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Children’s Home of Wheeling Marks 150th Anniversary

WHEELING — Amid many changes over the past 150 years, the Children’s Home of Wheeling’s focus has never wavered from its mission to help vulnerable youth.

The home is observing its 150th anniversary this year, but celebration is being delayed because of the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Louise Paree, executive director, said boys remain in residence at the home and staff are on duty as the area responds to the threat posed by the novel coronavirus. Direct care staff ensure that the residents maintain social distancing.

With schools not in session now, staff members also help the boys with their homework and encourage them to participate in recreational activities in the home’s gymnasium and fenced-in yard.

Responding to crises and meeting community needs is nothing new at the Children’s Home of Wheeling. Specific needs may have changed, but the basic mission of creating a home-like atmosphere for residents has remained consistent over the years.

Founded by the YMCA, the home “was the first Protestant orphanage in Wheeling,” Paree said. The home, governed by a board of directors, now operates as a nonsectarian, nonprofit organization and follows state regulations for residential care.

From 1870 until 1989, the organization provided services to boys and girls in need of residential placement. In 1989, a decision was made to concentrate its services to males.

The home’s residential program is licensed under the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources’ guidelines for a Level II treatment facility. Young men, ages 12-18, are placed at the home by the judicial system.

Paree said the home also is accredited through the national Council on Accreditation.

“The Children’s Home of Wheeling Inc. offers youth an opportunity to receive support in strengthening their resilience and improving their lives,” she said.

Services include crisis intervention, screening and diagnostic testing, clinical evaluation, psychological examination, case management, behavior management, service planning and advocacy.

Residents can participate in educational and therapeutic groups; they also are offered individual and family counseling and supportive counseling. They receive education coordination, general medical care, life skills training, art and music education, health education and physical activity.

The home was founded on March 5, 1870, at a meeting of the YMCA of Wheeling under the direction of the Rev. Samuel B. Barnitz, pastor of First English Lutheran Church.

This new organization was formed as the Children’s Home of the City of Wheeling to serve as an orphanage for boys and girls, ages 2-14. In 1954, it was renamed the Children’s Home of Wheeling.

The board of directors appointed a Lady Board of Managers to oversee details of the home and care of the children. The Lady Board of Managers ran the operation for many years, Paree noted.

Prominent men in the community contributed a total of $10,000 to establish the home. Historical documents list the initial contributors as C.D. List, J.L. Hobbs, W.B. Simpson, Henry K. List, J.L. Stifel, Samuel Laughlin, A.G. Robinson, Robert Gibson, J.N. Vance, W.L. Hearne, S.H. Woodward, S. McClellan, C. Oglebay, L.S. Delaplain and Henry Wallace.

A building was rented at the corner of 17th and Market streets for the new orphanage in 1871. Originally, the building housed St. John’s German Independent Protestant Church.

In the home’s second year of operation, 40 children were quarantined during a dual epidemic of smallpox and whooping cough. Only the board president and a physician could visit the orphans.

That year, community leaders raised another $10,000 to purchase, repair and enlarge the Grant House property on the corner of 13th and Jacob streets.

On April 20, 1877, a fire destroyed the children’s records and a large section of the house had to be repaired.

For 30 years, an average of 25 children annually resided at the home. Ledgers from the 1880s list admissions and those who were “demitted,” Paree said. One ledger is labeled “Children Demitted — January 1888-February 1905.”

Some of the orphans were reunited with relatives or placed with area families in those early years. Records indicated that some families wanted to adopt children, while others sought youth to perform farm work, Paree said.

The downtown property was sold in 1902 and a large, Gothic-style stone residential home was constructed at a cost of $42,500 on Orchard Road in Woodsdale. The property was formerly part of the John J. Woods farm.

The new building was designed by the Wheeling architectural firm of Giesey & Faris. The cornerstone – laid on June 24, 1901 – is still in its original location in front of the current residential facility.

In 1979, the stone house – which had become dilapidated and a financial drain on the institution – was demolished and replaced by two brick residential cottages. Wheeling architect L.W. Franzheim designed the cottages.

The Och family home was purchased to house administrative offices from 1984 until 1996. A new administrative building was constructed later for offices and the Orchard Park day care center. After the day care facility closed, the building was leased to Northern Panhandle Head Start.

In August 2003, a two-story, residential and multi-purpose facility was opened. It was constructed between and connected with the two residential cottages.

With a wide porch and pillars, the center hall building evokes memories of the grand exterior of the 1900s home. The new building includes administrative offices, kitchen, dining area, family visitation room, computer room, art room, nurses’ room, bedrooms, bathrooms, a gymnasium and locker room.

Paree said the home is one of few residential facilities in the state to have a full-size gymnasium. The gym features a basketball court, bleachers and a climbing wall.

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