Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline was a recent topic of the Sherburne History Center Book Club. As the conversation evolved several questions came up: Were there many orphan train children in Sherburne County? Were there other sources in Minnesota for families wanting to adopt or bring children into their families? (Yes, I know, if you read the book, I am phrasing this very delicately).
Well, I can’t answer the first question. But an announcement in the Sherburne County Star News from March 1, 1900 helps answer the second question. The announcement read:
Mr Lewis of the state school, Owatonna, came into town last week, bringing with him a school girl for Mrs. Colbeck.
As we peruse the columns of the county newspapers, we are finding similar announcements. It appears the state school in Owatonna served as a source for children. The official name for the orphanage was: The Minnesota State Public School for Dependent and Neglected Children. The webpage for the Minnesota State Public School Orphanage Museum counts 10,635 children in the school for the date of opening in 1886 to its closing in 1945. And, as we see from the newspaper announcements, some of these children found their way into the homes of Sherburne County citizens.
Now, we all understand that the fictional writing and stories of the Orphan Trains and the adoption process in the early 1900s are filled with drama. If the drama didn’t exist, there would be no story. Yet, not every child in the orphan train experienced some trauma after being taken in by families in the Midwest. A great deal of happiness and joy, now doubt, resulted from the orphan train program. So, we are not filled with sadness or sorrow when we explore these stories of the orphan train and adoptions in middle Minnesota
The adoption process and the impact on people and communities are parts of a greater history that remain uncertain yet need to be explored.