In 1891 land was purchased by the Champaign County Commission to establish a Children’s Home for our county to take care of orphaned children and children from families no longer able to take care of them. Fifty-two-and-a-half acres were purchased for $4,200 from Mr. P. B. Ross, a local businessman. The main building shown in the ca. 1900 postcard (in the center) was opened June 1, 1892 at a cost of $20,000, as housing for the children and their caretakers. It consisted of 14 rooms.
The two buildings, one on the north and one on the south, were built next and opened in 1896, as the need for more space became necessary. These two buildings were connected to the main building with elevated walkways that appear to be constructed out of wrought iron. If you look carefully, you can see their outlines in the picture between buildings. (Perhaps like the fire escapes remembered by some of us of school buildings built in those days.)
The home was operated as a working family farm with children having age appropriate daily chores, which in turn helped supply their own food and perhaps some income for other necessities. Notice some outbuildings of barns and other farm buildings. The large chimney stack was used in the heating operation for all three buildings with steam heated radiators.
As the population at the Children’s Home grew, more space was needed for rooms for school lessons. James P. and Lydia E. Humphrey willed land in nearby Salem Township for a children’s home school building. When the estate was finally settled, the commissioners agreed to accept $16,250 and planned to build to the south of the three buildings on the “then” postcard. That building (not yet built) was to be named Humphrey’s Memorial School and wasn’t completed until 1912 by builder Patrick Heatherman.
No photo seems to exist of all four buildings. This picture taken in winter allows three buildings to be seen with more detail but does not do justice to the spacious nice yard of tall oak trees, providing a pleasant yard in which to play or sit if any leisure time was found. The picture postcard shows a group of young men sitting around one of those large oak trees and some playground equipment.
Research done by Lawrence Little reveals to us that in county records Journal # 16, page 138, June 19, 1911, R. C. Gotwald submitted plans for Humphrey Memorial School. C. E. French was Supt. of the Home. Page 144, July 6, 1911 appointed to approve plans were C. H. Ganson, H. C. Houston and Isaac T. Johnson. The first plans were rejected but the next submitted by Patrick Heatherman for a cost of $5,607 was approved. (The money left over from lawyer fees and construction costs was put in a fund for the buildings upkeep.)
Now what is left of the four buildings that were once called the Champaign County Children’s Home complex is now one building, built in 1912 and called the Humphrey’s Memorial School (not built yet when the postcard picture was taken). Now that building has four additions built on to it, and it is called the Champaign County Historical Society and Museum. The building is now caring for important historical items of our past and still serving and teaching the community. Technically, most of the land (in the old photo) has been replaced with a housing development on one side and part of the city park on the other, but, sandwiched in between there stands the now fourth building of the Children’s Home, Humphrey Memorial School.
After the Children’s Home complex was closed, for more modern ways of handling the care of children, the building was turned into our first Lawnview School for Special Needs Children in the 1950’s, and now, since the 70’s it is the first permanent home of our own historical society and museum. Now as then, the front yard is full of lovely old oak trees but now five newer Oaks have been planted for continuation of this beautiful setting for all to enjoy.
The museum and its files of local history belong to the community. The site is also the location of the 44th Oktoberfest Family Craft Affair coming up Sunday, October 2. Check our newspaper ads or website champaigncountyhistoricalsociety.com for more information.
Submitted by the Champaign County Historical Society.