Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Secret Heartbreak House outside of Johnson City

A recent local story about a middle aged man finally finding family struck a chord with me because of a part of local history so many young people here do not know about. I don't know if my son was ever taught about this in his local history studies. I rather doubt it.

Westover is an unincorporated neighborhood directly to the west of Johnson City. Those residents of the Triple Cities who shop at the Aldi on Main Street or eat at the Greek House restaurant may not even know what happened for part of the 20th century just a few blocks away.

My son's generation may not even know what a "home for unwed mothers" was but this mentality was still quite alive and well as I was growing up. Although I can cringe at the casualness that unwed pregnancy seems to be treated nowadays, we need to look back at what used to happen. That's why the study of history is so important. (I could add that this type of home-run a bit differently-is making a comeback)

In the first half of the 20th century, in what appears from the outside to be a private home, operated what was then called Springer Hospital.

Back in those days (even to the 1960's, although Springer stopped operating in 1958), an unwed girl of "good" family who got "in the family way" would suddenly disappear for a few months, and then reappear with various excuses having been made for her absence. The truth of the matter was that the girl, often young and confused, had been sent to this type of place, give birth and-there was no question, no choice-would give her baby up for adoption, never to know the baby's fate.

Springer Hospital was such a place, and there are many postings on the Internet by adults (many my age) whose mother gave birth there, and that's about all they know. For us who grew up in loving families, it is a longing we can only sympathize with.

The PBS show History Detectives did a story about 4 years ago, tracking down the birth mother of someone born in a home for unwed mothers in Kansas City.

But getting back to the local story at least this one has a happy ending. Many middle aged or older people adopted through Springer are still looking to connect with their natural relatives. Maybe we can get The History Detectives (a show I enjoy greatly) to come here.

There are a couple of other "history secrets" of this area that I could write about...and maybe I will post later about - a little known Binghamton fire that mirrored a similar but much better known fire in a big city during the same era in history.

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