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History Mystery: Boys Outside Unknown Building

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Graphic2_Box66_012. Click to enlarge.

Graphic2_Box66_012. Click to enlarge.

Today we have one of those random group shots that often stump even the most seasoned of photo archivists. We usually have something to go on that would give us clues, but in this case, the clues are limited. Here’s what we do know: The photo is part of the Wolff, Gretter, Cusick and Hill Studio Negatives Collection (Graphic 2.) That collection tells us that the location of the building is more than likely centrally located in the bluegrass region, if not Franklin County, as this studio was based out of Frankfort. The boys are dressed in clothing that resemble typical outfits of the early 20th century. While the boys do not appear to be wearing the exact same outfit, they are very similar in style, and each is wearing an identical hat, suggesting order or something similar to a uniform. Is this a school or an orphanage? By looking at the building we can see that it is out in the country with no other buildings nearby, but the front of the building has two separate entrances. Does this suggest different genders entering the building? Or was this related to an earlier use? If you look closely at the lower windows to the right, there are people sitting in the window, and possibly ladies or girls in dresses. Which means, our history mystery is twofold: Do you recognize the building? Do you recognize any of the boys in this photo? Help us out!

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  1. wrote on June 26th, 2016 at 1:04 am

    Jack Saylor

    Did anyone ever figure out where this picture was taken and what it is a picture of?

  2. wrote on March 10th, 2018 at 12:31 am

    M. Monroe

    When you enlarge the photo you can see grates over the windows; it’s a secure facility.
    I did a search for “boy’s reformatory Kentucky.” The photograph was taken on the campus of the Kentucky Houses of Reform.
    The Kentucky Historic Institutes website has photographs of the campus including this building. From the website:
    “In 1897, legislature establishes a House of Reform on a 200-acre tract at Greendale in Fayette County. Both boys and girls are sent to this institution in ages ranging, from 8 to 21. Children are worked on the farm and in the rock quarry…Whippings, “the hole”, and leg chains with thirty-five pound weights are used to control inmates.”

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