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Great State: Orphaned Home

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CARMEN, OKLAHOMA -- Looking backward down a road that begins before Oklahoma statehood, stands a building just north of Carmen.

It's abandoned now.

It last saw life as a nursing home, and before that a church.

"This was the living room," says Eva Chambers as she scans the front entrance.

It's Chambers though, and a dwindling number of people, who remember this place as the orphanage it was for almost a half century.

"We had lots of brothers and sisters," she recalls. "It was run just like your home."

Eva was three years old when her father died. She was the youngest of six children.

Their mother had to find work to live and couldn't take her children with her.

Rather than split them up, she sent them to the Carmen Childrens Home.

Eva saw the orphanage for the first time in 1934. It remains her earliest childhood memory.

"And it was kind of a scary one," she recalls, "because there were people on the porch waiting for us. There were kids hanging out the windows looking for us."

The town of Carmen competed hard to build this place.

The local Oddfellows Lodge provided all the land, materials and much of the furnishings.

The first kids arrived in 1906.

Joyce Bender, a former English professor at Panhandle State, has lately done some research into the old home. This is the first time she's been allowed to walk through.

She says, "All of it's history, from the time it was opened till it closed, the facility cared for 834 children."

"I got interested in, maybe, putting it on the preservation list," she continued. "I think I might have been a little too late."

Eva Chambers lives close by but never visits.

She was one of the last to move away in 1944.

Shortly after that, her mother got a job on the west coast and took her children with her.

The old orphanage then began a long decline.

It's history is still part of the fabric of Carmen, but at the old quilting circle downtown the subject rarely comes up anymore.

"It's doesn't do any good to dwell on what has been," says one lady. "It's already done and gone."

The building still stands despite hard use, vandals, and even a tornado several years back.

It's brick and mortar are held strong by a good foundation and the memories of those who once called it home.