Segregated orphanages in North Carolina necessitated the creation of an orphanage for dependent and neglected African American children. An idea for such an orphanage in Henderson, North Carolina was born, when Rev. Augustus Shepard, father of James Shepard the founder of North Carolina Central University, felt burdened when observing the squalid, living conditions of homeless African American children. To meet this need, the Colored Orphanage Association formed in 1882 and planned to establish an orphanage. A year later, the Association purchased a twenty-three-acre farm in Oxford.
Central Orphanage of North Carolina first operated under the name “Grant Colored Asylum.” It was reincorporated in 1887 and renamed The Colored Orphanage Asylum of North Carolina. Chartered as a nondenominational institution, the orphanage included religious, moral, and industrial training. The orphanage was renamed in 1927 as “The Colored Orphanage of North Carolina and once more in 1965 as “The Central Orphanage of North Carolina.” In 1986, the orphanage’s name changed yet again — Central Children’s Home of North Carolina.
Through the use of donations from churches, fraternal orders, and religious associations and from appropriations from the state legislature, the home served children in North Carolina. The orphanage’s first superintendent, Robert L. Shepard directed the orphanage until U.S. Congressman Henry P. Cheatham succeeded him. Named in the honor of Robert L. Shepard, a scholarship fund was established in 1943 to aid children pursuing a college or vocational education.
Noted as the pioneering institution among African American orphanages, the home still serves youth from aged nine to twenty-one through applications from county Department of Social Services and other recognized social agencies. In 1988, the Home was entered into the National Register of Historic Places.