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Orphan Train.
The Kansas Historical Society Collection

The history of the railroads is deeply tied to the orphan train era. Railroads remained the most inexpensive way to move numerous children westward from poverty-filled homes, orphanages, poorhouses, and city streets.

By 1860, 30,500 miles of track had been laid. Eleven railroads met in Chicago. The building of the railroads spurred western settlement. In 1862 Congress authorized construction of two railroads to link the Midwest and the West Coast. The Union Pacific extended westward from Nebraska the Central Pacific reached eastward from the Pacific Ocean. The meeting of the two railroads at Promontory Summit, Utah, in 1869 signaled a new ear of western history. By 1870 the trains ran from the East Coast to Omaha, Nebraska.

The New York Central headquartered in New York served most of the Northeast, including extensive trackage in New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, and Massachusetts, plus additional lines in the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec. Its primary connections included Chicago and Boston. The train route from the New Yorkís Grand Central was almost certainly the New York Central, as the railroad owned the station. Other railroads used the Pennsylvania Station (Penn Station) in New York City beginning in 1910.

The New York Central never went west of Chicago which was the dividing line. The childís destination determined alternative routes. Children arriving at a Midwest station from New York were oftentimes switched over to another railroad in Chicago or St. Louis as they continued their journey farther west.


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