The orphan train program was developed and run during the years 1850 to 1930. Over 100,000 children and 1,000 adults rode the trains from the East coast urban cities to the West for relocation and a better life.
The industrial revolution brought many of the children of farmers to the city for work. The urban cities such as Manchester, NH, Lowell and Worcester, Mass, and other factory centered cities in New England, became overcrowded. Unsupervised, children overran the streets or were treated as small adults put to work at a very early age. As interest in child welfare grew, Christian societies became involved. One such person who took an interest was Charles Loring Brace. He was born in 1826 in Hartford, CT and championed ‘old fashion’ New England values. After he became a minister, he went into missionary work to found the New York Children’s Aid Society in 1853 working with the poverty strickened in New York City. He worked on a plan called placing out.
This plan, originating in the Boston area, was developed for in-state placement only, but Loring took his plan across America. It basically became a movement for children to be taken out of the urban area and relocated in less populated and rural areas of the country. Although the idea was sound it their minds it was not 100% practical in reality. Life on the other side of the Mississippi was not the same as what children knew on the East Coast. As the idea became accepted, children were gathered frompoverty strickened parents as well as orphans to join the program. Newspaper ads were placed in western newspapers to announce when the trains would arrive at their location. If they needed extra help on the farm or in the house they were free to come and look over the new arrivals. Many of the children’s names were changed, they became members of their new household, some as part of the family and some were treated as indentured servants - after they served a period of time and were of age they could go their own way. Some were lucky to get good homes with loving ‘parents’ but some were maids and farm hands without any parental love or care involved.
In the book “The Orphan Trains, Placing Out in America” Marilyn Irvin Holt documents many instances of abuse and adversely good parenting for these children. If you have a suspicion that your relative might have been on the trains, the organizations for further information is: The Orphan Train Heritage Society of America (OTHSA), headquartered in Springdale, Arkansas.
The National Orphan Train Complex, also known as the "National Orphan Train Museum and Research Center", is located in Concordia, Kansas. The Museum and Research Center is dedicated to the preservation of the stories and artifacts of those who were part of the Orphan Train Movement from 1854-1929. The museum is located at the restored Union Pacific Railroad Depot in Concordia which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Complex in maintains an archive of riders' stories and houses a research facility. Services offered by the museum include rider research, educational material, and a collection of photos and other memorabilia.
Sources: “The Orphan Trains, Placing Out in America” by Marilyn Irvin Holt