National Orphan Train Museum

Orphan Train Museum

As part of our weekend road trip around north central Kansas (plus a side trip into Nebraska), my husband and I stopped Saturday afternoon at the National Orphan Train museum in Concordia, KS.  The Orphan Trains are a rich and facinating part of American history, but few know much about them these days. The museum and nearby research center are dedicated to changing that. Housing a collection of artifacts and orphan’s stories, it is a walk back in time. In the early 1850s, it is estimated that about 30,000 children were living on the streets of New York city.

Street Children

Two charity organizations, The Children’s Aid Society, and the New York Foundling hospital started a program to place these vagrant children with families throughout the country. Starting in 1854, groups of children with 2 or 3 agents from the Children’s Aid Society,


were put on trains headed west.

Orphan Train

Small towns were notified ahead of time to expect the trains.

Orphan Train Flyer

Prospective parents would fill out applications seeking approval for taking a child home. At each town, the children, ranging in age from babies to teenagers, were looked over, interviewed, and most were taken into homes of pioneer families. The parents were required to sign a document stating they would treat the child well.

Children's Aid Society Card

Unfortunately, some were not treated well, and ran away or were placed with another family. But most were eventually adopted as family members.

Orphan With Adoptive Parent

The orphan trains continued until 1929, and it is estimated that about 200,000 children were placed during the 75 years the program continued. It is thought today that 1 in 25 Americans has a family member who stepped off an Orphan Train into a new life.

If you would like to learn more about the Orphan Trains, you may visit the National Orphan Train Museum website here.

Next on the north central Kansas weekend road trip is the Pawnee Indian Village Museum. Learn about the largest and most powerful of the groups who ever lived on the central plains, and see the remains of one of their earth lodges.  See you tomorrow.