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Buildings along Gilead Church Road in Glendale sit empty, abused by time and vandals.
There are 13 structures, all at one time serving various purposes for children from shattered homes in need of direction and stability. One was an administration building. Another a gymnasium. Most housed children with uncertain futures, clinging to a wire of hope at the former Glen Dale Children’s Home.
For hundreds of children over dozens of years, these buildings, now littered with broken glass and books with walls torn by thieves seeking valuable copper and pipe, were their home.
For nearly four years, the rooms, the hallways and gym have been silent. The worn-down buildings are passageways for anyone who needs a break from the cold of winter or youngsters who have nothing better to do than use the shelter for various activities.
Dishes remain in cabinets. On one counter sits a recipe file with outdated coupons.
The Glen Dale Children’s Home closed in 2009, giving way to a new $4.5 million center on Springfield Road under the leadership of Sunrise Children’s Services. When Glen Dale closed, there were about 15 teenage girls with histories of abuse or neglect living there.
Since the closure, time has worn down the once busy campus that served as a home for children who were placed there by families or the state.
But if these walls could talk, the stories of successes and life-changing stays inside those decaying buildings would be immense.
Those who grew up in Hardin County, especially the southern end, know well of The Home.
To a newcomer on a Sunday afternoon drive, the picture is not nearly as clear. There are no signs reflecting what the buildings once were.
In summer, grass and weeds grow high. In winter, winds blow in and out of shattered windows and broken doors.
“I can’t drive down here now,” said Tim Isaacs, principal of Central Hardin High School, twice a student at the home and former
director of activities there. “It makes me ill.”
In 1871, Confederate Brig. Gen. William Flank Perry and Maj. Peter Eppes Harris bought what was then Lynnland Female Institute. It soon was converted to Lynnland Military Institute but closed in 1879. In the early 1900s, the land was purchased by the Baptist Educational Society of Kentucky.
In 1915, the Kentucky Baptist Children’s Home was located at the Glen Dale center.
Glen Dale Children’s Home opened in 1915. Before it closed, there was a marker at an entrance way that signified its founding. That, too, has been stripped away.
It opened as an orphanage with about 500 acres of land owned by the Kentucky Baptist Children’s Home.
Through the years, much of the land was farmed for food and to develop a work ethic among students.
“It was not a free pass to be here,” Isaacs said. “You learned values and you learned how to work. It wasn’t easy but it was effective; it was what kids here needed.”
Over the years, there were successes and failures. Some children learned from their Glen Dale experience and found their lives molded within the campus walls. Others sometimes returned or found troubled lives.
Some children were there for a year or two. For others, it was the only home they ever knew growing up.
Louis White, a retired teacher and coach in Hardin County Schools, was one of those children. He arrived when he was 3 and left when he was 18.
“In the 1940s and ’50s, broken homes were taboo,” White said. “But that’s why there were a lot of kids there. There were kids there for a lot of different reasons.”
As the student population grew, so did the campus. Even today, it resembles a small college.
LIVES CHANGED, LIVES SAVED
Former director Buckley Carlin knows the Glen Dale Children’s Home well — in a leadership role and as a student.
“My dad was not a bad man, but he was a weak man,” Carlin said of his alcoholic father. When his father entered a VA hospital, the next stop for his children was Glen Dale.
Carlin arrived in 1949 from Owensboro where he easily found trouble. The story Carlin tells is one that is told over and over again.
Glen Dale was life-changing for him. It is where young children learned to be young men and women. There were rules and rules were not to be broken. There were long talks about life and how to develop a faith, and some teenage boys roughhousing.
What the Glen Dale Children’s Home gave its students is a sense of what normalcy was and what many of their friends in various schools took as the rule.
In his stint as director, Carlin said he “tried to build on the strengths (of students) and not the problems.”
“We treated the kids like they were brothers and sisters,” he said. “We called them young men and young women and we expected them to act that way.”
Isaacs spent his early years in Louisville, but he grew up at Glen Dale.
“The man that referred me (to Glen Dale) told my mom I would be dead before I was 16,” he said. “I was self-destructing.”
Isaacs spent 9 months at the home, seemed to be on the right path and returned to Louisville, where he easily found trouble again. He was caught stealing from a YMCA and his mother had him arrested.
He was sent back to Glen Dale and spent the next three and a half years there.
“I feel like I owe them my life,” he said of Glen Dale. “I owe the people here. That’s why what I see now is so hard to see.”
Isaacs, who worked at the home after college, said he learned three things during his last stay there: Everything wasn’t his fault, to take responsibility for his actions, and “it’s where I found Christ and that was the difference for me.”
White said Glen Dale provided him with what he needed at a pivotal time in his life.
“I had a roof over my head, good meals and a good education,” he said. “There’s no telling where I would be without them.”
Carlin still hears from students from his time at Glen Dale and what they are doing with their lives. He misses the contact with the kids, he says.
In 2009, a new $4.5 million facility opened on Springfield Road in Elizabethtown. At the time, one of the chief reasons for vacating Glen Dale was to have all operations under one roof.
Chief Operating Officer Brandi Felser of Sunrise Children’s Services, which operated Glen Dale, said the only plan for the previous property is to put it up for sale.
“I personally avoid going by there,” Carlin said of Glen Dale. “To see what it looks like is very disappointing.”
White often drives by his former home and that stirs up childhood memories, he said.
“It looks pretty bleak,” he said. “It’s gradually deteriorated.”
Hardin County Sheriff’s Department spokesman Greg Lowe said his department often is called to the Glen Dale property. Deputies recently found a truck and trailer being loaded with air conditioner units and various parts.
The decision to close the campus has been agonizing for many.
“Glen Dale wasn’t broken and therefore didn’t need to be fixed,” Carlin said.
A half mile off New Glendale Road, about a mile past East Hardin Middle School, history lives in those rotting buildings.
Isaacs would like to see the buildings and land used for something, but knows it is unlikely given the condition of the structures.
In one of the buildings that housed hundreds of children over the years, a Bible sits on a counter, cob webs extending from the bottom of a kitchen cabinet.
On any day when the sun is out and setting, rays of light rest on the Bible.
Jeff D’Alessio can be reached at (270) 505-1757 or firstname.lastname@example.org.