The Methodist Deaconess Orphanage was also known to some as simply the Lake Bluff Orphanage. In it's later years it was known as Lake Bluff Children's Home. It was located in Lake Bluff.
The orphanage was started in 1894 by the Chicago Methodist Deaconess Home. A rented house in Lake Bluff was the first site of the operation. This only had room for six children. A donation aided the construction of a new building that held 30 children. A larger building was constructed in 1900. This had room for 145 children. This building burned in 1911 and a new one was built and dedicated in 1915. There were six buildings by the 1940s.
The orphanage was home to many children. Not all of the children in the home were parentless. Some children were in situations in which their families could not afford to take care for them for a period of time. Family members were expected to contribute what they could to the orphanage for taking the children in.
Listings of children living in this home can be found in the 1910, 1920, and 1930 censuses. There are also occasional newspaper reports naming children living there. Some of these newspaper listings are board of supervisors reports, others are news stories about particular orphans, some even mentioning adoptions of these orphans. There is no index to these articles. One must patiently browse the newspaper and hope for a find.
The county gave the orphanage a certain amount of money each year, and often the orphanage would petition for additional funds. These reports listed children and how much they cost the orphanage. The board of supervisors reports were then published in the newspaper. One such report was published in the Libertyville Independent on 12 November 1925. It listed 69 children who were residents at the orphanage.
The orphanage had many benefactors over the years. William Deering built the Deering School in Lake Bluff so the children at the orphanage would have a school. Louis F. Swift presented the orphanage with a health center building in 1928. New children coming in to the orphanage would spend two weeks in the health center before they were introduced into the family groups. The Anna M. Swift Memorial Hall was built for the preschool age children, who were though too old to be with the babies, but too young to be with the older children.
Living conditions in 1947 consisted of 97 boys and girls living in six "family" cottages. At over 16 children per "cottage" it is hard to imagine each getting as much attention as they deserved. Some children spent only days in the orphanage before they were taken in by family members or people who fostered or adopted them. Other children stayed there for years.
As time went on the views of orphanages changed. A move was made to take children and place them in homes (foster care) rather than a more organized group setting. In the case of troubled children, the orphanage setting was not helpful to their treatment and another setting was needed. The types of needs that children and their families had changed over time, therefore the agency focus shifted. The orphanage was closed and the buildings were torn down.
The orphanage was operating as late as 1944, when a newspaper article mentioned a child resident drowning in the lake. A 5 June 1968 Chicago Tribune article mentioned the agency's plan to shift focus and move to Chicago. The six orphanage buildings were still for sale 10 years later, when they were considered as a place of relocation for Shimer College. The college chose a different location in Waukegan.
The orphanage is gone but the parent outfit, now known as ChildServ, still remains, assisting families in Lake, DuPage, and Cook Counties.
Anyone with memories, photographs, or more information on the orphanage is welcome to share them.
The following information was received in December 2006:
The Methodist Deaconess Orphanage, or as it is also known, The Lake Bluff Children's Home, is currently featured in a well researched and beautifully illustrated series of large display boards at the Vliet Museum for Lake Bluff History, 127 E. Scranton Avenue, next to the Public Library in Lake Bluff. Museum hours are 1pm to 4pm Tuesdays and Thursdays, 10am to 1pm Saturday, or by appointment. Call 847-482-1571 and leave a message or your questions.
Tom Tincher, Vliet Museum