As a kid, I remember watching an old 1930s 'Little Rascals' film called “Choo Choo” where the kids and little Spanky switch places with orphans being transported on an 'Orphan Train'. Of course, things get out of hand in classic 'Rascals' style and they have to turn back. Little did I know that there were real “Orphan Trains” that carried orphans from New York and Boston to a few western states and many, many of them to Michigan.

Founded by Charles Loring Brace in the 1850s, the first orphan train left New York City on September 28, 1854, carrying 37 orphaned boys and girls from the ages of 6 thru 15. The train was on destination to the fledgling village of Dowagiac in Cass County, Michigan. Dowagiac had only been around since 1848 when the village was platted, and the orphans were sent here, hoping for adoption. Maybe it was a way to help the town grow? Just wondering.

Dowagiac was the first recipient of the very first, historic 'Orphan Train' (sometimes called the ('Baby Train') with many more that followed. From 1854 to 1927, it's believed that around 12,000 orphans were brought to forty-three different Michigan towns and almost a quarter million more headed for the western states.

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Where did all these orphans come from? The New York Children's Aid Society and the New England “Little Wanderers” Home. The largest percentage of the children were boys and unfortunately, most children never got to be adopted...either there wasn't enough interest, not enough homes, or sometimes the children got too old.

There are many books written on the subject like “Abandoned: The Untold Story of the Orphan Trains” and “The Orphan Trains: Placing Out in America”.
Worth reading!

The Orphan Trains

Photo of Orphan Train by Unknown Author /CC BY-SA 4.0  International3.0 Unported2.5 Generic2.0 Generic and 1.0 Generic (No Changes Made)

 

MORE MICHIGAN-RELATED SUBJECTS:

The Ghost Town and Orphanage of Assinins

Abandoned Michigan Orphanage

George, The Orphaned Fawn: 1933-1940