Life in New York City in the 19th Century could be a brutal place for a child. When adults fell victim to alcoholism, prostitution or drug addiction, their children were the ones who suffered most. Charles Loren Brace, a Connecticut minister was appalled when he visited New York City and found 15,000 homeless children sleeping in alleyways and sewer pipes. He was determined to change the situation. He founded the Children's Aid Society and came up with the idea of getting the children out of the city into the fresh air of the American countryside. It was there that they would learn good habits, have plenty to eat and be given an education. The first train went to Michigan. The Orphan Train Era lasted 75 years and was the largest mass relocation of children in American history. Trains also were sent out from Boston, Chicago and Philadelphia. We know at least 273,000 children were sent out of New York City over a 75 year period. Most of the children were taken in by farm families and became productive American citizens.
Tom Riley is a writer/photographer for Rivertown Magazine and he has written over 1,000 paid articles for various publications over the years. He has written 4 published books and 3 self published books. While researching information on a children's home called Happy Valley School in Pomona, NY he came across a treasure trove of Americana stored in a hay loft at the Rockland County Historical Museum in New City. It consisted of 26 milk cartons crammed with books related to the Orphan Train Era (1854-1929). While cataloging his find for the Historical Museum he came across approximately 35,000 names of children who had been sent all across America. Further research and information led him to write 2 books on the Orphan Train Riders. Mr. Riley often says, "The Orphan Train story is the greatest American story never told."