March 15, 2013


Artifact: Lithograph of the Ev. Luth. Orphanage (Waisenhaus) and Church (Kirche), St. Louis County [Des Peres], Missouri

Date: circa 1868-1873

Size: 13.5 x 10.25 inches

Significance: The Lutheran Orphan’s Home, built in 1868 and pictured on the right in the lithograph, was the first Lutheran orphanage of the Missouri Synod. On the left is Saint Paul Lutheran Church, which became the “mother church” for the orphanage. The lithograph artist was F. W. Wehle.* This image shows the original building and grounds of the site, where the children had chores both inside and outside, including caring for a large vegetable garden and livestock once the home became reasonably self-supporting.

The Beginning of the Orphanage: In the 1860s the needs of orphans became apparent to Rev. J. F. Buenger. The account passed down tells that a soldier called to war was concerned about who would care for his son as the boy’s mother was deceased. A Lutheran teacher in Saint Louis was found to take in the soldier’s son, and money was donated to cover expenses. That boy was not the only child in need, and thus a decision to build a Lutheran Orphan’s Home was made in 1867. A forty-acre tract of land was purchased in Des Peres, Missouri, at the intersection of Manchester and Ballas Roads for the orphanage. The cornerstone was laid on March 15, 1868. By the time of the official dedication held in October, there were twelve children and two aged persons in the home. The Rev. C. A. Lehmann, pastor at Saint Paul Lutheran Church in Des Peres, and his wife served as the first house parents.

In its nearly one hundred years of operation, the Lutheran Orphan’s Home cared for over two thousand children and had five different buildings, the last of which is still being used as the Des Peres City Hall.

*F. W. Wehle was a Saint Louis artist who drew many Lutheran people and places in the late 1800s. For more information about Wehle, look for an article in the upcoming spring issue of Historical Footnotes.

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