Hot as Hell
Vineland Training School's Menantico Colony
Located in Vineland, NJ
Photo © 2005 Tom Kirsch, opacity.us
Vineland Training School's Menantico Colony History
In 1888, the New Jersey Home for the Education and Care of Feebleminded Children was opened in southern New Jersey (later the Vineland Training School). Among many expansions of the institution, the Menantico Colony was to be used as a state farm to treat "feeble-minded" young men, using rural settings and challenging work to ease the mind. The work also served as occupational therapy in hopes to return the men with skills that would support them outside the institution. In 1913, 530 acres of land were purchased at a bargain price of $10 an acre; the oak scrub landscape contained within was to be transformed into productive farmland.
Construction costs of the colony were offset by the patient labor, most notably were the concrete block foundations that were created under the supervision of a mason. Those who were not capable of construction work cleared the land. By 1919 there were accomodations for 120 boys, and their expenses were almost completely paid for by the profits made in food production.
This colony plan was regarded as a very cost-efficient and effective way to deal with "feeble-mindedness," a term which was becoming synonomous with immorality, pauperism, crime and idleness in American society. This excerpt from the "The Kallikaks of Kansas: Report of the Commission on Provision for the Feeble-Minded" (1919) describes the positive effects of the labor at Menantico, as well as the "burden to society" viewpoint of mainstream America at the time:
The clearing of land offered an outlet for the destructive tendencies of the boys, which are very marked when they are closely confined at school and in institutions or are permitted to roam the streets. Instead of breaking windows, stealing and destroying property, or setting fire to haystacks and buildings, these boys are happy to cut down bushes, pull up stumps and bum the brush heaps. What boy ever lived who is not willing to work all day to gather material for a bonfire? In two and one-half years they have cleared over one hundred acres and have raised good crops of small fruits and vegetables.
The happiness of all the boys is notable. Besides they feel that they are doing something really worth while as the results of their labors become more and more evident. They also appreciate that they are mak- ing for themselves a home. They speak of "our colony," "our field," and "my cow," or "my pig."
Up to the present time only a very small part of the feeble-minded population in any state has been housed at all, and very few of these in the proper sort of institution. The colony offers a cheap, safe and happy home for these innocents, where they will be kept from pauperism, crime and disease, and from burdening society with their numerous defective offspring.
The colony began experimenting with new methods of growing peaches, egg laying and poultry rearing in conjunction with Rutgers University - yielding very successful results. This spurred research on poultry vaccines that was later taken on at Vineland's laboratories.
The history of the colony fades until it becomes owned by The Elwyn Institute, who rented the property to host The Vineland Rock Concert - an event put on hold due to complaints from nearby residents. At the present day, there are a few residential buildings, a chapel, and it appears that at least one building has been razed (there is a large concrete footprint remaining). The Vineland Training School still operates at the same location.