), pp. 65-66.

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