NIAGARA DISCOVERIES: Lockport’s first Home for the Friendless

Lockport Home for the Friendless, 387 High St., circa 1900

The History Center has a circa 1900 photograph of the large Greek Revival home at 387 High St., Lockport. The house is distinctive for its four Ionic columns supporting a pediment with a round center window. This architectural style was popular in the United States beginning in the 1820s until the time of the Civil War.

This elegant residence was built circa 1850 by Francis N. Nelson (1814-1883), a Lockport businessman who for nearly 30 years was occupied in several different professions including lawyer in the firm of [George] Rogers & Nelson, dry goods merchant with John Van Horn, cashier at the National Exchange Bank and real estate agent for many properties in the village and later in the city.

Nelson owned a tract of land on the south side of High Street, east of Washburn Street, near Erie Street, and other lots in the village. In September 1870, Nelson decided to sell all his holdings and “move to a Western City.” He described his High Street property as “containing two and one third acres well stocked with choice Fruit and Shade Trees; one of the most desirable residences in the City."

It was more than a year later, in December 1871, that the house and grounds were sold to a newly chartered organization, the Lockport Home for the Friendless, for $5,000. The Board of Supervisors of the Home had appropriated $3,500 toward the sale, contingent on the provision that the same amount be raised by community contributions to complete the sale and furnish and supply the home for habitation.

The Home for the Friendless grew out of an effort begun six years earlier in 1865. The Civil War had brought much suffering and deprivation to many women and children in Lockport, leaving widows and orphans with no means of support. A group of concerned women formed the Lockport Ladies’ Relief Society. They raised money through events to purchase food and coal for families in need and personally made clothing and bedding for them. Although the group worked tirelessly to provide for women and children, they found that what they needed was a permanent home to shelter, feed, and care for those who had nowhere else to turn for assistance.

In February 1871, the Lockport Home for the Friendless was chartered by the New York State Legislature. The Board of Trustees consisted of nine men, many of their names familiar to Lockport history including Gardner, Hodge, Breyfogle, Hosmer, Bishop, Evans and Helmer. This board then appointed 24 women to a Board of Directresses who were responsible for overseeing the reception, care, management, education, training and disposition of the “inmates” (today that term usually applies to people in prison; in the past it was used to describe anyone who was living in any sort of institution). The home opened in February 1872, with two adults and seven children being admitted.

The number of those residing at the home grew significantly in 1875 when children were removed from the Poor House and were brought there to live. Not all of the children at the Home for the Friendless were orphans; some had parents in the Poor House while others had families who were unable to care for them. Those who were orphans were eligible for adoption. Notices such as this one from 1879 were placed in the newspapers at regular intervals:

Permit Committee of the “Home for the Friendless” will be at the “Home” every Wednesday afternoon from 2 until 5 o’clock, P.M. Those wishing children will make application at that time. Written recommendations from three responsible parties will be required.

The annual report for that year recorded 79 people had been “under the care of the Home.” Of that number, nine had been “provided with homes,” two returned to their “own friends,” six had “gone away of their own accord” and one child died. Forty-four children were attending the High Street school and all were present at the Sabbath school.

Fundraising was a constant activity, with festivals and other events taking place in the “Home” or on the spacious grounds in the summer. The people of Lockport were generous in their donations of money, material goods and their time. Many left large bequests to the “Home” upon their death.

The number of people residing at the home continued to grow and by the late 1880s it became increasingly evident a larger and safer residence would be necessary for the continuation of the “Home for the Friendless.” The High Street home was sold in 1892 when the former Washington Hunt estate was purchased. The old Nelson property once again became a private residence, except for a brief time from 1945 to 1948 when it was turned into a fine dining establishment known as the White Pillars Inn.

Ann Marie Linnabery is the assistant director of the History Center of Niagara.

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