John and Austin Porter

John Porter was born in 1894 in Kingston, New York. His younger brother, Austin, was born two years later in 1896. They also had an older sister, Mary, who was born around 1893. The details of their early lives are unclear, but by 1899, their family had been separated. John was placed in the care of the Children’s Aid Society, while Austin and Mary were sent to the Kingston Industrial School in their home town.

In May, 1899, John was sent on an orphan train to Ulysses, Nebraska. The group gathered at a public hall, where families could meet and select children, if approved by their local committee. John was taken in by one of the members of this local committee, George Lord. The Lords already had five daughters and one son, all of whom were teenagers or adults by this point. We aren’t certain exactly what compelled them to take John into their home, but he found a loving family with them.

The Lords moved to Napa, California in the early 1900s. John kept a photo album of their time in California, recording their neighborhood, family gatherings, and trips. We are lucky enough to have this photo album in our collection at NOTC. Captions like “…coffee and donuts…just one?” give us little glimpses about what they might have been doing when the pictures were taken.

John was drafted into the military in 1918, to serve in World War I, and was sent to training at Camp Lewis in Tacoma, Washington. Miraculously, John’s younger brother, Austin, was also drafted and sent to the same training camp. The two brothers reconnected after being separated for nearly twenty years.

While John Porter had been sent to live at the Children’s Aid Society, Austin and their sister, Mary, stayed behind at the Kingston Industrial School. Austin was eventually transferred to the care of the Children’s Aid Society, and he was sent on an orphan train to Texas. By 1910, he was living with Charles and Mary Carlton. The Carltons were the President and Matron of Carlton College, a Christian school. Like the Lords, the Carltons had several older children, and their reasons for taking in Austin are unclear. Austin lived with the Carltons at the school until it closed in 1914 and the family relocated.

Like his older brother, Austin was also drafted into World War I, and sent to the same training camp as John. The two brothers seemed to have stayed in touch for part of their adult lives, but it is unclear how close they were.  After the war, Austin returned to Texas, where he worked as a music teacher and electrician. He married and had one child. John returned to California after the war, where he married a few times, and had one child. He worked at a ship yard for many years. It doesn’t appear that the brothers were ever able to reconnect with their sister, Mary. She may have had some sort of mental disability, and probably lived in institutions for the rest of her life.

John, Austin, and Mary Porter are an unfortunate example of the family separations that sometimes occurred in the orphan train movement. It is a true miracle that John and Austin were later reunited, and that their story made its way to us at NOTC. Thanks to John’s step-granddaughter, we have photographs of John, Austin, and the Lord family in our collection.