History of Leake & Watts

Leake and Watts Services, Inc. was founded as the Leake and Watts Orphan House in 1831 by Westchester County Judge and former Congressman John Watts, Jr., with the bequest of his friend John George Leake, a wealthy New York lawyer who passed away without any heirs.  Moved by the rise in urban poverty and the reduction of public welfare aid the 1820s, John George Leake and John Watts, Jr. were at the forefront of the social responsibility movement, and the Leake and Watts Orphan House was one of the first private charitable institutions in the country dedicated to children in need.

Originally located at the site of Trinity Church in the financial district, the Leake and Watts Orphan House moved to the current site of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine at 112th Street and Amsterdam in 1843.  In 1890, the organization moved to a 33-acre farm on the Hudson River in Yonkers, where several of our programs are still located today.

As the decades went on, Leake & Watts found new and innovative ways to meet the changing needs of society. In 1921, Leake & Watts introduced the cottage system with cottage "parents" to guide and assist the children.  In 1944, Leake & Watts established its Foster Home Department in order to find homes for children in the community, and merged with the Orphan Home and Asylum of the Episcopal Church and the Sevilla-Hopewell Society of Brooklyn in 1947.

As the needs of the community continued to grow and change, Leake & Watts expanded.  In the 1970s, Leake & Watts established the East Bronx Family Service Center, providing Foster Care Preventive/Family Stabilization Services, and in 1985, became the first social service agency in the nation to support children with HIV/AIDS.  Leake & Watts also established five early childhood education programs to serve low-income families during the 1980s, and expanded its group home services to teenage mothers and their children.

During the 1990s, Leake & Watts experienced significant growth with the construction of nine state-of-the art cottages for our Residential Treatment Center and the Carol and Frank Biondi School.  Leake & Watts also opened the Marion and George Ames Early Childhood Learning Center in Yonkers and entered the field of juvenile justice services, supporting youth at Westchester County's Woodfield Cottage Secure Detention in Valhalla, New York.  We have since expanded to support vulnerable court-involved youth in a Non-Secure Placement Program.

Over the past fifteen years, Leake & Watts has sought to expand our services to children and young adults with developmental disabilities.  In 2004, Leake & Watts began to provide Medicaid Service Coordination to children and young adults with developmental disabilities and in 2007, Leake & Watts opened its first group home in the Bronx for young adults with developmental disabilities. Since then, Leake & Watts has expanded its developmental disabilities services to include ten Group Homes, Recreation and Respite Services, Supportive Employment and Day Habilitation Services.  By 2009, our Residential Treatment Center had shifted from serving youth in foster care to a specialized program for youth with a variety of mental health challenges, some of whom are in foster care.  Several of our early childhood programs now provide specialized and integrated classroom services for children on the autism spectrum, and in 2010, we welcomed the Children's Learning Center in Manhattan, which specifically serves preschoolers with autism, to Leake & Watts.

In 2011, Leake & Watts celebrated its 180th Anniversary. Today, the agency serves over 8,000 children, adults and families in need each year.  Leake & Watts has been recognized by New York 's former Governor Pataki, who presented the organization with the Bronze Empire State Advantage Award for excellence in performance and practices.  Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has praised our agency's Volunteer Program for having engaged 450 volunteers in over 3,500 hours of service over the course of a single year.  Our organization is proud to be an integral part of communities throughout the Bronx, Manhattan and Westchester County.  Whether it is a child who has been abused and neglected, a parent struggling with substance abuse, or a young adult with autism learning to living independently, we strive to educate, support and empower our most vulnerable neighbors each day.


To see more historical photos from the Leake & Watts Archives, visit our Leake & Watts History Photo Gallery on Pinterest.