By Catherine Decker
As taken from “The Castle Genie,” Vol. 7, No. 3
Newsletter of The Passaic County Historical Society
The modest beginnings in 1831 of the Paterson Orphans Asylum are as an organizational auxiliary to the Newark Orphan Asylum, brought into existence by “The Ladies Benevolent Society,” a group of affluent women from prominent area families and members of several Protestant churches who band together that year to “fill a need for children.”
By 1849, this segment of the Ladies Benevolent Society is known as the Paterson Orphans Asylum Society and in 1863 acquires its own orphanage, a ‘hired’ house called The Fifield, located on the southeast corner of Southard and Market Streets. The Fifield House opens for receipt of children on December 1, 1863.
The institution is incorporated on March 11, 1864 bearing the corporate name we know today, Paterson Orphan Asylum Association, Inc.
Casualties of the civil war years 1863-64 produce more orphans than the Fifield House is equipped to handle, and overcrowded conditions cause some children to be sent to the Newark Orphan Asylum, with a few to Elizabeth, and still others to New York City. By March of 1864, 17 children are residents at the Paterson Orphan Asylum with 10 more still in Newark.
By June of that same year, the Paterson Orphans Asylum’s population grows to 29 children and many additional applications are pending. More space is needed, and land in the vicinity of the Fifield House is vacant. On November 18, 1864, the Board of Trustees purchases the 9-1/2 acre tract of land near Madison, Market, Oak, and Pennington Streets (old Paterson General Hospital area) for $2000. The new orphanage, a brick and stone structure large enough to house 100 children, is dedicated on July 4, 1867, and 38 children move in.
As 1901 approaches, the orphanage houses about 80 children, and the once grand building is becoming obsolete and in need of major repairs. Following an all day picnic on June 12, 1907, the orphans are relocated to temporary quarters at the Harandt House on Union Avenue where they remain for 2 years and 10 months. The old orphanage is demolished and reopens on April 28, 1910. In the nine years that follow, the ‘inmate’ population grows from 77 to 115 children, an increase perhaps due in part to Paterson’s Great Influenza Epidemic of 1918.
An agreement is reached in 1922 by the Trustees of the Paterson Orphans Asylum Association to assume control and management of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (SPCC) and the Passaic County Children’s Aid, an agreement which will pass into other hands in 1945.
During the early 1930’s, effects of the Great Depression actually causes a decrease in the orphan population as social programs enacted by the federal government make it more feasible to keep family units intact.
By July 1939, nearby Paterson General Hospital is in need of expansion and expresses interest in a portion of the Asylum property. The deed of sale is completed on May 1, 1942 between Paterson Orphans Asylum Association, Inc. and Paterson General Hospital for the purchase of 4 acres and the buildings at 500 Market Street. This same day, a deed of sale between John Edwards Barbour and the Paterson Orphans Asylum Association is completed for the purchase of the Kilbarchan Estate located ‘atop the Broadway hill.’ The Paterson Orphan Asylum is comprised of 24 children and a staff of five when the move is made to ‘Kilbarchan’ (the name of Barbour’s ancestral home in Scotland) on July 8, 1942.
The Paterson Orphan Asylum remains in existence today at 81 East 39th Street, Paterson at what once was the Kilbarchan Estate. It remains operational as one of the oldest, if not the oldest, residential facility for children in need in the United States.
The Passaic County Historical Society recently acquired the historical records of the Paterson Orphan Asylum Association, Inc. An archival inventory of the collection is currently in progress. The material will then need to be arranged, with the SPCC records to be organized in an accessible way into proper file folders while still trying to maintain the integrity of the existing file format.
The Paterson Orphan Asylum Association’s collection includes:
- Institutional Records: including Annual Reports of the Paterson Orphans Asylum 1864- 1922
- Records of Admission: including names, dates, brief information, and disposition of child 1864 – 1923
- Early Records of the Paterson Orphan Asylum Association 1848 – 1864
- Records of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (SPCC), 1900 – 1935.
Access to this collection must be applied for directly to the Passaic County Historical Society by contacting: Director, Passaic County Historical Society, Lambert Castle, Valley Road, Paterson, New Jersey 07503 Telephone (973) 247-0085. Access will be granted on a case by case basis as required by privacy laws.
“The History of the Paterson Orphan Asylum 1832-1952, 120 Years of Community Service” by William W. Hoke
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