The Three Sisters of Davenport Home

A Note to My Readers:  Over the years I have done genealogical research for family members…cousins and even in-laws and my former husband.  I believe in “Pay It Forward” and the rewarding experience of gifting someone their heritage.  I am not certified as a genealogist and a real novice compared to some of the amazing folks out there, but I consider myself a talented amateur historian that gladly learns from others and am ready to correct my errors. 

That said, I love my family, you see, devils and angels, cobblers and movie moguls.  I post my family research stories to share what I know and to open the door to others who will always enlighten my journey to be a better family historian and human being.

One of the most humbling and tender discoveries for any researcher is the existence of orphan children in our family tree.

Orphans were often placed in households of relatives as servants.  Some found themselves in government institutions commonly called “Home of the Friendless” and some in privately run orphanages.  Orphaned girls in particular were more apt to be found as servants or in institutions in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.  Females were not considered as valuable to a household as were males during that period.  Siblings were very often separated never to find one another again.

The word “orphan” conjures up loss, tragedy and want with such fictional characters as Oliver Twist and Orphan Annie, and the very real experience of over 200,000 children that were part of the American historical event called “The Orphan Train”.   Researching family history reveals family secrets, tragedies and triumphs, but researching orphaned, institutionalized children has sensitive challenges of its own.  Especially if they are family.

Pioneers of Steuben County

Anna Octavia Hopper was born in March of 1868 in the little community of Presho near Corning, New York.  She was the second of five children born to David Hopper and his wife, Melissa Gibson.  Both David’s family and Melissa’s – “Melissie” to her family – were pioneer settlers of Steuben county. David’s parents were Ephraim and Sally Dennis Hopper and Melissie’s were Pliny Gibson and Sally Woodworth – both Pliny and Sally of staunch New England stock.  Annie and her family were surrounded by a large community of close and extended kin.

Steuben county offered more than an agrarian existence.  The navigable waters of the area provided opportunities for industries, tradesmen and all manner of merchants.  Like most of the farmers in the area, David plied several trades in his lifetime as well.  It wasn’t long before the railroad added to the stream of newcomers.

The Irishman from County Clare

Left to Right: Annie Hopper Gallager with Grace; Mary, standing; Agnes seated with father, Patrick Gallagher

Anna “Annie” Hopper was barely 15 years old when she met 23 year old Patrick Gallagher.  He no doubt was an intriguing character with a brogue thick as molasses and a sight more fascinating than the local boys of Steuben county.  In May of 1883, the young teenager from Steuben county became the child bride of Patrick Gallagher.  And Annie’s rocky ride began.

Corning New York Journal 16 Mar 1898

Patrick was a brawler and had a taste for alcohol.  At least on one occasion in 1898, he found himself on the wrong end of someone else’s ire and nearly lost his life.  Annie’s younger brother, David  was in his company.  Patrick survived his grievous head injury, but alas his ways never mended.

Annie’s Girls

By 1900 Patrick and Annie were living in Watkins Glen at 70 Franklin Street with their daughters, sixteen year old Mary, eight year old Agnes, six year old Gladys and the baby, four year old, Nellie Elaine.  Thirty two year old Annie had borne Patrick six children by that time…having lost their only son, Austin and their eldest child, Annie.  Annie Hopper Gallagher was ill and three days before Christmas she would die.  She was buried in Presho Cemetery not far from where she had entered the world.

On July 10, 1901 Melissa Hooper packed up her granddaughters and  traveled to Davenport Home, an orphanage for girls,  and turned over custody of the three young Gallagher sisters to the matron.  The hot summer day was filled with flashes of brilliant lightning and loud claps of thunder.  Melissa was almost 60 and her husband, David was almost 80 years old.  Annie’s brother, Joseph was a traveling entertainer with a wife and no children.  The girls would find no home with “The Professor” as he dubbed himself on the theater billing.  Sister, Henrietta, was a spinster school teacher, whose children were her students and whose life was her school.  Maude Elaine had married railroad man, Louis Wolfrom and was heavily pregnant with her second child when Annie died.  Maude would be left alone to raise her brood of seven in her Corning home on East Street. And there is brother, David, who had found himself in a boozy donnybrook with his brother-in-law in 1898.  David was a new father himself in 1900 and in his own rocky marriage…his first of two marriages and two divorces.  He was a traveling salesman..on the move…and not a candidate to take in three little girls.

Davenport Home circa 1902

The status of the girls’ parents were stated on the committal papers.

Mother. Dead.  Father. Dissipated.

For over a decade the Gallagher girls would be their own little family among 60 or more other young female orphans in the gloomy old Davenport Manse on the banks of the Cohocton River in Bath, New York.

History of Steuben Davenport Home page 467 excerpt

Agnes was a 17 year old “inmate” in the 1910 U.S. Federal Census and Nellie was 15.  Grace became a teenager herself that year.

Nellie suffered from a chronic illness and remained at Davenport Home as her illness progressed. She eventually spent the rest of her short life hospitalized at St. Barnabas Hospital in Newark, New Jersey.  On November 29, 1918 Nellie died at the age of twenty-four.  When I interviewed a family member, they stated that Nellie was a great help at Davenport Home and considered it her home.  She requested that she be buried there.  Official records show that she is indeed buried there and is listed among “the orphans”.

That same year, Agnes and Grace lost their oldest sister, Mary.  She was just thirty-two – the same age as her mother when she died.  Mary had married John Reams and was the mother of three teenaged sons and a ten year old daughter.

And So There Were Two

Agnes and Grace were noted for their sense of humor.  In fact one of Agnes’ children who is still living at the age of ninety at this writing relates that she was noted for her wit and joking nature.  It must have been what attracted serious young J. Alfred Bauer to Agnes Margaret Gallagher.  John Alfred…known as J. Alfred…had studied at Cornell and was a strait-laced lad with a mind toward mechanics and engineering…one of the handsome Bauer brothers of Perry whose German parents, George and Ella Adrian Bauer, settled in Perry around 1887 and owned one of the best farms in the Oak Hill area.  Agnes married her beau on New Year’s Eve 1913.  The couple went on to have two sons and two daughters and raised their family in the Perry area among the large number of Bauer and Adrian families. The Bauer daughters were christened with the Gallagher sisters’ names…Grace and Nellie Marguerite.

Grace had a brief marriage to Lester Raymond Matteson of Silver Springs, New York.  She remained a single mother while Lester went on to marry in 1923 and have another family.  He was killed in 1936 after his truck was struck by a train.  Their married daughter, Betty Van Valkenburg, cared for Grace until her death in 1957.

The Bewildered and Bruised Man of Campbell

I have found several articles in the old Corning Journal about a Patrick Gallagher of Steuben county…recounting bigamy and brawling and in a later publication one occasion where a bewildered “old” man with an Irish brogue claiming to be Patrick Gallagher was found bruised and confused wandering the streets of Corning…but nothing concrete to tell me that is the brash young man from County Clare whose “dissipated” ways left him without his children and they without him.  Family members seem not to know much of his fate though there is proof that Patrick remarried in 1901 to widow Lucy Divens Fuller and in 1902 found himself in a peck of trouble for bigamy.  The Fuller family has indicated that Patrick and Lucy remained married until his death in 1914 at the age of 54 and he is buried in Hope Cemetery in his American hometown of Campbell.

And Now the Rest of the Story

Agnes Gallagher Bauer and her sister, Grace Gallagher Matteson

I find myself staring at a black and white photo of Agnes and Grace as young women dressed in their crisp summer midis…along with their dog, Dede.   I wonder about the strength of the human spirit to find love and joy and comfort after a childhood without that constant.  There is a sweetness and a serenity to that casual sisterly moment between them that belies the heart-wrenching experience when their grandmother had to leave three little girls to the good will of Davenport Home.  It’s good to know her son’s recollections are of her joyful spirit.  Good for you, Agnes Gallagher.  Good for you.

Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

(c) Copyright 2012.  All Rights Reserved

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13 thoughts on “The Three Sisters of Davenport Home

  1. Hi, I just ran across this article while researching my grandfather, Lester Raymond Matteson. Just today a cousin mentioned he had a previous relationship and, she thought, two children from that. Hence, my searching. I would like to do some follow up with you if possible. I have seen your name on ancestry and left a note there also.

  2. Hi, What an interesting blog! Just happened on this site when I was looking for Adrian/Bauer plots in Prospect Hill Cemetery, Perry Center, NY. I remember Agnes. J. Alfred Bauer was my first cousin. His mother, Ella Bauer, and my father, Fred Adrian were brother and sister. I wondered who had put up all the info. And I don’t think I had seen that obit of my Grandmother Adrian before. I will be visiting in June.

  3. My paternal grandmother, Cora Herbert Daniels and her sister Laura Belle Herbert also lived at the orphanage. Their mother died in childbirth as did the infant and they were left there in 1919. Not sure exactly how long they were there but appear in the 1920 and 1925 census there.

    • Staci, I contacted someone in Steuben County who found the original ‘commitment’ papers for the Gallaghers in the few files left. I will take some time in the next few days to find her contact information and email it to you. Perhaps your family records still exist!

      • Thank you for your kind offer. I grew up in Avoca and my parents still live in Bath. I recently starting “digging” more. I travel up there several times a year and plan to do some research while I’m there sometime soon. I knew my Grandmother well, but never knew until a few years ago about how she grew up. I still visit her grave from time to time.

  4. I was a Davenport Home girl
    from 1950-1957, when the Home was closing. I was in the Home with my three Hill sisters: Margaret Ann,age 9; Lois Grace, age 7; me, Muriel Ellen, age 6; and Barbara Jean, age 4. It was said that the Hill girls were the largest family to be in the Home. I have collected many memories of those years but have not yet put them to paper. We owe Davenport Home our very lives, as when we arrived we all had malnutrition.

    • The Steuben County historian has some files on the Davenport home if you are interested in expanding your information. It certainly was an exceptional place when you consider some of the other ‘orphan homes’ of the time.
      Deb

    • I too was a davenport home girl.my sister marjean and I Annette BLackman were at the home from 1945 to 1957 when we graduated from HAverling.

  5. My sister, Pauline and I lived at the “home” in the 40’s. I was born in 44 so probably 47 or 48. Sharon Shinners.

  6. Ran into this,researching Harriet Perkins time at the davenport home. God bless all you strong women.

  7. Deborah, Great article! My daughter forwarded me the link. J. Alfred and Agnes are my grandparents. My Father, Frederick George Bauer, is the surviving child you referenced in your article. Sadly, Dad passed away in 2015. Great Aunt Nellie is buried at the quaint cemetery in the pines near where the old Davenport home was. I have visited that cemetery, along with the Presho cemetery where Great Grandma Gallagher is buried. I would like to obtain a copy of the article. I tried to print it out but I assume your site is protected. You can e-mail me separately to discuss. Again, many thanks for researching and writing the article.
    All the best,
    Larry Bauer

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