NACOGDOCHES, TX (KTRE) - On Tuesday, special presentation on the "orphan train" was given at the Nacogdoches Railroad Depot.
It's the story of how orphans and unwanted children were taken out of New York City, put on a train, and placed in homes all across the United States. There were happy endings, and there were horrific endings.
East Texas became a significant milestone in the children's journey.
Between 1854 and 1929, over a quarter of a million orphans and unwanted children were taken out of New York City and given away at train stations across America, including stops in Nacogdoches, Center and Marshall. Nacogdoches resident Michele Peck's grandfather was chosen from a line up much farther away.
"He had come to St. Louis on a train, and he was put on that train," Peck said. "He was an orphan, and he got adopted by a sweet Irish family, and he took their name," Peck said.
Other children weren't so lucky. Instead, they were selected by their size and strength with intentions of being used only as farm hands. Some children's teeth were inspected as if they were animals. They were lost little children.
Novelist Alison Moore and singer/songwriter Phil Lancaster bring the happy and heartbreaking stories to life.
"These were half orphaned children," Lancaster, a representative of the Orphan Train Heritage Society of America, said. "They were given up by a parent who could no longer take care of them, but there were an enormous amount of children on the streets of New York City."
The couple is documenting the stories as told by family members of orphan train riders for a history project called "Orphan Train to Texas."
"I can't imagine how he hadn't been completely hardened after going through an experience like that," Peck said.
The far from perfect way of placing children eventually ended. The orphan train's last run was through East Texas with its final stop in Sulphur Springs in 1929.
A 1993 documentary on PBS,' "The American Experience," tells the orphan train story. The Orphan Train Society of America has museums and locations throughout America.