Build A Better Davenport: The Iowa Soldiers’ Orphans’ Home 1865 – 1975

This week we are continuing with the Davenport Public Library’s Summer Reading Program theme of “Build a Better World” by exploring the Richardson-Sloane Special Collection Center’s resources and records of local architects, developers, planners, construction companies, and other building material suppliers.

Our focus this week is on the Iowa Soldiers’ Orphans’ Home complex. Later renamed the Annie Wittenmyer Home after its founder; the Orphans’ Home ran from 1865 – 1975. 

The site originally began as Camp Roberts, later renamed Camp Kinsman, during the early days of the Civil War. The property was given to Annie Wittenmyer to become the new home for the Iowa Soldiers’ Orphans’ Home in December 1865.* 

Plat of the Iowa Soldiers’ Orphans Home. Designed by H. F. Liebbe. June 16, 1904.

Mrs. Wittenmyer found a barrack style system of cottages with separate dining area. This separate cottage-style system would be continued through the orphanage’s existence.

Cottage System – First Floor Plan

Cottage System – Second Floor Plan










The original campus, including a farm, was once around 300 acres. The property today is about 32 acres and still includes many buildings from the Home.

Campus – 1932

The cottage system was felt to create a home-like atmosphere for the children. We have one photo from the early days of the orphanage.  These barracks would eventually be replaced by structures that resembled cottages.

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

Over the years the campus grew to include an Administration Building, kitchen/dining room, laundry building, school rooms, gymnasium, chapel, and small hospital. Each building standing separately. This system provided an unexpected benefit when fires destroyed the Administration Building, kitchen/dining room, and laundry buildings over the years. Instead of a massive loss, the fires were contained to the individual structures.

Gymnasium – Built 1921

One building still standing today is the Administration Building designed by architect John W. Ross. Mr. Ross also designed Davenport’s City Hall. This is thought to be the third administration building on the property. At least one previous building was destroyed by fire. 

Administration Building designed by John W. Ross c. 1890-1891.

The Richardson-Sloane Special Collections Center houses many more plans and pictures for this amazing complex. The records of children who lived at the orphanage starting in 1910 are still retained by the State of Iowa Division of Adult, Children, & Family services.

*For those who may know the story, the orphans arrived in November 1865 to move into the site from their former Orphans’ Homes in Farmington and Cedar Falls, Iowa. 

(posted by Amy D. and Cristina)


Annie Wittenmyer Blueprints, map case 3 drawer 8

vm89-0002584  View at the Orphan’s Home, Davenport Iowa. South side of the square. No. 135. Evans’ Western Views, ca.1865-1870 from DPL Photograph Collection


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5 Responses to Build A Better Davenport: The Iowa Soldiers’ Orphans’ Home 1865 – 1975

  1. Marianne Wood says:

    Hello –

    Do you have any information on the teachers/women workers for the Iowa Soldiers’ Orphans’ Home? We are sure that one of our ancestors taught/worked there after the war, either Lucy Ann Wright (Anker) or Susan Antoinette Wood Ostrander. Lucy was the war widow of Stephen Stedman Wood from the Iowa infantry (?) and died at the Battle of Prairie Grove AR.

    Also, I have some photos of the orphans that I want to donate to the library. I live in Chicago; the next time I visit the Quad Cities, I’ll make arrangements to give them to you.

    Thanks in advance!
    Be safe & well.
    Marianne Wood

    • SCblogger says:

      Dear Marianne,

      Thank you very much for your comment. We will look into your question about finding information regarding the teachers/women workers of the Iowa Soldiers’ Orphans’ Home. We will contact you through our email: special

      We would be interested in seeing those photos. Thank you for considering us.

      Richardson-Sloane Special Collections Center Staff

  2. Aurora Williams says:

    Hi,my name is Aurora Williams and I was a kid in the Annie Wittenmyer home back in 1960 and 1961. Back then, my name was Mary Ann Williams.

  3. Jerry fallmer says:

    I was a boy there 1954-1966,Jerry fallmer

  4. Dave Lunardi says:

    I was only there for a few months in 1954 with my brother and my sister. We were all adopted quickly after being sent there from our home in Creston, Iowa. I ran away regularly even though I didn’t mind being there. I was raised in Davenport and graduated from Central High School in 1963. My adoptive parents are buried across Eastern Avenue [at Oakdale Cemetery] in the back on top of a hill.

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