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Wanted: Homes For Children, Dowagiac's Orphan Train Story

In the mid-1800s, thousands of homeless children roamed the streets of New York City. To help deal with the orphaned children, Charles Loring Brace founded the Children’s Aid Society in 1853 to provide the basic needs for some of the children. In 1854, he sent a group of 46 children west, via steamboat and train, to find new homes with farm families. The train had one destination—Dowagiac. After they arrived in Dowagiac, the children were examined by local residents, who then selected the orphans to take home. After several days, 37 of the children had been taken in by local families and the first trip was deemed a success.

Because of the success of the 1854 trip to Dowagiac, the Orphan Train placed out over 200,000 children to almost every state in the nation until 1929. Many of the children had positive experiences in their new homes and led successful lives, while others struggled and moved away from the ‘adopting’ families. The Orphan Train impacted child welfare and adoption laws while also affecting thousands of families across the country.

Steve Arseneau, Director of the Dowagiac Area History Museum, will provide a telling of that first trip to Dowagiac and more in “Dowagiac’s Orphan Train Story.” The City of Dowagiac and the Dowagiac Area History Museum have been working on a year-long project highlighting the Orphan Train in the city in 2017. The project, partially funded by the Michigan Humanities Council, will result in a mural depicting the Orphan Train in downtown Dowagiac.