The Rev. O.P. Christian founded the Children's Home Society of Idaho in 1908 to care for and educate Idaho's orphaned, abandoned and neglected children. Cynthia Mann, a teacher and children's activist, donated the property and a six-room house on Warm Springs Avenue as the society's first home. The society built its large sandstone structure on that same site in 1910.
For more than 50 years, the children who passed through the home's doors lived on the building's second floor. There was a room for girls, a room for boys and a room for babies. Other features included outdoor sleeping porches to use during the warm season and an isolated infirmary room only accessible from outside for children with contagious illnesses.
Some of Boise's most affluent citizens helped support the home, including C.C. Anderson, owner of the Golden Rule department store chain. Anderson was known for passing out dimes to kids at his stores and for sending clothing and other supplies to the young residents of the Children's Home.
During national crises, both World Wars and the Great Depression, the home took in children whose parents were living but unable to care for them. Some returned for their children. Some didn't.
The home changed in 1966 when federal legislation began to favor a foster-care system. Many orphanages across the country closed. The Children's Home transitioned to the treatment facility it is today. Its Warm Springs Counseling Center provides mental, emotional and behavioral health services for at-risk kids and the families that care for them, regardless of their ability to pay.
Remnants of the home's early days remain in the form of more than 6,000 records of the children who lived there over the years. The records, many containing handwritten letters from parents who gave up their children, as well as mementos and photographs, are heart-warming in some cases, heart-rending in others.
Though it hasn't operated as an orphanage for close to 50 years, the home still fields an average of a call a week from someone who was adopted from the home and is looking for family information, staffers say.
The staff will continue to help those callers piece together their personal histories. It has also done its part to preserve the records, many of which are on old and brittle paper. Grants from private donors and the city's Boise 150 program have paid to electronically archive the records. The originals will remain safe.
To help mark the city's sesquicentennial, the Idaho Children's Home has created "Inside These Walls," an oral and visual display about its long history.
The public is invited to a special celebration, fundraiser and unveiling of "Inside These Walls" at an open house, 5:30 to 7 p.m., April 25, 740 Warm Springs Ave. RSVP by April 24 to Judi Williams: 343-7813.
"Inside These Walls" also will be featured in the city's Sesqui-Shop at 1008 Main St. during the month of June. 433-5670.
Anna Webb: 377-6431