Leake and Watts Services

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Coordinates: 40°48′09″N 73°57′46″W / 40.80250°N 73.96278°W / 40.80250; -73.96278

The original Leake and Watts Orphanage on Amsterdam Avenue, photographed here in 1934.

Leake and Watts Services, Inc. is a not-for-profit social services agency in New York City that provides services for children and families in the areas of foster care, adoption, special education, Head Start and other related subjects.[1] It has facilities in Yonkers, New York in Westchester County and The Bronx and Upper Manhattan in New York City. The agency began as the Leake and Watts Orphan Asylum in Manhattan.[2][3][4]


John George Leake (1752–1827) was a New York lawyer who had no children or siblings.[3] He died on June 2, 1827 at his home on Park Row in Manhattan. His estate, which included personal property valued at about $300,000 and real estate worth an additional $86,000,[5] he left to Robert Watts, the son of his best friend John Watts, with the stipulation that Robert Watts change his name to "Robert Leake."[6] Watts made the change, but died a few months later, leaving no will. The Leake fortune would then have passed to his father, John Watts, but considering the circumstances Watts was uncomfortable with receiving the money.[6]

In the legal papers of John Leake was an unsigned and undated draft of a will in his handwriting, in which he left money to create a home for orphaned children, and assigned his friend, John Watts, to administer the home.[3] Watts petitioned the court to put the money to this use.[6] The Public Administrator of New York took charge of the estate, ruling that Leake had died intestate. After a court decision the cash was released to the orphanage but his real estate was kept by New York State.[5]

Originally located at Trinity Church,[2] a new building for the orphanage at West 112th Street was completed in 1843, designed by Ithiel Town and constructed by Samuel Thomson in the Greek revival style.[3][4] The site of the orphanage was purchased in 1891 by Bishop Henry Codman Potter for the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine,[7] and the building was to be torn down. Instead the building was spared, and a renovation was completed in 2006. It is now the oldest building still standing in the Morningside Heights neighborhood.[6]


  • 1827 Death of Leake[3]
  • 1831 Leake & Watts Orphan House is founded in New York City for "the maintenance and education of helpless orphan children" by John Watts, according to the terms of a bequest by his brother-in-law, John George Leake.
  • 1838 Cornerstone for new building laid[3]
  • 1843 The Leake & Watts Orphan House moves to the current site of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in Upper Manhattan.[3]
  • 1850 Leake & Watts Orphan House opens its doors to girls.
  • 1891 The Home is moved outside the city to the 40-acre (160,000 m2) farm of Edwin Forrest, the grounds were designed by Frederick Law Olmsted.[3]
  • 1921 The "cottage system" is implemented at Leake & Watts. First implemented for girls, the system featured six cottages with cottage parents, housing 10-30 girls each on the Yonkers campus.
  • 1937 A Social Services Department with trained social work staff is established.
  • 1944 The Foster Home Department is established.
  • 1947 Leake & Watts merges with the Orphan Home and Asylum of the Episcopal Church and the Sevilla-Hopewell Society of Brooklyn.[8]
  • General source:[2]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ "Who We Are: Overview" on the Leake and Watts Services website
  2. ^ a b c "History" on the Leake and Watts Services website
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Gray, Christopher (June 24, 1990). "The Leake & Watts Orphan Asylum. A Castoff in the Path of a Growing, Great Cathedral.". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-12-25. The researcher, Geoffrey Carter, found that the Greek Revival-style orphanage was designed by Ithiel Town, a major New York City architect. ... John George Leake was a leading lawyer in early 19th-century New York but had no children or siblings. According to the Rev. J. F. Richmond's 1872 New York and Its Institutions, Leake searched for other relations, but finally 'experienced the sadness of knowing that, of all the scattered millions of Earth, not one existing was bound to him by ties of consanguinity.' 
  4. ^ a b Dunlap, David W. (December 9, 2004). "A Giant Takes Steps to Rebuild Its Smaller Neighbor". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-12-25. The former Leake Watts Orphan House, one of the most monumental Greek Revival temples in New York City, still stands after 161 years as a poignant testament to social history and to the transformation of Morningside Heights from suburb to city. ... Now, reversing the course of demolition by neglect, the cathedral is restoring Leake & Watts, renamed the Town Building in honor of its architect, Ithiel Town. 
  5. ^ a b "Leake Heirs Sue The State. Seek to Recover $86,608. How They Trace Their Relationship to John George Leake.". New York Times. December 18, 1900. Retrieved 2008-12-25. The State Court of Claims met yesterday in the City Court Building and took testimony in the claims of the heirs of John George Leake against the State. The action is to recover $86,608.35, the amount realized by the State from the sale of the property of Mr. Leake, which escheated to the State because he was supposed to have no heirs. 
  6. ^ a b c d Nevius, Michelle & Nevius, James (2009), Inside the Apple: A Streetwise History of New York City, New York: Free Press, ISBN 141658997X , pp.82-83
  7. ^ White, Norval; Willensky, Elliot; Leadon, Fran (2010), AIA Guide to New York City (5th ed.), New York: Oxford University Press, ISBN 9780195383867 , p.492
  8. ^ "Leake and Watts and Orphans' Home and Asylum Receive Mayor's Praise for Action". New York Times. June 19, 1947. Retrieved 2008-12-25. Two of the oldest child-caring institutions in New York City announced yesterday their merger and at the same time released a letter from Mayor O'Dwyer congratulating them on the step. 

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