Ladies’ Protestant Orphan Asylum / Children’s Home of Detroit (1836 – 2007)

The oldest benevolent society in Detroit, the Ladies’ Protestant Orphan Association, has its origins in 1818, when a number of women from prominent Detroit families met at the home of Mrs. Benjamin Larned and organized the Ladies Society of the City of Detroit. Its purposes were charitable, with particular emphasis upon the needs and care of orphan children. There was a special committee of twelve members appointed to visit the sick. In addition to work in the city, the association also looked after native American children at Fort Gratiot and Miami River.

Among the women who were particularly active in this organization were Eliza Spencer Cass, Eliza Trowbridge, Catherine Palmer, Mary Steele, and Harriet Wing. No men were admitted to membership in this society, but they might, upon invitation, attend meetings and give advice. Among the men who were contributing and advisory members were Judge Augustus B. Woodward, Major Benjamin F. Larned, Austin E. Wing, Henry J. Hunt, Stephen C. Henry, DeGarmo Jones, Charles Larned, and John Biddle.

At a subsequent meeting, the committee established and adopted a constitution and by-laws and the following were elected officers: Mrs. Charles C. Trowbridge, Mrs. Robert Stuart, and Mrs. Thomas Palmer, directors; Mrs. Eurotas P. Hastings, treasurer; Miss E. S. Trowbridge, secretary; Mrs. Charles Stuart and Mrs. H.J. Hunt, auditors; Mrs. Godard and Mrs. John Farmer, Committee of Finance; Mrs. Macomb and Mrs. Crocker, Committee of Maintenance; Mrs. C. Stuart and Mrs. Ambrose, Committee of Education; and Rev. Robert Turnbull, Major Benjamin F. Larned, Major Henry Whiting, Eurotas P. Hastings, Charles C. Trowbridge, and Jerry Dean, Counseling Committee.

In 1822, a more formal organization was established under the name of the Female Benevolent Society of Detroit. The preamble of its constitution reads:

“We, the undersigned, in obedience to the call of Divine Providence to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and teach the uninstructed do constitute ourselves a society with these purposes as our object, and that we may affectionately accomplish our views we adopt for our regulation the articles of the following Constitution.”

That instrument states in more detail the organization’s mission was:

“to afford relief to the poor, to visit the widow and fatherless in their affliction, to alleviate the sufferings of the sick, to provide for the education of children whose parents are unable to afford it, and to place such of them as can be procured under the care of honest tradesmen and mechanics, or in families where they can be bred up with care and trained to industrious, moral and religious habits. These and such other offices as come within the range of their views they do promise and obligate themselves to fulfill so far as their pecuniary means and the course of Divine Providence admit.”

Itemized accounts of receipts and expenditures appear in the manuscript reports that follow. Among the supplies for the sick, wine and brandy frequently figure along with jellies and other delicacies.

In 1832 and 1834, cholera epidemics swept through Detroit. During a three-week period of August 1834 alone, 122 people — 7% of the city’s population — perished from the disease. Arthur M. Woodford described the scene:

“The custom of ringing church bells to announce a death was abandoned, for the ceaseless tolling only added to the panic of the residents. With bells, horses’ hooves, and hawkers’ cries stilled, the town was eerily peaceful. The streets were choked from the smoke of pitch, which people burned in the belief that it warded off the disease.”

In response to these outbreaks, on May 18, 1836, some of the individuals connected with these early charitable groups met in the Presbyterian Church on Woodward Avenue “to consider the propriety and necessity of establishing an orphan asylum”. At this meeting, Mrs. J. P. Cleveland presided and Mrs. Eurotas P. Hastings acted as secretary. After considerable deliberation, it was decided to establish such a facility, and Mrs. Charles Stuart and Mrs. John Farmer were appointed a committee to draft a constitution.

The association immediately commanded local support. Cullen Brown, a businessman and philanthropist, donated the use of a house on Beaubien, just south of Fort Street, rent free, for one year. On January 13, 1837, the organization took possession of the house and, on February 1, 1837, the asylum opened. The superintendent was Mary Chambers. She was assisted by her husband Charles Chambers, and was paid a salary of $200.

Under a special act of the legislature, the Ladies’ Protestant Orphan Asylum was incorporated on March 21, 1837 and, on June 8, 1837, the following officers were elected: Mrs. Charles C. Trowbridge, Mrs. Charles Stuart, and Mrs. Thomas Palmer, directors; Mrs. Eurotas P. Hastings, treasurer; Miss E. S. Trowbridge, secretary; Mrs. Lois Campbell and Mrs. Mason Palmer, Committee of Finance; Mrs. John Hulbert and Mrs. Crocker, Committee of Maintenance, Mrs. Kirkland and Mrs. John Farmer, Committee of Education; Mrs. Henry J. Hunt and Mrs. Henry Whiting, auditors; and E.P. Hastings, Charles C. Trowbridge, Major Henry Whiting, Mr. Crocker, Major Benjamin F. Larned, and John Owen, advisors.

During that first year, eleven orphans came to live at the Ladies’ Protestant Orphan Asylum.

By the fall of 1837, the society decided to construct a building of its own as soon as funds could be obtained. The citizens of Detroit responded generously to the call. A city lot was donated to the organization by Elon Farnsworth and on September 4, 1837, George and Elouiza Hunt gave an acre of land on their farm, which fronted Jefferson Avenue near the corner of Adair Street. Plans were prepared and H.B. Lothrop and H.H. LeRoy volunteered to supervise without charge the construction of the building.

The work began, but increasingly difficult financial times resulted in a lack of funds that caused the work to stop, and the building remained unfinished until Julius Eldred advanced the necessary funds. In the latter half of January 1840, the new home of the Ladies’ Protestant Orphan Asylum was opened. Eight girls and seven boys became its first wards. The original building was forty-two feet square and cost $6,833.

Farmer History of Detroit 652

The asylum operated under the practice of “binding out” its wards, which meant that the children in its care were placed with foster families for whom they would work in exchange for room and board. Due to this practice, by 1845, the number of children residing at the asylum had diminished to five.

In June of 1846, the society found itself in debt to the amount of $700 and decided to close the institution until such time as there should be greater need and larger means for carrying it on. The building was rented for $100 a year, the few children left were boarded in a private family, and, for the next six years, even the annual society meetings were unattended.

In the summer of 1849, cholera outbreaks once again ravaged the city of Detroit. The first official notice of a death from cholera was on July 2, 1849 and by September of the same year, 120 cholera-related deaths in Detroit had been reported. The outbreak continued for many months and among its victims were my Great Great Great Grandparents, John Delos and Anna Austin, who resided in the 27th District of Detroit. As a result of their deaths, their sons Charles W. and Abner Delos Austin, ages 7 and 5, were orphaned.

As more and more children in Detroit were left parentless, the “greater need” for an orphan asylum was realized. On June 10, 1852, the Ladies’ Protestant Orphan Asylum was reopened by its newly elected officers: Mrs. John Winder, Mrs. Rev. M. Allen, and Mrs. A.M. Bartholomew, directors; Mrs. Rev. R.R. Kellogg, secretary; and Mrs. O.C. Thompson, treasurer.

Prior to the re-opening of the Jefferson Street facility, 13 orphans had been temporarily placed in a house on Randolph Street. They were immediately transferred to the care of the asylum’s new directors but, because the property on Jefferson Avenue had been rented to private parties and also needed repairs, the children remained where they were until May 1853, when the society took back possession of its former premises. It is very possible that my ancestors Charles W. and Abner Delos Austin were among those 13 orphans.

The first years after the orphans’ return were years of few resources and tremendously hard work at the Ladies’ Protestant Orphan Asylum. Renowned Detroit historian Silas Farmer described that time:

“Day after day, as regularly as she cared for her own household, the first directress solicited and purchased the day’s supply of food for the little ones, and then carried it to them, paying fare at the toll-gate, then located this side of the asylum. From time to time, as children died, she took the little coffins into her own carriage, and bore them to the cemetery.”

Newly incorporated on June 9, 1859 as The Protestant Orphan Asylum, the annual meeting of the society was held on the second Thursday in January and the organization was controlled by a Board of Managers, consisting of two persons from each of the Protestant churches of the city. The board selected directors and other officers.

According to a 1863 Sunday School Statistics report, the Protestant Orphan Asylum on Jefferson Avenue had 30 children on its Sunday school registrar and four officers and teachers with F.D. Taylor as its superintendent.

Due to the increasing population at the asylum, an addditional wing on the west side of the building was added at a cost of $4,000 and was dedicated on February 13, 1872.

1881 Stocking The City of Detroit Michigan 417

In 1880, the asylum’s Jefferson Avenue property was estimated to be worth $15,000. In 1884, The average number of wards was 35 and up to sixty could be accommodated. The yearly expenses were $2,000 and the means of revenue are annual membership fees of $1.00, collections in churches, proceeds of lectures, and interest on reserve funds.

The principal offers between 1852 and 1884 were: First directors: Mrs. John Winder (1852 – 1860), Mrs. C.I. Walker (1860 -1864), Mrs. Lewis Allen (1864 – 1878), Mrs. A.G. Lindsay (1878), Mrs. E.C. Brush (1879 – ). Recording secretaries: Mrs. A.L. Story (1853-1854), Mrs. E.M. Clark (1855-1860), Mrs. P.E. Curtis (1860 – ). Treasurers: Mrs. O.C. Thompson (1852 – 18550; Mrs. S. Davis 91855- 1876), Mrs. A.G. Lindsay (1876 – 1878), Mrs. D.R. Shaw (1878 – ).

1899 Farmer All About Detroit 191

In 1899, the Protestant Orphan Asylum was described by Silas Farmer as being located at Jefferson Avenue, facing Elmwood Avenue.By the early 20th century and the birth of the automotive industry in Detroit, the Protestant Orphan Asylum prospered, thanks in great part to its many well-known benefactors. In 1919, for example, Horace Dodge contributed $25,000 to the asylum.

By the early 20th century and the birth of the automotive industry in Detroit, the Protestant Orphan Asylum prospered, thanks in great part to its many well-known benefactors. In 1919, for example, Horace Dodge contributed $25,000 to the asylum.

1910 Mather Coit Orphanage 2

Staff and wards of the Protestant Orphan Asylum in 1910. Identified are: Dwight Mather (first child, front row), Beatrice Mather (third child), and Coit Mather (tall boy, back row). Image courtesy of Ruth Mather.

In 1923, there were 112 children of all ethnicities at the home located at 988 Jefferson Avenue and, in 1933, there were 89 dependent children at the home but no address is indicated (Deigh). 

By 1942, the address became 3270 East Jefferson Avenue (Blanchard), which is between present day Walker and Adair Streets and is now the location of the Motown Café and Grill and a CVS Pharmacy.

 It was described in the 1942 Journal of Social Psychology as:

“This is an established institution more than one hundred years old and is open to children whose homes have been broken by death, desertion, or divorce. Many of its wards are not orphans in the strict sense of the word since often one of both parents are living, but because of broken home conditions the children have been turned over to the institution for care. In this regard it is more of a boarding home than an orphanage. The parents pay as much toward the care of their children as they can afford. There are approximately 100 girls and boys in the Home ranging from 5 to 15 years of age. The school attended by 80 of these orphanage children was the Field Elementary School of the Detroit Public Schools”.

The Protestant Orphan Asylum was state licensed for adoptions and, in 1950, established two new facilities, one in Warren and one on Cook Road in Grosse Pointe Woods. It was called the Protestant Children’s Home until 1971, when the name was changed to Children’s Home of Detroit.

After 172 years, due to low occupancy rate and a downturn in the economy which affected funding, donations and its endowment, the Protestant Orphan Asylum / Children’s Home of Detroit closed its doors in 2007.

On February 6, 2009, the home’s Board of Trustees voted to transfer the organization’s Grosse Pointe Woods and Warren locations to Starr Commonwealth, a nonprofit children and family services organization headquartered in Albion, Michigan. Starr currently manages the daily care of 600 children in Wayne County through an existing collaborative partnership organization called StarrVista, and operates five sites throughout Michigan and Ohio that provide transformational programs for youth, families, schools and communities.

Founding documents and administrative, admission, and surrender records for the Ladies’ Protestant Orphan Association from 1836 through 1969 are contained in the Burton Historical Collection at the Detroit Public Library. My plans are to spend an afternoon at the collection this winter searching those records for any mention of my ancestors’ names. Hopefully, there will be more to follow.

Works Cited:

Adoption Agencies, Orphanages and Maternity Homes: An Historical Directory. Garden City, New York: Phileas Deigh Corp., 1981. ISBN: 0-9604200-1-0. Volume 1, p. 154.

Blanchard, Rolfe C. and Nemzek, Claude L. “The Comparative Academic Achievement of Orphanage and Non-Orphanage Children”. The Journal of Social Psychology, 1942, Volume 15, Issue 2: p. 309.

Burton, Clarence Monroe. “Detroit in 1849”. The Detroit Free Press, October 2, 1910: p. 22.

Email correspondence from Dawn Eurich, Archivist, Special Collections, Detroit Public Library. November 16, 2011.

Farmer, Silas. All About Detroit. Detroit: Silas Farmer & Co., 1899: p. 67, 191.

Farmer, Silas. The History of Detroit and Michigan or The Metropolis Illustrated: A Chronological Cyclopaedia of the Past and Present, Including a Full Record of Territorial Days in Michigan, and the Annals of Wayne County. Silas Farmer & Co., 1884: p. 634, 651 – 652.

Ferrell, Cornelia Briggs. “Three Saginaw Orphans”. The Seattle Daily Times, June 4, 1902. Michigan Heritage Magazine, Autumn 1972, Vol. XIV, No. 1: p. 22.

Hyde, Charles K. The Dodge Brothers: The Men, The Motor Cars, and The Legacy. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2005: p. 145.

MacCabe, Julius P. Bolivar. 1837 Directory of the City of Detroit. Printed by William Marshall, 1837. Transcribed by K. Torp from materials provided by Martin Johnson.

Ryan, Kathy. “Children’s Home of Detroit to Close”. The Grosse Pointe News. November 6, 2008.

Palmer, Friend. Early Days in Detroit. Detroit: Hunt and June, 1906: p. 944.

Stocking, William. The City of Detroit, Michigan 1701 – 1922 Volume 1. Detroit – Chicago: The S.J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1922: p. 411, 417.

Online sources:

Michigan Federation for Children and Families: Starr Commonwealth Acquires Children’s Home of Detroit

15 Responses to “Ladies’ Protestant Orphan Asylum / Children’s Home of Detroit (1836 – 2007)

  • Hi there, awesome site. I thought the topics you posted on were very interesting.

  • Very interesting information. Thanks for posting. My ggg-grandparents are Benjamin F. Larned and Lucy Willis Larned. Their accomplishments make me very proud.

  • My Grandmother Mildred Sherman and her brother Ralph Sherman spent their early years after their dad Lewis Sherman died and mother Anna remarried and became a Deshettler. My grandmother left at 16 to work in a Drs home. I forgot their names at this moment. I’d like to see any pictures of the two of they are in the history of the asylum. I think my grandfather died in 1907 so my great grandmother was pregnant with Claria, whom she kept, and Mildred and Ralph were in the asylum. Please help me have some info on Mildred Sherman and Ralph Sherman. I would really appreciate it very much. Thank You Pam Jacobs (Mildred’s grandaughter)

    • Pamela,
      I did some research at the Detroit Public Library, Burton Collection. The admissions and surrender records from the LPOA are stored there. I found the record of admission for Mildred Jennie Sherman (dob 1/14/1904) and a Dwight James Sherman (dob 3/1/1902). These two children were admitted on August 15, 1907. They were taken to the LPOA for care by a Rev. Stanley Shaw.
      Ken Rouston

      • Thank you! I’m going to check that out. My grandfather was placed in a home in Detroit in the early 1900s.

    • Hi Pamela,
      I did some research regarding the LPOA. Their records are stored at the Detroit Public Library in the Burton Historical Collection. I located the Admissions and Surrender records 1885-1911 and found two Sherman children were admitted on August 15, 1907. Mildred Jennie Sherman (dob 1/14/1904) and Dwight James Sherman (dob 3/1/1902) were placed by Rev. Stanley Shaw of Monroe, Mich. and it was noted that Rev. Shaw was no relation to the children.
      Ken Rouston

  • I was a resident at the protestant orphan asylum/ Children’s home of Detroit at both locations in Warren and in Grosse Pointe Woods from 2001-2005 I found the history of my childhood homes quite intriguing and look forward to learning more….

  • In 1929 my grandfather was killed standing waiting for a street car. My Grandmother suffered from TB. She passed away 4 years later leaving behind 4 children all to which were taken to this place. My late mother told me horror stories about the foster parents she was placed with. They are so heartbreaking. Now I know where my mother was taken. Thank you.

  • My mother lived here sometime during 1945-49, but passed away in 2007. Can anyone direct me to source to confirm? I have an old newspaper clipping with her picture in a group when Dod Dodson and his chimpanzee, Elmer, entertained children there. No date on it but says Protestant Children’s Home at 3270 E Jefferson. I had a book about the home, but at some time I loaned to a family member and nevervgot it back. Thanks, Laurel, daughter of Frances M. Sandburg ….That is her maiden name.

  • I was in the PCH from January, 1936 to Sept., 1941. As I recall, it was a very good experience and a pleasant way to live. I do not recall ever being mistreated or bullied or abused, in any way!!

    We were well cared for, physically, morally, mentally and religiously!

    I have a lot of good memories of those “growing up” years, and thank God every day for the generosity of the “Founders”, of such a worthy endeavour!!! We were called the HOME KIDS, in School and yes it was Field Elementary!

    I too, am looking for pictures, as all my siblings have died, and they were in Detroit Free Press photos!!!

    Thanks for your article

  • I’m looking for information about George, Alice and Louise Potts who were surrendered to the orphanage in 1871. All I have is an intake record listing their names. I’d really like to know the circumstances of their adoption and confirmation that their little sister wasn’t left with them.

  • I am looking for information pertaining to George, Alice, and Louise/Laurie Potts, who were surrended in 1871. If you have any information please contact me at

  • Very interesting. Is there similar information about the Methodist Children’s Home, on 6 Mile Road, I believe? I think it was initially set up by the Kresge Family. Thank you.

  • I lived in Kanter cottage for 9 years back in the early 90s. I remember it like it was yesterday. That place has shaped my entire life.

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