See all finding aids in this repository

Table of Contents

Print / View Finding Aid as Single Page

New-York Historical Society logo

Guide to the Records of the Leake and Watts Children's Home
1802-1983 (bulk 1831-1949)
 MS 377

New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
New York, NY 10024
(212) 873-3400

New-York Historical Society

Collection processed by Cherie Acierno

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on December 12, 2022
The finding aid is written in English using Describing Archives: A Content Standard

Historical Note

The Leake and Watts Orphan House/Leake and Watts Children's Home

The Leake and Watts Orphan House was founded in 1831 by John Watts, Jr., according to the will and bequest of John George Leake. Motivated by a sense of social responsibility, Leake (1752-1827), a prominent New York lawyer, and Watts (1749-1836), three term Speaker of the N.Y. Assembly and two term Congressman, envisioned a private non-sectarian charitable organization for children in need. The Rector of Trinity Church was president of the Board of Trustees. Board members included ministers of the Dutch Collegiate and First Presbyterian Churches, and the Mayor of New York City.

In 1843, the Leake and Watts Orphan House opened at 112th Street and Amsterdam Avenue in a significant Greek Revival building designed by Ithiel Town which still stands on the grounds of the current Cathedral of St. John the Divine. At its opening it housed 60 boys, and soon expanded to include girls as well. Continuing to extend its capacity and services, it moved in 1891 to its current location in Yonkers N.Y., a 30-acre farm formerly owned by thespian Edward Forest with grounds designed by Frederick Law Olmstead. In 1905, General John Watts de Peyster, a long-term benefactor, bequeathed additional land in Tivoli N.Y. Edwin Gould provided financial support to develop the property.

In 1921, Leake & Watts introduced to their Yonkers campus a "cottage system" of smaller group residences. In 1924 they began calling the Yonkers facility the Leake and Watts Home School. The Tivoli facility became the Leake and Watts Farm School; it provided both vocational farm training and a summer camp. In the early 1930s Leake and Watts expanded its mission; in addition to orphans, it served dependent children from broken homes. A Social Service Department established in 1937 addressed children's therapeutic needs. In 1944, a new Foster Home Department placed children in community foster homes. The Tivoli land was sold in 1945.

In 1947, the organization changed its name to The Leake and Watts Children's Home, Inc. The same year, it merged with the Orphan Home and Asylum of the Protestant Episcopal Church in New York. In 1949 Leake and Watts merged with the Sevilla-Hopewell Society, a child care agency which was itself a recent merger of the Hopewell Society of Brooklyn (1921-1947) with the Sevilla Home for Children (New York 1889-1947).

The bulk of the archival records of Leake and Watts at the New-York Historical Society end at 1949. However, the organization continued to develop. The name changed to Leake and Watts Services, Inc. in the 1990's and to Rising Ground in April 2018. Rising Ground/Leake and Watts provides preventative, educational, early childhood, foster care, housing, physical and mental health, and juvenile justice services, to around 3,000 abused and neglected children, children with special needs, teen parents, parents struggling with substance abuse or other issues, young adults with developmental disabilities learning to live independently, and others in need. For more information on current services, visit the organization's website at

The Orphans Home and Asylum of the Protestant Episcopal Church in New York

The Orphans Home and Asylum of the Protestant Episcopal Church in New York was founded in 1851 and incorporated in 1854. It was initiated by a member of the church (possibly Mrs. J.H. Hobart who served as the first Directress) along with Rev. J.H. Hobart (first Secretary)and Rev. Dr. Wainwright (Chairman), in order that there might be a place for orphaned children who had been baptized in the faith. As it expanded, it moved quickly from one room on Robinson Street, to larger quarters on Renwick Street, to Hammond Street, to 146-148 West 39th Street, and then circa 1861 to a home built to the asylum's specifications on 49th Street and Lexington Avenue. In 1903 the New York Central Railroad bought the property, obliging the asylum to move to a new building on Convent Avenue between 135-137th Streets in 1905. It merged with Leake and Watts in 1947.

The Society for the Aid of Friendless Women and Children/Hopewell Society of Brooklyn

The Society for the Aid of Friendless Women and Children was founded in 1869 as a non-sectarian organization with a board of managers representing many churches in Brooklyn. Located at 20 Concord Street, it offered temporary shelter for women in crisis, and temporary or long-term shelter for children. Girls were accepted up to the age of 16. Boys were accepted up to the age of 6. Children who lived at the home attended local schools, and beginning in 1901 girls were also trained in housework to enable them to find work as domestics. A donation by Edwin Gould enabled the Society to open a summer facility for the children, the Summerland Home in Demarest New Jersey. In 1921, the Board of Managers voted to shorten and simplify the name of the organization, exchanging it for a name with the same spirit. The Society for the Aid of Friendless Women and Children became the Hopewell Society, with the same board and the same services. In 1922 the Concord Street property was sold. The organization moved to 218 Gates Avenue in Brooklyn. Additional annexes, one for adolescent girls and one for elderly women, were opened on Monroe Street nearby. In 1928 the Summerland property in Demarest was sold, and a new Summerland camp in New City, NY, was opened. The women's shelter was discontinued in 1942, but the home for children continued. In 1947, The Hopewell Society of Brooklyn merged with the Sevilla Home for Children, to become the Sevilla-Hopewell Society. The combined entity was incorporated into the Leake and Watts Children's Home in 1949.

The Sevilla Home for Children

The Sevilla Home for Children was named for Jose Sevilla, a Peruvian who made his fortune in New York. Upon his death in 1886, his will provided the means to establish the institution, and stipulated its form and rules. It was incorporated in 1889. In 1908, after several years during which the board untangled legal issues, found a location and built a facility, the institution opened its doors on Lafayette Avenue between Manida and Barretto Streets in the Hunts Point section of the Bronx. The non-sectarian institution accepted mentally and physically healthy yet destitute girls (usually either orphans or half-orphans) between the ages of five and ten, who were surrendered by their guardian. The girls stayed at the home until the age of 16, at which point they returned to a guardian or employment. Girls who created problems were removed from the home earlier, and returned to a guardian. The home generally housed around 60 girls at a time, although there were years with more and fewer girls. In 1945 the institution became racially integrated and began taking referrals from the city. In 1947, it merged with the Hopewell Society to become the Sevilla-Hopewell Society, using Sevilla's property in the Bronx and Hopewell's Summerland Camp in New City, NY. In 1949 the new organization was incorporated into the Leake and Watts Children's Home.