Friday, September 27, 2013

St. Joseph's Catholic Orphan Asylum

While researching a home in Northside, I came across this map which shows a Catholic Orphan Asylum. I wondered just what this was and if anything remained...
1869 Titus Map - Source
This orphanage was started in 1829 by two Sisters of Charity, who decided to begin caring for poor and orphan children. This first orphanage was located near present-day St. Xavier Church on Sycamore Street in downtown Cincinnati. The first official name in 1833 was the St. Peter's Benevolent Association. By 1852, the orphanage required more space and it was decided to move to Northside (then called Cumminsville) to land once owned by Jacob Hoffner. You can see by the map above the location of the orphanage just off Blue Rock Street, abutting Mr. Hoffner's land at the corner of Blue Rock and Hamilton Avenue, which is present-day Hoffner Park. The name change to St. Joseph's Orphan Asylum.

Circa 1896 - Source
"Erected 1852-1854. Built of brick and stone, 180 x 180 feet. Cost $19,000. Number of orpahns: 360. Sisters of Charity, twenty-four in number, are in charge. The institution is under the management of St. Joseph's Orphan Association whose President is Archbishop Elder, and Vice-Preseident, Rev. James Hnery. Sister Alphonse is the Superioress."
The orphanage stood behind St. Patrick's Church at Blue Rock and Turrill Street, which was started around 1853. By 1861, the parish has grown so large that it was decided to split along ethnic lines with the Irish remaining at St. Patrick's and the Germans creating a new church, St. Boniface just west at the corner of Blue Rock and Lakeman Streets. As St. Boniface grew, a new church was built in 1927 at Chase and Pitts Avenues
Original St. Boniface, built in 1863
St. Boniface, built in 1927
St. Patrick Church, built in 1873
The orphanage grew as well over the years, with additions being added as necessary. In the 1870 Census, 255 children lived here, ranging in age from 2 to 14 years old. By 1914, over 8,000 children from all denominations had been cared for. Starting in 1864, an annual picnic and feast for the orphans was held on July 4th. The orphanage was described in the 1883 book "Picturesque Cincinnati" published by the John Shillito Company as such:
St. Peter's and St. Joseph's Orphan Asylum. — In the northern part of Cumminsville, about three squares from the Cincinnati, Hamilton, and Dayton Railroad depot. The building is a large four-story brick structure, surrounded by nearly twenty acres of the society's property. The average number of children in the asylum is 350; and the annual expenses are between $16,000 and $18,000. Children, one or both of whose parents are dead, are admitted, usually without charge; but when the surviving parent or friends are willing to pay, a moderate charge is made. The institution is conducted by the Sisters of Charity, and is supported by public charity. A bazaar and a picnic, held once a year, are the chief sources of income; but the St. Peter's, St. Joseph's, and the St. Xavier's orphan societies, as well as many individuals, make liberal contributions yearly. The asylum is also known as the Cumminsville orphan asylum, or as the Catholic orphan asylum. It can be reached by the Cincinnati, Hamilton, and Dayton Railroad (fare 15 cents), and by the Cumminsville and Spring-grove line of horse-cars (fare 5 cents). - Source
1937 Sanborn Map showing the orphanage, St. Patrick Church and St. Boniface Church
Demographics began to change in the orphanage from true orphans whose parents had died to children from broken homes in need of a place to stay. By 1952, 200 orphans resided at St. Joseph's and in 1959, plans were made to move the orphanage to a new building in Monfort Heights where it remains today as St. Joseph Orphanage. They continue to serve children who have been abused, neglected or who have emotionally or developmental disabilities.
Cincinnati Post & TimesStar; Aug.14 1959, pg 1
The new building was ready in 1962 and the old one became temporary overflow for the St. Francis Seminary, which was located in Mount Healthy. This arrangement continued until 1964, when the site was sold to the Cincinnati Board of Education, for a new school to be built to replaced the aging Chase School on Chase Avenue.
Cincinnati Enquirer; May 11, 1964 pg. 10
It took many years for the new Chase Elementary School to be built. The land closest to Chase Avenue was used to build the McKie Recreation Center and finally in 1979, the old Chase School, built in 1886-1888 was replaced, giving students a modern educational facility, including a cafeteria which was not in the old building. Children for over 90 years had been eating lunch on benches in a hallway!
"Old" Chase Elementary, closed in 1979, became condominiums in 1998
Chase Elementary, built in 1979, demolished in 2009
While the Chase Elementary School built in 1979 was modern for its time, by 2008, it was determined that the space was not adequate for the 21st-century. The school was rebuilt on the same location and opened in February 20, 2012.
Chase Elementary, opened in 2012
 For over 160 years, this plot of land in Northside, from Blue Rock Street to Chase Avenue, has cared for and educated the children of Cincinnati.


  1. The original orphanage, located downtown, was known as "Saint Peter Orphanage", and admitted both girls and boys. However the citizens of Cincinnati took a dim view of a co-ed orphanage, so the Sisters opened St. Joseph Orphanage as a boys orphanage. As attitudes changed, it once again became a co-ed institution. When I was at the orphanage, in 1963 and 1964, it was intended Montfort Heights, next to Lasalle High School. The grounds were so spacious, that the children at that time had not found the limits of the back yards!

  2. Ann, thank you especially so for this search and information. I found out today, that after over 60 years of wondering....that my grandmother was orphaned at 10 years old; a Catholic child from Ireland was an inmate of St. Joseph's Orphanage. I've been searching the earth for her...and here she is---just a few yards of where our whole family travels nearly every day. How can I ever thank you?

  3. My maternal grandfather spent time at the northside location and myself and two sisters spent some years at the Mt.Airy facility

  4. I suspect my great-great grandmother may have spent time at St. Peter's around 1870. My great-great grandfather could have been at St. Joseph's. Are there any records remaining for either orphanage for the 1860s and 1870s?

  5. My mother was in an institution from 1925 - 1932 (ish). She was of German decent. Her mother, Verena Kiffmeyer was head nurse at Seton Hospital and contracted TB from a patient. She died in 1925 after giving birth to a son, who also died. My own mother (the half orphan) died when I was 8 and I never got to hear her story first hand as I was sent away to a boarding school before she died (I have no personal memory of her). I have tried to contact St. Joe's but have been told no information is available. Verena is buried in Price Hill at the Catholic cemetery with many from her family but no one there can give me any other info. Verena's sister Rosemary was married to an Imbus (well-known roofing company in the day) and Rosemary have birth to a child and died. Rosemary's daughter was raised by the Clooney's. Crescentia Koch was married to Clooney and Margaret Koch was her sister. Margaret Koch Kiffmeyer was the mother of Verena and Rosemary. I would do love to find out more but Nick Clooney refused to speak to me when I contacted him back in the 1990's. I only want information, not money! I live in Australia now so research is impossible if it isn't online. Thanks for this information. I suspect my mother would have been at St. B's when the ethnic split happened.

  6. I spent time in the old orphanage sometime in the late 1950s. I was sent home with my sister while they transferred to the new one and was there till 1965. I then was sent to Woodmar Farm for Boys till 1969 and my draft notice.


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