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Adams County Pa. Related Historical Articles

Caring for Orphaned Children

Sarah Fuss

Early Adams countians had means of caring for orphaned children, for those with only one parent, or for children whose parents found themselves in unusual circumstances.

The 1822 will of George Sherman of Germany township specified what was to be done for his two young grandchildren. He instructed their mother to "sent my grandchildren to wit George Sherman, Elizabeth Sherman to the English Schooll until they are well learned and then shall also sent both my said grandchildren to Duch [German] Schooll until they can both reed and write…" In case his grandson George wanted to study law, his mother was to send him to schools for that purpose. Sherman also bequeathed his 256-acre farm to his daughter-in-law. When grandson George reached the age of 21 years, he would inherit that land. Unfortunately, George never was able to take advantage of all that his grandfather had planned for him. He died on July 18, 1822 at 7 years of age, two months after his grandfather's death.

Guardians were sometimes appointed by the court. In 1841, the need for a guardian arose in the case of a county resident who "respectively represents that her said husband has been found a Habitual Drunkard…" She had 5 children under 14 years of age. "… As "her said husband is by the finding aforesaid disqualified and incompetent to act as such…" she asked the court to appoint someone to act as guardian. Her son over 14 years of age also requested the same court-appointed person to be his guardian.

A Menallen township mother in 1828 provided for her son in her will. After he arrived at 21 years of age "if…he should turn out to be a bad man, spend thrift or gambler… I empower my … Executors and trustees of my son to retain the whole of my estate in their hand even after my son shall become of the age of 21 years." The trustees were to give the son only what money he needed from time to time. If, at 21 years of age, he "…is capable of using his estate to the advantage to himself…" he was to receive his whole share of her estate.

In 1817 the county commissioners organized a board of directors of the poor to be filled by three-elected persons. The Almshouse was built on the Harrisburg Road near Gettysburg in 1818. The directors did not want children admitted to the Almshouse to have the adult inmates there as the only role models. They were permitted to bind out pauper children as apprentices or indentured servants. The directors occasionally visited the persons to whom the children were bound to be certain they were cared for properly. Twenty-one children were bound to individual countians in 1823. Their trades or occupations included farming, housewifery, miller and coach maker. In October, 1847, Ezra Loy, "a poor child," was placed with David Kendlehart of Gettysburg for 3 years and 4 months. He was to be instructed "in the art and mastery of Shoe and Boot Making". He was to be paid apprentice journeyman's wages for one week's work. This practice of caring for pauper children continued into the 20th century.

The National Soldiers Orphans' Homestead

After the battle an unidentified dead soldier was found near the present Gettysburg firehouse. He was found clutching a picture of his three small children. Through the efforts of Dr. J. Francis Bournes, the soldier's wife was able to identify the children in the image. He was Sgt. Amos Humiston of the 154th New York Volunteers.

Tragically, one aftermath of the Civil War was soldiers' orphans. People throughout the east became interested in raising money to establish an orphanage in Gettysburg for all children of the men killed in the Civil War. Through the efforts of Dr. Bournes, a two-acre property on Baltimore Street near the Soldiers' National Cemetery was purchased for the home. The inauguration took place on November 20, 1866. Thirty-five orphan boys and girls were "inmates" at that time.

There were several teachers for the school. Helpers included Mrs. Humiston who, with her three children, had moved to Gettysburg from upstate New York. For ten years, the orphanage provided a comfortable home for the children. The girls learned housekeeping duties and needlework. The boys learned to do chores and work in the garden. The children had their own school at the orphanage. By 1869, 60 children from eleven states resided there.

Eventually, a Mrs. Rosa Carmichael became the orphanage's matron. She was described "As a teacher and disciplinarian, Mrs. Carmichael has few equals, and she is a most assiduous and faithful worker…" Reports from a run-away child, neighbors and others told a different story. Allegedly the matron handed out cruel and unusual punishment to the children. Authorities investigated and found the accusations to be true. Mrs. Carmichael was prosecuted for aggravated assault and battery. The damage was done. The orphanage closed in December, 1877.

Hoffman Homes

George and Agnes Hoffman loved farming and children. They decided to donate nearly 200 acres of their farmland to benefit children who did not have loving parents. On October 14, 1907, they deeded their property in Mt. Joy Township to the Board of Trustees of the Synod of the Potomac of the Reformed Church (now the United Church of Christ). Upon their deaths, the Hoffman farm was to become an orphanage. Their wish was that the boys would learn farming and the girls would learn housework. The children would also attend local schools.

As society changed, the Hoffman Home as an orphanage was no longer deemed a proper place for homeless children. In 1960 it became a Children's Home for court appointed, adjudicated youth offering life skills and vocational training. Children attended public school in Gettysburg. Society, however, continued to change. Because Hoffman Home was in a rural setting, authorities felt that juvenile offenders needed to be treated in a more secure-type facility. In 1990 Hoffman Homes became a psychiatric residential treatment facility for severely disturbed children, age 7 to age 18.

Today, Hoffman Home is a private, non-profit Pennsylvania Corporation related to the United Church of Christ. It serves the needs of about 140 neglected and abused children. The children live in cottages and receive the individual help and counseling they need. The home operates a full day academic school on the grounds.

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