In Fall 2016, the City of Dowagiac and the Dowagiac Area History Museum were awarded a grant from the Michigan Humanities Council for its project, “Starting a New Life: Dowagiac’s Orphan Train Story.” The multi-platform project will result in an Orphan Train mural on an exterior wall at the Dowagiac Post Office, several events and a coloring book.
In the mid-1800s, homeless, orphaned children roamed the streets of New York City. In 1853, Charles Loring Brace founded the Children’s Aid Society to care for the children with the ultimate goal of having the children adopted. He came up with the idea to send the children on train to be adopted by families in the western United States (Michigan at that time was part of the western U.S.). He sent the first trainload of 46 children west in September 1854 with one destination– Dowagiac, Michigan.
After an arduous journey of two train and two boats rides (including one across Lake Erie), the children arrived safely in Dowagiac. Over the course of several days, 37 of the children were adopted by local families and the project was deemed a success. This experiment led to 75 years of Orphan Trains placing out 250,000 children across the continental United States. Not all children had positive experiences, but many children got a new start on life– “Starting a New Life” honors the first trip to Dowagiac and the subsequent 75 years of Orphan Train journeys.
“Starting A New Life: Dowagiac’s Orphan Train Story” Event Calendar
May 20, 2017 at 2 p.m.: Youth Voices
This event is part of the Dogwood Fine Arts Festival and will include short stage productions, live music and interactive poetry writing and recitation. This free event will be held at the Beckwith Theater Company.
A limited supply of a coloring book using images from the Orphan Train mural is now available in a few locations throughout Cass County, including the Dowagiac Area History Museum and public libraries. Supplies are very limited, but you can download and print a copy of the Dowagiac Orphan Train Coloring Book for free.
September 23 at 1 p.m.: Riders Reunion
The City of Dowagiac and the Dowagiac Area History Museum welcome living Orphan Train riders and descendants of riders to the city for an event that will spur conversations and save memories. Keynote speaker for the event at the Dowagiac Area History Museum will be Ms. Shaley George, Curator at the National Orphan Train Complex in Concordia, Kansas.
October 7, 1 p.m.: Mural Unveiling
Throughout the summer of 2017, Artist Ruth Andrews will work with community residents on her Orphan Train Mural on the Pennsylvania Street wall of the Dowagiac Post Office. Andrews’ mural design will be painting by any members of the community who wish to participate, under the supervision of the artist. An unveiling ceremony will be held in conjunction with the City of Dowagiac’s Under the Harvest Moon Festival on October 7.
How Can You Help?
There are several ways the community can be involved with this project. Lead artist Ruth Andrews will invite community members to help her paint the mural throughout the summer of 2017. For more information on painting, visit the mural page. While the project has been funded by the Michigan Humanities Council, the organizing committee must raise some funds to finish the project. You can donate funds to:
City of Dowagiac
P.O. Box 430
Dowagiac, MI 49047