The Orphanage could say of Evergreen at that
time, "I was a stranger and ye took me in."
Rev. J. G. Dickinson, Fiftieth Anniversary Address, Troy, 1941
John W. STewart
"Father Stewart" was by all accounts a remarkable man. Though from humble origins, with a lack of education in his upbringing, he was determined and ambitious. He worked his way to Howard College and then to the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. After several short-term pastorates, he found his way to Evergreen Baptist, where he married the church organist. His mission became the establishment of the Orphans' Home, and thereafter he left the pastorate for the work of the Home itself. He managed the finances and the care of the children at the Orphans' Home between 1893 – 1909, and then again between 1917 – 1923. He opposed the move to Troy in 1923, subsequently retiring to pass the torch, but he had worked relentlessly to provide for the children until the end. He died in 1928.
Mariah B. Woodson
Were it not for Mrs. Mariah Louise Short Becton Woodson of Selma, the state government of Alabama may never have issued the original charter to the Baptists for establishing an orphanage. Between the 1890 (Mobile) and 1891 (Eufaula) Alabama Baptist State Conventions, Mrs. Woodson stepped forward to deed her entire estate (estimated between $30,000 and $40,000) for the purpose of a "Widows' and Orphans' Home" upon her death. Although the funds were not readily available at the establishment of the Home, the security of the future funding was a major asset.
Clara W. Ansley
Mrs. Ansley had already been in discussions with Rev. Stewart about moving from Butler County to the Orphans' Home in Evergreen. When he wrote to her asking her to report for work, she was on site within a few days. She was a "strong, kind woman," according to Stewart. Despite the run-down nature of the original house (the Weiss home, only used in 1893), he said that her presence made everything better. Mrs. Ansley worked under contract for $16.60 per month, or $200 per year. Though no children were present when she arrived, that would soon change. By 1898, there were fifty-nine living on the property. Mrs. Ansley passed away in 1905, and was buried in the Evergreen Cemetery near the home.
TOUGH TIMES // Times were tough in the early years. More funds were always needed, especially as the numbers of children began to swell. There were also unforeseen issues, such as a severe June hailstorm in 1898, as well as a drought, and then in 1901, a number of whooping cough cases and a dangerous scarlet fever epidemic.
EXPANDED FACILITIES // The need for an infirmary was great, and Stewart spent much energy in adding necessary facilities. Eventually, the campus included:
- Young Madison Rabb residence
- Bush Building for boys
- Scott Cottage (baby cottage)
- Other out-buildings
(Click on photos to enlarge)
BAPTIST WOMEN'S SUPPORT // John Stewart is also responsible for engaging a group compared to, at that time, "a hitherto sleeping power." The Baptist women in the state of Alabama were among those most responsible for the care of children in the orphanage because of their support, financial or otherwise, for the work. The incredible value of women's church groups and Alabama Woman's Missionary Union chapters became a lasting reality for the care of children by the orphanage.
STEWART'S PERSEVERANCE // Stewart would face many adversities during his time as Superintendent, beginning with pessimistic voices at the outset of the endeavor, and followed by a continuous lack of funds, then scarlet fever, drought, boll weevils, and many more. In the face of it all, he did not relent, remaining steadfast for the sake of the children entrusted to him.
Other LEaders in Evergreen
1909 – 1910 J.W. Dunaway
1910 A.J. Brooks
1911 – 1915 M.C. Reynolds
1915 C.C. Smith
1915 – 1917 A.G. Spinks
PROPOSAL TO MOVE THE HOME // World War I is coming to an end, and the Orphans' Home has been in Evergreen for over 25 years. Though Father Stewart had kept the Home operating for many years with great effort, the facilities have problems. The school building behind the boys' home had burned in 1917. Each residence is housing more children than that for which it was designed. A string of criticisms of the status of the Home leads to an appointed commission at the January 1919 Convention to evaluate the orphanage and report back in November. When their report finally comes, it is unanimous amongst them that there should be careful consideration of a proposal made by the city of Troy for possible relocation.
RELOCATION DECISION MADE // The decision is made to relocate to Troy, a larger and more suitable place for the orphanage. While almost everyone agrees that the move is a good one, there is one glaring dissenting voice—that of the founder, John Stewart. While he would never agree that the move was a good one, it is easy to see the reasons for it in retrospect. After the school building burned in 1917, two more buildings would follow. Also, the number of Baptists in Conecuh County proved to be far less than originally estimated by those like original board member W. B. Crumpton. But to his credit, Stewart continues to push on and work tirelessly for the children until the move does occur and the Evergreen home is closed in 1923. He would retire at its closing.
"[John Stewart] was the best man I have ever known. He was the
best man I have ever seen, every day of the week, every week
of the month, every month of the year."
Miss Sallie Stamps, matron in Evergreen