Historical Albion Michigan
By Frank Passic

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Any photos not otherwise credited are from the personal collection of Frank Passic, Albion Historian.

THE ORPHAN TRAIN, Part 1

Morning Star, July 18, 2004, pg. 2

Did you read the “Letter to the Editor” in the March 4, 2004 Albion Recorder inquiring about the Orphan Train? The Orphan Train Heritage Society of America will be holding a “reunion” of descendants in Dowagiac on Labor Day this year and is looking for Albion descendants to attend this event. Their address is: P.O. Box 322, Concordia, Kansas 66901. Their website is: www.orphantrainriders.com, and e-mail: othsa@msn.com. For more information about the event, contact Mary Ellen Johnson at: orphantrainlady@cox-internet.com.

Thousands of persons both from overseas and impoverished areas of the U.S. arrived in New York City during the 1850s where they worked in low-paying jobs. Poor children from large families or broken homes often found themselves destitute on the streets begging for food and/or becoming delinquents. Instead of keeping children in orphanages, or incarcerated in jails or reformatories, a plan was devised to remove them from their urban environment. “Orphan Trains” were operated beginning in 1854 by the (New York) Children’s Aid Society. This group took waifs from NYC and transported them by rail westward (including Michigan), to foster homes in rural settings. This is a complex topic which we do not have the space to elaborate about here. For further information, consult the excellent article entitled “The Little Wanderers” by Al and David Eicher which appeared in the January-February 2003 issue of Michigan History magazine.

There were at least two such trains that stopped at Albion. One left NYC on May 21, 1857, with 30 children on board, and another on June 30, 1857 with 31 children. Numerous children were placed from these particular trains at stops along the Michigan Central Railroad route at Albion, Marengo, and Marshall.

On that June 30 train were George W. Timmons and his brother Joseph Timmons, who were adopted by Simeon and Martha Stone southwest of town. The boys’ surname was changed to Stone, and George subsequently became “Albion’s Little Drummer Boy” at age 13 in the Michigan Sharpshooters during the Civil War. We wrote about him in the May 20 and 27, 2001 editions of this column. George served as Michigan Auditor General in 1890-92. By clicking on these titles you can read either or both articles: ALBION’S LITTLE DRUMMER BOY, part 1 and ALBION’S LITTLE DRUMMER BOY, part 2.

As a postscript, we have recently been able to correspond with the granddaughter of George Stone--Kay Johnson, who is 85 years old and lives in California. We have also corresponded with her son Steve Leach and her nephew Randy Robbins. Steve has possession of a Michigan Sharpshooter’s “poster” containing the names of all the members as well as photographs of the officers in a colorful display-layout, as well as other memorabilia inherited via his great-grandfather G.W. Stone.

In 1881 there was published a survey of “what happened” to 45 specific Orphan Train children that had been placed in Michigan some 25 years earlier, including 8 in Albion. Although full surnames were not given and some subtle changes were purposely made, some identities were easy to decipher by the facts given. There are still descendants of Orphan Train children in the Albion area today. Let’s survey some of the Orphan Train children that arrived in Albion in 1857 and what we know today.

The report states, “William R., aged 7 in 1857, was placed with John Beers of Albion, remained with him until he was 21, married, and is now living with his family at Nashville, Barry Co., MI, owns a farm and is engaged in the nursery business.” The 1860 Census shows a William Ryon age 10, born in N.Y. living with the John Beers family at their farm located where the Sheridan Township hall is today. A look at a current Barry County telephone book will reveal around a dozen persons with the Ryan (spelled with an “a”) surname.

Another name in the report states, “Philip W., aged 12 in 1857, was a very intelligent boy. He was placed with Mr. Elisha W. of Albion, Mich., joined the army at the breaking out of the War, and at its close returned here a commissioned officer, saved about $1,500, purchased a farm four miles from town, married Miss W., a niece of his “adopted” father. He is here yet and is looked upon as one of the promising and successful young men of the community.”

The person matching that information would be Philip Weitzel (1845-1910). He was born in Germany and came to the U.S. with his parents at the age of 6. Elisha Warner would have been his foster parent, while Philip’s wife Martha Warner was the daughter of Elisha’s brother William Warner. Philip entered the Civil War at age 18 in 1863, and served as a Sergeant in Company A of the 11th Michigan Cavalry. He was promoted to 2nd Lieutenant in Company H of the 116th U.S. Colored Infantry where he served until his discharge in 1867. Philip’s 80-acre farm was located along the north side of Behling Road (F Drive South) just inside Jackson County, four miles southeast of Albion.

From our Historical Notebook this week we present a photograph of the tombstone of Philip Weitzel in Riverside Cemetery. More identities revealed in Part 2 of this article next week.


The Tombstone of Philip Weitzel

Next: ORPHAN TRAIN, Part 2


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