The Ghosts of the Miami Children’s Home

Photo Credit: Toledo-Lucas County Library

Life as they knew it was tough enough already for the children who found themselves as residents of the Miami Children’s Home. Some were here because they were orphans with no other place to go. Others were placed here to escape the cruelty of their own parents. Many children spent the early years of their life here, grew into adulthood, and never looked back. Other kids weren’t so lucky. Some children died here. Died, and never left.

In 1867, a group of Toledo-area philanthropists opened the Protestant Orphan’s Home in an effort to take care of children who no longer had a home of their own.

The county took ownership in 1890 and renamed it to the Lucas County Children’s Home. Under their directorship, the orphanage had a two-fold mission: To place orphans in permanent homes and to be as self-sufficient as possible, right down to producing its own food and clothing.

By 1900, records indicate there were a little over 100 children living there, but that number soon exploded to nearly 400 during the Great Depression. The rising influx of children in need prompted county officials to make some much needed improvements. Many of the older dormitories were replaced with newer ones in the early ’30s and additional expansions took place after World War II as administrators increased their services to include disabled and abused children.

Over the years, the need to care for and protect area youth steadily grew. The orphanage underwent renovations again in 1954 and in 1960 adopted a new name, the Miami Children’s Home.

For nearly the next half-century, the Miami Children’s Home was a valuable resource to the northwest Ohio region. In time, though, viewpoints began to change. Foster care was being championed by a growing number of researchers as being far more beneficial to children than housing them collectively in orphanages.

By 1986, the Miami Children’s Home closed the doors to its orphanage. The extended care unit for disabled children remained until 1993 and, a year later, the Lucas County Children’s Services offices moved out. All the buildings were now empty and silent. In 1997, Lucas County sold the property to the city of Maumee for one dollar on the condition that the county would benefit equally from its future development.

Almost a decade later, in July of 2004, demolition of the Miami Children’s Home began. All 18 buildings were torn to the ground to make way for a new, upscale subdivision, called Riverside Commons.

And, when bulldozers began tearing into the ground, over one hundred years of dark secrets were revealed.

As crews went about their work, portions of a human skeleton were unearthed. Work stopped immediately while Maumee police and local archaeologists were called in to investigate. In all, forty complete skeletons were uncovered laid to rest in unmarked graves. Men, women, and infants. None of the remains were identified and there was no known cemetery recorded to be on the site. And, this wasn’t the first time bodies had been found buried on the site.

According to a Toledo Blade article from April 29 of 1956, during an earlier spate of renovations, workers were laying drainage tile at the property when they uncovered eight unmarked graves. Daniel V. Wentz, the superintendent of the Home at the time, assumed they were the remains of early settlers and ordered them reburied elsewhere on the property.

The Ohio Genealogical Society indicated that there was most likely an unnamed cemetery somewhere on the grounds which was probably associated with the old Fort Miami settlement.

But, the Maumee police made an even more startling discovery.

Documents held at the Bowling Green University library indicate that there were children who died while in the care of the Miami Children’s Home near the turn of the 20th century and were buried somewhere on the property – even though the Home had no known cemetery attached to it.

When news of the gruesome find hit the newspapers and television media, old legends and rumors about the Miami Children’s Home began to circulate again. Urban explorers recalled visiting the vandalized buildings and venturing into the underground tunnel system that had connected all eighteen buildings to each other. Small rooms dotted the extensive tunnel system, many filled with all kinds of junk and debris scattered around by vandals and scavengers. Some rooms had old toys and lunch boxes still laying around.

Some of these intrepid explorers would often report hearing whispered voices echoing down the halls, feeling sudden cold spots, and even the unexplained sight of children playing in the darkened corridors.

Adults in the area who remember having spent some time in the Home as children recalled their own experiences, both inside the tunnels and without.

Some claimed there were some things that went on inside the Home the public never knew about. Abuse, bullying, and harsh punishments were often a way of life for some kids there.

One former resident said he would often escape from the torment by hiding in the attic space above the main entrance. It was a safe place for him and he would often hide his most prized possessions here to keep them from being stolen by the other kids. There were times when he would be up in this attic, enjoying the dark solitude, that he would hear the soft laughter of unseen children coming from somewhere in the room with him. After a while, he says, “You just got used to it.”

The tunnels, he says, were the worst place to be for the children in the Home. The small rooms down there beneath the buildings of the Miami Children’s Home, he says, were used for punishment, primarily solitary confinement. But there were also other reasons the kids of the Home hated being in the tunnels.

It was common knowledge among the residents of the Home that if you spend any length of time in the tunnels, you were bound to hear and see a lot of weird things. Many reported the unmistakable feeling of being watched and sensing unseen presences walking the corridors with them. In one room there was a barber’s chair that would often spin all by itself. Then there was the sound of faint music that was sometimes heard drifting out of the dark. The worst, though, was the sound of screaming that would sometimes shatter the stillness of the tunnels. Screams that came from inside empty rooms.

The Miami Children’s Home no longer exists, but it was located at 2500 River Road in Maumee, Ohio.

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