It was like part of a riddle: What’s an orphanage with few orphans, a detention home that has no guards or locked doors? Answer: The Salvation Army Orphanage at Lytton Springs.
In the early 20th century it was formally called the “Boys’ and Girls’ Industrial Home and Farm,” or just the “Industrial Farm” by those who ran it. The Salvation Army still quietly uses it as an adult rehab center, but a century ago the facility about three miles north of Healdsburg was well known, highlighted in newspaper Sunday features and something of a tourist attraction.
The Lytton farm in that era was just one of many outposts in the state’s vast child welfare/child labor system. California had more kids per capita in institutions than anywhere else in the United States; in the early 1910s it was estimated more than one child out of 50 was in some sort of institution each year.1
Those staggering numbers reflect the complicated attitudes towards children a century ago. Although Lytton was also known as the “Golden Gate Orphanage,” only eight percent of the kids were truly orphans; “Mother Bourne,” the driving force at Lytton and wife of the superintendent said most children were there because of unfit parents, particularly drunkenness and “looseness of the marriage tie” (another writer listed “modified hoboism or Bohemianism” as a factor). Altogether, two out of three were there for such reasons or because they were deemed to be “unmanageable.” The good news was that very often their stay at Lytton was temporary, with a child returning to his/her family once the situation stabilized.
But “mild delinquents” were also sentenced to Lytton by the courts, and one who made news locally in 1912 was Jimmy Gillespie. The 11 year-old ran away immediately and made his way to Santa Rosa, where he burgled two houses and stole a bike. After being captured by a deputy he escaped before he could be sent back to Lytton, this time stealing $4.60 from the purse of a woman on Orchard street. Superintendent Bourne came to town to pick up the boy after he was caught, promising he would be closely watched, according to the Republican paper. But a week later Jimmy ran away once more, this time breaking into a general store in Geyserville and making off with valuables, including “some marbles.” This time he was nabbed after robbing a railroad station of tickets he planned to use to flee to San Francisco. The paper reported he was “rated as an incorrigible by the Sonoma County officials” with “a record of petty offenses that is appalling.” One of the headlines in the Republican went so far as to call his mini-crime spree “evil acts.”
Jimmy’s next stop was probably one of the seven reformatories where he would be locked up until adulthood. Three of those were run by the state but Lytton and the 78 other institutions like it in California were privately owned, and nearly all were operated by a religious organization.2
Conditions at the Lytton farm were among the very best of the institutions; at the other end of the scale were operations that crammed up to fifty kids in a cottage. There were no state standards for living conditions, nutrition, medical care or basic record-keeping on the kids, aside from a statistical report to the State Board of Charities. Nonetheless there was public money available from the state and counties to take care of the children, and that contributed more than half of operating costs in some cases. Lytton was in the middle, with about 30% of its funding coming from taxpayers.
Then there was the tradeoff between education and work. With an average of about 230 children, Lytton was large enough to have its own county grammar school staffed by public schoolteachers. But that was as far as education went in that era; older kids were allowed to attend Healdsburg high school only if the “boy or girl has capacity for high school training and wants it,” according to a 1909 feature article in the San Francisco Call, a year when there were only three high school students from there.
This may be the cruelest aspect of the “orphanage” system: Even if your parents’ divorce leads to you being sent to one of the nicer places such as Lytton, it ends up costing you an education beyond readin’, writin’ and ‘rithmetic. While Santa Rosa High School was then offering typewriting classes and teaching other office skills which were in growing demand, Lytton was preparing kids for a 19th century future.
Lytton was very much a working farm, with a particularly successful poultry and egg business. Kids had plenty of milk thanks to their own dairy but the place wasn’t entirely self-supporting; there wasn’t enough water available for irrigation, so they had to buy vegetables and fruit. Choice eggs were sold to the St. Francis hotel in San Francisco, which in turn donated its chipped dishware to the orphanage.
Yet there’s no getting around that Lytton was a commercial farm being subsidized by public monies and nearly free child labor. (The Salvation Army did pay them something for farm work, but no articles could be found describing how much.) Functionally it was not much different from the Sebastopol child labor camps, where many Bay Area institutions sent youngsters to work during summers – often from dawn to dusk during harvest season – and a 1917 study found that work could only be justified as a reason for kids to be outdoors.
For young people inclined towards egg sorting and milking, Lytton was a sanctuary, and some received permission to stay on past the age where the institution received charitable subsidy for them. And while the Salvation Army’s main objective was always trying to get each kid into a normal home as soon as possible, state law partially blocked such efforts because Lytton was not a licensed child-placement agency. (The need for adoption regulation seems obvious but before the law changed in 1911, the Salvation Army in Santa Rosa gave away a 7-month-old baby at one of its services.) In 1912 only eleven of those agencies existed in the state; closest to Lytton was Santa Rosa’s branch of the Native Sons’ and Native Daughters’ Central Committee.3
It’s a bit surprising to learn the Native Sons of the Golden West and Native Daughters auxiliary ran an adoption agency; the organization is best known today for erecting historical monuments and such. (Their Santa Rosa lodge still exists on Mendocino Ave. near Fifth St.) But in 1912 they ran a notice in the Santa Rosa Republican listing all the adorable “tots who are free for adoption,” ages from less than a month to thirteen years. Many were probably Lytton kids except the youngest; Lytton was not setup to handle infants, and only accepted children under three when there were other boys or girls from the family.
Children were listed by religion with the notice, “Protestant children must be placed in Protestant homes and Catholic children in Catholic homes.” Categories also specified race/ethnicity: Chinese, “Colored,” Jewish or “Spanish.” From the descriptions apparently the children could be attractive or smart, but not both. There was a girl that was so pretty it had to be mentioned twice: “Beautiful girl, 11 months old, part Spanish, very beautiful.” One also has to feel sorry for the 3½ year old girl someone felt compelled to describe as “not pretty but bright.”
1 1910 California census: 621,666 under 20, with over 14,000 different children in care each year
DOES ANY ONE WANT A CHILD?Native Sons Seek Homes for Orphan Babies
Santa Rosa Parlor, Native Sons of the Golden West, met at Native Sons hall on Thursday evening…The Native Sons’ and Native Daughters’ Central Committee on Homeless children have a large list of little tots who are free for adoption and whom it is wished to secure homes for. C. A. Pool, Jackson Temple and J. M. Boyes compose the committee of the local lodge that has charge of finding homes for the children. The following list includes some of the most attractive children from which proper people can secure a lovable baby by applying to the local committee.
Protestant children must be placed in Protestant homes and Catholic children in Catholic homes.
Brown eyes, 3½ years old, not pretty but bright.
Black eyes, 7 years old, very attractive.
Pretty girl, brown eyes, light hair, 5½ years old.
Attractive girl, 9 years old, brown hair.
Lovely little girl, 2 years old, dark eyes, brown hair.
Handsome boy, blonde, 2 years old.
Two baby girls, 1 year old.
Beautiful girl, 11 months old, part Spanish, very beautiful.
Two pretty babies, 2 years old, have been delicate, need good homes.
Pretty baby 6 months old.
Very attractive baby, 3 months old, blue eyes, brown hair.
Attractive girl, 10 years old.
Italian girl, 13 years old.
Nice girl, 7 years old.
Very attractive and pretty little girl 2 years old.
Lovely girls 2½ years old, brown eyes and grey eyes, curls.
Several lovely baby boys under one month.
Handsome boy, 2 years old, light curls, gray eyes.
Fine boy, 9 months old, brown eyes, light hair.
Bright lad, 3 years old, blue eyes, brown hair.
Three boys, about nine years; want home in country.
Handsome Spanish boy, 2½ years old.
Six fine boys about 3 years old.
Nice boy, 5 years old.
Beautiful boy, 2½ years old, blonde.
Two fine babies, 1 year old, a very high type, brown eyes.
Two nice boys, 5 years old.
Handsome Spanish boy, 7 years old.
Handsome, bright little girl, 3½ years old.
Fine boy, 7 months.– Santa Rosa Republican, August 16, 1912BOY CONTINUES HIS EVIL ACTSJimmie Gillipsi Escaped From Detention Home
Jimmie Gillipsi, the 11 year old boy who was arrested here Friday by Deputy Sheriff C. A. Reynolds and turned over to Probation Officer John Plover, continued his evil ways later that evening. It will be remembered that the lad entered two houses and stole a wheel before being caught here. After his arrest Probation Officer Plover found that the boy had been sent to the Lytton orphanage from Alameda the evening before he ran away and was arrested here.
He was taken to the detention home Friday night, to be cared for before being sent back to the orphanage. While a room was being prepared for him at the detention home and while he was left in the sitting room by himself, Jimmy escaped. When the matron, Mrs. Parish, returned she discovered the boy had gone and the police and probation officer started out to search for him. He was discovered about 2 o’clock in the Northwestern Pacific depot.
Evidently the first course de determined upon after his escape from the detention home was to resume robbery attempts, for he went into the home of Mrs. Wells on Orchard street and took a purse from the lady’s handbag. The purse contained $4.60. The boy came down town and purchased another purse, throwing the one away he had stolen, so that the money could not be identified. When arrested he had spent 80 cents of the stolen coin. This he had used in getting the new purse, ham and eggs for supper and an ice cream soda. Saturday Major Bourne took the boy back to the orphanage, where he will be closely watched and cared for.– Santa Rosa Republican, September 28, 1912SMALL BOY IN TROUBLEIncorrigible Lad Has Record of Many Thefts
Jimmie Gillespie, who is rated as an incorrigible by the Sonoma County officials, was captured neatly by Conductor Ab Shera on Tuesday morning and turned over to Officer Andy Miller at the local station when the train from the north arrived here.
During Monday night at the depot of the railroad company at Lytton was robbed and some tickets taken. Conductor Shera was notified of the robbery by the agent at Lytton Tuesday morning and was on the lookout for the pasteboards. Gillespie boarded the train at Healdsburg and passed one of the stolen tickets up for transportation to San Francisco. He had realized that the tickets must be stamped to be good, and had placed a stamp on them, using the postoffice stamp for that purpose.
What will be done with the boy is a matter of conjecture. He has been in trouble before and it looks like he will get a pass from the county to the Ione reform school. The lad is only 11 years of age, but has a record of petty offenses that is appalling. He was taken into custody and placed in the Detention Home here and broke away from that institution, and robbed the Wells residence. He secured $4.60 and some articles of value. He was placed in the Lytton orphanage, from which institution he broke out Sunday night and went to Geyserville. There he robbed the rochdale store of a couple of knives, a watch and some marbles, a stick pin, some other jewelry and some change. Returning to Lyttons he robbed the depot, which led to his capture.– Santa Rosa Republican, October 8, 1912