Nestled between the modern Spyglass and Windward condominiums on the corner of South 220th Street and 6th Avenue South, is an old wood house with pale green paint. Currently, it is the residence of Jim Langston, a life-long citizen of Des Moines. However, between 1908 and 1927, the little house was part of a group of buildings that belonged to Jim's maternal great-grandparents: Herman "Daddy" and Annie "Mother" Draper. The couple ran "The Draper Children's Home" (also called the "Children's Industrial Home of Des Moines"). During it's nineteen years of operation, this Home provided a loving and educational environment for several hundred homeless and abandoned children. But unlike any other children's Home in the country, this one was totally self-sustaining, receiving no funding from government or church sources.
The story of "Daddy" and "Mother" Draper, as they were affectionately called by hundreds of children, is a story of love - their love for each other, their love for children, and their love for music. For about twenty years, the Drapers' love made a positive impact in the community of Des Moines, forever changing the lives of hundreds.
Prior to his 1908 arrival in Des Moines, Mr. Draper had a successful history of working with children in other cities. He organized children's bands, musical schools, music clubs, plays and musical performances. It seemed that wherever he went, musical success with children soon followed. Here is his story:
Mr. Herman M. "Daddy" Draper was born in Canada on August 30, 1858, the middle of eight children born to Reverend and Mrs. Elisha Draper. He grew up in Battle Creek, Michigan, received a musical education at the Boston Conservatory of Music, and held certificates from the English College of Tonic Sol-Fa of London and the American College of Brooklyn. On September 18, 1878, Mr. Draper married Miss Annie Pacey of Port Stanley, Canada. Two years younger than her husband, Annie was the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. George Pacey. Herman and Annie went on to have three children: Harry (born 1880), Cecil (1882) and Edith (also called "Birdie").
In 1887, the family moved to Seward, Nebraska, where Mr. Draper taught music in the local schools with huge success. He had a natural ability to get children excited about music, and using the Tonic Sol-Fa system, was able to teach both singing and musical instruments to children who had absolutely no musical background or experience.
Mr. Draper believed that the Tonic Sol-Fa system of musical notation was easy and natural for children to learn. Of this system, he wrote: "It has no lines, no spaces, no clefs, no sharps, no flats, no naturals, no time figures, nothing but music in a plain, practicable, sensible notation as simple and natural as the music itself. Children comprehend and enjoy it and can learn to sing by it as readily and as well as they learn to read from books. It has wrought a complete revolution in the musical world of England, and is rapidly doing the same great work in America. It is scientifically correct and complete. It produces results that are ready, impressive and lasting. It will enable millions to sing who, otherwise, would be forever musically silent. It opens to the masses of the people, the gates of the temple of music, which have been closed to them till now, and reveals the mysteries of song and unfolds to them a new world of enjoyment. It is the best stepping stone to the staff notation." (From unknown newspaper article dated May 30, 1889).
After his success with the children of Seward, Mr. Draper decided to relocate in order to spread his musical message even further. On September 5, 1888, the Seward Blade wrote, "We understand that Prof. H. M. Draper contemplates removing from Seward and has had several flattering offers from other points. During his residence in this city, his work as a teacher of the piano-forte has proven eminently satisfactory, and the rapid progress made by his pupils reflects the thoroughness of their instructor. As a teacher, he is patient, conscientious, capable and thorough. Should he leave Seward, he will be greatly missed by all music-loving people, and his place will be difficult to supply."
In February of 1889, Mr. Draper visited Kearney, Nebraska for the purpose of "prospecting in regard to a location for a school of music". He must have liked what he saw, for the Draper family moved there shortly thereafter, remaining for seven years. The February 23, 1889 Kearney Daily Journal wrote in anticipation of his arrival: "He will give the young people of Kearney a chance to study all the various departments of music, including piano techniques, harmony, vocal culture, singing at sight, and all brass and stringed instruments". Seward was sorry to lose their beloved music teacher, as reported in the March 20, 1889 Seward Blade: "The Blade regrets to announce that Prof. H. M. Draper has concluded to remove to Kearney. He is one of the best music teachers that has ever been here, and has had great success in teaching the children and young people of our city, who will regret to see him go away."
After the Draper's arrival in Kearney, the local school board added music instruction to all grades of public schools in the city, appointing Professor Draper as the instructor. "Prof. Draper will devote all his time during school hours to this work, giving each room an hour at a time. By this arrangement, he will be able to visit each room twice a week. Text books will be introduced, and the Tonic Sol-Fa system will be used." (The Daily Hub, Thursday, March 7, 1889).
In addition to introducing music into the public schools, Mr. Draper organized school bands, orchestras and choral groups - all of which gave highly acclaimed local performances. Mr. Draper's music students were required to maintain a high moral character, which included abstaining from tobacco. Kearney newspapers wrote many favorable articles about Mr. Draper and the progress of his musical students, stating, "Mr. Draper is a musical professor of much ability and experience and deserves much credit for his great efforts put forth to impart his musical knowledge to the little folks. As a proof of his wonderful patience, the work of the children shows for itself. Mr. Draper is certainly one of the rising generation's benefactors in the musical line." (Journal-Enterprise, May 14, 1892).
On February 27, 1892, The Daily Hub reported: "The different choral classes under the instructions of Prof. H. M. Draper are progressing very rapidly. Great interest is being taken by nearly every member in each class, and many of them have become quite proficient both in vocal and instrumental music. Mr. Draper is kept very busy looking after the boy's band and attending to the classes in vocal music, which meet at different times during the week."
An article in the February 26, 1891 Kearney's Journal-Enterprise stated: "It is with considerable pleasure that the Journal notes the interest taken in the public school orchestra class, and observes the advancement being made . . . The class has increased from seven to a membership of twenty-three . . . But the end is not yet. Mr. Draper received five new violins from Chicago today and expects more than that number next week which he expects to have added to the class." Parents wishing to enroll their children in Mr. Draper's public school orchestra class could obtain instruments affordably, or on a payment plan. He charged a $1.00 fee for admission into the orchestra, but the instruction and music were free.
Mr. Draper used his creative and musical skills to invent a new type of musical instrument. According to the March 7, 1894 The Daily Hub: "Professor Draper has just perfected a new kind of instrument which he has named the Modo-Harp. It is an instrument made with wires like a harp and under the wires is a slide with a modulator or scale. There are twenty three wires on the harp, forming a perfect chromatic scale, and by sliding the modulator up or down, a piece in any key can be easily played. The wires are struck with a small felt hammer and Prof. Draper says the instrument is creating considerable enthusiasm among the pupils in the schools who are unable to sing and have heretofore taken but little interest in their music. The design of the instrument originated with Prof. Draper and will certainly be a great help to the students in all grades."
When Mrs. Draper's sister (Mrs. Edith Orme) died suddenly from apoplexy in January of 1894, the Drapers took her little girl into their family. She was to be the first of many orphaned or homeless children to find her way into the Draper's loving home.
Around 1897, the family moved to Calumet, in the heart of Michigan's copper mining district. There, Mr. Draper opened a music store and began teaching lessons in piano, voice, and stringed instruments in the schools, churches, and even to the copper mine employees. Again, he experienced phenomenal success with his efforts, receiving the high praise of the community.
In 1900, the Drapers took a several-month vacation to the cooperative colony at Burley, Washington, between present-day Port Orchard and Gig Harbor. There, Mr. Draper organized a "cooperative brotherhood band", the pride of the community. The group's newspaper, The Burley Cooperator wrote: "Brother Draper is certainly a genius, and has greater control over the little ones, and a better faculty of gaining their confidence and respect than any person we ever met."
In 1903, Mr. Draper gave up the Calumet music store to become the superintendent of the Good Will Farm and Home Finding Association, a refuge for abandoned or orphaned children in Houghton, Michigan. For four years, he continued there, teaching music and giving the children loving care. On January 28, 1904, The Copper Country Evening reported: "Since the establishment of this institution a large number of children of various ages, from infants up to 12 or 13 years, have been received and homes found for them in different localities . . . The farm is doing very nicely under the superintendency of Mr. Draper, and he has the hearty cooperation of the community at large in keeping it up to its present high standard of efficiency."
Under Mr. Draper's leadership, the Good Will Farm housed 45 children cared for by Mr. and Mrs. Draper, two nurses, two girls for general work, a school teacher, a sewing girl, and a man to look after the 57-acre farm (25 acres under cultivation). The institution had been in debt $1,200 when he took over the superintendency. But under Mr. Draper's leadership, the debt was wiped out and a new building was erected at a cost of $8,000. In addition, $1,500 worth of improvements were made to the structures. Mr. Draper obtained a small printing press and a knitting machine, which the children learned to use with great enthusiasm. This solidified Mr. Draper's opinion that children should learn a trade, in addition to receiving a general public school education.
The Drapers disagreed with some of the Good Will Farm's conditions for receiving children. For example, they were not allowed to take illegitimate children, or babies under six months old, and were not permitted to take children as boarders. So in 1907, Mr. Draper resigned from his position with the Good Will Farm in order to pursue his dream of establishing a self-supporting industrial school to teach children trades, better preparing them to contribute to society.
On their son Harry's recommendation, the Drapers decided that Washington would be a good location to establish their Children's Industrial Home. They brought seven children with them: Edith "Birdie" (the Draper's daughter), Mike and Maggie Guglielmo (two Italian children born in Calumet, Michigan) and Hartel, Dolores, Gudron and Phillis Erickson (four Norwegian children born in Lawrence, Michigan). These children all played musical instruments, and together were called "The Jolly Entertainers" (a name which the Draper children's musical group used for many years thereafter). The family first stopped in Chicago, where they purchased the chassis of a truck and built a house-car in which to travel (a prototype of the modern motor home). The group stopped along their way west, performing musical concerts to raise money for their journey. By the time they reached Montana, the roads were too muddy to use their house-car, so they put it on a flat train car and traveled the rest of the way to Seattle by rail.
In October of 1907, the Drapers arrived in the Seattle area, where they established their "Children's Industrial Home and Training Center" in a temporary location in Ballard. Operating their own print shop, the children printed their own post cards and musical programs, as well as small print jobs for hire. One postcard they printed pictured Mr. Draper with his children's band on the front, with these words printed on the back: "Help us pay for our home. We own a complete printing outfit and our boys are printers; send us an order for cards, letter heads, bill heads, etc. We guarantee satisfaction and we need your help."
On June 28th, 1908, the Children's Home was moved to its permanent location in Des Moines, Washington. The 1890-built, 3-story, 28-room Hiatt hotel building on what is now South 220th and 6th Avenue South, seemed ideal for their needs. A barn, which was located adjacent to the home, was converted into an "Opry House" with stage, where musical and vaudevillian performances were given for the people of Des Moines. Settled in their new location, the Drapers opened their doors of their Home to children (up to 47 at a time) without regard to race, creed or color, and regretted turning away hundreds more over the years for lack of space and finances.
"Mother and Daddy" Draper gave love and care to the children, some of whom were homeless, some orphaned, some abandoned, and some from broken homes or with parents who were unable to provide for them. Unlike any children's home in the world, the Draper Home received no help from county, state, church, lodge, or charitable institution of any kind. Rather, it was supported by the efforts of the children themselves. This environment provided the children a safe and loving place to study, learn, work, play, and develop into useful citizens. They were taught a non-sectarian love of God and country, and self-discipline, cooperation, and self-sufficiency.
Mr. Draper believed that the children needed a solid education, which included public school attendance, musical lessons, and instruction in a trade. He oversaw the publication of a monthly newspaper called "Good Will". Many of the articles were written by the children, and the children did the typesetting and printing. A subscription to the Good Will cost $1.00 per year with proceeds benefiting the Home.
The September 1909 Good Will told the story of the Home's arrival in Des Moines. It stated, in part: "At the back of the house was an old shed, which the Drapers converted into a printing office equipped with three printing presses, composing stone, paper knife, and 55 fonts of type." The 1909 newsletter went on to state that the Drapers erected a large tower, built a 53-barrel water tank, put in an 80-gallon hot water tank in the kitchen, bought a fire extinguisher, and installed a porcelain bath tub, wash bowl, and "closet" (toilet) on the 2nd and 3rd floors. At the time, they were planning to build a carpenter and shoe shop, and a large canvas fire escape. Later, the Home developed a park/campground on a tract of land nearby, now known as Des Moines Beach Park.
A Draper Children's Home flier (printed prior to 1915) stated:
As for religion, Daddy Draper had a "non-denominational" belief. He wrote:
In addition to receiving a public school education, the children at the Home were taught both vocal and instrumental music. As soon as they were sufficiently advanced, they became members of "The Jolly Entertainers" and took part in their traveling performances, which helped to raise money to support the Home. Through the many years of the Home's existence, the children toured far and wide, performing their musical talents. Their last trip covered 38 states and parts of Canada.
When the Jolly Entertainers were on tour, they were accompanied by Mr. and Mrs. Draper, and at least two teachers who carried a complete set of school books for each child. In this way, the children kept up with their regular studies. In addition, they learned about the history, geography, and industries of the cities they visited, writing reports that were often published in the Good Will.
Mother and Daddy Draper passed away within five days of each other in April of 1927: she from heart failure at the age of 68, and he from a broken heart at age 70, only hours before his wife's funeral. After their deaths, the guiding spirit of the Children's Home was gone. Efforts to maintain the Home were to no avail. So the Home was closed and the 28-room hotel-home was torn down. All that remains today is the little green house on the corner of South 220th Street and 6th Avenue South - the house that was once the print shop of the Draper Children's Home. We are fortunate that the Draper's inspiring example of love is part of our Des Moines heritage.
The information in this article was compiled by Janis Trueba of the Des Moines Historical Society in May 2001 based on information drawn from the following sources: