A BRIEF HISTORY OF
THE ORPHAN TRAIN MOVEMENT
The Orphan Train movement began in 1854 and continued until 1930. During this 75 year time span, somewhere between 150,000 and 200,000 orphaned, abandoned, and homeless children were sent "west" from New York on trains to find new families. There were two main organizations that "shipped" children west to new homes. They were: 1) The Children's Aid Society run by Rev. Charles Loring Brace, and 2) The New York Founding Hospital, operated by the Sisters of Charity. It was hoped by these organizations, that by sending these "orphans" out west to find new "families" they would have a better chance of leading a happy and productive life, than if left to fend for themselves on the streets of New York. Both of these charitable organizations are still in operation today. The first Kansas-bound Orphan Train arrived in the state in 1867, and the last Kansas train arrived in 1930 (the same year the Orphan Train movement officirly ceased operations). During that time, it is estimated that between 5,000 and 6,O00 children were placed in Kansas homes. Some of these children were adopted by their new Kansas families, but many were not. The following is the story of two Kansasbound Orphan Train Riders.
According to the records at the Children's Aid Society, Anna was born on April 23, 1895 and William was born on July 23, 1897. Both were born in Staten Island. Their parents were William and Anna White Potthoff. Their father was a painter. Both parents were Protestant. The last known address of the parents was 478 Cary Avenue, West New Brighton, Staten Island. The children's grandmother was Marie Potthoff of 21 South Street, West New Brighton, Staten Island. On July 6, 1909 Anna and William were placed in the Five Points House of Industry in New York City. No reason why was given. On January 10, 1911 they were transferred to The Children's Aid Society. By this time their parents where-abouts were unknown. On January 17, 1911 Anna and William had arrived by train in Oskaloosa, Kansas, and were placed with the Louis and Margaret Kimmel family. A baptismal certificate for Anna shows that she was baptized on April 18th, 1897, in Saint Paul's Church, Staten Island, New York. The certificate listed parents as William and Annie Potthoff and sponsors as James and Emily White (possibly her maternal grandparents). Efforts to find this church, to search their records, have been unproductive. Also, efforts to obtain access to the records of the Five Points House of Industry have been unproductive to date.
Anna spent the first 15 years of her life in Staten Island, New York. To the best of my knowledge she only had one sibling, her brother William who was two years younger. The only stories that Anna ever shared regarding her early life, were ones of playing on the docks and the large ships that were in port (it was a miracle she was never "shipped out to sea"), and stories of teasing the Chinese laundrymen until they chased her down the street with hot irons. After Anna's arrival in Kansas, at age 15, she was placed in the home of Louis and Margaret Kimmel of McLouth, Ks. Anna was never formally adopted by the Kimmel family and she never talked about her time spent there. At 19 years of age, Anna was married to a young man in the community. She never spoke of this young man, or her marriage, to her family. She obtained a divorce from him 3 years after the marriage, on the grounds of "abandonment for more than one year". There were no children from this marriage and Anna's maiden name was restored to her at that time. On February 20th, 1918 she was married to Joseph (Tony) Williamson Keeton in St. Joseph, Mo., and they settled down to married life in Topeka, Ks. Their first daughter, Mildred, was stillborn in 1922. But that tragedy was quickly followed with the births of Doris in 1923, Betty in 1926, and Joseph in 1928.
Anna was a wonderful homemaker and cook and was very happy in her roles as wife, mother, grandmother, and great grandmother. Her home was always a favorite gathering place for family celebrations. While it does seem that her experiences as a young girl (placed in an orphanage, riding an Orphan Train, being sent to live with people she knew nothing about, marrying at age 19 only to be abandoned and then divorced) would be enough to make her bitter about life in general, this was not the case. This was definitely not the attitude she chose to take about life. She was a joyful person, a Christian, she loved people, loved her family, loved life.
Anna passed away June 8, 1968 in Valley Falls, Ks. Her husband "Tony" passed away August 25, 1969 in Valley Falls, KS. Anna is survived by her 3 children, 5 grandchildren, 6 great-grandchildren, and 2 great-great- grandchildren.
Anna's Family Remembers Her
Betty Stewart - Daughter
Mom moved to Topeka, KS. as a young woman and worked at the Capitol City Laundry. During this time she met my Dad "Tony" Keeton, who worked at the Topeka Paper Company. They kept company until he enlisted in the Army during World War I. They then married on February 20, 1918, and he took her to live with his parents (W.E. & Emma Keeton) while he went off to serve his country. Dad returned home shortly after the Armistice was signed and they began their life together. Mom loved her children dearly and would have lain down her life for them if needed, we returned that love to her two-fold. Mom's love for her children and grandchildren seemed to make up, at least in part, for the love she missed out on as a child. When I was 12, Mom had an accident and burned her legs when she spilled hot cooking grease down the front of them. Therefore, a new cook emerged on the scene - ME! Mom was confined to her bed for 6 weeks to recover, and I learned to cook for the family by running back and forth from Kitchen to Bedroom as Mom instructed me in my efforts. We must have done a good job between us (after a few burnt offerings) as no-one in the family died from the new cook's offerings! All three of us kids took over the housework (mostly Doris & I) with little-brother Joe being the "go-for". And eventually with all our help Mom got well.
I remember times when Dad would go fishing, and Joe and Doris would be out, Mom and I would be alone at home. Often, we would walk down to the "Heap-M-Up" Ice Cream Parlor and treat ourselves to a pint of ice cream each. This was a special time that we both looked forward to sharing as often as we could. (We both loved ice cream!) When I was growing up, there often wasn't much to do in the evenings, so we would all end up on the back porch harmonizing together on the old favorites, Old Black Joe - Swing Low Sweet Chariot - Carry Me Back to Old Virginy -etc. We did have fun and enjoyed our singing. I guess the neighbors did too as they always remarked about it the next day. Dad sang tenor, Mom sang alto, and we kids sang soprano or bass if we could reach it!
Joe Keeton - Son
I remember Mom's Lemon Meringue Pies & Apple Pies. They were the best I've ever tasted. She made her lemon pies with real lemons, from a recipe given to her by a neighbor.
Doris Smith - Daughter
I remember when my brother was a baby, and Mom took us for walks. My brother, Joe, in the baby buggy, and my sister Betty and I holding on to the sides of the buggy. Mom would always say "Now don't let go" as we slowly strolled down the sidewalk. I remember helping to bathe Joe. I held the soap and towel. After his bath I'd get to hold him, sitting in the big rocking chair. I knew all the lullabies, so I'd rock and sing to him till Mom was ready to put him to bed. I remember Mom cooking, making up the beds and sweeping floors.
As I look back now it seems she was nearly always singing. Perhaps a favorite Hymn or nursery rhyme, but especially "Little Orphan Annie". She felt that was her song since she was an orphan and her name was Annie. I remember long talks about where she came from, the things she had seen and done, and about how she would like to go back to New York some time. She never got to go. I remember her getting ready for the many picnics we went on. She truly loved to get out in the country for a day. We always had fried chicken, potato salad, baked beans, and if there was time to make it - some kind of fruit pie. If not, then chocolate cookies and bananas. As we got older, we would have friends over and party in our back yard. Mom would always help us fix goodies for those times too. I remember how she and my Dad took care of my little girl while I worked. I remember how much they loved her. Also, I remember how thrilled they were when they met their first greatgranddaughter. Mom always loved babies. I remember how quiet she was. Never complaining, always smiling, always caring.... Always above and beyond all - Our Mother.
Claudia O'Gilvie - Granddaughter
If I visually remember my grandmother, the first thing that appears is a picture of her in her simple cotton housedress, many times with a full cotton apron covering the dress. Since her work was that of a homemaker, and her social life was simple, she rarely had need to "dress-up". I doubt that I ever see what is referred to as a cotton housedress without thinking of her. I remember so many Saturday afternoon movies. She had a passion for going to the movies, and while I was growing up I doubt that we missed very many Saturday afternoons. In nice weather we would walk the few blocks from our home to downtown, and then walk home - talking about whatever movie we had just seen.
I suppose what I remember even more than the movie, was going to the dimestore afterward, sitting at the counter, and having something to drink, prior to going back home. I have often said that visiting the cemetery does not remind me of her at all, but if I see a counter somewhere (which is now a rather rare thing to see), the first thing I think of is how many times I sat at one of those counters with my grandmother.
Another vivid memory is of Sunday mornings. We would walk together the few blocks to the corner drugstore and she would buy a Sunday paper. When we got home she would always read me the comic section, and if she had the extra money there was always a new comic book for me to read. We would sit at the big dining room table - her reading the newspaper and me reading my new comic. My grandmother could bake the best pies ever. Whether by design or accident, there was always enough dough left for her to make me a piece of pie dough baked with butter, sugar and cinnamon. I think I liked that better than the pie. To this day I still get hungry and will make a piece of pie dough for myself the way she used to make it for me.
My grandmother's life was a simple life as I look back. It took such small things to make her happy, and if she had big dreams that were unfulfilled she never discussed them. She held her own counsel as to her past and whatever dreams she had. I was in my 20's when she passed away, and since she was more mother than grandmother the first 10 years of my life, she was always very special to me, and is to this day. I only regret that my own daughter never had a chance to know her like I did. I often wonder what grandma would think about our lives today and the way we live them - how we all turned out in later years - and the things we have that she would never have dreamed of having.
Mike Stewart - Grandson
Grandma Keeton was always happy. She must have been very good at keeping her troubles to herself because the memories of her and her household are all cheerful ones. Several things come to mind immediately as remembrances of her. Best of all was the cookie jar. In the south end of the kitchen stood an old "Hoosier" cabinet with a graniteware countertop. Tucked back in the right side corner of the cabinet was a large cookie jar. The cookie jar was never empty. I raided that cookie jar every time I went to her house. She would always catch me doing it, but it was always OK. She would let me have two or three cookies and always seemed real happy about it. Looking back as an adult, I realize now that she would certainly have been disappointed if I had ever come over and not pulled a raid on that jar. I imagine she was standing back in the other room just watching to see how long it would take me to make a bee-line for the cookies. She probably got quite a chuckle out of the whole thing.
Bubble-lights on the Christmas tree is another thing that was uniquely Grandma Keeton's. I didn't know anyone else who had lights like that on their tree, but she had a whole bunch of them on hers. I would sit on my knees for long periods of time and stare at those lights and wonder where the bubbles came from. To this day, the sight of a bubble-light whisks me instantly to Grandma's front living room by the north window staring at her beautiful Christmas tree.
Another wonderful memory of Grandma's place is the window-seat. She had a (3-window) bay window with seat. To a little kid it was huge! I could actually get up into it and play on the shelf, running my little toy cars around or just staring out the windows. She never minded us playing in the window and always seemed to keep it pretty much empty and available. There were little cupboards under it, but we weren't allowed to dig around in there. Grandpa's shoes and shoe polish were under there and keeping me out of the shoe polish was always a good idea!
Connie DiPasquale - Granddaughter
Whenever I think of Grandma I get a feeling of warmth and comfort, like being wrapped in a big ol' quilt. She was the essence of a "Norman Rockwell" painting. She liked to embroider and it seems she was always working on a project... dresser scarves, pillowslips, tea towels. I think watching her working on her embroidery probably had a lot to do with influencing me toward "hand work" as I grew up. Whenever I work on something now I still see grandma's hands at work in my mind. I remember her coming over to our house for visits during the summertime, having rode the city bus to get to us, and my excitement at seeing her walking down the sidewalk toward me. If I close my eyes - I can still walk through her home, room by room, touching things that were hers, expecting to turn around quick and see her. I loved going to her house. I remember being allowed the privilege of dusting her china cabinet and all the "pretties" inside of it. I also can still see her big dining room table always with a fresh crocheted doily and usually a vase of fresh flowers, sitting in the middle of it. I am today the proud owner of both of these fine pieces of furniture. I can still visualize the shelf, high up in the corner of her spare bedroom, where she kept cottage cheese cartons full of pennies - and see her getting down one of the cartons and counting out 25 cents worth for any of her grandkids whenever they came to visit her. I still treasure the little pink ceramic "smiling mama pig and piglets connected by a golden chain" that she gave me one year for my birthday (it always reminded me of her with her happy family surrounding her).
Holidays were always a terrific time to go to grandmas house. Thanksgiving - with the family around the big dining room table, a beautiful golden-roasted turkey holding the center of everyone's attention. I remember standing in her living room at Christmas-time (year after year) carefully inspecting the old-fashioned ornaments on her tree and the cardboard & micaflake Christmas Village that always sat on top of her TV. I now possess a similar "antique Christmas Village" (although not the one she owned) and every year when I set it under my tree I am flooded with warmth and memories of her.
Kim Franz - Great Granddaughter
I have searched my memory and conferred with my mom to see what is an actual memory and what I may have been told and just think is a memory. Because I was only 2-3 years old when these things happened, my memories of my great-grandmother are sketchy and the chronology of them may not be correct, but here goes. I can remember the Topeka tornado of 1966, great grandma's house was in the direct path of the tornado. I remember going over to their house after the storm was over and seeing the huge elm tree in their backyard laying on their house. Inside, MomMom and Honey were sitting at the kitchen table as if nothing had happened. I am not sure why I called great grandma "Mom-Mom", but I do know that to this day if someone calls her Grandma Keeton, my brain has to stop and think of who that is. She was always Mom-Mom to me. Now, I called great grandpa "Honey". My mother says this is because I was the first great-grandchild and he used to call me "honey", so I started calling him "honey" also. I can also recall the floor plan of their house. I remember that you came and went from the back porch door. Mom-Mom had a bird that she kept in a cage in the dining room. I think it was a yellow parakeet. I have an image of her talking and maybe singing to the bird. I can see her standing there, the window behind her, her head tilted up towards the cage, and for some reason, her glasses and dress stands out in my mind. Unfortunately, more memories are of when my grandma and I went to their house to check up on things after they were in a nursing home. The rest of my memories are from old photographs and stories. I wish I could remember more or be sure what I do remember is reality, but I was so young.
William's early life story is similar to Anna's simply because there is very little information available. We always assumed that he joined right in with his big sister in her adventures at the dockyards and teasing the Chinese laundrymen. However, once they arrived in Kansas and were placed with the Kimmel family, it appears that his story is one of "fitting into the family" more than might have been the case for Anna. William was formally adopted by the Kimmel family when he enlisted in the service for World War I (apparently as a governmental requirement at the time). In some of his personal correspondence, dated January 23, 1982, he did appear to be happy and content with his new family. He remained close to them and corresponded with them throughout his life. The Kimmel family had 3 boys and 2 girls of their own.
William had quite a military record during his life ... to quote from a letter he wrote in January of 1982 ... In April 1916, I enlisted in the National Guard. Served five months on the Mexican border. Arrived back home December 1916 and went back to school. I went back with the Kimmels and I was with them in August 1917 when Co. B 139th Infantry was called out for WWI. Left September 24 for Ft. Sill, Ok. In May 1918 I arrived in Topeka, WWI was over. I came back a First Sergeant. There was a write-up in the Oskaloosa Independent about me. In the interim the Kimmels moved to Topeka. Louis had started a meat packing company. Until October 1919 I worked at the plant here and there. Since the Kimmels had a family, I left them and was on my own. October 16 I started with the Santa Fe Railway.
There I met Emma Kragon and was married September 3, 1921. We had two boys, one died in infancy. The other grew to manhood. He graduated from Topeka High School and went to Kansas State for two years when he was picked for West Point in 1948. He graduated in 1952 and was married at West Point. He had three children. His assignments were many and in 1967 he was sent to Vietnam where he was a Battalion Commander Lt. Col on the front. He was killed November 14.
After we were married we made several trips to New York. I wanted to find out about my relations. I contacted about all of them and visited them at different times. I found my mother once, even where I used to live. I found that my life on Staten Island was not good. I was still in the National Guard after WWI. I joined HdqsCo. 69th Brig. as First Sergeant and attained the rank of Capt. Company Commander. So in 1940 was called out for training, so in 1941 when the War came we were Federalized. When the Co. went over seas I stayed in Little Rock, Ak. At that time they called every one that was in WWI retread. In 1942 the Air Corp was wanting administration officers. So I was sent to the A.C. I was at several stations until I was sent to the Pacific Theater. So I crossed the Atlantic and Pacific.
When Japan surrendered I requested to be separated as the Santa Fe wanted me back. I went back to work in 1946. I left the service as a major. After I came back to work in 1955 I was promoted to Traveling Auditor and transferred to Colorado Springs, Co. I retired in 1966 after forty six years and nine months. Emma and I celebrated our 60th Wedding Anniversary together last year.
William Kimmel passed away in 1987, in Colorado Springs, CO. His wife Emma passed away in 1991. He is survived by a daughter-in-law and three grandchildren, and several nieces and nephews.