The Wayne County Training School in Northville Michigan was constructed in the early 1920's on 1040 acres of land bought by Wayne County especially for the complex. It opened its doors in 1926 with approximately 400 mentally impaired children ages 6 - 18 under the supervision of Dr. Robert Haskell. The complex cost 2.5 million to build and was constructed using handtools and horse drawn wagons. The Training School was set up in the "cottage style" of other facilities of the era and was comprised of 38 buildings including 18 dormitories and 4 classroom buildings. Because of the location of the Training School, which was at that time was a considerable distance from Detroit, it was built to be self sufficient and contained its own fire station, hospital, and laundry as well as other entertainment features like a theater, gym, swimming pool, and bowling alley, amongst others. The architecture of the buildings themselves were beautiful, crafted with carved masonry work and marble inlays. Most of the buildings had shale roofs and were complete with Romanesque columns with ornate carved designs. There were also large wooded areas on the complex and playsets for the children.
The complex's population grew greatly during the 30's and at its peak held approximately 700 children and staff who also lived on the complex in special housing. Throughout the next 40 years the complex's population dwindled slowly as other facilities opened in the area and a lot of the more hopeful cases were transferred out to them. Sometime during the 1950's or 60's the complex's name changed to the Wayne County Child Development Center.
As the years went by and the mental health industry began to place greater emphasis on education, rather than training, the complex's population dwindled even more. The complex closed in 1974. A maintenance crew was employed to keep the buildings in shape but were laid off in 1978 as the utilities alone for the complex cost $200,000 a year. It then became a hangout for kids and curiosity seekers of all types.
In 1984 however, a groundbreaking ceremony took place on the premises for the projected "Cavanagh Retirement Village" but this was protested by the Northville Elderly Development Company as they disagreed over the issue of combining market-rate apartments with the senior citizen housing. The complex would remain abandoned and unkempt, and although several attempts to sell and develop the land were discussed over the years nothing ever came of these ideas. In January of 1997 a Farmington teen died after falling off the rooftop of an abandoned County building located on the property but not part of the complex. The death forced the county's hand on the future of the complex and in 1999 the complex was demolished and the land sold to finance among other projects the two new sports stadiums in downtown Detroit for the Detroit Tigers and Detroit Lions."
Source of some of the above information: articles written by Robin Polletta that appeared in the Mill Race Quarterly issues XVII Vol.3 and XVII Vol. 4.
Images, text, and descriptions courtesy of Jeff Archer.