Grafton State School

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Grafton State School
Established 1903
Opened 1904
Current Status Active
Building Style Cottage Plan
Architect(s) Hancock Brothers & Joseph Bell DeRemer
Location Grafton, ND
Architecture Style Classic Revival & Art Deco
Peak Patient Population 1,450 in 1966
Alternate Names
  • Institution for the Feeble-Minded
  • North Dakota Developmental Center
  • Developmental Center at Westwood Park
  • Life Skills & Transition Center (Current)


The North Dakota Developmental Center dates back to 1903 when the legislature allocated funds for a facility to educate and care for people with mental retardation (intellectual and developmental disabilities). The site of the new campus, 40 acres in size, was located on the west side of Grafton and had been owned by the state for more than a decade. When the property of the Dakota Territory was divided at statehood, North Dakota was deemed to be "entitled" to some facility worth $30,000 to balance a new penitentiary wing just completed in Sioux Falls. Congress appropriated the money in 1891 and the Department of the Interior had already purchased the land for $3,000 before anyone awoke as to what was going on. With an adequate penitentiary in Bismarck, the young state had no desire for a second such institution and the money was banked until 1901 by which time it had grown to $29,000. It was these funds which were used to pay for the erection of the Main Building, plus architects 7 fees and the cost of drilling an artesian well. It was necessary to wait until the 1903 legislature made available new funds that such tasks as plastering, ventilating and fitting the building for occupancy were accomplished. Even so, it was necessary to tap the maintenance fund for $10,000 before the school was ready to open.

The board hired Dr. L. B. Baldwin, assistant director of the State Hospital for the Insane at Jamestown, as the first superintendent and he began his duties on December 16, 1903. Baldwin's first job was to get the unfurnished building ready to open and he did so, expecting an initial population of 50. But in May 1904 no less than 75 "eligible applicants for admission" arrived from the State Hospital in Jamestown and within a month Gov. White signed an executive order sending another 27 residents, 14 of whom were epileptic. Thus the new institution opened in an overcrowded condition, setting a theme which was to continue for more than half a century. Starting in May 1904, people were admitted directly from communities and were transferred from the North Dakota State Hospital to the new facility in Grafton, N.D.

Agriculture also played an important role in the early development of the campus since the institution was expected to grow much of its food in order to keep expenses down. The first year Baldwin hired out the farming due to troubles in getting the institution started up as well as a lack of suitable equipment. In fact, he saw the farm not only as a food source but also an integral part of the institution's training program. "All the vegetables consumed should be raised on the premises," he wrote, "thus affording outdoor occupation for a portion of the male inmates."

In 1924 Wylie called for plans and long-term policies to house up to 1,000 patients, an estimated ten percent of the state's developmentally disabled population. At this time the school's population was 424, with at least 37 females on the waiting list. The overcrowding was also a function of the continued multiple uses of the Main Building. Despite repeated entreaties, Wylie could not persuade the state to build a separate superintendent's cottage, a move which would have freed space for classrooms.

Originally known as the Institution for the Feeble-Minded, the name was changed in the 1930's to Grafton State School to recognize the training emphasis at the facility. In the early 1960's the North Dakota Tuberculosis Sanitarium near Dunseith, N.D., became a satellite facility. Like most facilities in the United States for people with developmental disabilities, the Grafton State School reached its peak population in the late 1960s. At that time, about 1,300 people were served per day through the San Haven and Grafton locations. Admissions decreased and population levels began to fall when special educational services became available in school districts starting in the late 1960s/early 1970's.

Inadequate resources made it difficult to maintain buildings and adequately address overcrowding and service concerns. The North Dakota ARC initiated a lawsuit in Federal District Court. In 1982, a United States District Court ruling in the case of the Association for Retarded Citizens of North Dakota, et al., vs. State of North Dakota, resulted in substantial, court-ordered changes to North Dakota's service system for people with developmental disabilities. The San Haven location closed in 1989, and the state has significantly expanded opportunities for people with developmental disabilities to live, to work and to participate in their home communities. The Center earned accreditation from The Council on Quality Services for People with Disabilities in 1989 and has sustained that accreditation. Court review ended in 1995.

Since 2000, the Developmental Center's population has ranged from 160 to 117 people with developmental disabilities. Current plans are to continue to decrease the number of people served in the Developmental Center ICF/MR residential services. The agency is now a Licensed Provider for HCBS residential and day services and has added an ICF/MR Adolescent Service component to address the needs of adolescents unable to be served by private provider services. CARES was established in 1994 and added direct support outreach capabilities in 2008, and joins with the Institute services of the agency to assist local and statewide professional needs.