The Society of the United Helpers recently held an Early Residents Reunion at The Freight House in Ogdensburg. At the luncheon, guests were able to visit with long time friends and reminisce about their experiences when they lived at the United Helpers Orphanage which operated from 1898-1959.
“I remember going down the fire escape with our pillowcases in hand,” chuckles Bill Poole. “We would go about a block away to gather crab apples. Then we would go back to the orphanage, eat the apples, and fight over who was going to go back down the fire escape to get rid of the apple cores before we got caught.”
“Some of my fondest memories are all my friends at the orphanage. I had about 150-200 brothers and sisters,” said Zelpha LaFlair. “The food was also good, but I did not like the asparagus.”
In 1856, the New York State Legislature passed a law aimed at improving the situation of abused, indigent, and homeless children. In April of 1898, after many meetings and discussions, 12 area women –two each from the Baptist, Congregational, Universalist, Episcopalian, Methodist, and Presbyterian churches formed the Society of the United Helpers. The newly-formed group applied for a state charter immediately thereafter, with a constitution and bylaws for the Society being adopted. On May 4, 1898, the Society of the United Helpers placed its first child in the home that it rented at 22 Congress Street, Ogdensburg, NY. After 18 months in operation, the Society of the United Helpers had placed 23 children in good homes and nearly 60 children had been cared for at the Congress Street home. In the spring of 1900, after seeing that the Society of the United Helpers would need a bigger home, the Society purchased a 2.5 acre lot at 1200 State Street in Ogdensburg, NY. On New Year’s Day in 1901, the new orphanage was opened and 50 children immediately moved into the home. The home remained an orphanage until 1959, when the State Department of Social Welfare decided that children should be placed in foster homes.
“We had a good life there,” recalls Judy Hitchman. “It was really better then our home life.”
“So many children don’t have loving homes,” said Ralph Hardy. “It is a shame that United Helpers does not run an orphanage today. I currently live at the United Helpers Ogdensburg Campus and love it. United Helpers took care of me when I was a boy and they are taking care of me now.”
While United Helpers no longer offers homes for children, they do provide homes and services for hundreds of North Country people each day. To lean more about the array of services that United Helpers provides, please visit www.unitedhelpers.org. If you or somebody you know was an early resident of United Helpers, please contact the Society of the United Helpers Development Office at 315-393-3074 ext 230.