The Philadelphia Jewish Foster Home was founded in 1855 to "form an institution wherein the orphans or the children of indigent Israelites may be rescued from the evils of ignorance and vice, comfortably provided for, instructed in moral and religious duties and thus prepared to become useful members of society." The original home was located just North of downtown Philadelphia. Funded by Jewish families of Philadelphia, the home had become a model for both Jewish and non-Jewish foster care across the United States.
The successful institution soon required a much needed expansion by 1880. The Fraley Smith property located on Church Lane near Chew Avenue in the Germantown section of Philadelphia proved to be suitable, with a large mansion, stables, gardens and fresh spring well water on four and a half acres of land. It was purchased for $35,000 and additions were made for institutional needs (large kitchen, additional dormitory wing etc). A life-sized statue of a caribou was located in the front, but was later moved to a different facility (it was confirmed by an alumni finding the initials J.F.S. inscribed on its hind legs). The motto of the home read:
In deeds of love unselfish great,
Men must their faith attest;
To God this Home we dedicate,
Through love it shall be blessed.
The home opened in 1881 with 35 children, and eventually had the capacity for one hundred and twenty-five residents. Children from ages six to ten were admitted and cared for until they turned sixteen. The asylum also employed a staff of administrators, workers, and teachers. Orthodox religion was taught at the home, and children attended public school for their regular studies. Other activities such as music, sports, and industrial arts were taught and encouraged. The Teller Synagogue was constructed in 1900, and provided a sanctuary for all to practice Judaism.
In 1929, the Jewish Foster Home and Orphan Asylum merged with the Hebrew Orphans Home of Philadelphia, treating children from infants up to the age of eighteen. The institution was thus renamed the Foster Home for Hebrew Orphans until it closed in the early 1950s.
After the closure of the home, the buildings and grounds were used as a catholic school called the Ancilla Domini Academy in 1953, established by the Handmaids of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The Teller Synagogue was converted into a student library. The academy was closed around 1975, leaving the campus abandoned and subject to multiple fires, the most devastating occurring in 1999. LaSalle University purchased the property in 2007 and sadly, subsequently demolished all of the incredible structures on the property.
For more information on the early history of the orphan asylum, check out The history of the Jewish foster home & orphan asylum of Philadelphia by Samuel M. Fleischman (1905) and Jewish Family and Children's Service of Greater Philadelphia (Images of America) by Allen Meyers (2006).
images and words via Opacity