The Louisiana Orphan Train Museum in Opelousas opened in 2009. There were thousands of children sent on the orphan trains throughout America. Between 1854 and 1929, charity institutions in New York began the mission of helping homeless or abandoned children living on the streets.
According to James Douget, a board member and volunteer at the museum, he says, "Sister Irene of the New York Foundling hospital saw the need to place these orphans in loving homes."
The Sisters of Charity pleading to Catholic priests to ask their local parishioners to open their homes and their hearts for these kids. Douget continues, "Father John Engberink, of the Opelousas area, St. Landry Catholic Church. He made a trip up to New York, saw the good work that the sisters were doing, the Sisters of Charity, and so he was on board. He talked to the congregation. And convinced them to take in some of these orphans."
In the spring of 1907, three trains arrived in Opelousas. And many of those childrens' descendants still live here. Martha Aubert, the President of the Louisiana Orphan Train Society says, "My grandmother was sent from the New York Foundling Hospital on an orphan train to South Louisiana. We are historically connected to those individuals through the orphan train movement.
Douget adds, "I actually had an aunt and an uncle who are New York orphans. My grandmother wanted a little girl, my grandfather a little boy. So they decided to take one of each. And they were treated just like their own children for the rest of their lives."
Both Aubert and Douget love to tell the stories, but it's really a mission. Aubert adds, "Our goal is to educate the public of the orphan train movement, so we're here at this museum to pass on the history and the untold stories of the orphan train riders who came to Louisiana."
The museum is open Tuesday through Friday from 10 to 3, and Saturday from 10 to 2. Private tours are also available. For more information visit the Louisiana Orphan Train Museum website.