Fremont County, Iowa

Orphan Trains
by Jerry and Jane Hume

A View From The Attic ~ A Weekly Series
Fremont County Historical Society
Week of 09 February 2009

Below are the words I and my siblings have heard all our lives. The Orphan Trains resulted because of poor economic conditions with no social net for families. When people lost their jobs they were often forced to abandon their children. In 1853, a 26 -year -old man, Charles Larry Brake started the Children’s Aid Society (C.A.S.). His work resulted in twenty-one schools, the Five Point House of Industry and the Catholic Foundling homes.

In 1854, C.A.S. started the Orphan Train. The first children were placed in a “free home” movement and transported away from New York City. C.A.S. would contact different towns to see if families wanted these children. Many families wanted a child to love. However some people were just looking for extra work hands.

In September of 1904 an Orphan Train came to Sidney, Iowa. There were 17 orphans, nine of them were adopted in Fremont County. Three of them were our relatives- our dad Robert J Hunt-age 4, our aunts Sarah A Hunt- age 8 and Margaret E. Hunt- age 10. Children from the trains were taken to a court house or church . Our family was given away at the Methodist Church in Sidney. The September 27,1904 issue of the Fremont County Herald reported children not placed that day were taken to Northern Iowa to be “disposed of.“

I have met several Orphan Train riders. Some of their stories were wonderful and some unbelievably sad. Orphans were not valued as were other children. Today children would never be allowed to live in the conditions that some of the orphans endured.

One of my best friends came to Nebraska in 1923 on the Orphan train. He was six years old. The couple that took him said they wanted to get a girl that day. When they saw Freddie they fell in love with him and could not resist this sweet dark-eyed boy. He had a great life.

I visited a C.A.S. facility in 2005 in New York City. They helped me find in the original ledger books where my family information was entered. I was given the only written communication they had received from the man that raised my dad. The letter was dated April of 1905. I read it in April of 2005, one-hundred years later.

I went to the last known address dad and his sisters lived with their grandparents. The address was 111 Christopher Street, Greenwich Village, N.Y.. It was on a very narrow old, old brick street. I am not sure it was the same house but I like to think ink it is. It is part of our history as descendants of an orphan train rider ( Robert J. Hunt Hume) and his wife Florence,

The last orphan trains were brought west in 1920. Orphan train history is very seldom taught in schools. From 1853-1929, 300,000 children were moved out of New York City. They helped develop our country and their stories should not be lost. Yearly reunions of Orphan Train riders and their descendants help keep history alive for the few remaining riders.

Fremont County Historical Society has information about the trains. There is a national Orphan Train Museum at Concordia, Kansas appropriately in the old Union Pacific depot. The book “New York Street Kids” by the a. Dover Publications is a great record of this time in history.

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Page updated on May 10, 2017 by Karyn Techau