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
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
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.
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.