Iowa Soldiers' Orphans' Home

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Iowa Soldiers' Orphans' Home
Iowa Soldiers' Orphans' Home Administration Building 01.JPG
The main building at the Home
Iowa Soldiers' Orphans' Home is located in Iowa
Iowa Soldiers' Orphans' Home
Iowa Soldiers' Orphans' Home is located in the US
Iowa Soldiers' Orphans' Home
Location 2800 Eastern Ave.
Davenport, Iowa
Coordinates 41°32′49.74″N 90°33′11.17″W / 41.5471500°N 90.5531028°W / 41.5471500; -90.5531028Coordinates: 41°32′49.74″N 90°33′11.17″W / 41.5471500°N 90.5531028°W / 41.5471500; -90.5531028
Area 33 acres (13 ha)
Built 1865
Architect John W. Ross
H.F. Liebbe
J. Bradley Rust
Architectural style Classical Revival, Queen Anne
English Period Cottage
NRHP Reference # 82002641[1]
Significant dates
Added to NRHP April 26, 1982
Designated DRHP May 15, 1996[2]

The Iowa Soldiers' Orphans' Home or The Annie Wittenmyer Home located in Davenport, Iowa, United States is a former orphanage for children and is listed on the Davenport Register of Historic Properties and as a historic district on the National Register of Historic Places. The home was originally used for orphans from the American Civil War, but starting in 1876, children from broken homes as well as orphans from all of Iowa's ninety-nine counties were taken in at the home.


Annie Turner Wittenmyer was a Sanitation Agent for Iowa whose job was to oversee the needs of Union Army soldiers during the American Civil War.[3] Iowa contributed approximately 76,237 men to the army, and one of them wrote a letter saying,

"We are grateful for all the kindness shown us . . . but we prefer you should forget us . . . if you will but look after our wives and children, our mothers and sisters, who are dependent upon us for support . . .Succor them, and hold your charity from us."

The letter was read at a convention after which a board was convened to create a residence for the orphans of Iowa soldiers.[3] Wittenmyer, a trustee and Board member, managed to raise money for the construction of the home with some donations reaching $500 ($6900 in 2010 dollars).[4][5]

After the Civil War ended, over 13,500 children were in need of assistance as a result of the war deaths of Iowans—with many more badly wounded.[3] An orphan's fair was held asking branches be built in three different Iowa cities and Farmington was soon considered inadequate to the Davenport home.[5] Davenport was a center for Union volunteer units and after the War ended, soldier camps were not needed. Camp Kinsman (on present day Eastern Avenue) was donated to be used for the home. On November 11, 1865, the Iowa Soldiers' Orphans' Home received its first occupants by steamboat, when 150 children were delivered to matron Annie Wittenmyer's care.[3] On June 6, 1866, the home was taken over by the State of Iowa and Wittnemyer continued to oversee the home until 1867.[3] Eventually the Civil War orphans were grown and left the Home. From 1870, the home began to accept children from all Iowa 99 counties.[3]

The cottage style housing was credited with saving lives and preventing 350 children from being homeless in the three fires at the Home.

The Home was soon expanded and redesigned with small, home-like cottages replacing the barrack style dorms.[6] Due partly to the redesign, no one was seriously injured through three fires that broke out in 1877, 1880 and 1887 and the Home was able to continue operating although several buildings were burned to the ground.[6]

In 1876, the Iowa State Legislature required that residents have employment before they left the home, and starting in sixth grade, students spent part of their school day learning a trade.[3] In the interest of the residents, starting in 1890, the Home was given custody of the children, so as to help place the children in good homes.[3] The Home functioned on its own and was also part of the community. The Orphans Band began marching in parades and gave concerts starting in the early 1900s. Major League Baseball player Billy Sunday transferred from another orphanage to the Home in 1872 when he was twelve, and musician Wayne King entered the Home in 1908 at the age of seven, though neither of them were actually orphans.[3][7]

In 1949, the facility was renamed "The Annie Wittenmyer Home" by the Iowa State Legislature. In 1960, the focus of the home shifted from that of orphanage to a residential special education and behavioral counseling facility. In 1975, the Wittenmyer Home closed having helped an estimated 12,000 children and provided a century of service.[3] From 1976 until November 2005, the Administration Building became a branch of the Davenport Public Library until the new Fairmount Branch was opened in January 2006.[8]

Historic District[edit]

The historic district is made up of 25 resources, which includes 22 buildings, two sites and one structure.[9] It is located on the east side of the city to the south of Garfield Park and the Duck Creek Parkway, which are across East 29th Street. Oakdale Memorial Gardens where the orphan's graves are located is to the east across Eastern Avenue. The former right of way for the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad is to the west and south. The railroad right of way is still active and in use by another railroad company.


Location within the city. 
Graves of the orphans at the Oakdale Cemetery. 
Monument to the orphans. 

See also[edit]


  1. ^ National Park Service (2009-03-13). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 
  2. ^ Historic Preservation Commission. "Davenport Register of Historic Properties" (PDF). City of Davenport. Retrieved 2017-02-10. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Davenport Public Library. "The Annie Wittenmyer Home". Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs - State Historical Society of Iowa. Retrieved 2010-03-09. 
  4. ^ Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis Community Development Project. "Consumer Price Index (estimate) 1800–". Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. Retrieved January 2, 2017. 
  5. ^ a b Doe, A.P. "Its Rise and Growth-'Tis a Model Institution". The Daily Times. Retrieved 2010-03-12. 
  6. ^ a b Svendsen, Marlys (1987). Davenport A Pictorial History. G. Bradley Publishing, INC. p. 54. ISBN 0-940286-05-X. 
  7. ^ Dorsett, Lyle (1991). Billy Sunday and the Redemption of Urban America. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans. 
  8. ^ "The Annie Wittenmyer Home" (PDF). Davenport Public Library. Retrieved 2007-01-18. 
  9. ^ Marlys A. Svendsen; Leah Rogers. "Iowa Soldiers' Orphans' Home Historic District" (PDF). National Park Service. Retrieved 2015-02-17.  with photos

External links[edit]