Main Street Kansas: Museum in Concordia preserves history of adoption in America

A photograph is displayed in the National Orphan Train Complex museum in Concordia. (Photo courtesy KSN News)

CONCORDIA, Kan. (KSNW) – In 1850, some 15,000 children were homeless in New York City. They were left to fend for themselves, to eat and find shelter.

There was a solution that involved putting them on a train, in hopes of finding a better life. Now, their lives are forever remembered on a main street in Kansas at the National Orphan Train Complex in Concordia.

The National Orphan Train Complex museum is in the town of Concordia, Kansas.

Shaley George is the curator at the museum.

“The NOTC honors the orphan train movement which took place between 1854 to 1929 and placed out at least 250,000 children from the East Coast and other Midwest cities to 48 states and 10 countries,” explained Shaley George.

This historical event is remarkable. George says today, out of those children came 4 million descendents, some who are still living today.

“This is the beginning of foster care and adoption for America,” said George. “It’s the largest child migration movement in the world. But, children are the least documented in our history and their stories are seldom told.”

That’s why the National Orphan Train Complex is so important to Kansas history.

“The NOTC honors the orphan train movement which took place between 1854 to 1929 and placed out at least 250,000 children from the East Coast and other Midwest cities to 48 states and 10 countries,” explained Shaley George.

According to George, the museum is packed with pictures that tell the story of what these kids had to go through to survive.

“I just think it’s a teaching tool,” explained Roberta Lowrey, National Orphan Board Member. “It’s wonderful to come in when there’s a group of school kids and see the faces they’re just in awe.”

The orphans found new homes as the parish priest approached couples who could take them in. Sadly, George says many are passing away.

“Those riders are now leaving us quickly. The youngest are 90 years old and there are just a handful of those,” said George. “Each one of them has a story and everyone’s story deserves to be told.”

Concordia was one of three towns up for getting the museum. Now Kansans have a valuable resource to learn about their pasts.

“It couldn’t be more ideal. The research center lends itself to so many people who are interested in their own family genealogies,” said Lowrey.

Concordia Mayor Chuck Lambertz says the town really wanted to pay tribute to these children, not only with the museum, but, statues on the streets.

“Really believe in the project, feel this is a really great thing for our community to have. We have a couple little girls ourselves and when we were looking to become a part of this we found this statue, thought it would be a wonderful opportunity as a family,” said Lambertz.

The NOTC is a part of the fabric of Concordia and the state. It’s certainly a main street in Kansas worth visiting.

If you would like to visit the National Orphan Train Complex itt is open all days except Sunday and Monday. For additional information about the museum, click here.


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