Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Ladies’ Protestant Orphan Asylum / Children's Home of Detroit (1836 – 2007)

The oldest benevolent society in Detroit, the Ladies' Protestant Orphan Association, has its origins in 1818, when a number of women from prominent Detroit families met at the home of Mrs. Benjamin Larned and organized the Ladies Society of the City of Detroit. Its purposes were charitable, with particular emphasis upon the needs and care of orphan children. There was a special committee of twelve members appointed to visit the sick. In addition to work in the city, the association also looked after native American children at Fort Gratiot and Miami River.

Among the women who were particularly active in this organization were Eliza Spencer Cass, Eliza Trowbridge, Catherine Palmer, Mary Steele, and Harriet Wing. No men were admitted to membership in this society, but they might, upon invitation, attend meetings and give advice. Among the men who were contributing and advisory members were Judge Augustus B. Woodward, Major Benjamin F. Larned, Austin E. Wing, Henry J. Hunt, Stephen C. Henry, DeGarmo Jones, Charles Larned, and John Biddle.

At a subsequent meeting, the committee established and adopted a constitution and by-laws and the following were elected officers: Mrs. Charles C. Trowbridge, Mrs. Robert Stuart, and Mrs. Thomas Palmer, directors; Mrs. Eurotas P. Hastings, treasurer; Miss E. S. Trowbridge, secretary; Mrs. Charles Stuart and Mrs. H.J. Hunt, auditors; Mrs. Godard and Mrs. John Farmer, Committee of Finance; Mrs. Macomb and Mrs. Crocker, Committee of Maintenance; Mrs. C. Stuart and Mrs. Ambrose, Committee of Education; and Rev. Robert Turnbull, Major Benjamin F. Larned, Major Henry Whiting, Eurotas P. Hastings, Charles C. Trowbridge, and Jerry Dean, Counseling Committee.

In 1822, a more formal organization was established under the name of the Female Benevolent Society of Detroit. The preamble of its constitution reads:

"We, the undersigned, in obedience to the call of Divine Providence to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and teach the uninstructed do constitute ourselves a society with these purposes as our object, and that we may affectionately accomplish our views we adopt for our regulation the articles of the following Constitution."
That instrument states in more detail the organization's mission was:

"to afford relief to the poor, to visit the widow and fatherless in their affliction, to alleviate the sufferings of the sick, to provide for the education of children whose parents are unable to afford it, and to place such of them as can be procured under the care of honest tradesmen and mechanics, or in families where they can be bred up with care and trained to industrious, moral and religious habits. These and such other offices as come within the range of their views they do promise and obligate themselves to fulfill so far as their pecuniary means and the course of Divine Providence admit."
Itemized accounts of receipts and expenditures appear in the manuscript reports that follow. Among the supplies for the sick, wine and brandy frequently figure along with jellies and other delicacies.

In 1832 and 1834, cholera epidemics swept through Detroit. During a three-week period of August 1834 alone, 122 people -- 7% of the city's population -- perished from the disease. Arthur M. Woodford described the scene:

"The custom of ringing church bells to announce a death was abandoned, for the ceaseless tolling only added to the panic of the residents. With bells, horses' hooves, and hawkers' cries stilled, the town was eerily peaceful. The streets were choked from the smoke of pitch, which people burned in the belief that it warded off the disease."
In response to these outbreaks, on May 18, 1836, some of the individuals connected with these early charitable groups met in the Presbyterian Church on Woodward Avenue "to consider the propriety and necessity of establishing an orphan asylum". At this meeting, Mrs. J. P. Cleveland presided and Mrs. Eurotas P. Hastings acted as secretary. After considerable deliberation, it was decided to establish such a facility, and Mrs. Charles Stuart and Mrs. John Farmer were appointed a committee to draft a constitution.

The association immediately commanded local support. Cullen Brown, a businessman and philanthropist, donated the use of a house on Beaubien, just south of Fort Street, rent free, for one year. On January 13, 1837, the organization took possession of the house and, on February 1, 1837, the asylum opened. The superintendent was Mary Chambers. She was assisted by her husband Charles Chambers, and was paid a salary of $200.

Under a special act of the legislature, the Ladies’ Protestant Orphan Asylum was incorporated on March 21, 1837 and, on June 8, 1837, the following officers were elected: Mrs. Charles C. Trowbridge, Mrs. Charles Stuart, and Mrs. Thomas Palmer, directors; Mrs. Eurotas P. Hastings, treasurer; Miss E. S. Trowbridge, secretary; Mrs. Lois Campbell and Mrs. Mason Palmer, Committee of Finance; Mrs. John Hulbert and Mrs. Crocker, Committee of Maintenance, Mrs. Kirkland and Mrs. John Farmer, Committee of Education; Mrs. Henry J. Hunt and Mrs. Henry Whiting, auditors; and E.P. Hastings, Charles C. Trowbridge, Major Henry Whiting, Mr. Crocker, Major Benjamin F. Larned, and John Owen, advisors.

During that first year, eleven orphans came to live at the Ladies' Protestant Orphan Asylum.

By the fall of 1837, the society decided to construct a building of its own as soon as funds could be obtained. The citizens of Detroit responded generously to the call. A city lot was donated to the organization by Elon Farnsworth and on September 4, 1837, George and Elouiza Hunt gave an acre of land on their farm, which fronted Jefferson Avenue near the corner of Adair Street. Plans were prepared and H.B. Lothrop and H.H. LeRoy volunteered to supervise without charge the construction of the building.

The work began, but increasingly difficult financial times resulted in a lack of funds that caused the work to stop, and the building remained unfinished until Julius Eldred advanced the necessary funds. In the latter half of January 1840, the new home of the Ladies’ Protestant Orphan Asylum was opened. Eight girls and seven boys became its first wards. The original building was forty-two feet square and cost $6,833.

The asylum operated under the practice of "binding out" its wards, which meant that the children in its care were placed with foster families for whom they would work in exchange for room and board. Due to this practice, by 1845, the number of children residing at the asylum had diminished to five.

In June of 1846, the society found itself in debt to the amount of $700 and decided to close the institution until such time as there should be greater need and larger means for carrying it on. The building was rented for $100 a year, the few children left were boarded in a private family, and, for the next six years, even the annual society meetings were unattended.

In the summer of 1849, cholera outbreaks once again ravaged the city of Detroit. The first official notice of a death from cholera was on July 2, 1849 and by September of the same year, 120 cholera-related deaths in Detroit had been reported. The outbreak continued for many months and among its victims were my Great Great Great Grandparents, John Delos and Anna Austin, who resided in the 27th District of Detroit. As a result of their deaths, their sons Charles W. and Abner Delos Austin, ages 7 and 5, were orphaned.

As more and more children in Detroit were left parentless, the "greater need" for an orphan asylum was realized. On June 10, 1852, the Ladies' Protestant Orphan Asylum was reopened by its newly elected officers: Mrs. John Winder, Mrs. Rev. M. Allen, and Mrs. A.M. Bartholomew, directors; Mrs. Rev. R.R. Kellogg, secretary; and Mrs. O.C. Thompson, treasurer.

Prior to the re-opening of the Jefferson Street facility, 13 orphans had been temporarily placed in a house on Randolph Street. They were immediately transferred to the care of the asylum's new directors but, because the property on Jefferson Avenue had been rented to private parties and also needed repairs, the children remained where they were until May 1853, when the society took back possession of its former premises. It is very possible that my ancestors Charles W. and Abner Delos Austin were among those 13 orphans.

The first years after the orphans' return were years of few resources and tremendously hard work at the Ladies' Protestant Orphan Asylum. Renowned Detroit historian Silas Farmer described that time:

"Day after day, as regularly as she cared for her own household, the first directress solicited and purchased the day’s supply of food for the little ones, and then carried it to them, paying fare at the toll-gate, then located this side of the asylum. From time to time, as children died, she took the little coffins into her own carriage, and bore them to the cemetery."
Newly incorporated on June 9, 1859 as The Protestant Orphan Asylum, the annual meeting of the society was held on the second Thursday in January and the organization was controlled by a Board of Managers, consisting of two persons from each of the Protestant churches of the city. The board selected directors and other officers.

According to a 1863 Sunday School Statistics report, the Protestant Orphan Asylum on Jefferson Avenue had 30 children on its Sunday school registrar and four officers and teachers with F.D. Taylor as its superintendent.

Due to the increasing population at the asylum, an addditional wing on the west side of the building was added at a cost of $4,000 and was dedicated on February 13, 1872.

In 1880, the asylum's Jefferson Avenue property was estimated to be worth $15,000. In 1884, The average number of wards was 35 and up to sixty could be accommodated. The yearly expenses were $2,000 and the means of revenue are annual membership fees of $1.00, collections in churches, proceeds of lectures, and interest on reserve funds.

The principal offers between 1852 and 1884 were: First directors: Mrs. John Winder (1852 – 1860), Mrs. C.I. Walker (1860 -1864), Mrs. Lewis Allen (1864 – 1878), Mrs. A.G. Lindsay (1878), Mrs. E.C. Brush (1879 - ). Recording secretaries: Mrs. A.L. Story (1853-1854), Mrs. E.M. Clark (1855-1860), Mrs. P.E. Curtis (1860 - ). Treasurers: Mrs. O.C. Thompson (1852 – 18550; Mrs. S. Davis 91855- 1876), Mrs. A.G. Lindsay (1876 – 1878), Mrs. D.R. Shaw (1878 - ).

In 1899, the Protestant Orphan Asylum was described by Silas Farmer as being located at Jefferson Avenue, facing Elmwood Avenue.

By the early 20th century and the birth of the automotive industry in Detroit, the Protestant Orphan Asylum prospered, thanks in great part to its many well-known benefactors. In 1919, for example, Horace Dodge contributed $25,000 to the asylum.

Staff and wards of the Protestant Orphan Asylum in 1910. Identified are: Dwight Mather (first child, front row), Beatrice Mather (third child), and Coit Mather (tall boy, back row). Image courtesy of Ruth Mather.

In 1923, there were 112 children of all ethnicities at the home located at 988 Jefferson Avenue and, in 1933, there were 89 dependent children at the home but no address is indicated (Deigh).

By 1942, the address became 3270 East Jefferson Avenue (Blanchard), which is between present day Walker and Adair Streets and is now the location of the Motown Café and Grill and a CVS Pharmacy.

It was described in the 1942 Journal of Social Psychology as:

"This is an established institution more than one hundred years old and is open to children whose homes have been broken by death, desertion, or divorce. Many of its wards are not orphans in the strict sense of the word since often one of both parents are living, but because of broken home conditions the children have been turned over to the institution for care. In this regard it is more of a boarding home than an orphanage. The parents pay as much toward the care of their children as they can afford. There are approximately 100 girls and boys in the Home ranging from 5 to 15 years of age. The school attended by 80 of these orphanage children was the Field Elementary School of the Detroit Public Schools".
The Protestant Orphan Asylum was state licensed for adoptions and, in 1950, established two new facilities, one in Warren and one on Cook Road in Grosse Pointe Woods. It was called the Protestant Children's Home until 1971, when the name was changed to Children's Home of Detroit.

After 172 years, due to low occupancy rate and a downturn in the economy which affected funding, donations and its endowment, the Protestant Orphan Asylum / Children's Home of Detroit closed its doors in 2007.

On February 6, 2009, the home's Board of Trustees voted to transfer the organization's Grosse Pointe Woods and Warren locations to Starr Commonwealth, a nonprofit children and family services organization headquartered in Albion, Michigan. Starr currently manages the daily care of 600 children in Wayne County through an existing collaborative partnership organization called StarrVista, and operates five sites throughout Michigan and Ohio that provide transformational programs for youth, families, schools and communities.

Founding documents and administrative, admission, and surrender records for the Ladies' Protestant Orphan Association from 1836 through 1969 are contained in the Burton Historical Collection at the Detroit Public Library. My plans are to spend an afternoon at the collection this winter searching those records for any mention of my ancestors' names. Hopefully, there will be more to follow.

Works Cited:

Adoption Agencies, Orphanages and Maternity Homes: An Historical Directory. Garden City, New York: Phileas Deigh Corp., 1981. ISBN: 0-9604200-1-0. Volume 1, p. 154.

Blanchard, Rolfe C. and Nemzek, Claude L. “The Comparative Academic Achievement of Orphanage and Non-Orphanage Children”. The Journal of Social Psychology, 1942, Volume 15, Issue 2: p. 309.

Burton, Clarence Monroe. “Detroit in 1849”. The Detroit Free Press, October 2, 1910: p. 22.

Email correspondence from Dawn Eurich, Archivist, Special Collections, Detroit Public Library. November 16, 2011.

Farmer, Silas. All About Detroit. Detroit: Silas Farmer & Co., 1899: p. 67, 191.

Farmer, Silas. The History of Detroit and Michigan or The Metropolis Illustrated: A Chronological Cyclopaedia of the Past and Present, Including a Full Record of Territorial Days in Michigan, and the Annals of Wayne County. Silas Farmer & Co., 1884: p. 634, 651 - 652.

Ferrell, Cornelia Briggs. “Three Saginaw Orphans”. The Seattle Daily Times, June 4, 1902. Michigan Heritage Magazine, Autumn 1972, Vol. XIV, No. 1: p. 22.

Hyde, Charles K. The Dodge Brothers: The Men, The Motor Cars, and The Legacy. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2005: p. 145.

MacCabe, Julius P. Bolivar. 1837 Directory of the City of Detroit. Printed by William Marshall, 1837. Transcribed by K. Torp from materials provided by Martin Johnson.

Ryan, Kathy. "Children's Home of Detroit to Close". The Grosse Pointe News. November 6, 2008.

Palmer, Friend. Early Days in Detroit. Detroit: Hunt and June, 1906: p. 944.

Stocking, William. The City of Detroit, Michigan 1701 – 1922 Volume 1. Detroit – Chicago: The S.J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1922: p. 411, 417.

Online sources:


Thursday, November 10, 2011

Remembering the Edmund Fitzgerald

Today is the anniversary of the sinking of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald (November 10, 1975), the most tragic loss of life ever on the Great Lakes and certainly an event that will forever be etched in Michigan's memory.

Thirty-six years after its demise, the Edmund Fitzgerald continues to capture our imaginations and evoke such intense emotion that even seemingly the most typical family vacation photos can suddenly take on new meaning. Such is the case of this photo, graciously provided to me by one of my father's friends, Karen Sturdavant Zumfelde of Napoleon, Ohio.

Karen describes the photo as being of her young sister, taken between sometime 1964 and 1966 at the Soo Locks in Sault Ste Marie, Michigan. Who could have known then that the photo would later be so powerful and awe inspiring. Thanks, Karen.

Last fall, I had the pleasure of visiting the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum at Whitefish Point, Michigan for the first time. The Edmund Fitzgerald exhibit is a moving tribute to the men who lost their lives that fateful night and seeing the ship's bell should not be missed.

Here is a fantastic video tribute to the Edmund Fitzgerald, set to Gordon Lightfoot's immortal song.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Detroit's Newly Purchased Grand Army of the Republic Hall - GAR Building to Be Renovated for 2013 Reopening

One of Detroit's most notable Civil War landmarks, the historic Grand Army of the Republic Hall at Cass and Grand River, is soon to receive a new lease on life thanks to a plan from a Detroit media firm. It took nearly six years, but downtown Detroit's castle-like building originally used by Union Civil War soldiers is now owned by a group of longtime supporters of Detroit.

The Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News reported yesterday that the Grand Army of the Republic Hall, historically known as the Soldiers' and Sailors' Memorial Building but contemporarily referred to as the GAR Building, was recently purchased from the City of Detroit for $220,000 by an ownership entity under the name of NewGAR LLC, consisting of brothers Tom and David Carleton and their partner Sean Emery, principals of Detroit-based Mindfield Pictures. Founded in 2000, Mindfield develops, produces, and directs film, video, animation, and interactive media for Ford, Toyota and other commercial clients for application nationwide.

Mindfield officials confirmed Thursday that cleanup of the GAR Building will start immediately, including sealing the roof against snow and water damage this winter. The partners plan a $2-3 million renovation to restore the five-story building and intend to move their studio to the top two floors. The rest of the structure will be converted to rental space for offices, retail businesses, and possibly a ground-floor restaurant.

The building has a personal connection for the Carleton brothers, who have two ancestors that served in the Union Army during the Civil War, and their plans include maintaining the integrity of the building through a memorial to Civil War veterans. They also intend to restore the structure’s lobby as well as a top floor meeting hall and balcony originally used for social events hosted by the Grand Army of the Republic, a fraternal organization for Union Civil War veterans.

The interior has suffered considerable water damage over the years and needs a complete renovation. "The building itself is structurally sound," Emery said. " Obviously there's a lot of interior damage that needs to be rectified. All in all, it's got strong bones, and we look forward to making it great again."

In a press release, Mindfield's executive producer David Carleton said the process of trying to buy the building from the city began in 2006. At that time, Ilitch Holdings had controlled the GAR building for several years but, when they failed renovate the building, the City of Detroit reclaimed it and began negotiating with the Mindfield partners. The sale to Mindfield is the culmination of a five-year effort to create what they vow will be one of Detroit's "most innovative creative spaces".

"We're going to self-finance a good deal of the project," David Carleton said. "We aren't big borrowers in terms of sleeping at night." Mindfield will occupy the building first, he said, adding, "As the neighborhood develops, tenants arise, we'll push forward" with securing occupants for the remaining structure.

The GAR Building was designed by architect Julius Hess in the Richardsonian Romanesque style that was popular in the late 19th century and which also suggested military strength. Construction began in 1897, the cornerstone was set in 1899, and the structure was completed in 1900. But by 1934, most Civil War veterans had passed away of old age and the building was given to the City of Detroit, who began renting it out. It was occupied first as offices for the Works Progress Administration (WPA), then as a police lockup and, in 1943, the Department of Parks and Recreation took over the space as an activity center complete with basketball and shuffleboard on the fourth floor.

The building was then used by founding members of Daughters of Union Veterans of the Civil War, 1861 - 1865 (DUVCW) Sarah M. W. Sterling Tent No. 3 (of which I am proudly a member) until 1973, when it was effectively abandoned except for limited use as office space for the City of Detroit. The building was boarded up in 1982 and it has been closed ever since.

After its closure, the GAR Building in Detroit was saved from the wrecking ball due primarily to the efforts of Celestine Caldwell Hollings of DUVCW Sarah M. W. Sterling Tent No. 3. Although assisted by members of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War (SUVCW), Mrs. Hollings spearheaded a 15-year effort to save this historic building.

Federal Court Judge Sean Cox entered a Consent Judgment on September 1, 2006 ensuring the GAR Building would be renovated and that the new owner will cooperate with the Allied Orders of the GAR including the SUVCW and the DUVCW. The Allied Orders will have reasonable access to the building and will create and maintain a historical display in the lobby of the building. The new owner must also restore and preserve the mosaic tile floor in the lobby and any other historically significant elements on the interior and exterior of the building.

This won’t be the first major renovation project for the Carletons. Mindfield is currently headquartered across downtown in the Jerome Remick & Co. building on Library Street, a structure the partners bought and began renovating in 1992. Now known as the Library Lofts, 1250 Library Street is home to both Mindfield and Vicente’s Cuban Cuisine.

"We do believe in the city and saving buildings like that," said David Carleton.

The GAR building is slated to reopen in 2013, 150 years after the Union victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg that changed the tide of the Civil War.

Thank you, Tom and David Carleton and Sean Emery, on behalf of all descendants of Michigan's Civil War veterans, for your commitment to honoring their memory and to the City of Detroit.

If you’d like to take very rare photographic tours of the incredible interior of Detroit’s GAR Building, please visit DetroitFunk.com and ForgottenDetroit.com.

Me in front of Detroit's GAR Building in November 2008.

Various stunning architectural details of Detroit's GAR Building

Sources: The Detroit Free Press, The Detroit News, Crains Detroit, The Chicago Tribune, MyFoxDetroit.com, Wikipedia.org, Forgottendetroit.com, AtDetroit.net, DetroitFunk.com, and garmuslib.org.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Coming to PBS in November: "The Michigan Experience: The American Civil War Years"

Coming to your local PBS station this month is "The Michigan Experience: The American Civil War Years", a Michigan-based production from Executive Producers Rodney W. Brown, Leon Collins, and Donna Ullrich and iMichigan Productions (iMp) in East Lansing. As the descendant of two Michigan Civil War soldiers, I am thrilled that this statewide broadcast will provide a unique and timely opportunity to remember the sacrifices of the 90,000 Michiganders who answered their nation's call during the years 1861 to 1865 -- as well as the monumental contributions of those who remained at home.

As described on the iMichigan Productions website, this television event is "told by Michigan voices, written by Michigan authors, interpreted by Michigan living historians, and portrayed by Michigan Civil War reenactors". Among the talented individuals breathing life into the stories of Michigan's Civil War-era personalities is my friend and living history colleague Dave Tennies, who skillfully portrays Michigan Senator Jacob Howard, best remembered for writing and initiating the 13th amendment to the US Constitution to abolish slavery.

This four-part public television series is timely in that it coincides with the Michigan Civil War Sesquicentennial and the beginning of the American Civil War in 1861. But it is equally so in that it comes at a time when many citizens of the Great Lakes State have suffered deeply. "The Michigan Experience: The American Civil War Years" series not only honors our ancestors, it also reminds us of our strength and tenacity in times of great turmoil. The series:

  • Shares the experiences of Michigan's people on the eve of war,

  • Analyzes Washington's military and political leadership and its implications for Michigan.

  • Examines Michigan's contributions and their effects on the outcome of our nation's bloodiest conflict.

  • Investigates the character of the Civil War and its effect on Michigan and American society.

  • Brings to life the stories of Michigan's soldiers, leaders, and citizens of the time.

  • Explores the role of blacks during the war, including the soldiers of the Michigan-based 102nd Regiment.

"The Michigan Experience: The American Civil War Years" airs on every Michigan PBS station in November, including Veteran's Day, November 11, 2011. Please visit the iMichigan Productions website for a schedule of stations, airdates and times.

On the iMichigan Productions website, you can also read the news release about the show, test your knowledge by taking the "Michigan in the Civil War" quiz, and learn more about the show's producer.

"As the Civil War constitutes a grave and pivotal point not only in our national history but that of Michigan as well, the story of Michigan's involvement is a story that needs and merits greater exploration and understanding. This documentary series will examine Michigan's role in the Civil War and provide a better understanding of the significant role and impact that Michigan's involvement had. Michigan sent 90,000 men to fight in the Civil War including specialized regiments of sharpshooters and engineers, and more cavalry per capita than any other northern state. At least 68 Michigan soldiers were awarded the Medal of Honor for gallantry on the battlefield during the Civil War. Michigan mines produced tons of iron ore used to make cannon, iron clad ships and rails in support of the Union. Michigan supplied horses, ambulances, lumber, agriculture and was a major contributing factor in the Civil War victory." - Presenting Station WKAR TV - Kent Wieland, Station Manager

iMichigan Productions (iMp) is a Michigan 501(c)(3) corporation. With over 75 years of collective experience in education and media, their professionals have collaborated in developing a new conceptualization of the learning process through "digital literacy curriculum" designed to engage the imagination of students of all ages. To find out how your financial contributions can help support their important endeavors, please click here.