My great-grandfather, George Weil, grew up in an orphans’ home in Pennsylvania. This unique time in his life always intrigued me, because we never knew much about his time there. In the past few weeks, I’ve learned a lot more about his story.
As I mentioned in a previous post, George’s mother, Louise, died in 1898 when George was 9 years old. They lived in Pittsburgh at the time, and he had one older brother and three younger siblings. His father, Conrad, apparently couldn’t take care of the five children on his own. A month after her death, he placed the four oldest children under the care of Concordia Orphans’ Home in nearby Jefferson, Butler County, PA. I don’t know what happened to the youngest child, Anna Louise. She was only one year old, and would have been too young to give to the orphanage. I presume she had either died before then, or was taken in by another family.
The Concordia Orphans’ Home was located near the Marwood train station, and is part of what is now Cabot township. It would have been a morning’s train ride and then a one hour walk from the train station to the orphanage. In 1898, it was part of a larger property that also housed a senior living home. Luckily, the organization is still in business as a senior living facility, now called Concordia Lutheran Ministries. They were kind enough to search through the archives for me to find some wonderful gems!
The children are living at the orphanage in 1900 when the census is taken. We had never been certain when the children were given to the orphanage. Not only was I able to get the entrance papers for the children, but also their discharge dates and tidbits about their lives from the housefather’s journals!
Their father, Conrad, agreed to pay $12 per month to house all four children. He lived for a few years as a laborer in nearby Pittsburgh, and by 1910 has moved closer to the orphanage to work in a local coal mine. It seems that he may have had occasional contact with his children through the years, but lost touch with George, Marie and Conrad when they got older.
Mr. H.W. Lensner was the housefather for all the years that my family members lived at the orphanage. According to excerpts of the housefather’s journals and CLM blog posts, life was not easy there. High standards were kept for behavior, classwork and chores. However, the children would often get into mischief, sometimes in serious trouble. My great-grandfather George was rarely mentioned in the housefather’s journals, except for two occasions when mischief could have caused him serious harm. In July 1899, the housefather notes that George fell from the loft in the barn where the children weren’t allowed. He suffered from a concussion (He wrote, “I thought to have a dead child in my arms.”) but later recovered. Two years later, “George Weil and George Moser ate some mushrooms yesterday, and today are rather sick.” They apparently recovered from that excitement as well.
George’s brother Karl caused more headaches for Mr. Lensner. He ran away from the home at least three times, once having to be tracked down and brought back by his father. Another time in early 1901, he broke into the housefather’s office and stole some money. He lied about what happened and forced another boy to take the blame. He was later found out. Mr. Lensner said, “Made more sad discoveries in the evening. Either some of the lying thieves must leave or I am not staying any longer […] Carl Weil, who always behaved real well outwardly, is the thief and rascal. […] Carl Weil, the arch hypocrite, again escaped. The police are after him.” A few months later, he was returned to live with his father. I presume that he was too much of a handful and “rascal” to stay at the orphans’ home any longer.
Lesson learned: Never be afraid to ask and also don’t be afraid to ask twice.
[To be continued…]
To read more about Concordia Orphans’ Home, visit their blog and search for “Humble Beginnings” to view the various posts about their time as an orphanage.
- Excerpts and student lists from the housefather’s journals: “Journals of the Evangelical Lutheran Concordia Orphanage and Old Folks Home” Journal entries made by housefathers and superintendents, from 1883-1935. Provided by Concordia Lutheran Ministries via email.
- Concordia Lutheran Ministries blog, Humble Beginnings series.
- “The Concordia Story, 1881-2006,” history published for the 125th anniversary of Concordia Lutheran Ministries in 2006.