A New (Old) Look at the Iowa Soldiers’ Orphans’ Home

For many of us, when the name Iowa Soldiers’ Orphans’ Home or Annie Wittenmyer Home is mentioned we think of the beautiful two-story red brick cottages that exist today on the site.


These were not the original buildings that the orphans arrived to in November 1865. The site had been home to Camp Roberts, later renamed Camp Kinsman, for Calvary units during the Civil War. Left behind after the war, the military barracks, hospital, kitchen, and miscellaneous buildings had been roughly updated for the needs of the children.

According to the Davenport Daily Gazette on November 16, 1865

“On the north side of the square is a row of six-one-storied houses each of which is divided into three departments: 32×20 for a sleeping room to accommodate about 30 children, 22×16 for a sitting and study room, 10×12 for the teacher’s room.” (Pg. 4)

As indicated, every cottage had one adult living with the children. Meals were taken in a large separate dining room, and the hospital reopened for sick children. Other buildings were also modified for the needs of the orphanage.

Until recently we had to use our imaginations to picture what the original Soldiers’ Home buildings looked like. We are excited that two stereoview cards dating from the late 1860s are now part of the Richardson-Sloane Special Collections Center.

The images were taken and published by John G. Evans of Muscatine, Iowa and published as part of his Evans’ Western Views collection.

May we present Image 135 from the Evans’ collection. Labeled View at the Orphans’ Home, Davenport, Iowa.

evans stereograph-1

(posted by Amy D.)

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9 Responses to A New (Old) Look at the Iowa Soldiers’ Orphans’ Home

  1. Lou Branca says:

    I was resident there from 1935 to 1940 as an orphan.
    The cottages in the pics above were replaced by the 1930’s —some got burned in fires — but they did have wooden cottages when I was there. I think some were two story cottages.

    • Lori says:

      My mother lived there from 1940-1951, I believe that was the year she left.. Her name was Evelyn Varner

    • Susan Schweik says:

      Dear Lou Branca, did you once appear on the Today show talking about or with Harold Skeels about your early childhood experiences? If so, I’d be so eager to talk with you.

    • Bee Huff says:

      Did you happen to know Violet and Opal Bond? Violet was my mother-in-law. She said she ran away from the orphanage when she was about 12. Bothe the girls are on the 1940 as “inmates” of the home. I’m trying to locate their records to find out why they were placed there since both parents were alive at the time.

  2. Holly Marshall says:

    I am trying to track down which orphanage in Iowa my grandma was in. I don’t know if it was this one or not but the last name was Norris. I believe she may have had two other siblings that were in an orphanage with her too but could be wrong. I believe it would have been about 1930 that she was in the orphanage. If any of you have information or recognize the last name please let me know.

    • SCblogger says:

      Hello Holly, thanks for your question. The Iowa Department of Human Services holds the only extant records of the residents of the Iowa Soldiers’ Orphans’ Home: case files created after 1910. Here at The Richardson-Sloane Special Collections Center we have a list of the children who entered the home in the 1860’s, as well as a list of orphans’ names that appear in the federal and state censuses between 1870 and 1910.

      Please submit a research request using our “Ask a Genealogy Question” form at http://www.davenportlibrary.com/genealogy-and-history/ask-a-genealogy-question/ if you would like our help in searching for your grandmother in other sources. Thanks!

  3. Lisa says:

    Hello! What type of records does the Iowa Department of Human Services hold regarding the Orphan’s Home? I have a couple of relatives that were enumerated in the Home in 1930 – Berl and Imogene DeWitt. I would love to be able to find records on them, aside from that census.

    Thank you!

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