In August 1903, Margaret Loretta Henry, aged twenty-five, came to New Castle, Pennsylvania, with the intention of setting up a home for orphaned children. She did so soon after and with great personal sacrifice she provided for the orphaned children of New Castle for the next thirty-seven years. Just how she got to New Castle is a story in itself.
Margaret was born to Lawrence and Sara Henry in North Amherst, Ohio, most likely on March 14, 1878 (though some reports list 1876). The 1880 U.S. Census, taken in June 1880, lists her age as “2.” Within two years of her birth her father died and Mary and her six-year-old sister Sara were placed in the Saint Joseph’s Orphanage for Girls in the Woodland Hills area of nearby Cleveland. Mary is known to have had two other siblings but perhaps they were not born yet and/or cared for elsewhere.
The Catholic-affiliated orphanage, directed by Miss Anna Hogan and located at #831 Woodland Avenue, provided for young girls up to the age of eight, at which time they were transferred to the Saint Mary’s Orphan Asylum for Girls. Popular reports say Mary spent six years in an orphanage, but I’m thinking after six years (when she turned eight) she was sent to the Saint Mary’s facility. The two orphanages merged in 1894 to form a new Saint Joseph’s Orphanage, at which time Mary would have been sixteen.
I believe it was at age sixteen that she came under the care of (or was adopted by) Miss Ellen E. Donovan, who founded the Home of the Holy Family orphanage in the Woodland Hills area in June 1895. This orphanage was outside the auspices of the Diocese of Cleveland, but apparently was still loosely affiliated with the Catholic church. Donovan, born in New York in 1857, was a dedicated advocate of homeless and disadvantaged children. Margaret assisted her in the operation of the home and vowed to dedicate her life to helping orphaned children as well.
Margaret worked in the Home of the Holy Family until August 1903, at which time she ventured down to New Castle with several other woman, all under the wing of Donovan, to help setup up a new orphan’s home known as the Society (or Home) of the Holy Family – or more popularly as the Holy Family Home. I believe Donovan led the effort but generally stayed back in Cleveland to continue working there. In September 1903 they leased a home at #113 East Lincoln Avenue (across from where the Scottish Rite Cathedral was built in 1923-1926), owned by wealthy plumber Edwin S. Stevenson, and set up a small orphanage – initially with six children brought from Cleveland.
By April 1904 they relocated the orphanage to the former home of the late merchant R. W. Cunningham, who passed away in early 1899. They leased the Cunningham homestead, complete with two homes of sixteen and seven rooms, located on one acre of property on what became Friendship Street off Cunningham Avenue (across from where the Ben Franklin Junior High School was built in 1920-1923). The property was leased for $25 a month, but I believe the smaller home was subleased out for $10 a month to help defray the cost. The larger home was used for the children, with the boys dorms located on the third or top floor and the girls on the second floor.
The facility, which took boys and girls of all ages, survived on a day-to-day basis and was supported mainly by the generous donations of private citizens and local companies of money, clothes, and food items, but also by seamstress work provided by the directors and older female girls. Most of the children had lost one or both their parents to death, came from an abusive or broken home, or from parents who were simply unable to care for them emotionally or financially. At any one time there were generally thirty to fifty children at the home. Most were there for long term care, but others were returned to their parents or relatives when situations improved on the homefront.
Five women listed as directors, Ellen Donovan, Margaret Henry, Rosalia Matson, Bridget Kronar, and Elizabeth Cullen, filed a motion with the county court in mid-March 1907 to incorporate the home as a non-profit organization. The motion was granted a month later with the non-secular home’s stated goal “to assist in caring of orphans and homeless children, regardless of their religious denomination, and to afford aid to those in need at large.” Margaret Henry soon took over as the matron of the home and by the end of the year she had thirty-eight children under her watchful eye.
In September 1920 the owners of the old Cunningham homestead delivered some bad news: they intended to sell the property or increase the rent. They would allow Miss Henry to purchase the home outright for $10,000 or rent the property for $75 a month. A crisis was at hand as Miss Henry had no savings and the home barely survived on a meager budget. Several companies or individuals stepped forward to assist but it was still not enough. After various meetings and negotiations with prominent civic leaders it was decided in January 1921 to incorporate the home with a board of directors under the control of the Lawrence County Board of Trade (Chamber of Commerce). With official sponsorship and funding the facility would be able to remain in operation. David S. Pyle, the district superintendent of the American Sheet & Tin Plate Company in New Castle, was selected as the first president of the board of directors.
The name of the facility, in a fitting tribute, was also formally changed to the Margaret L. Henry Home for Children and Miss Henry remained in charge to continue her work as matron. In late 1922 a major fundraising drive was undertaken to raise the $15,000 necessary to purchase the property, add an addition on to the larger building, paint both houses, add a sick/medical room, and make improvements such as new water service, additional bathrooms, cement walkways, and install a fence around the property. The facility was able to raise the money but still barely survived on donations, especially of food stuffs, from the public.
On June 4, 1938, Margaret’s former guardian and beloved mentor Ellen Donovan, at the age of eighty-one, passed away at the Holy Family Home in Cleveland. Her orphanage was taken over the Sisters of the Incarnate Word but closed for good in 1952. Margaret was in failing health as well by the late 1930’s but continued in her endeavors.
Margaret Henry, one of New Castle’s most beloved heroines, managed the home until she died in the New Castle Hospital (later known as Saint Francis Hospital) on the afternoon of Friday, June 14, 1940. She was sixty-two years old. It was truly a sad day as Henry was said to have cared for an estimated 2,500 children in New Castle during her thirty-seven years of dedicated service.
Margaret’s arrangements were handled by the Howard Reynolds Funeral Home. On Monday, June 17, a well attended memorial service, presided over by the Reverend Joseph A. Doerr, was held at the Saint Joseph’s Catholic Church in New Castle. Afterwards she was interred in Saint Joseph’s Cemetery with distinguished members of the Margaret Henry Home board of directors, including David S. Pyle, Thomas W. Dickey, Alex Crawford Hoyt, Rufus C. Patterson, Samuel Klafter, and Roger W. Rowland, acting as honorary pallbearers.
Lida “Mom” Green, Henry’s longtime trusted assistant who had basically been running the facility for the last year, officially took over as matron. Green continued Henry’s good work until she passed away on Tuesday, March 17, 1953. Several directors administered the facility over the next few years until the board of directors announced on July 28, 1955, that they would be permanently closing the home. The reasons behind the closure coincided with the rise of private home foster care and permanent adoption as the preferred method of housing orphans. The difficulty in finding qualified care personnel, the decline of enrollment at the home, and the rising cost of its operation also played a part in the decision.
The Margaret Henry Home, then under the supervision of the Reverend John T. Kelly, was closed about a month later. It’s estimated that 3,000 children spent time residing in the home in its fifty-two years of existence. The remaining thirteen children at the facility were placed in foster care homes until permanent placement could be made. The contents of the Margaret Henry Home were sold at auction in late 1955 and plans were made to sell the two homes and the property for $11,500.
The New Castle School Board had plans to close the aging Thaddeus Stevens and Pollock Avenue Schools within the next five years and building a single new schoolhouse to consolidate them. They wanted to build a consolidated elementary school at the Margaret Henry site, but balked at the high price. The school board also considered the old Taylor homestead at Cunningham Avenue and Taylor Street (now an athletic field). The “Cunningham Avenue location” plan was abandoned and it was decided in late 1960 to build a new Thaddeus Stevens School, after purchasing adjoining properties, at the same location of its original namesake. The new Thaddeus Stevens building opened in September 1963 and the Pollock Avenue School was finally closed in June 1968.
On March 9, 1956, the board of directors approved the sale of the Margaret Henry Home property to William F. DeCarbo for $11,000. It was also decided that the Margaret Henry Home board of directors, utilizing the proceeds from the sale, would remain active working with underprivileged children throughout the city for the time being.
By October 1956 the Macaluso Nursing Home, soon to build a newer facility out on the West Pittsburg Road, was operating out of the old home. I believe they closed the nursing home in the former Margaret Henry Home in about 1965, at which time it was demolished by DeCarbo. The Golden Hills Nursing Home was subsequently erected at the location and is still in operation today.
To read an article about the establishing of the Holy Family Home on Lincoln Avenue in 1903 click on: ORPHAN HOME TO BE ESTABLISHED ARTICLE. To read a short mention about moving the home to the Cunningham homestead in April 1904 click on: MOVING ARTICLE. To read about a man accused of exposing himself to the children at the home in August 1904 click on: FAILED TO IDENTIFY ARTICLE. To read about a fire at the home in October 1906 click on: FIRE LOSS ARTICLE. To learn more about the plan to incorporate the home in 1907 click on: HOLY FAMILY TO INCORPORATE ARTICLE and CHARTER NOTICE and CHARTER GRANTED ARTICLE. To read an article from December 1907 about the work done at the home click on: THIRTY-EIGHT CHILDREN AT HOME ARTICLE. To read about a young girl who severely injured her eye at the home in March 1912 click on: MAY LOSE SIGHT OF EYE ARTICLE. To read a short mention about a female fraternal and benevolent society known as Lady Maccabees taking donations for the home in 1913 click on: MACCABEES DONATE ARTICLE. To read the obituaries of several children who died at the home click on: GEORGE SHEETS OBITUARY and JACK CONNERS OBITUARY and JAMES FRILA OBITUARY. To read about the children of the home given automobile rides and other treats by local businessmen in 1916 click on: CHILDREN HAPPY ARTICLE. To read a clever article singing the praises of the home in February 1919 click on: TWENTY-SIX CHILDREN IN SINGLE HOME ARTICLE. To read an article put in the newspaper by Margaret Henry thanking a local resident for rescuing one of the children from the waters of the Neshannock Creek in July 1919 click on: THANKS LETTER. To read the owners of the home proposing to sell the home in September 1920 click on: FACES POSSIBILITY OF BEING CLOSED ARTICLE. The civic leaders of New Castle banded together in late 1920 to form a joint county-city board to run the facility. To read about that beginnings of that effort click on: MASS MEETING IS SUGGESTED ARTICLE. To read two articles mentioning aid and donations to the home in late 1920 click on: PLANS TO AID CHILDREN’S HOME ARTICLE and HENRY EXPRESSES THANKS ARTICLE. To read about the upcoming incorporation of the home click on: INCORPORATION OF HOLY FAMILY HOME ARTICLE and CHARTER ASKED ARTICLE. To learn about plans to raise funds for the home in January 1921 click on: RAISE FUNDS ARTICLE. To read a great article from June 1922 about daily life inside the home click on: FORTY FOPUR CHILDREN AT HOME ARTICLE. To read about the goal of the major fundraising drive in 1922 click on: GOAL OF MARGARET HENRY HOME DRIVE ARTICLE. To read a detailed list of donations made to the home in late 1922 click on: DONATIONS ARE MADE ARTICLE.
In April 1904 the Home of the Holy Family, an orphanage led by a group of women who had come from Cleveland the prior year, relocated to the former home (shown above) of the late merchant R. W. Cunningham. They leased the Cunningham homestead, complete with two homes of sixteen and seven rooms, located on one acre of property on what became Friendship Street off Cunningham Avenue. Margaret Henry soon took over control and in 1921 the facility was renamed as the Margaret L. Henry Home for Children. Miss Henry oversaw the effort to tend to local orphans at this location until she passed away in 1940. (c1905) Full Size
The Margaret Henry Home closed in 1955 and was subsequently used as a nursing home. It was demolished in c1965 and the site became home to the Golden Hill Nursing Home. (Jan 2012)
The Golden Hill Nursing Home. (Jan 2012)
The stone monument erected in Margaret Henry’s honor by the local Fraternal Order of Eagles. It sits in a small park near the intersection of Taylor Street and Superior Street. (Jan 2012)
The inscription on the monument. (Jan 2012)
The final resting place of Margaret Henry in St. Joseph Cemetery in Neshannock Township. (Mar 2012)
Margaret Henry was truly one of New Castle’s most beloved heroines. (Mar 2012)