After the Civil War cost Ohio 34,000 soldiers’ lives, thousands of homeless children remained back home.
Nationwide, the call went out to nurture those orphaned by the conflict.
“Care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan,” said President Abraham Lincoln calling for assistance from the country.
The Grand Army of the Republic and Ohio Gov. Rutherford B. Hayes, who was a veteran and an orphan himself, answered the call. One result was the Ohio Soldiers and Sailors Orphans Home opened in Xenia.
A temporary orphanage was set up in the Millen Building on Xenia’s Main Street in 1869 while a permanent home was selected, according to “A Home of Their Own,” by Edward Lentz.
The following year, 124 children moved to their new home, a 100-acre farm on “Poverty Knoll,” just south of Xenia.
Five years later, more than 600 children were living at “the Home,” as it was referred to. It had grown into a campus made up of a school, hospital, administrative buildings, a bake shop, a working farm and more.
By 1900, almost 1,000 children lived at the Home, which had grown to 360 acres.
The facility created a home life for the children, who lived in cottages and were cared for by a “mother.” They attended school and church services and learned a trade in a variety of occupations including dress making, farming, shoe repair and blacksmithing. They also received some military training.
“The Home felt like a boarding school or academy,” said Jim Koski of Beavercreek, the president of the Association of Ex-Pupils and a member of the class of 1973. “We felt safe, and we knew that if we had a family setting that had been abusive it would never happen here.”
With a background connected to the military, the Home observed Memorial Day each year as a way to honor fallen soldiers and connect the children to their past.
The students dressed all in white and lined up smallest to tallest to march in a parade each Memorial Day, said Koski. The boys carried the American flag, and the girls carried peonies, flowers associated with Memorial Day, in the procession as the Home band played “Nearer My God to Thee.”
A combination of growing cost and drop in population led to the phasing out of the institution, which had been renamed the Ohio Veterans’ Children’s Home in 1978. In 1995, the home no longer admitted new students. It closed in 1997.
During the 125 years it was open, the Home educated and raised 13,500 children. Today the grounds are the campus of the Legacy Center.
Growing up together on the self-sufficient campus created a lifelong bond among the children and adults who cared for them.
Each year a reunion is held on the grounds to reconnect and reminisce. This summer more than 300 ex-pupils and staff members gathered for a three-day visit.
“Everybody seems like they are brothers and sisters,” Koski said. “We shared experiences like no other child in the public sector ever shared. We were fed together, we slept together and we were bathed together.
“We were always together, so we can tell stories and relate different experiences with each other. We can laugh and cry with each other. In a lot of aspects, we are even closer to our classmates than we are to our siblings.”