A Chat at the Father’s House with the Gunnarsons

HEY! Hamilton! Exclusive

Correspondent Emily Simer Braun chats with Daryl and Roxann Gunnarson of The Father’s House, “a place for families to unite in heart and live in community for the common purpose of loving children through foster care and adoption.”

From their Facebook Page:

We are restoring The Hamilton Children’s home [on South D Street] that was in service to the Hamilton community from 1860 – 1980. We are making this historic facility into a Foster Community where 6 foster families will live, taking in 12 – 20 foster children.

Also on the scene: Don Reilly, host of the Life of Reilly segment on the entertainment news magazine “X on TV,” airing 1 a.m. late night Fridays on STAR 64. Reilly is also the foster father of three girls, owner of Elegant Home Exterior and one of the benefactors of The Father’s House.

rendering
Architect’s rendering of the renovated historic home.
vintage
A vintage image of the mansion built by Hamilton industrialist E.G. Dyer.

The Jim Blount History Resources at the Lane Library provides an early history of the building:

Orphanages began opening in the United States in the 1830s, encouraged by increased urbanization and immigration. There were few until the Civil War, a bloodletting which quickly multiplied the number of children without food and shelter.
In Butler County more than 300 men lost their lives in the 1861-1865 conflict. The suffering caused by that war extended to thousands, including orphaned children. It was “the sad condition of many fatherless children” which led to creation of the Butler County Children’s Home, explained Mrs. Thomas (Mary) Moore, a member of its first board of trustees.

In January 1869, several Hamilton women met with a goal of “not only giving the children shelter and food, but training their minds that they may become useful men and women.”

That meeting led to incorporation of the Children’s Home Association of Butler County under the leadership of eight trustees. They were Margaret E. Leiter, Jane C. Skinner, Martha Beckett, Ann M. J. Matthias, Anna A. M. McFarland, Emma Phillips, Catherine Sohn and Margaret Dyer.

In May 1869 a house on North C Street was rented at $25 a month. The eight-room house on the west side of C Street between Park and Wayne avenues was placed under the supervision of Mrs. William Tweedy, the first matron.

Later that month, five fatherless boys became the first residents of the home, which served the youth of the area for more than 115 years.

Charitable contributions and a variety of fund-raising events — including concerts and lawn fetes — sustained the home, which soon was too small to handle the demand for its service.

In 1875, the generosity of two Hamilton industrialists and philanthropists enabled the association to expand operations. Clark Lane and E. J. Dyer, partners in business, offered $10,000 if the women could raise $2,000. (Lane also was responsible for starting the Lane Public Library, which still serves the Hamilton-Fairfield-Oxford area.)

After the successful finance campaign, the group bought the Dyer farm near the top of the South D Street hill. The stone house, built about 1850, became the center of what would be the campus of the Butler County Children’s Home for 110 years. The home moved to its new quarters in September 1875.

By the mid 1880s, the home had a staff of more than 20 adults serving 210 children.

Starting in 1872, the association had received some financial support from the Butler County commissioners. But throughout its history — as facilities were modernized and expanded and as services changed — the home relied heavily on public donations of money and time.

For several years “one of the main sources of revenue,” reported Kathleen Neilan Stuckey in a 1936 Journal-News article, “was the dining hall at the fairgrounds where, during the week of the fair each year for almost 20 years, the ladies took charge and worked successfully at the gigantic task of feeding the hundreds who thronged the hall, sure of excellent fare.

“This project netted usually amounts from $300 to $600 — enough to carry the home through the winter months with the donations that were sure to come in around the holidays,” Mrs. Stuckey noted. Contributions ranged from jelly, eggs and sauerkraut to firewood, second-hand clothing and straw for mattresses.

“These bountiful supplies,” Mrs. Stuckey said, “came from all over the county, wakened to the need of its children by the enterprising ladies who did not fail to solicit cooperation, interest and material aid from auxiliary societies” in the county.

In its final years in the 1970s and 1980s, the home’s mission changed to helping about 50 to 60 abused and neglected children, including some from outside the county. It also acquired houses in other Hamilton neighborhoods.

The name was changed to Miami Valley Children’s Home in 1977. It closed in September 1985.

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