Wednesday, April 16, 2008

A county you wish your ancestors had been orphaned in -- well, sort of

From 1891 to 1899, La Porte, Indiana, was the location of Julia E. Work's Northern Indiana Orphans' Home.

A group of 16 prominent La Porte citizens purchased a large home, originally known as the Walker Mansion and later owned by the Decker family. The building was rented to Julia Work for $480 per year. The Home was a private enterprise; she received no salary; instead, she took all receipts, paid expenses, and any remaining balance was hers to keep. Like any other business, the larger it grew, the more profit there was in it. The physical description given of the building was that it was a large, 2 story brick mansion with a basement. ...

Between March, 1891 and 1893 the home had received 229 children and had placed 146. Initially, there were about 12 counties which contracted with Julia to care for children. ...

Homes for orphans were found principally in states west of the Mississippi river, by agents acting for Julia. The agents found homes for children, placed orders, and were paid a commission for their services. Individuals ordering a child completed an application and were expected to furnish recommendations signed by three responsible citizens. In 1899, while Indiana was sending its children to homes in Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska and the surrounding areas, the Indiana State Board of Charities estimated that in the 40 preceding years (1859-1899), between 7,000 and 8,000 dependent children from cities such as New York, Boston, Cincinnati and Chicago had been placed in the homes of Indiana families. One of Julia Work’s theories was that children who came from less than positive influences should be cut off from those influences. Therefore, she sought to permanently remove such children from their birth families and the vicinities in which they were born; thus, her reasoning for concentrating on the western states for foster and adoptive homes.

The home's records have apparently disappeared. Donna Nelson (a fellow member of the La Porte County Genealogical Society) read the local newspapers for items relating to the home and its operations, and the resulting book -- La Porte’s Orphan Train Children: The Children’s Homes, Orphanages and Training Schools of Julia E. Work -- was published in January.

La Porte County has three organizations publishing genealogical and historical material -- the Cemetery and Research Association of La Porte County, the La Porte County Genealogical Society, and the La Porte County Historical Society. Collect the whole set!

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