Upon the petition of Rev. C. C. Preston, the Texas legislature approved a bill on September 24, 1866, “…to incorporate the ‘Orphan’s Home,’ at Bayland, in Harris county, State of Texas.” In addition to naming the first board members—W. P. Ballinger, J. L. Bryan, M. S. Munson, H. F. Gillette, J. T. Brady, Ashbel Smith, and F. H. Merriman—and providing them with the statutory powers to govern and manage the institution, the legislation also stated that the institution would be nonsectarian and open to all indigent white children free of charge. The board elected Rev. Preston superintendent upon passage of the act and the home immediately opened to receive orphans.
The earliest existent recorded board meeting took place in Houston, Texas, at the home of Dr. John L. Bryan on January 15, 1867. The urgent need for resources compelled the board to hire traveling agents to raise subscriptions to support the home. Appeals were made for donations to buy land and a building to house the children. A new superintendent was hired to manage the running of the home and provisions were made for a matron and teachers.
In February 1869, 205 acres of land and a house were purchased from Dr. Bryan for $4000 on San Jacinto Bay in eastern Harris County, midway between Houston and Galveston and accessible only by steamboat. The area is currently called Morgan’s Point, Baytown, Texas (see photo). The majority of the money to purchase the property came from Houston and Galveston.
Fund raising, both in cash and kind, became increasingly difficult. In 1873, the board contacted former Governor Elisha M. Pease concerning the availability of state land for the orphans. Pease replied on March 19, 1873, that the 6th Legislature had set aside lands for orphans in 1856. However, as nothing had been done with the lands, he was concerned they would revert to other purposes. The Board sent H. R. Gillette to Austin to lobby for the lands. On June 5, 1873, the legislature granted the home 48,635 acres of land. If the home ceased to exist, the land would revert to the state. By 1875, the Board began to sell the lands to raise money to support the home.
An ongoing function of the board concerned the admission and release of children from the home. Although the term “orphan” was used in the name of the home, the children, both boys and girls, were not always orphans in the sense that both parents were dead. Often, children were admitted “on account of the extreme poverty of the applicants.” Provisions were made for mothers to accompany their children to the home. They were expected to work and were provided room, board, and clothing. The board also voted to allow private pupils in the schools to help support the home. However, only white children were admitted—no “defective” children or those of bad character were allowed.
From the beginning, the board required any application to receive children to be in writing to prevent abuse and exploitation of the children. As the laws concerning adoption changed throughout the years, the board kept current with those changes and acted accordingly. By 1895, children would only be released if they had been legally adopted.
As early as October 1886, the board began to discuss moving the home closer to Houston due to the “undesirable locality” and “difficulty of access.” In the fall of 1887, the board determined to buy the J. C. Baldwin property on the North Side of Buffalo Bayou, 1.75 miles from the courthouse. In an early effort to relinquish responsibility for the home, the board suggested that the city of Houston buy the property for the home and the state relocate the State Orphans Asylum to Houston, but neither the city nor the state was interested. In January 1888, the charter of the orphanage was amended, and the name changed from “Orphans Home” to “Bayland Orphans Home at Houston” with the corporation to exist for an additional 50 years. In June, the board hired Kezia DePelchin as matron for the home. The farming operation became insupportable in the new location. In 1897, the board sold the farm portion of the land. By 1907, only thirteen children remained in the home—a father had just removed his seven children that had been placed there.
In 1908, the board once again began to look for another tract of land for the home. In 1912, Joseph F. Meyer donated 67.9 acres of land southwest of Houston. On New Years Eve 1914, the Baldwin Place home burned to the ground. No one was hurt and some furniture was saved. The board decided to plat the “OLD HOME PLACE” and began plans for the new home in March 1915. A year later, the children were relocated.
Financial problems continued to plague the board along with a low census of children. The board members themselves were aging and it was becoming difficult to bring in new members to serve. In August 1917, the board passed a resolution to find a “religious, fraternal or other organization with influence” to take over the work and assets of the home. In September it was agreed that Harris County would acquire the Bayland Orphans Home. The transfer took place on October 1, 1918. However, the county was slow to fulfill its obligations. On June 24, 1920, the Board notified the county to return the home to them by August 1, 1920. Negotiations ensued between the county and the board and two years later an agreement was signed by both parties. Harris County would build a home for white girls in Bellaire and Bayland would be used for boys.
The board continued to manage their financial assets and to make significant donations to the homes of furniture, equipment, animals, and cash. In 1925, they donated $4000 for a schoolhouse to be located between the “Bayland Girls Home and the Harris County Girl’s Home.” In January 1932, J. V. Dealy, the long time Treasurer, was accused of embezzling $4,338.42 from the funds of the home. Although unable to make restitution, the Board decided not to call in his bond and agreed to a repayment plan by Dealy and the Elgin heirs. The board never recouped this loss.
Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, the board continued to age and decline. By the mid 1940s, there are only three members left serving. In 1948 A. E. Clarkson proposed to liquidate the assets by giving the 1/16 royalties to the land in Callahan County to Harris County, $1,000 to Houston Church Women for maintenance of the Chapel at the Bellaire School, $2,237 for chlorinating units and equipment for the swimming pools at the Bayland Orphans Home for Boys and the Mary Burnett School for Girls, and $180.27 to the Mary Burnett School to improve the swimming pool area. The board dissolved and the records closed on September 19, 1948.