Before the first children's home was built in 1879 near this location, on Blue Street close to Zanesville High School, Muskingum County's orphans were given a cot alongside the adults at the County Infirmary, also known as the poorhourse. On May 7 of that year ground was broken on the new John McIntyre Children's Home. The McIntyre fund, established by the executors of John McIntyre's estate, gave to a number of children's charities, and included a clause providing a generous sum "for the use and support of a free school in the town of Zanesville for the use of the poor children of the town." (The John McIntyre Academy on 5th Street was also a product of the fund.) A disagreement about funding caused the deal to sour in 1895, at which time the commissioners contracted with Tuscarawas County to have Zanesville's orphans housed in the County Children's Home at Canal Dover, at a cost of fifty cents per child.
This inconvenient arrangement lasted more than a decade. In 1909, Muskingum County purchased thirty-five acres of land at the present Avondale site for $7,572. The location was chosen because of its convenient position on the interurban line which ran through Moxahala, Roseville, and Crooksville. Its street address in town was 4155 Roseville Road. After two years of construction, the first forty-one "little homesteaders" made their way by train from Canal Dover to the new Avondale Youth Center on November 13, 1911.
Various buildings were erected on the grounds through 1916, including extra residential space, a smokehouse, a boiler shed, a laundry building, a schoolhouse, and a livestock shed, which was also used to garage the institution's car. (In September 1916 the funds were made available to purchase a Chevrolet from Buckeye Motor Sales for the sum of $560.70. I paid less than that for my last Cavalier.)
A four-year-old girl died at the Youth Center in November of 1912 and was buried on the grounds (no cause of death can be found anywhere in the records), and her grave became the nucleus of the small cemetery far back along the edge of the property.
In the old days a death among orphanage children usually meant a burial on the grounds, and the graves of four--including the original little girl--can still be viewed in a group enclosed by a white fence. The most recent burial here was recent indeed: a poor little baby born with AIDS, and with no one to claim his body after he succumbed to infection. Another grave, one of the older ones, holds the earthly remains of Jack, a four-year-old boy who died in 1930 but continues to appear in the Youth Center. Plenty of workers claim to have seen a distinctive-looking boy of about eight who vanishes when confronted. For many years no grass would grow atop Jack's simple grave.
But it's not just Jack; a number of other children haunt the Youth Center. They cause all sorts of disturbances and frighten the night workers in particular. One maintenance man heard the sounds of kids playing in one of the restrooms, even saw their moving shadows in the strip of light below the door, but found the room vacant and still when he entered. People have heard the crying of babies from upstairs, even though there hasn't been a nursery up there since the 1940s. And the behavior of television sets in the building is almost impossible to account for; they seem to turn themselves on and off of their own volition, no matter which outlet it's plugged into or even which TV is brought in to be used.
Though many childlike spirits are seen and felt in the Avondale building, "Jack" has become a kind of catch-all term for the ghosts at the Center. Whenever anyone sees anything unusual, they refer to it as Jack. If something comes up missing, more often than not it's blamed on "Jack." Around Halloween the electronic moaning ghost decoration hung in the office has a sign around its neck identifying it as Jack.
I visited the Youth Center two weeks before Halloween in 2006 thanks to staff member Gary King, and I had the chance to see the graves, surrounded by a fresh white fence in a far corner of the back field, as well as meet many of the current residents. The six or so boys and two supervisors were friendly and helpful to a fault. Many of them had personally encountered the spirits of children in the relatively old building, especially on the second floor and second-floor staircase landing. One described seeing "Jack" in the upper hallway with a rubber ball he had apparently taken up there with him. Another saw him pass in front of the window at the top of the stairs.
Look for an expansion of this section very soon, with photographs and personal stories from the boys who live at the Youth Center. My thanks to residents and administrators alike for their generous help.