Children's Farm Home

No Place Like “Children's Farm Home”

By Cathy Ingalls, Albany Regional Museum board member

Ninety-seven years ago, a national women’s group arranged to build and then run a facility on Highway 20 between Albany and Corvallis for children caught in a variety of difficult situations.

The Children’s Farm Home continues to operate to this day but under different ownership and with a different focus.

Trillium Family Services, a Portland-based nonprofit, oversees what is now a treatment center on 300 acres for children ages 5 to 18 who face behavior and mental health challenges.

The idea for the home began with Mary Powers Riley, an orphan, who proposed to the Oregon Chapter of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union that the organization open a care facility to house orphans, neglected children and children whose parents could not afford to care for them.

The chapter thought that the proposal a good one so in 1922 it purchased 253 acres of farmland from the Harry Asbahr family. Construction began, and the WCTU welcomed the first 23 residents to the farm home on July 10, 1923.

Although the group controlled the farm home until 1963, much of the operating responsibility by then had been delegated to a superintendent. It was said that William B. Schnebly ran the agency with an iron hand from 1941 to 1954.

By the mid-1950s, the public became increasingly skeptical of the value of traditional orphanages so the state switched primarily to housing those children in foster homes.

In the early days, children living at the farm home helped fund school and housing operations with a cannery, a dairy and a slaughterhouse. The children sold fruit, nuts, table grapes, pears and walnuts grown on the property.

Probably the most visible and recognizable building at the 4455 N.E. Highway 20 site is Old School.

The building was built in 1925 and closed in the 1978. A decision was made in 2008 to renovate the 17,000-square-foot structure and convert it into an events center.

The plan included creating a café, meeting rooms, a classroom, administrative offices, a gift shop and an archive and museum area dedicated to preserving the history of the farm home.

Bill Ryals of Albany was the architect for the $5.3-million renovation. He was assisted by Endex Engineering of Corvallis, while Scott Staten supervised the project early on for T. Gerding Construction of Corvallis.

During the renovation, crews uncovered marbles and scissors and something that gave Staten chills.

He said under a piece of metal flashing workers discovered where one of the builders probably had written his birth date, April 10, 1873, his name, which was too faint to read, and the date: Oct. 16, 1925.

“We uncovered the information on the very date he wrote it but 84 years later, Staten said.

To fund the project, Dave and Penny Lowther of Philomath gave about $3 million and an anonymous donor from Albany contributed $1 million.

At the time, Dave Lowther was a Trillium board member and Penny Lowther was a longtime volunteer at the farm home.

Other donors gave smaller amounts of money.

Interior work on the one-story structure that included a basement was completed in November 2011, Staten said.

A big change to the property came last August when 25 black walnut and one elm tree were removed from near the highway. The trees, thought to be on the site since the 1920s, were taken out for safety reasons and because that part of the roadway is to be improved.

Currently, the Old School event center is closed until further notice because of the pandemic.

Information about historic structures in the Albany area is available at the Albany Regional Museum, 136 Lyon St. S. The museum is open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday. The building is closed on Saturday, Sunday and Monday.

To reach the museum, call 541-967-7122 or go to