Thursday, February 23, 2017

Rural Kansas town with national museum makes sure orphan train riders are not forgotten

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Concordia, Kan. was one of the stops on the orphan trains that from 1854 to 1929 took an estimated 250,000 New York orphans from the big city to small towns, largely in the Midwest, C.J. Janovy reports for KCUR, an NPR station in Kansas City, Mo. At each stop, people awaited to adopt the children. Those that weren't adopted went on to the next stop. Children left over at the end of the line were placed in an orphanage, where "the hope was that at least they would age out of the orphanage into a wholesome community that was not New York," said Shaley George, curator of the National Orphan Train Complex in Concordia.

Janovy writes, "Inside the three-room Union Pacific Depot built in 1917, one waiting room is filled with big black and white photographs showing children in New York slums in the 1800s. A social reformer named Charles Loring Brace figured the children, and society, would be better off if they found new homes with families far away from New York City's crime and poverty." So he shipped them to the Midwest. In the beginning each train carried up to 100 children, with about 10 being adopted in each town, George said.

The grandfather of Concordia resident Jim Garwood arrived in town on one of the trains in 1911 at the age of nine, Janovy writes. "He says his grandfather never really talked about the fact that he'd been on an orphan train, other than that they went back to New York one summer to try to find his sister. He finally found her and they always kept in touch with each other."

The museum, which attracts about 4,000 visitors per year, along with a PBS American Experience documentary on orphan trains and Christina Baker Kline's bestselling novel "Orphan Train," have brought renewed interest to the story. Concordia Mayor Charles Lambertz last month declared the City of Concordia as Orphan Train Town, reports Brad Lowell for the Concordia Blade-Empire, which requires a subscription. (St. Paul Pioneer Press photo)

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