In the winter of January 2017 I had ventured to the old Sleighton School Village – a place rich with a unique history.
The school had originally started been introduced to the state of Pennsylvania as the House of Refuge in Philadelphia in 1826, founded by a group of Quakers. The school would eventually part off into separate boys and girls sections in the late 1800s/early 1900s. The House of Refuge was founded as a system to implement the idea of handling juveniles different than adults in the legal system. Initially, it was meant to provide an alternative to prisons for incarceration of juvenile delinquents, and child vagrants. However, after years of practice, it would slowly become a paternalist organization, forcing social control over not only young delinquents, but many of the city’s lower classes.
When the school split departments, and relocated in the late 1800s, both the boys, and girls schools were moved into Glen Mills, Delaware County, PA. The boys school was founded in 1889, and then known as the “Glen Mills School Boys Department.” The girls school was founded years later in 1911, and then know as the “Glen Mills School Girls Department.” The girls school would eventually separate from Glen Mills, and become known as Sleighton in 1931, named after Henry Sleighton – a man who had received a grant from William Penn when taking over the property. Other early families connected to this property include the Bakers, Darlingtons, and Evans.
Most of the Sleighton Farm School was built in 1908, with the cottages erected through the beginning of the 1900s, along with a school house, and the John Sargent Administrative Building. Some other buildings constructed during this time were the Falconer Educational Center, a farm office, and Gray-Trent building. The construction was commissioned to Cope and Stewardson, a well-known architectural firm of Philadelphia. Of the 9 cottages originally deigned and constructed, 7 still remain as of 2017. These structures were built in Colonial Revival style. A chapel was later added to the grounds in 1965, preceding a gym, which was constructed in the 1980s. The Gray-Trent building became the Gray-Trent VO-Tech Center after undergoing major renovations in the 1980s.
By the 1960s, the school was no longer known as a farm school, and had eventually become coed in 1975. Sleighton Inc. was formed by Elwyn Inc. to help deal with financial issues that the school was suffering from. The school was shut down for good, vacated entirely by 2001, and the structural state has only declined over years of neglect and heavy hits by mother nature through hot and humid summers, and cold, brutal winters. In 2002, the structures were determined as eligible for registration under the National Register of Historic Places, but due to the carelessness of many, no further action was ever taken to submit the property to a nomination process.
There were talks of plans in 2004 to revive the school village as a continuing care community, but plans fell through. Initial plans were to demolish much of the property, developing over it with brand new structures.
Meetings currently continue to be held, as Elwyn Inc. hopes to rezone the land and follow up with development. Elwyn continues to present zoning plans to the township in public meetings, attracting some interest from developers. Of the 275 acres of Sleighton property, 171 sit on the side of Edgemont, and 104 in Middletown. 116 acres of land of the 171 total that lay in Edgemont are protected in an agricultural security area, and cannot be developed. Middletown continues to refuse to give up their 104 acres for development, leaving developers focusing on the only 51 developable acres.