Denver Children’s Home
Originally started with the best of intentions, the Denver Children’s Home was known as the Denver Orphans Home. In almost every city across the ages, people have tried to help the orphans of the community. Sometimes these efforts were truly helpful; other times there were devious intentions at play. Let’s take a look and see if we figure out why it might be haunted.
History Of The Denver Children’s Home
Originally named the Denver Orphans Home, the home was started in 1881to help release the critical problem of supporting children with no means of support. The home was able to offer short term help to the children of the families who had limited means and were in a crisis. They were also able to offer care to orphans and children who were in need of long term shelter. The Denver Orphans Home moved to a new building in 1902, it was at the corner of Albion Street and Colfax Avenue. This new building was designed by renowned Denver based architects Albert J. Norton and Willis A. Marean. Today the center is known by the friendlier name, the Denver Children’s Home, the facility is able to provide social services to hundreds of children who are experiencing emotional or psychiatric problems. Help includes residential therapy, counseling, and whatever else is needed, particularly by those who have been neglected or abused.
The impetus for the initial establishment came from a donation to help Denver’s destitute children. This $850 donation was given by several men, including Denver Jewish businessman Fred Salomon and philanthropist George Washington Clayton. Not knowing what to do themselves, they gave the cash to the Ladies’ Relief Society in 1880. $850 could build an awful lot of orphanage in 1880, but they needed somewhere to put it. Luckily Mr. J. H. Wyman gave a block of vacant land on nearby Race Street to site the orphanage. One of the first cottages to house orphans was named after him. The Articles of Incorporation initially stipulated that the home was for white orphans who had no parents living, and only orphans under the age of 12. These articles were filed in January 1881by the Denver Orphans Home. Soon the organization changed its charter to admit destitute half-orphans, “thus enlarging its sphere of usefulness.”
The Denver Orphans Home was initially founded by wives of the city’s elite, As was typical with most child welfare institutions of the time. Largely aimed to benefit the working-class children whose parents worked at the business their husbands ran. For example, Margaret Gray Evans, who was the wife of Territorial Governor John Evans, of Colorado served as the first president of the board.
Donors were recruited among the founder’s social circles, encouraging subscribers to donate $1,000. They managed to convince such Denver luminaries as Margaret and John Evans, David Moffat, Elizabeth Iliff, and Walter Cheesman.
Mrs. Belden, an early president of the Denver Children’s Home believed that “there cannot be a nobler charity, a diviner work, than the care of destitute children.” They hoped to achieve this by “uplifting” the lives of the lower class, and often immigrant children, in a quest for a more equal society.
The elite women of Denver’s society who had founded the Denver Orphans Home During the 1880s and 1890s, took more than a passing interest in the day-to-day running of the home. It was clear however that these women were motivated by genuine compassion, and the desire to perpetuate a middle-class Protestant social order. Being on the board, however, was not a bad way to raise their own social standing in the local community.
The Home’s Humble Beginnings
The Denver Orphans Home accepted their first official children at Mrs. Lord’s home who accepted a small fee in exchange for board and lodgings until the Orphanage could be built. Her residence on Ninth and Pine in 1882 was more than capable of being a stop-gap measure. But the home soon ran out of space and was soon moved to other quarters at Seventh and California. Early fundraising campaigns were very successful, and resulted in the first Denver Orphans Home building, constructed rapidly at Sixteenth Avenue and Race Street in 1886. Soon the organization had 83 children under their care. That number increased steadily in short order, and in 1900 there were 125 children being looked after.
Growing rapidly, they once again outgrew their accommodations, and a larger home was constructed at 1501 Albion Street in 1902—a structure that still stands to this day. Costing nearly $35,000, the massive Second Renaissance Revival structure of the two&½ stories red brick building provided more space for more children plus it had large windows to let in plenty of natural light.
The Denver Orphans Home was a lot more than a mere shelter. It was run as a Protestant center but was formally non-sectarian. Religion was taught along Protestant lines and often by Protestant ministers or Protestant teachers.
Many children only stayed in the home for a short time, but after the new Colorado State Home for Dependent Children opened in 1896, the managers of the Denver Children’s Home concentrated on helping children who only needed short-term assistance so there were not two places doing the same thing. In the era before social welfare programs if a family lost one parent it could have a devastating and profound effect on working class families. Widows may have faced a harder time than men in supporting their children, because they were often only able to accept lower-paying, unskilled jobs. Widowers were not immune to the hard problem of combining a job with daily child care, if not other relatives were available working-class men were often unable to afford a housekeeper to care for children and these men and women often turned to the Denver Children’s Home as a stop-gap measure.
The Orphans’ Lives
In the report on the home, published in 1890–91, a list of Rules shows us just what everyday life was like for these children. After being admitted to the Orphanage, every child was thoroughly bathed, disinfected, and provided with a new set of clothes. Meals were not served to a child until “hands, face, and hair were in proper order.” Children over four were taught how to care for clothing, and children were expected to be kind and polite to each other and to the employees.
Board members of the Denver Orphans Home took great pride in the children’s progress at the Orphanage school. Classes were taught on the grounds with private teachers in the early years. However as the years passed, children were integrated into the Denver public school system.
How Is the Denver Children’s Home Haunted?
It may seem impossible that a place that tries to do such good could be haunted. But it is. When the home was first opened, a fire broke out on the 3rd floor. Sadly, many children died in that fire.
People report hearing the cries and whimpers of children on a fairly regular basis. There have also been many reports of the sounds of children playing and laughing.
Another sighting is of a woman. She is dressed as a bride and has been seen floating down the stairs. People have also seen her floating across the 50-foot wide second-floor hallway.
Denver was a bustling city back in time. It was full of different social classes of people too. As is the usual way, there were a handful of society women who wanted to help orphan children in the city. They had every good intention.
Once the Denver Orphans Home was established, the board members decided to help educate the children. The orphans were given religious and academic lessons.
Sadly, a fire on the third floor took the lives of several orphans. These poor souls are thought to still roam the house today. You can hear the cries and whimpers. You might also see the ghost bride who is known to float up and down the stairs.
Denver is a great city with many things to see and do. If you are in Denver, make sure that you stop by the Denver Children’s Home and keep an ear out for crying kids.