Tom Riley – The Orphan Trains

Author Tom Riley talks about the Orphan Trains.

As many as 273,000 children were transported from New York to the Midwest over a 75-year period (1854-1929) in the largest mass migration of children in American history. As many as one in four, were Irish. New York City in the nineteenth century could be a brutal place for a child. A magnet to immigrants and the poor in search of jobs, the city was also a haven for gamblers, thieves and murderers. When adults fell victim to alcoholism, prostitution or drug addiction, their children were the ones who suffered the most. Temperance organizations such as the American Female Guardian Society stepped in, establishing orphanages and homes for unwed mothers and battered women: “homes for the friendless.” Some of the children in the homes were orphans, but some were “surrendered” by parents who were unable to take care of them. Nearly 250,000 of these children were fostered out to families across the United States via the “orphan trains.”

For more information about Tom Riley, his book about the Orphan Trains and other topics, visit his website:

About Tom Riley

Paula Stokes
Tom was one of 12 children raised in Harlem to an alcoholic father and a mother on welfare. Food was scarce and he developed the rickets. When he was 7 the family completely disintegrated and some of his brothers and sisters were sent to foster homes in Long Island and he along with 3 brothers and one sister were fostered out to a family in Staten Island for 6 months, then sent to Happy Valley School in Pomona, NY. At Happy Valley he played lots of sports, worked on a farm, in the gym and did manual labor, repairing potholes, cutting lawns and weeding. Tom felt HV saved him and his siblings by giving him food, shelter, fresh air and friends from every ethnic group. Upon graduating Spring Valley High School he was given 20 dollars and told to have a good life. He joined the Air Force at 17, was sent to Photo School and deployed at Edwards Air Force Base in California where he worked on the X-15, nuclear weapons and advanced jets and rockets as a photographer. He received Top Secret Clearance and was among the first 5,000 soldiers to support the war in Vietnam. He was stationed at Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines. He attended LIU in Brooklyn and received his Bachelor’s Degree from Iona College.

He spent 20 years running YMCA’s and setting up Health Clubs in NYC and 28 years with the U.S. Postal Service and worked part time as a writer/photographer while raising a family. Before and after retiring from the Postal Service, Tom has written over 2,800 articles and 10 books. He has also presented numerous lectures based on his books and articles at libraries, colleges, and other organizations. Four of his ten books are about the Orphan Train Era (1853-1929). In addition, he has been a freelance writer for Rivertown Magazine since 2008.

Tom is married to Crucy Riley for 47 years and lives in New City. His two daughters both have Doctorates in their respective fields. One is a Professor and Program Coordinator at Hunter College and the other is a Professor and Physician at NYIT College of Osteopathic Medicine.


As a crucial part of his efforts to raise awareness about the history and legacy of the Orphan Trains, Tom is creating an online Orphan Train Museum via his Patreon page. Patrons of this museum will receive online access to many of Tom’s books, articles, photos, and other memorabilia. In addition, one third of the proceeds will go towards helping Wounded Warriors, Feeding the Hungry and establishing an expanded and beautiful Online Orphan Train Museum. For more information about this museum or to become a patron, please check out the link below: