|Calvert Prison Camp|
Transylvania County has operated several jails in its
history, including the original one located in the courthouse. However, many residents are unaware that a
state prison camp was also once located here. In the fall of 1933, the state of
North Carolina purchased 50 acres of land from Tom Galloway in the community of
Calvert near Rosman to build a prison camp.
The property was located near the current New Excelsior plant, once the
home of Coats America and American Thread.
The number of prisoners the state said would be housed
in the camp changed continually, with various estimates ranging between 75 to
125 men. The purpose of the facility was to use inmate labor to build and
maintain county roads. The camp would also
provide local jobs for a superintendent, a steward, and seven to ten guards,
good news during the hard times of the Depression.
In June of 1934, construction began on what was
officially called the Calvert State Prison Camp. Labor was provided by “grade A prisoners” and
a number of local craftsmen. The main building was built of brick. A deep well was dug for a water and a sewage
disposal plant was built on site.
Electric lights were installed by the Rosman Tanning Extract Company of
Construction was in full swing when work suddenly
stopped after the Department of Corrections was informed the Tennessee Valley
Authority was considering building a storage dam on the French Broad
River. This plan would inundate large
sections of Transylvania and Henderson counties and flood the prison camp site.
When the TVA finally decided they would not construct the dam, work on the camp
|Historic map showing the location of Calvert Prison Camp|
In addition to the prison building itself, there was
also a farm which prisoners worked in order to make the camp
self-sufficient. According to the
Transylvania Times, there were “…nine acres of Irish potatoes, growing nicely;
tomato and cabbage plants out and thriving, and other garden crops making a
fine showing.” Pigs were also raised.
To celebrate the completion of the Calvert prison camp
in January of 1935, an open-house for the general public was held. The final design allowed for 75 inmates. It
was announced that Fred Johnson of Brevard would be superintendent of the camp. Originally, the camp was intended to hold
white-only inmates, but, after a series of delays, 65 African-American
prisoners were assigned to the prison in August of 1936.
There is evidence of several escapes including three
inmates who escaped from a road detail and a trustee named Jess Harris who
simply walked off the farm. The prison
owned their own bloodhounds, which were once even borrowed by local law
enforcement officers to help apprehend and arrest three men with two car loads
of illegal liquor.
The Calvert prison was closed by the state in the fall
of 1962 and the inmates were sent to other facilities. The rationale the state provided was that
Calvert was one of the smallest prison farms in North Carolina and larger
prisons were more economical. The state
said they were willing to sell the prison camp for “a bargain”.
With the prison sitting empty, there were discussions
in the county about what to do with the building and land. The Transylvania Times commented in a
headline that the “abandoned prison camp mars the progress of Transylvania.”
One proposal was to transform the prison into a factory, similar to what
another county in the eastern part of the state had done, converting theirs
into a factory making “junior miss dresses”. The record remains silent on the
eventual fate of the Calvert prison camp.
Photographs and information
for this column are provided by the Rowell Bosse North Carolina Room,
Transylvania County Library. This article was written by Local History
assistant Joe Russo. For more information, comments, or suggestions, contact NC
Room staff at [email protected] or 828-884-1820.