Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Kalamazoo Children's Home

In your research have you found someone in an unlikely place? While I have found a couple of people in prison, in this instance I found two sisters in the Kalamazoo Children's Home. Allion is not a common name and the only ones I have ever found in Kalamazoo were “my” people. I was looking for my great-aunt and her family and was surprised when I came across her two young daughters in the Children's Home in the 1900 census.

I was puzzled because I knew that both of their parents lived for several decades beyond this time. I assumed that the Children's Home was strictly for orphans, but I discovered that in some cases the inmates were from troubled or broken homes, as it turns out was the case for my Allion girls. And so began my search for more information. As described later, the Children's Home eventually morphed into Lakeside Academy. I contacted Lakeside to determine if there were any records circa 1900. Don Nitz very kindly searched through old record books until he found an entry for my girls. It turns out that they entered the home in 1895 when they were six and not quite four years of age. In 1902 their father removed them.

The origin of the Children's Home dates to 1872 when Mr. and Mrs. William Dewing along with Eliza (Fisher) Goodspeed saw the need to teach girls “industrial” skills (e.g. knitting, sewing, etc.). [1] In a talk given at the Twentieth Century club in 1896, Mrs. Dewing stated that one reason for beginning the home was to “break up child begging and interest them in sewing.” They began doing so with six children once or twice per week in a rented room above Green's harness shop. “Their interest was aroused and the number increased rapidly to 60 or 70.” [2] In February, 1877, Mr. and Mrs. Dewing established the Children's Home, the purpose of which was to teach girls whose parents were unable to provide them with a basic education. [1] In 1888, the Children's Home was incorporated to better manage it. The charter states the purpose of the home as “the maintenance of home for vagrant children without friends and for the instruction of indigent children generally in the various occupations of the life by training them in virtue and usefulness and for finding them permanent homes in suitable families, and also to give them a common-school education and a moral religious training.” [3]

The location of the Children's Home changed several times in the early years until 1885 when a three story Second Empire style building at 827 S. Westnedge was constructed at a cost of nearly eleven thousand dollars. [3,4] The home had fifteen bedrooms to house a maximum of 32 girls between the ages of five and fourteen. Over the years the average number of girls was twenty-eight. [4]

In the 1930s, with the advent of the adoption agency, the Children's Home became a place for “troubled and homeless adolescents.” [5] Over the years the house on S. Westnedge served as a home to over 800 girls for approximately 78 years. Eventually, this too came to an end in 1964 when the Children's Home merged with the Lake Farm Boys Home to become the present day Lakeside Academy. [5]

During the years that my Allion girls lived in the home (1895-1902) it was supported by donations, fundraisers, interest on a small endowment and the occasional appropriation from the city. In 1900, the average yearly expense to run the home was about $1500. At the time the endowment of $8100 brought in about $500 in interest per year. [6] This was a nice increase in the endowment from November 1895 when it only amounted to $3100. [7] Donations to the home came from individuals (sometimes bequests), churches, and collections at schools and at least on one occasion (from the chief of police) the proceeds from the sale of stolen goods. [8,9] In addition to donations of cash the home benefited periodically from gifts of food and clothing from various sources. A search of the Kalamazoo Gazette produced the following.

In June of 1896 a large event was held on the midway with live entertainment and many other attractions, including a German village (serving supper), a Japanese booth, and a gypsy tent. Despite inclement weather, the Children's Home netted $348.54 after disbursements. [10]

In 1897 a May festival was held for the benefit of the Home. Afternoon and evening receptions took place at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Sebring. Pfeiffer's orchestra performed and “a series of living pictures” were among the other attractions. Ices and cakes were also served. [11]

In April of the following year the lady managers of the Children's home organized a grand ball to be held at the auditorium on Portage street. Both square and round dances were on the program. For those not inclined to dance, card tables were set up in a separate room. Refreshments were provided by friends of the home. “The temperature of the evening was such as to make the lemonade bowls particularly attractive. The music of fifteen pieces by Keyes' orchestra was very enchanting and the ball was one of the leading social events of the season.” Tickets were $1 per couple, though many gentlemen paid with $5 bills. 200 people attended and “several times that number of tickets were sold” all of which made the event a big success for the Children's Home. [12, 13]

In May, 1898, a base ball benefit for the Children's Home featured a game between the Kalamazoo House and the American House. The game “was preceded by the most unique and original parade that has been allowed on the streets here in many years. The hand organ which was used to call the animals into Noah's ark was at the head of the parade on a dray and the crank was kept going round and round by Michael Egleston who never gets tired. The parade started at the American house. The mascots were drawn on a house moving wagon... An ox team drew the omnibus loaded down with the Kazoos until they reached the South Haven track when they switched off to graze. A mule team drew the American infantrymen on a hayrack, and they lost all of their bats before they entered the battle. The umpire was armed with rifles, muskets and horse pistols, but all were loaded, so no one was hurt. The line of march was lined with people, most of whom survived the attack. There were several hundred people in the grand stand to witness the game, but the boys did not see much of it on account of the bewitching smiles of one of the swell young ladies who occupied a seat with the other girls from the hotels.” [14]

In the spring of 1901 a novel way to earn money for the home was launched: collecting old rubbers. Barrels were placed at each area school to receive any old rubber items which could be sold to a Cincinnati firm. $1000 was raised in Topeka, Kansas by this method and the board of the Children's Home hoped to do likewise. [15]

For information on life in the Children's Home stay tuned for another blog post.

  1. History of Kalamazoo County, Michigan. With Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of its Prominent Men and Pioneers. 1880. Everts & Abbot. Philadelphia.
  2. Kalamazoo Gazette, 12-4-1896
  3. Compendium of history and biography of Kalamazoo County, Michigan. David Fisher and Frank Little, editors. 1906. Chicago, Ill.:A.W. Bowen & Co.
  4. Kalamazoo Lost and Found. Houghton, Lynn Smith. 2001. Kalamazoo Historic Preservation Commission.
  5. Kalamazoo Gazette, 12-12-1971
  6. Kalamazoo Gazette, 12-21-1900
  7. Kalamazoo Gazette, 11-16-1895
  8. Kalamazoo Gazette, 2-7-1896
  9. Kalamazoo Gazette, 11-14-1900
  10. Kalamazoo Gazette, 6-26-1896
  11. Kalamazoo Gazette, 4-30-1897
  12. Kalamazoo Gazette, 4-3-1898
  13. Kalamazoo Gazette, 4-13-1898
  14. Kalamazoo Gazette, 5-27-1898
  15. Kalamazoo Gazette, 4-14-1901

1 comment:

  1. Sonja, I wrote also on your other post about the Children's Home. Undoubtedly our relatives were in the home together. I found a newspaper article about a Christmas party where one of your relatives, Emma Allion, was mentioned along with one of mine, Lela Culver.