In the early 1800s, when Syracuse was still a village of fewer than 5,000 people, the education of children was a luxury afforded only to those who could pay the tuition for a private school. A group of churchwomen became interested in educating children who were less fortunate and, in 1835, they rented a room behind the village store and established the Syracuse Free School. In 1836, the school was moved to a new building erected with funds raised by the women's group. In 1839, a new tax was instituted which provided for public education to all children and the Free School closed and the building was sold.
In 1841, the same group of women turned their attention to children who were parentless or abandoned and being cared for in the County Poor House. The “Association for the Relief of Destitute Children” was formed with the sum of $427.38 from the sale of the schoolhouse. The group then went about raising the additional money needed to open a home for forgotten children.
In 1845, the efforts of the women resulted in the incorporation of the Syracuse Orphans' Asylum and the doors opened on May 10 to 10 boys and 5 girls. The first location of the house was the corner of Onondaga and Salina streets.
By 1847, the house expanded to serve children throughout the county and changed its name to the Onondaga County Orphans' Asylum. It also was moved to larger quarters in the Syracuse Academy on Fayette Street near Crouse Avenue.
In 1884, the home was moved again to a new building on East Genesee Street on the site where the New York State Armory eventually stood.
The last move was made in 1922 to a 146-acre farm on Salt Springs Road, its present location, then considered the outskirts of the City.
On the occasion of its 100th Anniversary in 1945, the name was officially changed to Elmcrest Children's Center.
Elmcrest continued to function as an orphanage into the 1960s. With the changes in social policy and a decrease in the population of true orphans, Elmcrest turned its attention to serving the needs of “troubled youth.” In 1980, Elmcrest began to re-focus its efforts to provide services to children with emotional as well as behavioral issues and began to increase its services to children with special needs.
In nearly three decades since, Elmcrest has established itself as a leader and innovator in the field of services to children in Central New York.
Today, Elmcrest Children's Center is a multi-service treatment and education center for children with emotional, behavioral, and psychiatric disturbances along with children with developmental disabilities and serious medical conditions. Together with their families, youngsters are served in 16 different programs ranging from early education and family support to long-term residential treatment, critical care and pediatric respite programs. At any given time, Elmcrest is home to 130 youngsters with another 100 preschoolers being served in its early education facility. In addition, another 80 families at risk of having their children removed from the home, receive supportive services and counseling from skilled social workers in its two preventive service programs. Elmcrest currently serves more than 1,500 children and their families each year.