This article has been reproduced with permission from author Beverly Repass Hoch.1
Social institutions for orphaned children in southwest Virginia saw their modest beginnings in the late nineteenth century. For many years, a Lutheran pastor, Reverend William S. McClanahan, from Botetourt County, Virginia, pushed for his own residence in Salem, Virginia, to be used as an orphan’s home, but it was only after the formation of the United Synod of the South in 1886 that his persistence came to fruition with definite action on the subject. At the subsequent 1887 convention of the United Synod it was announced that no special efforts had yet been taken, but nevertheless that they endorsed Rev. McClanahan efforts to aid needy orphans.2
Under the title “South View Orphan’s Home,” Pastor McClanahan, with a committee of interested individuals from the Synod of Southwestern Virginia, formed a corporation for the Home. The charter for the Home came through under the provisions of Virginia’s House Bill No. 208, allowing the Home to be incorporated in the early months of 1888. With Rev. McClanahan elected the orphanage’s first Superintendent, his home and farm acquired the necessary lease for use as an orphanage.3
In the summer of 1888 the new Lutheran children’s home received its first orphans, the first two being Ollie4 and Effie5 Repass on 11 September 1888 with applications for admission already under consideration. “We seek deserving children …” McClanahan said, “… destitute of means and relatives to care for them….” Rev. McClanahan hoped to have the means to receive 50 to 60 children, but due to tight finances by 1890 there were only 18 children of fully one-half of Lutheran parentage in the home. Fortunately, a “man of fortune” from Roanoke, Mr. Peyton L. Terry, and a member of the Board of Trustees since the Home was founded, came forward with needed extra funding. Within three years Mr. Terry had managed to rent property to the Home for one dollar per year, gave $3,500 to furnish the house, and put the property in good repair before the transfer took place. In the spring of 1893, the orphanage was transferred to the new property.6
Unfortunately that location lasted only a few years due to the economic depression of 1895 when Mr. Terry lost most of his fortune and the property passed from his hands. The orphanage moved to a new home in May 1896 with a two-story brick addition to the house being added to accommodate its growing needs, its $1,000 price tag being raised through contributions. By 1897 the Home had received 25 children and had hired a full-time superintendent for the first time.7
In 1893, some of the conditions for admission were published:8
- The children are to be orphans in the strict sense of the word, having neither father nor mother. (In special cases, however, a child who has one living parent will be admitted.)
- The applicant is to be no less than five nor more than 12 years old. Children out of wedlock will not be received. Orphans will be kept at the Home until they are qualified to support themselves, or until they are placed in approved positions for learning a trade or studying for a profession.
- Preference is given to worthy applicants, and each district synod connected with the united Synod and contributing to the support of the Home are entitled to representation.
- Each formal application will be made through the pastor and officers of the Church, within the bounds of which the orphans live.
Once admitted, the child received all the comforts and advantages of a “cultivated Christian home” including “wholesome food, seasonal clothing, and comfortable lodging, as well as training in habits of cleanliness and industry.” An associated school supplied with “modern aids to instruction,” taught orphans the elementary and necessary branches of learning which included manual training. Girls were taught “to sew, mend, and make garments, to prepare meals, and to perform all other duties pertaining to housekeeping.” By comparison, the boys were “trained in various duties connected with the management of the farm.” Recreation and innocent games were likewise encouraged.9
In 1902 the orphanage moved to the former Hotel Salem with its 80 rooms for $14,500. The debt for the purchase of the property was settled by the United Synod. In 1904 additional land was purchased to provide room for a garden and playground. Several years later electric lights were installed in the building, “thus doing away with the troublesome and dangerous oil lamps.” After a few decades of trying times, the Home began to operate on a more satisfactory basis. The number of children and the efficiency of the work grew, and the management learned with the passing years how to make the minor details of its operation more effective.10
Apparently five of the children who were placed in the Home during its formative years were Repass first cousins, as follows:11
Mamie Brown Repass13
Susie Belle Repass15
Villa Augusta Repass16
The two Repass fathers of the cousins, Harvey Stuart Repass and his brother, James Robinson Repass, were co-owners of the Repass Mill on Cove Creek in Wythe County at the gap of Crocketts Cove, along with their father, Harvey H. Repass, and siblings of Augusta C. Umberger, wife of Harvey H. Repass.17 The Repass Mill was the sole support for the owner families but had operated in the red often since it was first owned by Harvey Stuart Repass in 1868.18 Later when others shared ownership, the partners borrowed heavily against their share or sold personal property and land in order to raise needed capital. Misfortunes continued when all three of the Repass men died in close proximity to each other.
Harvey Stuart Repass died on 29 March 1886,19 and the Mill was ordered sold for payment of debts. Litigations in the Wythe County courts dominated the lives of its owners. The bankruptcy of the Mill, disputes and clarification of partner ownerships, and payment of debts continued for eight years.
Tragedies continued for these families when on 29 July 1890 Harvey H. Repass died,20 father of James Robinson Repass and Harvey Stuart Repass. One year later on 5 May 1891, James Robinson Repass died. Resolution of law suits regarding the Mill and the estates of the partners were in limbo until the debts were paid and the transfer of ownership of the Mill property was complete. Certainly the effects on the lives of the families involved were dire.21
Relatives, in many cases, were supportive of the circumstances that had overtaken the families of the two Repass brothers, whose children now numbered 12. But who could take all those children? Some of the children were old enough to work and carry their own way and were “farmed out” to other homes. But no place could be found for the small ones.
As mentioned earlier, Harvey Stuart Repass’s two daughters, Effie and Ollie, were the first to arrive at the Home in 1888. In a Chancery Suit of 1894, two of the children of James R. Repass, Susie and Villa, were mentioned as already in the “Orphan Home.”22 Records of the Home indicate that Susie, Villa, and a third sister, Mary (or Mamie), were there as early as 1888, though it seems unlikely they were there until after the death of their father, James Robinson Repass, in 1891.23
The story of the family drama as the small children were taken to the train bound for Salem has survived. “When it was apparent that there was no other choice at hand, their mother, “Gussie” Umberger Repass, put them on the train bound for Salem, Virginia, and the orphanage. She would describe over and over in the years ahead, the hysterical scene at the station as she stood watching the train until it was out of sight. She mourned the loss of her girls all her life. The three sisters never returned home …”24
In 1959 Villa Repass Umberger wrote a letter to her cousin, Ruth Repass Musser, after the death of Ruth’s father, Orville Repass, reflecting on their early misfortunes, “… [The Repass family’s] fondness for each other has not lessened through the years though they had to learn to do without each other from their early years because of a force of circumstances over which they had no control …”25
Thanks to the following for their assistance in the preparation of this article: Carter Burgess, Roanoke, Virginia (deceased son of Susie Belle Repass);
Thelma Repass Crowell, Pulaski, Virginia (deceased daughter of Orville R. Repass); Linda Angle Miller, Archivist, Roanoke College, Salem, Virginia;
Mickey Repass, Kingsport, Tennessee (grandson of Orville R. Repass);
David R. Stephenson, Herndon, Virginia (grandson of Mary Brown Repass), and
Carole Todd, Lutheran Family Services of Virginia.
1Beverly Repass Hoch is a native of Wythe Co., VA, and a Board-Certified Genealogist who has authored numerous books and articles on southwest Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and other subjects. She is a director of the Wythe County Genealogical and Historical Association and editor of its journal, Retrospective.
2Roger S. Klutz, Lutheran Children’s Home of the South: Celebrating a Century of Caring, 1888–1988 (Salem, VA: Lutheran Family
Services, 1988), n.p.
4Wythe Co., VA, Chancery Suit styled Sarah J. Slater admx. vs. J.G. Kegley Trustee et als, 1899-24-CC. 1880 U.S. Census, Wythe Co., Town of Black Lick, FHL 1255394, p. 387D. F.B. Kegley and Mary B. Kegley, St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, Wythe Co., VA, Its Pastors and Their Records, 1800–1924 (Wytheville, VA: Privately Printed, 1961), 130. Family research in the personal records for the author. Ollie Repass was a sister of Effie Repass, the daughter of Harvey Stuart Repass (born 15 June 1846) and Polly Halsey (born ca. 1854). Ollie was born ca. 1877. Her father was part owner in the Repass Mill at the gap of Crocketts Cove, Wythe Co., until 1875, and a constable, who died in 1886. Harvey Stuart and Polly Repass had other children: Mabel V. Repass (26 July1871–21 July 1965), Blanch Gertrude Repass (born 16 Jan.1872), Elbert Stuart (born 19 Feb. 1876) and Effie Repass (born May 1885.)
5Wythe Co., VA, Chancery Suit styled John A. Wienel vs. H.H. Repass’s admrs., 1896-08-CC. 1900 U.S. Census, Salem, VA, Salem District, vol. 46, ED 77, Sheet 32, Line 6. Southwest Virginia Enterprise, 5 Jan. 1881. Personal family research papers of the author. Effie Repass was a sister of Ollie Repass and the daughter of Harvey Stuart Repass and Polly Halsey. In 1900 Effie Repass was age 15, born May 1885. She was living in Salem, enumerated with Marshall McClung as a boarder.
6Klutz, Lutheran Children’s Home of the South, n.p.
11Beverly Repass Hoch, Orville Robinson Repass and the Repass Family of Wythe Co., VA (Darnestown, MD: Privately Printed, 1978), 3. Letter dated 21 Oct. 1992 from Carla J. Barnes, Director of Development, Lutheran Family Services of Virginia, Salem, VA, to Professor Linda Miller, Archives Dept., Roanoke College, Salem, VA, copy in personal files of author. Also other personal family research records of Beverly Repass Hoch, Wytheville, VA.
121900 U.S. Census Salem, VA, Salem District, vol. 46, ED 77, Sheet 32, Line 6. 1880. Personal family research records of author. Effie Repass was a sister of Ollie Repass and the daughter of Harvey Stuart Repass and Polly Halsey. Effie Repass was born May 1885.
13Hoch, Orville Robinson Repass, 3. Mary “Mamie” Brown Repass (17 Aug. 1880–24 June 1972), was the daughter of James Robinson Repass and Augusta C. Umberger of Wythe Co. Mary was 11 years old at the time of her father’s death. She was later married to David Stephenson. They had four children. Mary died in York, PA, and was buried there in the Mt. Rose Cemetery.
141880 U.S. Census, FHL Film 1255394 NARA Film T9-1394, p. 387D. Ollie L. Repass, born circa 1887, was a sister of Effie Repass and the daughter of Harvey Stuart Repass and Polly Halsey.
15Ibid., Susie Belle Repass (27 Oct. 1878–29 June 1964), was the daughter of James Robinson Repass and Augusta C. Umberger of Wythe Co. Susie was 12 years old at the time of her father’s death. She was later married to Joseph H. Burgess of Roanoke, VA. They had two children: Joseph H. Burgess, Jr., and Carter Burgess.
16Ibid. 1930 U.S. Census, Town of Roanoke, Roanoke (Independent City), VA, Roll 2482, p. 11B, ED 0020, Image 416.0, FHL microfilm 2342216, Ancestry.com : accessed 16 Sept. 2015. Letter dated 17 Mar. 1993 to Beverly Repass Hoch from Linda Angle Miller, Roanoke College Archives, Salem, VA. Personal research records of the author. Sally Kegley, St. John Lutheran Cemetery, Wytheville, VA: A Survey and Index of Burial Plots (Wytheville, VA: Privately Printed, 1995), n.p. Villa Augusta Repass (25 May 1887–ca. 1975) was the daughter of James Robinson Repass and Augusta C. Umberger of Wythe Co. Villa would have been four years old at the time of her father’s death. Later she was a co-ed at Roanoke College in 1906, and apparently graduated in the class of 1908. She later married her first cousin, D. Kyle Umberger (1880–1937), on 14 Jan. 1914 in the Roanoke College Chapel, and after she died, was buried at St. John’s Lutheran Cemetery, Wytheville, beside her husband. They had two children, Jean L. Umberger and David K. Umberger.
17Hoch, Orville Robinson Repass, 2–4.
21Ibid. 7. Harvey H. Repass was born 28 Sept. 1826, the son of James Repass and Polly Leedy of Wythe Co.
22Wythe Co. Chancery Suit, John A. Wienel vs. H.H. Repass’s admrs., 1896-08-CC.
23Hoch, Orville Robinson Repass, 7. Letter dated 21 Oct. 1992 from Carla J. Barnes to Professor Linda Miller, copy in personal records of author.
24Wythe Co., VA, Will Book 13, p. 41. Hoch, Orville Robinson Repass, 3, 9. Augusta Clementine Umberger was the daughter of Solomon Umberger and Alpha Kegley. She and James Robinson Repass were the parents of eight children: Josephine Adelaide Repass (born 22 Sept. 1875), Orville Robinson Repass (born 14 Feb. 1877), Susie Belle Repass (born 27 Oct. 1878), Mary “Mamie” Brown Repass (born 17 Aug. 1880), Charles Gleaves Repass (born 22 Feb. 1883), Frederick Barten Repass (born 4 Apr. 1885), Villa Augusta Repass (born 25 May 1887), and George Topham Repass (born 23 Mar. 1890).
25Letter dated 11 Apr. 1959 to Mrs. B.L. Musser, Rural Retreat, VA, from “Aunt Villa and Jean and David [Umberger],” 1415 Fifth St., S.W., Roanoke, VA., copy in the personal files of the author. Orville R. Repass died in PA in 1959 while on a family visit.