The Tome School for Boys was the last stop on our unplanned abandoned school road trip. After realizing that the asylum we wanted to go to was turned into a haunted house for Halloween, we decided that our best bet would be to go to a kitschy farm and poke at baby goats in the morning, then try to see if we could figure out how to get into this abandoned academy in the afternoon. It took a little bit of ingenuity (if you even want to call it that) and bickering, but needless to say, it was a successful day on both accounts.
The Tome School for Boys, located in Port Deposit, MD was founded in 1894 by Jacob Tome as a nonsectarian college preparatory school, taking in students from kindergarten through 12th grade. Tome ran the school until his death in 1898, when he left behind an endowment, which was eventually used by the Board of Trustees to purchase two hundred acres on the bluff above the town, thus creating a separate upper-level boarding school for boys, re-naming it the Jacob Tome Institute.
Between 1900 and 1905, beautiful beaux art-style granite buildings were built on the bluffs overlooking the Susquehanna River that flows through the town. When walking through what remains of the campus, it’s quite serene and secluded, with a beautiful view of the maritime town below. Of the main campus, thirteen of the original buildings survive: Memorial Hall, three dormitories (Jackson, Madison, and Harrison), the Chesapeake Inn dormitory and dining hall, the Director’s residence, the Monroe Gymnasium, and six Masters cottages – but all in various states of decay.
The school enjoyed a prestigious reputation for a number of years. Its students included R. J. Reynolds, Jr. (son of R. J. Reynolds) as well as children of the Mellon and Carnegie families. After thriving for several decades, the Institute experienced severe financial troubles during the Depression until it finally closed its doors in 1941. The following year in 1942, the school was taken by Congressional order, along with the land from 70 surrounding farms, for development as a US Naval Training Center. The campus expanded from 330 acres to 1,132 acres, and more than 500 new buildings were added, transforming it into the United States Naval Training Center at Bainbridge, which operated throughout World War II, the Korean and Vietnam Wars, and the Cold War.
The Navy operated out of the facility until March 31, 1976, when it had claimed to have over 500,000 graduating recruits.
During this time, the Tome School Board decided to move the Tome School for Boys to a new campus at North East, Maryland in 1970, where it still operates today.
The base was officially closed in 1986, when the United States Congress authorized the Secretary of the Navy to dispose of the USNTC. Congress specified that before the land could be sold back to the State of Maryland, the buildings that could not be used, would have to be demolished. Of the 500 buildings that were created, less than 50 remain today, including the original 13 previously stated. It wasn’t until 2000 that the State of Maryland finally regained ownership of the campus, only to leave it empty and abandoned until present day.
Despite the fact that it sits off of a main road, surrounded by housing developments, once you start to walk down the trails to the campus, you are secluded by an overgrowth of trees, forgetting that you are in the center of a populous town. Along the paths that lead to the main campus, there are wooden cottages that litter the trail along the way, fighting (and subsequently losing) their battles with Mother Nature.
When you reach the center of campus, you are greeted by a sprawling lawn in the center, and large administrative buildings lining the perimeter. When we were there, the air was filled with the scent of freshly cut grass – so even though the campus is chained off and locked up to rot, there is still a grounds keeper tending to the area on occasion (so those visiting without permission, heed warning).
The grounds keeper was not enough to deter arson, however. In 2014 Memorial Hall went up in flames, devastating 114 years of history. All that remains of the building is its stone facade, a twisted iron stair case and a crumbled bell tower that now houses a family of frightening buzzards. I can only imagine what this building looked like before the fire – what little that remained was stunning.
In 1984 the buildings and property of the Bainbridge Tome School for Boys were put on the National Register of Historic Places. So, in theory they are protected, but at the rate the buildings are decaying, there is no guarantee these buildings will be around much longer. And from what can be found online, there are no plans in the immediate future to try and save these structures.
(For more shots of this trip to Tome and the other schools I visited on this road trip, visit Gooby Herm’s Flickr gallery. I’ll admit it – his shots are way better than mine. There’s only so much you can do with a fixed lens film camera!