Orphan train riders, families invited to join celebration

Little Clara was just six years old in 1906 when she rode the orphan train from New York to Minnesota to meet her new family.

Between 1854-1929, more than 250,000 children were placed on “orphan trains” from the east coast and placed with unfamiliar adoptive families across America – including in Pine County. 

When they arrived at their new homes, some children joined kind and loving families, while others became indentured servants bound to hard labor. This was the largest mass migration of children ever to take place on American soil and our country’s first child welfare system. 

Minnesota was the first state to set in motion a meeting of orphan train riders in 1960. Three women discovered they were orphans from New York and had traveled west by train to find new homes. The three ladies thought, “If there are three of us, how many more orphan train riders like us are there?”

Orphan train rider in Pine County

Julie Berglund, of Pine City, is the granddaughter of orphan train rider Clara Bergen.

Clara was surrendered to the orphanage in 1899, when she was just 10 days old. At age 6, she left for her train ride to Minnesota where she was taken in by the Crever family in St. Cloud – and Berglund said that her grandmother was treated like one of the family. 

“She was one of the lucky ones to have a great life,” Berglund said. “She had a school career, where a lot of people from that era did not. 

The Crevers were in real estate, but also became involved in banking, work which took them to the town of St. Joseph where Clara attended St. Benedict’s Academy and met – and married – Joseph Seitz in 1919. 

The family moved to Sandstone where Joseph was hired as an engineer at the newly-built prison. 

“That’s how my family came to Pine County,” Berglund said. 

Clara lived to be 90 years old, raised seven children and had 29 grandchildren. Berglund said that Clara had a vague memory of riding the train but didn’t have any information regarding her beginnings.

“My grandmother talked very little about it,” Berglund explained.  “Most of this research has come since. With the advancing availability of DNA and genealogy websites, pieces of her story have begun to unravel. We ... have discovered a maternal family member through ancestry.com who shared photos. It has been a work in progress and has led to an understanding of her heritage and the circumstances of her surrender.”

Celebration of orphan train riders

All orphan train riders and their descendants are invited to join the Orphan Train Riders of New York - Minnesota Organization’s 61st Anniversary Celebration on Saturday, Oct. 2 in Little Falls, Minnesota.

The celebration is open to family, friends, interested persons and walk-ins. The cost is $30, and includes coffee, rolls, a roast beef dinner served by the St. Francis Center Sisters and a program of events.

The program features speaker and author Greg Markway. Markway is a psychologist and orphan train descendant who has been featured on the Today Show, on PBS and in The New York Times.

The day’s events also includes a performance by Adam Linquist. Linquist impersonates Theodore Roosevelt sharing his story as a young boy when he spent time with the orphan children of New York.

In the afternoon, orphan train rider descendants will have the opportunity to tell their rider’s story. Attendees may network with others to find out more.

The celebration will be held in the St Francis Center at 116 Eighth Avenue East in Little Falls, Minnesota, and will be held from 9 a.m. - 2 p.m.

Those interested in joining the celebration are asked to reach out to sblehner@centurylink.net. For more information on the orphan train riders, visit www.orphantrainridersofminnesota.com.

The Orphan Train Riders of New York - Minnesota Organization supports, educates, and preserves the historical epoch of the orphan trains to share with groups of all ages.

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