We fiction writers tend to glamorize the past. But we know the “good ‘ole days” had their downside, like no dishwashers, carry-out food or automobiles to get us where we want to go. It’s far easier to travel into the past sitting at my computer or reading a wonderful book, than facing the rigors of the trail or the restrictions 19th Century society placed on women. But countless men and women met the challenge of their times. Their courage so impresses me that I want to tell stories that keep their sacrifices and contributions alive in our hearts and minds.
My father and grandfather were storytellers, relating anecdotes about real-life men and women and the world they lived in. My mother created beautiful quilts, using age-old patterns, piecing and quilting each by hand. Perhaps that heritage fostered my love of history and my desire to create. Whatever the reason, at twelve, I wrote and illustrated little romances. But it wasn’t until our daughters were grown that I seriously pursued my dream. It took me nine years to sell my first book, years of rejection and occasional elation. Not the Oregon Trail, but a rugged road nevertheless. The result is Courting Miss Adelaide, Steeple Hill Love Inspired Historical.
I’m asked where I got the idea for Courting Miss Adelaide. A newspaper clipping my father sent me triggered my interest in the orphan train. I’m amazed by the sheer numbers of immigrant children that rode these trains. Between the years of 1853 and 1929, 250,000 orphans or half orphans were sent from New York City to new homes in the Midwest and beyond. What an amazing life change for these immigrant children and for the families that took them in!
The idea to place out orphans originated with a Methodist minister, Charles Loring Brace, founder of The Children’s Aid Society, an orphanage. Brace saw as many as 30,000 abandoned children living on the streets in wretched poverty. Orphanages were overcrowded and unable to handle the number. Brace decided relocating these children to farms and small towns was their ticket to a better life. Some got good homes. Others lived like indentured servants. Still others were sent back to New York, only to ride west again. If you’re interested in reading more about their stories, visit: http://www.orphantraindepot.com/index.html
I immediately wanted to use this slice of history in a book. My “what if” moment became the kernel for Adelaide’s story in Courting Miss Adelaide—what if a lonely spinster wanted a child and saw the orphan train as her last chance for motherhood?
I set my novel in Noblesville, a real Indiana town, in 1897. A train carrying orphans stopped in Noblesville in 1859 so I saw no reason why it couldn’t stop again in 1897. Hamilton County Historian, David Heighway, was an invaluable resource. To enhance my story, I took creative liberties with the facts, but so much about Noblesville fit my plans perfectly. The town’s attractive courthouse dominates the square and is surrounded with commercial buildings matching the time frame I wanted. I visited the Noblesville’s Historical Museum that’s housed in what was the jail and sheriff’s quarters. I couldn’t believe my good fortune to find a wonderful brochure describing and dating the town’s historic buildings. I used some of those buildings in my story and created others. This is fiction, after all.
I walked the streets and selected the site for Adelaide Crum’s milliner shop Adelaide’s Hats and Sundries. And right across the street, I put The Noblesville Ledger, a newspaper that thrives today, and Editor Charles Graves, the new bachelor in town. It’s great fun creating the setting for a novel, and even more fun bringing the characters to life.
When orphan siblings Emma and William Grounds rode the train into Noblesville, they rode right into Adelaide’s heart. I hope once you read Courting Miss Adelaide they’ll find a place in your heart as well.
God bless, Janet