10 Creepy Abandoned Boarding Schools of the World

crookham-court-manor-school-abandoned (Image: True British Metal, cc-nc-sa-4.0)

Like many derelict places, there’s something eerily fascinating about abandoned boarding schools. The idea of the boarding school originated in the UK and somehow remains quintessentially British – the dormitories and classrooms, the refectories, the long hallways and elegant architecture. Good or bad, what goes on within the walls of such educational institutions can live on long after the building itself is deserted. With that in mind, let’s venture inside 10 abandoned boarding schools, some of them with chilling tales to tell.

10. Crookham Court Manor School

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Situated in Berkshire, England, Crookham Court Manor School closed in 1989 amid an abuse scandal that led to several members of staff being imprisoned.

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In 1988, the BBC headed an investigation into charges of ongoing child abuse at the now-abandoned school. By 1989, Crookham Court Manor had closed, and finally, in 2012, convictions began to fall. Several staff members were found guilty of some of the most horrific charges possible, some brought only decades later when those that had been abused finally found the courage to come forward.

crookham-court-manor-school-abandoned-4 (Image: True British Metal, cc-nc-sa-4.0)

Crookham Court Manor School had once educated the children of military personnel stationed at the nearby RAF Greenham Common. Throughout the war years members of the US Air Force also used the school, and it wasn’t until 1961 – after a few years of abandonment – that the building was reopened as an independently run boarding school.

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Some abandoned buildings are dark and dreary, covered with graffiti or littered with garbage. Crookham is a different kind of eerie. Books still sit on their library shelves, homework is scattered across desks. Manuals and textbooks are swollen with damp and mildew, pots with their fake flowers still sit on the counters.

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Wallpaper is peeling and torn, rugs are faded and frayed…. but it’s the overwhelming, unearthly feeling that the keys were turned in the locks and people – not wanting to think about what had happened inside those walls – simply turned and walked away from it all.

9. Carmel College

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The doors of Carmel College only closed in 1997, and for decades, it had been one of the only Jewish boarding schools in England. Closed due to financial difficulties, the campus is deserted and overgrown, but, unlike so many other abandoned boarding schools, this one has enough neighbours to keep a careful watch over it.

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The school has an incredible history. In 1990 – only seven years before it closed – it was at the top of the list of the country’s most expensive boarding schools, charging more than £10,000 a year for tuition.

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Carmel College was founded by Rabbi Dr. Kopul Rosen in 1948, and today, it’s still strangely well-cared for. The abandoned boarding school sits on the banks of the Thames, and the disused buildings look as though they simply need a little sprucing up before the students come back for the new term.

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The school itself is a notable example not only of post-war architecture, but of what everyone believes an English boarding school should look like. From the ornately decorative fireplaces and the dark wood staircases to the elegant carvings and fine iron lanterns, Carmel College is absolutely everything that you’d hope for in a boarding school. And, thanks to its location and its neighbours, it’s in incredibly good shape.

8. Jacob Tome School for Boys

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At one time, the Jacob Tome School for Boys in Maryland – also called the Old Tome School – was considered one of the finest examples of Georgian architecture in the United States. Tragically, in December of 2014, a fire engulfed several of the most prominent buildings on the campus, including a clock tower that had served as a landmark for decades. After firefighters spent hours battling the blaze, all that was left of the previously ornate buildings was granite and cement.

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The Jacob Tome School was founded in 1894 for children aged between kindergarten and grade 12. It operated as a prep school until 1942, when the needs of the community – and the country – changed with war. Then, it was sold to the US Navy to become a Naval Training Center.

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When the Navy took over the building, they left much of it as it was when they’d acquired it. They kept the marble staircases, the cliff-side paths and walks, the wide, arched doorways, the fireplaces, the columns, and the decorative accents.

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Between 1942 and its ultimate closure in 1984, tens of thousands of students walked the hallways of the grand buildings, and in spite of the community’s efforts to save it, the former boarding school slowly fell victim to disrepair. In 1991, the Navy had made a pretty good go at tearing down many of the campus buildings, destroying all but about 60 of the estimated 600 buildings in the area. Before the fire, vandalism had been responsible for much of the damage; copper was stripped from the buildings, metalwork was stolen, and the elements have continued to take their toll.

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Today, about 13 of the abandoned boarding school’s original buildings still stand, including some of the dormitories. One of the original structures that had been still standing was the Memorial Hall, which had been built in honour of the school’s founder, and was one of the buildings destroyed in the 2014 blaze.

7. Friends Agricultural School

Also known as the Brookfield Agricultural School, the institution was opened in 1836 between Moira and Lisburn in Northern Ireland. It was established by the Society of Friends – the Quakers – as a place for children to live and learn; most of them had no other choice, and the school was created to give them a chance at finding some sort of relief from the poverty and hunger that was sweeping across much of the country.

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Here, children were given clothes, food, a place to sleep, and a place to learn. First and foremost was Bible study, required of all children who were taught at the boarding school as, ultimately, the Quakers wanted to teach their charges morals.

They learned practical skills as well as academic ones. Boys were taught different facets of farming and of industry, while the girls were taught the likes of needlework, sewing, and everything that was needed to keep the farm running. Over the years, programs were added to the curriculum – botany and sciences were taught, and the children were allotted time for sports like cricket, tennis, football and swimming. By the turn of the century, new superintendents added even more classes, from classic literature to the sciences.

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But the school was, in the end, short-lived, and financial troubles ultimately forced it to close in 1922. The land and the buildings were sold to a local Quaker farmer, and many of the buildings still stand. Windows are gone, machinery and farm equipment has all but disintegrated into rusting hulks. The tower still stands, though, looking out over the landscape that was once salvation for poor children who otherwise would not have received an education or, in some cases, enough food to survive.

6. Salesian School

salesian-school-goshen-abandoned-2 (Image: Mark Johnson via YouTube)

The Salesian School in Goshen, New York, has an eerie atmosphere hanging over it. It was originally a private mansion, built sometime between 1834 and 1864 by David Haight. When Haight died, the property was foreclosed on and, a few years later, it was purchased by the Salesian Fathers and renovated into a Catholic boarding school. The original house became the administrative offices, and other buildings were constructed in the following years.

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The school’s past was marred by the death of a 9-year-old student. The boy, Paul, died in 1964; at the time of his death, it seemed questionable whether it had been an accident. It was ruled that his body was found too far from the building to support a theory that he had simply slipped and fallen off the roof, but when police investigated, they ran into staff who clearly didn’t want to talk about whatever had happened and students who were no more help. About six years after his death, a fire broke out inside the school and destroyed any records that might have shed any kind of light onto his tragic circumstances.

After the incident, interest and enrollment in both the school and the summer camp that was also held there waned. As a school, it closed in 1985, and was briefly used as a youth center until that, too, shut down.

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The fate of the building is still being debated. Originally, there were plans to turn the grounds into a park, but the residents of Goshen simply didn’t want to use it, in spite of considerable landscaping, maintenance and the installation of walkways and lighting. There’s said to be something off about the place, and perhaps that’s why it’s going mostly unused. Some want the building opened and restored, renovated for the use of the community. Others simply want it torn down.

Paul, on the other hand…. we’re not sure what he wants, but according to paranormal proponents, his spirit still haunts the building where he died decades ago. Regardless of whether or not his ghostly presence is still there, there’s an unmistakable sense of tragedy surrounding any building where a young life is taken so suddenly – and mysteriously.

5. Chateau de Gudanes

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What’s your dream job? If any of your answers involve the full restoration and preservation of a magnificent 18th century chateau in France, we’re sorry to tell you that an Australian couple has already beat you to it.

Chateau de Gudanes has an incredibly long history, one that’s only possible in countries of royalty, rebellion and the lineage of generations upon generations. The grounds were originally home to a 13th century fortress, but the chateau that’s currently undergoing renovations tells a more recent story.

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Built around 1745 by the de Sales family, the mansion was passed down – briefly – through the family until it was seized during the Revolution. The house then passed to one of the families ennobled after Napoleon’s departure from the throne, and fell to pillaging protesters by 1830.

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The history of the lineage of the home is a little spotty, filled with owners who died without heirs and gaps in the public record. It wasn’t until the 1960s that the chateau became something of a boarding school, used by children on their long summer holidays. That continued for several decades, until it was finally abandoned and purchased with the intention of restoring it. That never happened, though, and recently, an Australian couple fell in love with the mansion and bought it, with the intention of restoring it to the glory and splendour that it had once known.

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And it’s a lot of work. The decades have not been kind to the building, and the first steps in restoration were simply making it structurally sound again. Even the more modern rooms – like the kitchen that was added only when the building became a school – were in need of a complete renovation, a project that will be incredibly interesting to follow. You can also lend your support here.

4. Florida’s Dozier School for Boys

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Exactly what the Florida State School for Boys was, is up for debate – most adamantly by those who lived there. Originally, it was meant to be a reform school for juvenile boys convicted of a crime. But, by at least the 1960s, it was a boarding school for orphans, unwanted boys, and those that simply didn’t have anywhere else to go.

To some, the institution, also known as the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys, was hell.

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It was only fairly recently that boys who had been residents there throughout the 1950s and 1960s stepped forward to unite and tell their stories – and they were horrific stories of abuse, beatings, and worse. In August of 2014, researchers began excavating a mass gravesite on the campus, unearthing 55 sets of human remains and beginning to identify them based on school records and DNA samples from living relatives. The first to be identified was George Owen Smith, who was 14 when he went missing. The school reportedly wouldn’t tell his family anything.

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The institution originally opened in 1900, just outside of Tallahassee. It was known for cruelty from the beginning, but calls for reform were pushed aside, caught up in red tape, and ignored. Attempts by students to stay beneath the radar were pointless; one boy, recounting the nightmare only 60 years later, remembered his first beating. His roommate told him later that he’d counted 135 lashes with a leather strap.

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There were plenty of other stories, many of the boys buried on the grounds. They recall being put into industrial dryers as punishment, and of witnessing others die.

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State records indicate that 96 boys perished while the school was operational. Dozier School for Boys closed in 2011 due to financial reasons. Only then did the excavations began.

3. Old Brunei Hostel

old-brunei-hostel-tanglin-hill-abandoned (Image: Brian Jeffery Beggerly, cc-4.0)

The Old Brunei Hostel has a couple of different names. It’s also called Tanglin Hill or the Tanglin Brunei Hostel, and it sits, abandoned and odd, in an affluent area of Singapore. Opened in 1958, the boarding house was once the home of some of the most promising students from the small country of Brunei.

Since Brunei didn’t have its own formal education system, those that showed the most potential and promise were sent to the boarding school in Tanglin Hill. Eventually, the government of Brunei purchased the land for the hostel.

old-brunei-hostel-tanglin-hill-abandoned-2 (Image: Brian Jeffery Beggerly, cc-4.0)

Brunei sent government officials to the school for training classes, which was also the home of a handful of Malaysian students. In spite of outside influences, the school remained a pocket of Brunei culture and creativity, celebrating uniquely Brunei holidays and organizing its own sports teams.

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By the 1980s, Brunei had established its own educational system, and it no longer became necessary to send students to Tanglin Hill. The abandoned boarding school still remains the property of the Brunei Consulate and the government, but it now stands derelict and overgrown. In spite of the “No Trespassing” signs, the abandoned school has become a hotspot for urban explorers and local filmmakers.

2. Mount Pleasant Indian Industrial Boarding School

The development and utilization of Native American boarding schools across the United States is another sad chapter in the unfairness visited upon the nation’s tribes by their government, and the Mount Pleasant Indian Industrial Boarding School is an eerie reminder of that dark part of American history.

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Established in 1894 and operational through 1934, the school was home to children that were removed from their families and sent there under the somewhat misguided idea that they were better taken care of in an institution, where they could receive an education. The buildings still stand today, and they’re a bizarre reminder of the past not only for those that went there, but for the children and grandchildren of those that were permanently scarred by what went on behind closed doors.

For some, that means breaking a cycle of violence that started with the schools. There’s little in the way of formal documents and records, and most of what’s remembered has been passed down through the generations. It’s mothers telling their daughters about the beatings their grandmothers had endured, it’s telling the story about how culture and language were taken away, how resident children were forced to conform to the American standard, rather than honouring their own, much older, traditions and beliefs.

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It’s thought that about 200 children died during the school’s years of operation, many from malnutrition. Records are all but non-existent, though, and official documents only indicate five deaths. Often, those that were about to die were allegedly sent back to their parents… but they would never get there. The transfer of the school into tribal hands has facilitated a search of the grounds for the remains of students. And they’re finding them, some children no older than two years.

Today, the land and the buildings belong to the tribe that suffered the most there – the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe. Many of those trying to decide what to do with the old, abandoned buildings are haunted by stories of their grandparents – stories that help their own childhoods make so much more sense in retrospect.

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Now, though, they’re looking to rebuild – not only their lands, but their culture and their heritage. They’re teaching their children what was never truly lost, only hidden, throughout a generation of abuse. An exhibition has been opened on the site, dedicated to life at the now-abandoned boarding school.

1. St Joseph’s Industrial School, Letterfrack

Letterfrack is a small village out in the sprawling, seemingly endless countryside of Connemara, Ireland. In 1849, a Quaker couple moved to Letterfrack from England, purchasing a large piece of land and building a school for the local children. In 1884, the property – and the school – passed to the control of the Archbishop of Tuam, when it was decided that it would become one of 52 industrial boarding schools in the country.

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The road was paved with good intentions. Originally, it was meant to be a safe haven for children who, as Irish officials stated, could not even beg, as there was no one in the remote Connemara wilderness to beg from.

And that, in the end, was one of the problems. St Joseph’s Industrial School was so lonely, so remote and so isolated that not only did the boys have no one outside the school to turn to, but were crushed by the aching loneliness and isolation that came with the school sentence. The school officially opened and welcomed its first 75 residents on April 1, 1886, under the management of the Christian Brothers. Because there were so few people living in Connemara, many were sent there from across the country, which made an isolated life even more lonely.

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The school was like other industrial institutions of the time, with dormitories, kitchens, and a separate monastery for those in charge. Between its opening and its eventual closure in 1974, 2,819 boys called the school home – and around 99 of them would die there. Boys were orphans, destitute, or, in some cases, criminal. The decision to close the school was first brought up in 1966 and finally made in 1973, but it was only decades later that investigations into the abuse at the facility were first held.

By the time the investigations started, the boys that had grown up there were elderly men; those who returned to the school’s grounds were horrified at the memories dredged up at the sight of the old buildings. In the 1930s, St Joseph’s Industrial School was the site of one of the first cases of reported sexual abuse in a Catholic institution, but the abuse was far more widespread than a handful of isolated instances.

Boys remembered the punishment for bed-wetting – they were forced to run, holding their sheets above them, ordered not to come in until they were dry. And in an area renowned for its rain, it was an endless punishment. They recounted boys being beaten senseless for the slightest offenses.

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Far from getting an education, investigations supported allegations that the boarding school was little more than a work camp. Poor record-keeping means that details are sketchy. What they have shown is that the boys weren’t alone in their dilemmas, but that knowledge would be somehow bittersweet for those who had survived isolation in one of Connemara’s darkest places. The old buildings of Letterfrack Industrial School have since been repurposed.

Related – 9 Creepy Abandoned Schools & Universities


About the author: Debra Kelly



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