Any photos not otherwise credited are from the personal collection of Frank Passic, Albion Historian.
Morning Star, May 22, 2005, pg. 3
In the July 18 & 25, 2004 editions of this column we shared with our readers the “Orphan Train” saga about the two trains that stopped at Albion in the summer of 1857. On Labor Day weekend this past year yours truly attended the Orphan Train Re-enactment held in Dowagiac to commemorate the 150th anniversary of this phenomenon. While there, retiring Orphan Train Heritage Society founder Mary Ellen Johnson supplied me with her Michigan correspondence notes, which contained letters from several descendants of orphans that had been placed in Albion. We have followed up on these and have more information to share.
Concerning the story about Annie Kief whose name was changed here to Belle Brusie, her granddaughter Helen wrote the train her grandmother was on came to Albion in the 1880s. The children on that particular train were taught songs and poetry at the orphanage so they could put on programs at churches while they were being “looked over” by our town’s residents.
When the train stopped here in Albion on the Michigan Central Railroad, the children were taken to the Methodist Episcopal Church on E. Erie St. where they performed, and Annie was chosen by the Abram and Sarah (Phelps) Brusie family. Helen wrote, “She was never mistreated by the Brusies, but never was a real member of the family, either. She was already an expert seamstress. They allowed her to attend school for about two more years, but she was expected to be, in effect, another maid in the family and also do most of the sewing for Mrs. Brusie and her two daughters. She put in many an 18 hour day!” Helen went on to write that her grandmother returned to New England by adulthood where she married and raised a family, before moving back to Michigan in her retirement years.
I have corresponded with another descendant, Larry Bagley of Tucson, AZ about his grandfather James Bagley (1850-1911) who arrived on the OT here in Albion in early July 1857. James was originally placed with the prominent farmer Peter Mulvany of Marengo, according to the OT passenger list. He apparently had a hard time adapting to his new life, as James moved around a lot. For a time he temporarily lived with Mr. Stephen Blackhurst of Albion, and others here. In 1859 he was living in the “County Home” in Jackson, and elsewhere in the Jackson area. James eventually moved up north to Farwell in Clare County where he married in the 1870s. He then left for Osage County, Kansas in the 1880s where his sister Margaret and brother Charles had moved to. James was living in Hackett City, Arkansas by 1890, where he passed away on May 29, 1911.
Larry Bagley corresponded with the Children’s Aid Society, who several years ago sent him a photocopy of their original June 30, 1857 OT 29-passenger list page that contains his grandfather’s name on it! The list gives the full name of the child, their age, their birth country, religion, who placed them (father, mother, or orphan) on the train, the name of the foster-parent who took them in, and the place the foster-parent was from. Most children on that list were placed in Albion. For example, a John Small, age 10, was placed with Burr Hall of Sheridan Township. There are also singular entries for Springport, Spring Arbor, Sandstone, Clarence, Eckford, Marengo, and Homer. Larry has supplied yours truly with a copy of this amazing document.
The Society had used a black felt pen to obliterate the last names of the children except for the Bagleys. But with the information obtained from correspondence, and some ingenuity from yours truly, we’ve been able to positively identify at least twelve of those riders and the people who took them in as foster-children.
From our Historical Notebook this week we present a photograph of James Bagley who was a member of the June 30, 1857 Orphan Train that stopped in Albion. Special thanks to Larry Bagley for his information and photograph for this week’s article.
Next: DECORATION DAY
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