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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51 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.

      • Cheryl Doud says:

        My mom was placed here and her parents were living. She was there from 1933 to around 1944. Her parents were divorced and her mom was trying to raise 7 kids in a time where women’s access to jobs was a housekeeper etc. The state took the kids away and placed them.

      • Kathy Frieden says:

        My mother, Katherine Sprague, I believe was probably there in the 1930s and with a couple of siblings due to her folks couldn’t care for all of their large family. Maybe for a year or two, then she returned home.

    • Holly Helveston says:

      I believe my mother was there in 1935. Name Margaret Barker. She was 10 yrs. old. I hope you can give me any information. Thank you.

    • Kristina says:

      Hi Lou,

      I know thi sis an old post but I’m hoping maybe you will see it. My father Gerald Dean (first and middle name) was in the orphanage between the years of 1936 and 1940. If this sounds familiar let me know and we can get in contact.

    • Allison Newland says:

      I am looking for a boy named Marlon jackson, who lived there in the mid sixties.

      • SCblogger says:

        Allison, the only existing records from the Home are those contained in files held by the State of Iowa’s Division of Adult, Children & Family Services in Des Moines.

        Please e-mail us at specialcollections@davenportlibrary.com for the contact information we have on file.

        If you believe Marlon may have remained in the Davenport area, please include any information you have in the email.

  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!

      • My grandmothers name is Carrie Griffen she was in an orphanage in Iowa. Her birthday is listed as July 25, 1891.there is a ? After the year so I am thinking it is wrong. What should my next step be…she was raised in the orphanage and never adopted.

      • SCblogger says:

        Hi Ramona,

        If you would please email us at specialcollections@davenportlibrary.com with your grandmother’s first and maiden name, married last name, and any further information we would be happy to try to provide suggestions for searching. We look forward to hearing from you!

  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!

  4. Laura DePuew says:

    Hello. My grandma and her siblings were in an orphanage. I never really got to know my grandma due to her passing when I was four but, I know she was adopted and had maybe six other siblings. There were two older sisters that I don’t think got adopted and a young brother who was adopted quickly. She was 10-12 at the time and her name was Bertha. Before my grandma passed she tried to find her brith family but had no luck due to the fire. Are you able to help me find my long lost family?

    • SCblogger says:

      Hello Laura, 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!

    • Melissa Brimeyer says:

      Hi, I would like for Laura DePuew (above) to contact me please. I am working with a lady who is searching for her sister and I believe her grandmother is a match. Please contact me asap! Melissa Brimeyer

      Admin Note: Dear Ms. Brimeyer. Thank you so much for your interest. We did remove your personal information from this comment and have instead sent a personal message to the person you would like to contact with the information you provided. We hope this meets with your approval.

    • Sarah says:

      Hi I’m also looking for any living siblings of my grandmother who also was in an orphanage in Iowa it has been said it but My down she was in the orphanage and 5 siblings also it was in the 40’s when she was there her bday was 11/29/1939

  5. Stephanie Kraushaar says:

    My mother was placed in the orphanage at six months of age, approximately March of 1939. Her biological mother was Marjorie Johnson from the Grundy County area. The man who signed my mother’s birth certificate, John Richmond from Reinbeck, was not her biological father. Mother’s birth name was Gertrude Johnson. Her adoptive parents petitioned the District Court of Iowa in February of 1940 to grant parental rights to them, but they may have fostered her prior to this. Looking for any clues for who her real father may have been.

  6. BK says:

    My grandmother, Letha Parrish, was a resident at the Iowa Soldiers Orphans Home and is listed as an “inmate” there in the 1920 census. She was only a year old when her mother died. Her father was still alive when my grandmother was placed in the home. The names of several residents are listed on the 1920 census if anyone is looking for information about an ancester who resided there.

  7. Anonymous says:

    My parents both worked there when I was born and I lived there too for a while. My parents told me a story of a young boy they were planning on adopting who drowned while they were on vacation with me. I was wondering if I could get more information about my almost brother. I was born 12/11/1958.

  8. Susan Cole says:

    I am looking for information on Paul Mann, Virginia Mann, and possibly older Mann siblings who were placed in the Orphans’ Home about 1915. Any information would be greatly appreciated. Thank you so much for your time.

  9. Darlene C French says:

    I believe this is the home my mother was placed in around 1912. I would like to find records on her as she would have been around 4 or 5.

  10. Vickie says:

    My mother was placed in the home around November/December 1930. Her name was Lizzie Annie (Elizabeth) Parson Olliver. She was placed in a home in Story City Iowa about a year later. Mom had an older half brother and sister, Jimmy and Bertha Parson, and a baby sister, name unknown Olliver. I would love any additional info, no matter how big or small.
    * Story I’ve heard is my mother’s father (Edward Wesley Olliver) died January of 1930. Phoebe, my mother’s mother, and the children were left homeless so tried to survive living in boxcars. The state took custody of the children and committed them to the orphanage home.
    Thank you in advance for any additional info or clarification.

  11. William E Astor says:

    My name is William Astor and I was born to a 17 year old from NE Iowa in 1946. (illegitimate child). I was never adopted. My first name was given to me at Annie’s. I would remain there until I graduated from High School. The request from Anonymous, May 18, 2017 sounds very much like a young boy I knew there. (No promises) I recall there was a young boy I knew who drowned. he was interned across the street. None of us were allowed to attend the services. I don’t think he was interned in the orphanage’s plot.
    As a side note: The large concrete cross that is now in the orphanage’s plot was constructed by 5 boys from Cottage 16 and it was put in front of the church. If you look at the foot of the cross there should be a set of small foot prints. I believe there are only two of us still living that built that cross.

    • Jerry fallmer says:

      I remember that cross ,Carl Olson was one planning it help build was catholic,I have article from high school he died in Vietnam 60s,Jerry fallmer,1954,1965

  12. Ruth Topete says:

    My father, Lester Knapp was placed there in Feb 1925 at age 2. Along with his baby brother. Never adopted. At age 9 they sent him to the deaf school in Council Bluffs Ia. My father passed away in 1969. Any information about him during they time he lived there is appreciated.
    Thank you.

  13. Laura C says:

    My mother, Jean Jensen, used to volunteer at Annie Wittenmeyer Orphanage in the mid to late 1950s. She worked with infants. Does anyone have any information or knowledge of her working there?

  14. Cheryl Doud says:

    My parents met here and eventually married as did several couples of their age. My dad was placed here in 1930 after his mother passed away and his biological father did not keep my dad or his sister. The half sister remained with her biological dad. My mom and her siblings ended up here when the state took the kids away from their mom. For decades, there were a group of people that got together every summer from the home. It started here in Des Moines in the late 1950s and at some point moved to the park near the home. I attended all of this from a small child until the last one I took my mom to around 2005 or so. A lot of the children of my parents time period were not orphans. They ended up there for several different reasons.

  15. Julie Liebig says:

    I was wondering what cemetery the soldiers home used. The reason: My Great grandmother , Mary Ann (Bogle) Baylor gave birth to a daughter between the 22 – 25 of July 1927 in Wayne County, Iowa. She died 10 day later. I found in the Seymour Herald Newspaper from Seymour, Iowa an article stating: Mrs Charles Krouse , who was caring for the child, took the infant to the Soldier’s home. The infant was listed as delicate and only weighting 3 pounds. I’m not sure she survived, being so tiny. Would the home have buried her under her last name somewhere in davenport? I have been unable to find anything on this sweet baby, Thank you.

    • SCblogger says:

      The Iowa Solders’ Orphans’ Home had a burial section in Oakdale Memorial Gardens which is located across the road from the orphanage. We checked our Oakdale records and did not find a grave with the last name of Baylor that would fit your search in the general cemetery. There is no grave with that last name in the Orphans’ section. If a child died at the Orphans’ Home, there was the option for the family to have the body returned for burial at home. You may find the cemetery information on Find A Grave and also FamilySearch.

      If you have any further questions, please email us at specialcollections@davenportlibrary.com.

  16. Tameka Thompson says:

    My late Great Grandfather Robert Allen Rushing lived here at the age of 13 in the 1930’s

  17. Denise Love says:

    My mother worked at the Annie Wittenmyer in the 1940’s. I worked at the Iowa Annie Wittenmyer during the summers of 1964 and 1965. I remember Bill Astor and Carl Olsen. While there I changed my major to Recreation Therapy, graduated from the University of Iowa and left the state of Iowa in 1967. I often wondered what ever happened to the children that lived there and eventually what became of the Iowa Annie Wittenmyer home. It definitely changed my life.

  18. Rita Pfranger Mills says:

    My mother, Ethel Cummins was the oldest of 5 children, Carl, Alice, Gladys and James who were placed in the home in 1922-23. She was 11 years old then and left when she was 17. None of the 5 siblings were adopted. She spoke often about being in charge of one of the little boys’ cottages and how she loved them. All siblings rejoined as adults but Gladys who had died. Mom had to work in the laundry 1/2 of the day. Her father died of the flu while in the Army WW 1. Her mother could not keep them. Mom passed in 2013 at the age of 102, the last of the children.

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