State Colored Orphans' Home

By: James W. Markham

Type: General Entry

Published: 1952

Updated: October 24, 2017

The State Colored Orphans' Home was located 1½ miles south of Gilmer in Upshur County. The orphanage was founded by African American Baptists in 1900 as a private institution and was known for many years as Dickson (Dixon) Colored Orphanage after longtime administrator W. L. Dickson. Plans for the foundation of the orphanage were first made at a meeting of the state's African American Baptist leadership held at the New Hope Baptist Church in Dallas. The site south of Gilmer was chosen after citizens from Upshur County offered to donate seventy acres of land. The group of twelve clergy who acted as board of directors of the corporation and served as trustees included Robert Cooke Buckner, W. L. Dickson, J. M. Dorrah, O. L. Halbert, G. W. Hood, H. Hudson, A. R. Griggs, Henry Greenwell, D. H. Scott, John Marshall, and N. A. Seales. The charter was officially adopted at the first directors' meeting on July 25, 1900, at the Upshur County Courthouse in Gilmer. The orphanage opened on January 4, 1901, with Robert Cooke Buckner serving as the first president. Under Buckner's tenure, which lasted until 1906, eighty-seven acres were added, and the number of children grew from six to well over 200. In addition to housing the children, the institution also ran its own school and farm. Dickson replaced Buckner in 1906 and served as chief administrator for the next twenty-five years. In March 1913 the legislature changed the name from the Gilmer Home to the Dickson State Colored Orphanage. A fire on December 15, 1922, completely destroyed the boys’ dormitory, while the girls’ dormitory burned in October 1929. The orphanage continued to operate as a private charitable institution until 1929, when the Texas legislature voted to take over control under the provision that it would eventually be moved to Austin. At that time the physical plant consisted of 700 acres, with twenty-eight buildings on the main campus and farm. The board empowered W. H. Francis, a trustee, to transfer the property to the State of Texas on August 26, 1930. Over the next fourteen years the institution operated under the supervision of the state Board of Control. The average enrollment during these years was about 100. As an independent school district, the home emphasized education, recreation, and religious training. The boys were trained in trades and industries, truck farming, dairying, and livestock raising, the girls in home economics. Students performed in the Jubilee Choir that traveled across the state to raise money for the orphanage. G. W. Couch was superintendent from 1930 to 1934 and P. J. Rowe from 1934 to 1943. The superintendent, the teaching staff, and all the employees except for the part-time physician and dentist were African American. Successive legislatures failed to appropriate money for reconditioning and fireproofing the buildings, and in 1943 the Board of Control decided to close the home and move the remaining children to the Texas Blind, Deaf, and Orphan School in Austin. The orphanage closed on October 1, 1943, and the school buildings and most of the land were sold in 1944. Seventy-two acres were given to the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas (now Texas A&M University) for a sweet-potato farm. A historical marker to honor Dickson and the orphanage was dedicated along Highway 271 near the site of the orphanage main gate on October 28, 1968. A group of concerned local residents located the Dickson Orphanage cemetery in 2017, and removed overgrowth in an effort to increase awareness and obtain a historical marker for the location.

Biennial Reports of the Texas State Board of Control, Austin. J. B. Cranfill and J. L. Walker, R. C. Buckner's Life of Faith and Works (Dallas: Buckner Orphans Home, 1915; 2d ed. 1916). Dallas Express, February 15, 1919, March 11, 1922, December 16, 1922. Gilmer Mirror, August 15, 1968, October 24, 1968. Houston Post, November 25, 1912. Longview News-Journal, October 10, 1971, February 25, 2001, April 24, 2011, April 9, 2017. Doyal T. Loyd, A History of Upshur County (Gilmer, Texas: Gilmer Mirror, 1966).

  • Education
  • State Schools and Orphanages
  • Peoples
  • African Americans
  • Organizations

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

James W. Markham, “State Colored Orphans' Home,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 22, 2022,

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October 24, 2017

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