Ask McGehee

In 1904, Annie Louise Waterman (whose husband would later found Waterman Steamship Co.) met with a group of local boys to discuss the formation of a club. The boys brought their savings: 7 cents. Through Mrs. Waterman’s generous efforts, a clubhouse was designed by architect George B. Rogers and completed in 1905.

The colonial revival-styled clubhouse occupied an oversized lot on the northeast corner of Charles and Texas streets. The nine-room structure held a library, music room, dining room and kitchen. The grounds had ample space for football or baseball games.

From Club to Detention Center

According to a May 1909 news account, the Boys Club building had apparently been enlarged and now had a dual purpose. While still a club, the remainder of the building held the Mobile County Detention Home and included “a dormitory for ten inmates with a washroom, attendant’s room, dining room and kitchen.” Inmates tended to a vegetable garden on the property. A year later, the community clubhouse was gone, and the facility was given over entirely to help boys “tagged with delinquency.”

In an article appearing in 1919, the attendant was interviewed and noted that only 12 boys were currently in residence and that the biggest problem was smoking. He explained that there were no bars on the windows and that the boys stayed until they were “cured.”

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Girls Gone Bad

In December of 1928, it was announced that a girls’ detention home was under construction to “care for girls who had overstepped the boundaries of proper conduct.” Its location was described as both “near the poor farm” off Stanton Road and “far removed from the business life of Mobile.”

While their male counterparts learned telegraphy and how to farm, the girls were to be “taught the finer things in life.” The writer explained that each girl would be expected to sew her own clothes as well as participate in “washing, ironing, mending, cooking, caring for the yard and Bible study.”

The last listing for the Mobile County Boys Detention Home on Charles Street appeared in 1940. The 1942 city directory describes it as vacant and later issues reflect its conversion into eight apartments. Today, no sign of the former building survives. According to the 1944 city directory, the Boys Detention Home was in operation near that of the girls’ off Stanton Road.

The new Juvenile Detention Center arrived at the Stanton Road location in 1973, covering 15 acres with a 119-bed facility, and was later named to honor juvenile court judge James T. Strickland. The center continues to handle a far wider range of problems than its early 20th-century counterpart ever did, ranging from truancy to child custody.

Another Boys Club

In 1956, a group of concerned Mobilians founded the Boys Club of Mobile, an idea similar to Mrs. Waterman’s original concept back in 1904. That organization has grown and expanded to be the Boys and Girls Clubs of South Alabama seeking to help its members “reach their full potential as productive, responsible and caring citizens.” Annie Louise Waterman would be pleased. 

Text by Tom McGehee

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