The Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Orphans’ Home…

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It was about a mile, down a hill, across Shawnee Creek and up a winding road. A shrill whistle would ring through the oaks and maples several times a day reminding you it was “that” close.

The Ohio Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Orphans’ Home stood at the top of that winding road. It was stoic and majestic and mysterious all at the same time. Growing up so close to the Home was a blessing and a curse. It was like the haunted house you just passed by on Halloween. You always wanted to go up that hill but everyone had a story why you shouldn’t. You know, like the kid who went in but never came out. He was supposedly buried out back.

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Nearby stores and gas stations all had signs on their doors stating no more than two Home kids were allowed inside at a time. Rumor had it that several kids had killed their parents, some were thieves, the rest were just plain bad kids.

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All those years growing up and that air whistle just kept blowing. All those stories kept multiplying. Home kids had their life up on their hill, we had ours on the east side of that little creek.

In high school I was part of a group of athletes, dressed in our blue Varsity X jackets, who went to the Home to speak to kids about the dangers of smoking. I guess the Home was having a problem with kids smoking and thought hearing from a group of athletes would help convince them to stop.

Inside the Home for once I met the murderers, thieves and bad kids face to face. Of course they were nothing like we had heard. They were pretty normal kids really. They traded baseball cards, chased kites and worked with farm animals. If they had an axe murder in the mix they must have kept him locked away.

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I started to wonder if all those stories were spread to keep us away because we were the bad influences? Some of these kids were orphans, others were just from troubled homes. All of them shared a bond that was extremely tight.

After that a group of us from the high school organized a canoe trip for some of the younger Home kids. We got to know them a little better and brought them all back safely. I wonder if anyone would trust a group of high schoolers with a bunch of little orphan kids like that today?

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In 1978 I spent a couple of days at the Home with my camera trying to show what life was like for the kids. By now the fear from the bogus stories was gone. These kids were not criminals. They were just kids growing up in a place and time I bet many people wish we could have today. They had rules and chores and military discipline. The farm animals all had names. They played games, went to school and stood up for each other

Later that year the Home changed it’s name to the Ohio Veterans’ Childrens’ Home, leaving the orphan legacy to history.

In 1865 President Lincoln, in his second inaugural address, poetically stated “With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan—to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.”

A few months later Lincoln was assassinated but his dream that Civil War orphans be taken care of lived on. Homes like the one in Xenia rose up to fill the need for children from that war and others to follow. The home in Xenia opened in 1870 and closed in 1997.

That air whistle.

About 10 years after I shot the photos you see here, I moved to a small town east of Indianapolis. While moving in I heard a shrill whistle ring through the air. It was an eerie sound and so familiar. I asked a neighbor what it was from. He was a milkman and knew everything and everyone in Knightstown.

“That’s the old orphans’ Home steam whistle,” he said.

Turns out the Indiana Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Orphans’ Home was just down the hill, across the Big Blue River and at the top of a winding road.

I grew to love that whistle…

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A young boy reads a letter from a family member at lunch.

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At the Home’s vocational school a young girl works with an old Singer sewing machine on a project.

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All Photos are Copyright 2017 Mike Fender Photography

 

51 thoughts on “The Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Orphans’ Home…

    • My mom and her sister and 3 brothers grew up there in the 30s to 50s, my mom was the youngest and her mom got her out when she was 14. All 5 are or were great people thanks yo lessons learned there. Their dad was shot in WW1 I think it was, he was much older than grandma, anyway I guess the kids were just too much for her to care for.

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      • Yes. That’s where my Dad Charles E Apgar lived and where I lived until about 17. My Dad build that tree house for his grandson that he raised after his Mother died. I don’t know what happen to the tree house. I haven’t lived in Xenia since 1969.

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    • Yes. That’s where my Dad Charles E Apgar lived and where I lived until about 17. My Dad built that tree house for his grandson that he raised after his Mother died. I don’t know what happen to the tree house. I haven’t lived in Xenia since 1969.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Your story left me in tears. Your photo’s a step back in time. I have always told stories to my husband about having to load the cold milk canisters into the milk machines. Learning to sew on the Singer. Our lockers and beds at Peter Pan. I was finally able to show him right down to the tile work on the floor. The farm road leading back to the big barns. (The winter snow shot was extra special) Thank you Mike for a great piece of work. (Homie from 1963 to 1973)

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  2. Wonderful!!! Absolutely wonderful piece. As Sue said above, the pictures take one back to the simpler days of our childhood at the Home. You have done a fantastic job of showing others a slice of our life and the times there. I was a student there from 1971 to 1980. Thank you so much for this!

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  3. Great article and photographs! Thanks for sharing!
    You have captured a piece of Ohio history that most people are unaware of.

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  4. I didn’t live in the home but down the hill across the creek over on Cumbus Street. I met many friends from their while sledding at The Home Hill. My grandma use to make all of us hot cocoa and cookies in the winter and they would all come over for blackberry pie and sweet tea in the summer. My mom died in ’79 and I moved away and by the time I returned all my friends and the Home were gone. I still have a spoon that says OS&SO on it that was in a bowl of ice cream that two girls brought to me while I was fishing at the waterfall by the heating plant where that whistle was located. It was very loud sitting underneath it but it never seemed to bother the fish for more than a couple of minutes. I spent more time up on that hill than I did at home. I remember being asked if I lived their many times by the staff in the kitchen and out at the farm. Nobody ever bothered me or asked me to leave even when I told them that I lived down the road and was just visiting my friends.

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  5. I was at the Home from 1966- until graduation in June of 1976. 2 of my brothers entered the Home with me. My brother Steve graduated in 1973, my brother Doug went back to our mom before I left the Home..

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  6. I entered the home in 1942 with my 3 sisters and graduated in 1957. My life there and all I learned has been very beneficial to me and family throughout my life! Hard work, k thru 12 schooling, playing a musical instrument, marching in a band, learning sports, a military education with participation at the home and very important, learning a trade that gave me and most a jump start in life!

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    • I was there, 47-58, with Fred. I participated with Fred in all the activities he mentioned. I lost contact with Fred and after 50 y3ears I was given his phone number. I called Fred one day and it was like we hadn’t missed a beat after all those years. Fred used his machine shop trade with Cincinnati MiliCron, Fred, I, and Frank Cunningham were always making difficult projects in the machine shop. I went into the military, was a firefighter for the Dayton Fire Department and was a teacher and coach, coaching was what I always wanted to do so I left the fire Department to accomplish my desire. I wanted to walk in Mousie and Hank’s shoes as a coach. The skills I was taught at the Home we very influential in my success in each position I was involved. Yes Fred and I are still in contact with each other. I was a year behind Fred. Ed Michael ’58’

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      • Did you know any of the Gilbert’s? Twyla, Morrison, Malcolm, John or youngest Jan? Jan is my mom..they all grew up there, except my mom was there from 51-59, she got out at 14..the others were older and graduated from there I’m pretty sure.

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  7. ITs amazing to me how different each persons perception is. Keep in mind that these kids were in a military environment. They were kids and treated as if they were in boot camp! Try had no soft place to land. They all had a story beyond this home that landed them there. They needed comfort and love and I’m not sure they all found it there. But this is interesting to read and interesting to hear how the “public” kids looked at these kids. Thanks for taking the time.

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    • My dad was in the home in the 60s and yes he did have some tear jerking stories, mostly though, his time seemed to be filled with friendship and fond memories. Abuse and neglect can happen to anyone at any time under certain circumstances. He is a great man and amazing dad. No doubt in my mind this was the best option for him and his siblings and provided him with the resources to pull himself out of generational poverty.
      Thank you for this story – my dad has very few pictures of his childhood or the Home – so wonderful to get to see all these pictures!

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    • My sister worked there as a house mother and she still communicates with some of “her girls” and considers their children her grandchildren. The entire time she worked there (around 10 years) I never heard a word of mistreatment.

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  8. wow! what a great story! I lived in Xenia and loved seeing that place. I still drive through the grounds when I visit Xenia. Beautiful place!

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  9. I am another “Home kid”. I was raised there from 1968 – 1980 when I graduated. Was it a perfect environment to be raised, no, but it probably created more opportunities for kids like me than living at home with family. I had some great role models there and they helped guide me into what I am today. The home gave me a work ethic, a well rounded education, three meals a day, and a chance to be successful in life. Sadly, there are no places like the home anymore, and as a public school teacher for over 30 years I can tell you there needs to be another place like the home to help give kids a chance when their home life crumbles. Someone in politics needs to read the comments on this page and tell me it wasn’t worth it….

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  10. Entered the Home in 1948 and left in 1957. I was wondering after viewing the picture of the Homies walking up the farm road how many of us made that trek over the years. The fun we had on the farm. The memories, Homies, education, and upbringing would impact my life through out my military career. Additionally, other employment, obtaining my college degree, and coaching athletic teams were occasions that had a direct reflection on the experience of the Home. What an opportunity I was given to be raised there.

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  11. Thanks, Mike for a great story and pictures. I grew up on the west side of Xenia and do not remember any bad things said about the kids there. We use to play football in grade school against the OSSO kids, and they just seemed like all the other children.
    After that, I do not remember much interaction with them.

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  12. My Mom, June Morrow, was an RN at the Home for many years and I was there so often (& the kids at our house to visit) and got to know many of the kids there. She would have loved to see these wonderful photos and read the comments from so many kids that he loved. I feel like children in need now would really benefit from something like this. It was a beautiful campus and so full of activities. The Home had a Church, school, theater, hospital, industrial laundry, the farm area, a summer camp and all the other things already mentioned. It was a special place.

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  13. I grew up hearing that whistle every day. I still think of it often and smile. It was a signal to head home on summer evenings or head out to school or the bus stop. Thinking of it now, it reminds me of a simpler time full of a lot of happy memories of friends and family. Really nice posting Mike!

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  14. My aunt was a matron at the home when I was a child. I loved visiting her and seeing the other children. I have fond memories!

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  15. Thank you for a wonderful article and pictures! I work for the school that is currently on that campus. It is now “home” for many ministries, from those that serve kids to those that serve the elderly. In fact, the Assisted Living is located on the spot where the Peter Pan cottage and hospital were. Oh how often I have tried to imagine how that orphanage was like in it’s prime! Your pictures gave me many “I thought so” moments! Unfortunately, before the current owners, time and neglect had ravaged many of the buildings on that complex. Quite a few, including the Peter Pan cottage and hospital had to be torn down. However, the owners viewed that as an opportunity to build again, and provide the complex an opportunity to serve again. In fact, some of the original orphans have stayed at the current assisted living and retirement village. I have included the website of the school that currently uses the gym, auditorium, Lincoln, and Barnett buildings.

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  16. I remember my years in the “Home” fondly. Your story brought tears to my eyes. I went to the “Home” when I was ten years old in 1961 and lived there until my high school graduation in 1969. At one time there were seven kids from my family in there. The first thing they did was split the families apart. We saw each other from time to time but soon learned to live on our own with the new kids that you were grouped together. Thanks for your story. Gary Price. Class of ’69.

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  17. A great book about this wonderful institution was written in 2010. “A Home of Their Own:
    The Story of Ohio’s Greatest Orphanage” by Edward Lentz , is available on Amazon. I grew up in Dayton, and recall attending football games played between OS&SO and Northridge High School in the late ’40’s. The success of OS & SO is emphasized by those who were raised there, continue to attend their reunions and speak fondly of their days there with gratitude for the opportunities the home offered them. How sad that society does not offer equivalent places for today’s young people in need.

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      • Mike, I wonder if you would mind contacting us at the Museum that is on the grounds? The AXP has established a project which is meant to identify and catalog photos in our collection, which are in turn entered into a searchable database at our Museum. We are always looking for other sources to add to the photos, whether digital or physical copies. Thanks, and thanks for such a fine article! It takes me back to simpler times.

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  18. i lived on S. Detroit St as a teen back in the early 60’s and can still remember hearing the steam whistle blow. In early 70’s I went to an OSSO home on SR 68 and asked for a young person to help bale hay for that day. I don’t remember his name but he was a very good helper and well mannered.
    We left the state in ’74 right after the tornado and were disappointed when we learned many years later that the home had closed. Now more than ever we need homes like this to help and guide our youth in these troubling times!!!
    Thanks Mike for your excellent story about the “Home”.

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  19. Great stuff Mike, I ran track at Bellbrook, and we had a meet every year at the OSSO and we also played them in basketball. Mysterious place, but pretty cool… Shot a couple of assignments there in the late 70’s,,,,

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  20. Great Place it was….I’m a ‘Homie’ a proud old one 84 years old….Had a great start for my life. Grad in ’52, was there for 12 years…Loved all the great photos and your story Mike…More folks would know the truth if they had taken the time. We heard lots of tales from folks that didn’t know anything about our HOME. We were well educated(best school in the state) at that time. With well rounded training for a prosperous future. In the later years things went down, only because the money was cut, including hiring substandard staff, so the kids suffered. Closing OSSO was a real shock to all of us….Homes of this type are sorely needed now. Thank you again Mike, Old photos brought tears with the memories . M.Grant Hauser 1940/1952

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      • Michelle, Mory was responsible for me graduating from High School, Columbus Central “58”. He invited me to live with him and Phil Cochran when I learned that my father was an alcoholic and I couldn’t live in the house with him. Mory was attending Ohio State and I could help with the rent. Mory and Phil had one rule, I had to attend High School. After leaving the “Home” I wasn’t going to return to HS. Yes I knew all of your aunts and uncles played ball with Mory and John and was in the band with Mory. I don’t recall Malcolm but knew Twyla. Thanks for asking, still a “Homie,” Ed Michael

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  21. My mom spent 1951-1959 ish there, her older siblings graduated from there. The Gilbert 5…my one uncle Morrison (Morry Gilbert), wrote or helped on a book too. I can’t remember the name, I think I have a copy somewhere, this makes me plan to search for it today. Morry, John and my mom Jan are still involved in a group from their time there, I think in July the remaining kids meet for a reunion. That place is why my family is as good as they are!

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  22. I went to school here back in the early 2000’s and I’ve always been so interested in all the history this campus has held. Its difficult to find many pictures and I enjoyed these so much!the articale was beautifully written, thank you so much!

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  23. Anyone know Lloyd Davis? He grew up in orphanage with his sister Ann and a brother Phil. It was ’40’s-50’s and he graduated there. He served our country, and apparently returned in his elder age .Heard he died apx 12 yrs ago. I was his niece. Been trying to get any info of family, as I was in foster care. this is a long-shot, but trying anything. Perhaps you have annuals or pictures of some sort? Notations?

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  24. my mom Phyllis Hunter and her brothers Fred, Dean (Richard) and Alvin Hunter were there between 1948 and 1950 if anyone remembers them it would be great to hear from you.

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  25. Doug Burris:
    December, 2019…..I went into the Home January 1949, Peter Pan with ‘Mom Lozier’ Also had 2 sisters, Ruth and Sally, and brother Delmar who went in before me. My mom was able to get us out of the Home in August 1954 to help work our 15 acre farm in New Albany, Ohio. Mostly good memories, and it’s amazing how much I still remember. Reading the comments of others also brings back many more of the old memories. Only made it back to the Home once and that was 2 years ago. Couldn’t believe how emotional it made me feel as even more memories came flooding back. Thanks for your website

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  26. Thank you so much for sharing. A lot of those pics have my dad Frank, aunt Shirley, and my uncle John in them. It’s nice to see some of their youth. Dad took is down there years ago, to see where he spent a lot of his years. His Dad was in the Navy and his mom was in the Army. Bless your heart for putting this together, it truly means something to a lot of them.

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