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Feature Article on Children's Home. Topic: DOWNTOWN/BUILDINGS
By L.C. "Lefty" Bevans in August, 1999

MY LIFE AT THE SHELBY COUNTY CHILDREN'S HOME, 1937-1945

The Shelby County Children’s Home, located just southeast of Sidney, was dedicated November 4, 1897, and was opened a short time after. The children from Shelby County who had been living at the Logan County Children’s Home were transferred to the new Home in Sidney.  From 1897 until it closed in 1976, the Shelby County Children’s Home provided a safe haven for many children.

Those of us who entered the Shelby County Children’s Home during the depression years of the 1930’s appreciated having a warm place to live, clothes to wear and food to eat. The cottage we lived in became our home. The boys or girls in the cottage, with whom we played, worked and went to school, became like our brothers or sisters.

At one time there were 72 children living in the Home, most of them because of the depression and the difficulty the parents had in providing for them.

Mr. and Mrs. Ed Calhoun were the Superintendent and Matron at that time. Other employees were: Miss Emma Allinger, Boys’ Governess; Miss Edith Staley, Girls’ Governess; Miss Ethel Boyer, Seamstress; Mrs. Baker, Cook; Mrs. Zimpher, Laundress; Mr. Bill Herndon, Farm Hand; and Mr. Forest Hook, Stationary Engineer (Fireman of the Boiler).

When I became 13 years old I became a "Barn-Boy." Then the work began. The older boys helped with the farming, milking, gardening, butchering of the farm animals for our own meat, providing the wood for the kitchen and coal for the boiler room. The Home was self-supporting.

The older girls helped with the washing, ironing, cooking, canning, sewing, in the dining room and with the cleaning of the main building.


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The No. 1 clause in the By-Laws, Rules and Regulations of the Children’s Home read:  "1. The family plan shall prevail as nearly as may be, each cottage being a separate family, and the whole institution, including all children and employees, to constitute one family."

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Ed and Hattie Calhoun were the superintendent and matron from 1920 to 1940, the period in which Lefty Bevans resided at the Children’s Home.

We went to a two-story school at the Home until it was closed at the end of the 1939 school year. It was later converted into living quarters for an employee. The school building was torn down in February 1965. Mrs. Elizabeth Dodds was the teacher for the first four grades. Mr. Max Michael had the fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth grades. Beginning in 1940 we went to the Orange Township School on U.S. Route 25 south of Sidney, then to Sidney High School for the last four grades.

Mr. and Mrs. James Gilliespie took over the Home in 1940. They made a lot of changes. The older boys were allowed to go to the show on Saturday night (if not in the "doghouse"). The boys and girls could go out with their family on Sunday, once a month. Also we could go to the church of our choice in Sidney on Sunday.

We farmed the land with horses until 1940 when we got our first tractor. That year we also got a new Farmhand, Clarence Trisler and Laundress, Mrs. Keplinger.

When I was in the Home, punishment was the same as in a private home – extra chores, privileges taken away, or use of the razor strap, depending on the offense.

At Christmas time we got so much fruit and candy that Mr. and Mrs. "Chesty" Berger decided to save their gift until summer when they gave us a day of swimming, roller skating, boat riding, and bicycle riding at Orchard Island as our present. The Board of Trustees gave each of us one big present. We would write down three things that we wanted, such as a sled, pocket watch, roller skates, or skis. If your sled was broken you asked for a new one. We took the old broken sled apart and used it to fix up other ones, so that everyone had a good sled.

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The author, "Lefty" Bevans,
resided at the Children’s
Home from 1937-1945.

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The author, "Lefty" Bevans,
in a more recent photograph.

 

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Torn down in 1992, the boys’ cottage (on the right) was on the south side of the main building, while the girls’ cottage was on the north side. The kitchen, storage rooms, and dining hall were in the basement of the main building. The Superintendent’s office and living area were on the first floor, while the second floor contained bedrooms for the cooks, laundry people, and seamstress. The third floor served as a hospital and rooms for high school girls. The author notes that the belfry over the main building was removed in about 1939 and the front entry was changed at the same time.

We re-soled our own shoes, made scooters (with boards and old roller skates) and go-carts using old doll-baby buggy wheels. We made our own fun. We had a lot of cats and dogs as pets. People would drop them off along the road at the bottom of the hill. We would take them in and feed them. After that they had a life of ease. When they died we buried them in our little pet cemetery down by the barn.

A lot of the boys went into the service when they became of age or after graduation. We lost one of our "brothers" in World War II and two in the Korean War.

In 1978 I got together with Charles Frazier and we decided to have a reunion. We had a good turnout for the first one. Each time fewer people attended, so after the fourth one we gave it up.

Over the years a lot of the kids have passed on, but from time to time I still see some of the ones that are left. The kids that were in the home when I was are still my "brothers and sisters."

You had to take the bad times with the good but I remember more of the good times. Some of the kids remember things the other way. Whatever took place was a product of the times and the people involved.

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"The county commissioners have ordered plans for a barn to be erected on children's home farm" (Sidney Daily News, July 27, 1899). The barn burned about 1943, according to Bevans. "After we threshed wheat that year, there was a fresh stack of straw next to the barn. Well, two fellows were smoking and..."

Shelby County Children’s Home
1897-1976

(Excerpted from Shelby County Children’s Home, Sidney, Ohio, published by the Shelby County Genealogical Society.)

In 1866 the Ohio General Assembly, in response to a dramatic increase of homeless children following the Civil War, authorized boards of county commissioners to construct orphans’ asylums or other facilities and to levy taxes to pay for them. The 1866 legislation also established a five-man board of trustees for such homes appointed by the board of the county commissioners. The trustees were authorized to hire a superintendent to administer the home and adjoining counties could establish a district children’s home. Children’s homes accepted children who were orphaned, abandoned, neglected, inadequately provided for by the parents, or placed in the home by the juvenile court.

In 1893 the people of Shelby County voted the money to build the Children’s Home. In July 1894 the county commissioners purchased a farm on a hilltop about one mile southeast of Sidney, containing 142 acres for $7,562. About 70 acres were tillable, the rest being wood and pasture lands. Total cost of the home and farm was about $30,000. The home was dedicated Nov. 4, 1897, and was opened a short time after. The children from Shelby County, living at the Logan County Children’s Home, were transferred to the new home.

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The Children’s Home schoolhouse, east of the girls’ cottage, was closed in 1939 and converted
into living quarters for an employee. It was torn down in 1965.

 

Shelby County Children’s Home

1897-1976

(Excerpted from Shelby County Children’s Home, Sidney, Ohio, published by the Shelby County Genealogical Society.)

A two-story school (with grades 1 to 4 on the first floor and grades 5 to 8 on the second floor) was built in 1903 from money left in the will of Mrs. Mary Barkdull who died in 1898. A tablet was encased in the front wall bearing these words: Barkdull Memorial 1903. The school was closed at the end of the 1939 school year and the children were sent to Orange Township School on U.S. Route 25. The Children’s Home School was later converted into living quarters for Mr. and Mrs. Charles Davis, who were employed at the Home as farmhand and cook, and their daughter. The school building was torn down in February 1965.

The farm was leased out and the cows sold in the 1960’s. The children were placed in foster homes and the Children’s Home was closed in 1976 after 79 years of service. The boys’ and girls’ cottages were torn down during the summer of 1992.

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The Shelby County Children’s Home was a popular subject for postcards, a common means of communication at the turn of the century. The face of this card reads: "Copyright 1905 by the Rotograph Co. Orphans Home for Children, Sidney, O." A bottom left corner date, 1999, appears to be a misprint, or possibly a serial number for the card. The boys’ and girls’ cottages, on either side of the main building, were torn down in 1992.

 

Shelby County Children’s Home Book For Sale

The Shelby County Genealogical Society offers this book for sale: Shelby County Children’s Home, Sidney, Ohio. Information on Home, 1892-1974. List of superintendents and matrons, known employees, children who resided there. 66 pages, softbound. $15. Ohio residents add $0.98 tax. Shipping and handling included in price. Order from Shelby County Genealogical Society, 17755 St. Rt. 47, Sidney, OH 45365-9242.

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Residents of the Children’s Home play on the hill overlooking the "sheep lot"
to where the Big Four Railroad Bridge was built in 1924.

 

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