Our History

It Began in London

Believe it or not, the story of Glade Run first began on the streets of London, England. Way back in the year 1846, walking along Leman Street in the district of Whitechapel, a 25 year-old gentleman was caught by a violent storm. As was customary to the time, he sought shelter in the first friendly dwelling; it so happened to be an orphanage.

The elderly man who answered the door made him, a stranger, welcome in this home, and showed the young man an area fit to care for seventy-five orphans. In the center a tablet read:

To perpetuate the virtues of his deceased wife

Our founder, the Reverend Dr. William Passavant, was that young man. So moved was he by the mercy that he witnessed during a chance rainstorm, it would inspire his life and calling back in America. Glade Run’s 1904 semi centennial literature sums up this happenstance meeting well: “There are no little things with God. What men call little, He uses to shape the purposes and lives of men and nations.”

Our founder, the Reverend Dr. William Passavant

The First Orphange

By 1852, Passavant would have the opportunity to organize an orphanage at the old “Pittsburgh Infirmary”  (eventually to become today’s UPMC Passavant) then located at the intersection of Roberts and Reed Streets in what is now Pittsburgh’s Hill District.

The First Orphans' Farm and Director's House

Within the first year of the orphanage’s existence, 25 acres were purchased from Joseph and Mary Zeigler to Pastors William A. Passavant and Gottlieb Bassler; the men thought young boys would be better suited to country life. Possession was taken in April 1853 and during that summer, the land was prepared: a well was dug, out-buildings erected and a gothic cottage was built for the director (added onto numerous times, this building still stands today as the Glade Run Foundation office). Bassler was called to take charge of the proposed farm school and he moved into the Director’s residence with his family in April of 1854.

By May of 1854, the time had come to move the first eight orphan boys to the country because the old Pittsburgh home was well beyond capacity. The girls would spend another 10 years living in Pittsburgh before being moved to country homes in Rochester; they would finally join the boys in Zelienople in 1894.

As early as possible in the spring of 1854, ground was broken for a main building, located a hundred yards from the Director’s house and facing Beaver Road. The cornerstone was set on July 4th with a great ceremony. This building was no small deal; it housed offices, work, school, a dining room, a kitchen and bunks for nearly eighty children. Until this building was built, the boys had slept in the attic of their school at the large brick residence of Reverend Schweitzerbarth on Main Street in Zelienople. This first main building would serve as the first of three used by Glade Run; it burned down on December 9, 1862.

The old Pittsburgh Infirmary

The old Pittsburgh Infirmary


The first main building at Glade Run

Hardship from the Beginning

The year 1854 was unfortunately plagued with a fierce drought. With the drought, “What the heat did not destroy, clouds of grasshoppers consumed.” Flour rose in price from five to twelve dollars per barrel; inflation of many other items and labor costs occurred as well.

Also, 1854 saw a major cholera outbreak. It is reported: “September 14, 1854, the cholera broke out with fearful violence in Pittsburgh. In a fort-night nearly a thousand persons were numbered with the dead.”

Keep in mind that the total population census of Pittsburgh in 1850 was only about 46,000 people- imagine Pittsburgh’s entire population only taking about half of the seats in Heinz Field! One-thousand dead that quickly among 46,000 represents slightly more than 1 in 5 citizens of the city!

The epidemic resulted in a wave of orphans at a time when shortages caused spikes in prices. To even further strain the situation, contributions during this period of hardship reportedly fell off by half. So what was the financial condition of the organization at that precise moment?

On the 1st of April, 1854, the remaining debt on the farm purchase, the cost of the Director’s home, and the bills to support the orphan families were paid. When this was done, only seventy five cents remained in the Treasury! Despite the lack of any secure funding, the pastors still proceeded with the contracts to begin the future main building (pictured at right).

These men forged the beginnings of an organization despite a terrible combination of adversarial forces: no savings, a 50% reduction in church contributions, a loss of farm revenues due to drought, an explosion in orphan population and the associated daily expenses due to cholera, plus a sharp increase in prices for staple supplies and builders!

Yet, somehow they persevered and had a roof on the big building by November of 1854. As it was reported: “The young lions do lack and suffer hunger: But they that seek the Lord shall not want any good; the households had prevision. Money came in various ways with which the workmen were regularly paid. When the year closed, humble and grateful hearts sang.”

Sister C. Louisa Marthens, our first Matron

The First Years

The first years of the Orphans’ Home and Farm School is briefly described (shown here on a on page 211 of a previous edition, 1883’s History of Butler County:

Before the completion of the building, eight boys from the Pittsburg Home were quartered here in a rented house, under Rev. G. BASSLER, who was director until his death in 1868, with Dr. Amos LUSK, medical attendant. Rev. D. L. DEBENDARFER succeeded Mr. BASSLER, and in 1878 Rev. James A. KRIBBS succeeded Mr. DEBENDARFER. The Home was incorporated in 1861 and placed in charge of the Protestant deaconesses of Allegheny county. On May 8, 1889, the main building was destroyed by fire, that being the second time the institution suffered from burning, the original building of 1854 having been burned in December, 1862. The rebuilding was generally carried out on a larger scale, and the Home to-day is the best charitable institution connected with the Evangelical Lutheran church in this country.

[As you may know, the ‘Pittsburg’ above is not a typo; Pittsburgh was stripped of its ‘h’ by order of the United States Board on Geographic Names in 1891. After much protest, it was restored in 1911.]

Not much else is mentioned about our first director, other than he’d helped to organize and he had served as the first pastor of Zelienople’s original English speaking Lutheran congregation, now First English Evangelical Lutheran Church. This sentiment is also shared: “He is yet remembered as a conscientious Christian man, always faithful wherever duty called him. He know lies buried on the Orphans’ Farm, his memory revered by all who knew him.”