The Poor House, County Farm

Contributed by Rosemary Reeves
The cemetery for the residents of the County Farm was a short distance south and west of the big brick County Farm Home, in the very center of section 35, Pittsfield Township. The report is that there are no stones there. The following list is made up of names found at the court house and the two funeral homes in Pittsfield. Many times the place of burial was not given. The names are all listed together with explanatory words after them. Those marked "lived" or "died" may or may or may not have been buried there. No explanatory word means buried there.
( Source of this information is from "Cemeteries of Pike County, Volumn II" )

Able, Thomas d. 8 Nov 1910 50 years
Aruse, Marion d. 3 Sep 1934 lived
Askew, John d. 1 Dec 1916 (42 years) lived
Askew, Julia d. 30 Nov 1916 (42 years)
Atkins, Joseph J. d. 7 Nov 1905 (68 years)
Bemis, Benella d. 4 May 1892
Bell, Alec d. 1 Mar 1906 (32 years)
Billings, Richard d. 15 Sep 1906
Blakely, William d. 9 Apr 1930 (84 years)
Blakely, Criss d. 9 Apr 1930 (84 years)
Brewster, Celia d. 22 Jul 1879 (black 23 years)
Burke, Rachel d. 23 Aug 1915 (67- 4)
Callender, Andrew d. 5 Jul 1934 lived
Cannon, John d. 19 Sep 1879 (40 Years)
Chenney, Albert C. d. 4 Jan 1933
Cloninger, F. N. d. 9 Jan 1926 (71 years)
Collins, James (Child) d. 7 Sep 1879
Conley, John d. 10 Apr 1923 (8 years)
Conrad, Philip d. 28 Nov 1902 (67 years)
Cook, Lydia d. 16 Jan 1879 (40 years) lived
Cooper, Thomas no date. ch to charles died
Cosman, Dan no dates lived
Covalt, Lyman d. Jul 1935 lived
Cross, Jack b. 7 Jun 1855 d. Jul 1911 or 1941
Daniels, Edna d. 20 Sep 1913 lived
Darrah, Hugh d. 22 Jul 1906 (85 yrs 10 mos) Funeral there
Davidson, Timothy bur. 12 jan 1913
Dickenson, George d. 20 Aug 1879 (78 yr)s died
Doyle, Prenghorn? d. 11 Aug 1931 (68 yrs)
Drummond, A. L. d. 27 Apr 1935 lived
Ducy, Frank d. 25 Nov 1925
Durrall, Martha d. 10 Mar 1905 (64 yrs)
Erickson, Gustof d. 13 Jul 1928 (86 yrs)
Farnsworth, Mary d. 14 Mar 1879 (34 yrs) died
Fielder, ? d. 31 Jan 1916 died
Fisher, ? d. 28 Oct 1922
Fitzpatrick, ? d. 4 Jul 1904
Fletcher, Henry d. 28 Oct 1918
French, Hiram d. 3 Sep 1879 (48 yrs)
Furey, Charles d. 4 Aug 1922 (7-6-3)
Garrison, Horace d. 27 Feb 1904 (76 yrs)
Gibson, Charles d. 18 Nov 1891 (14 yrs) lived
Gilliland, Charles d. 25 Jul 1931 (74 yrs)
Griffin, John d. 4 Jul 1904
Griffin, Mary d. 27 Nov 1906 (93 yrs)
Grriffin, Sarah no date or age
Hall, William d. 19 Aug 1880 (89 yrs) died
Hamlin, Calvin d. 5 Feb 1893 died
Harper, Wm. Henry d. 27 Nov 1927 (72 yrs) lived
Harrison, James d. 10 Dec 1920
Hemphill, William Louis d. 4 Mar 1891 lived
Hiesem, Ann d. 1 Mar 1888 single lived
Hill, Mary d. 24 oct 1906 (62 YRS)
Johnson, Livi (or Levi) d. 13 Apr 1930 (87 yrs)
Johnson, Menda d. 6 Dec 1888 lived
Kendrick, Thomas d. 1 Jul 1908 (65 yrs)
Kieth, Edward d. 4 Apr 1922 (71 yrs)
Kissenger, John (Jack) d. 29 Apr 1919
Knapp, James d. 1904
Lear, Eliza d. 16 Mar 1879 (56 yrs) lived
Lewis, Jno d. 23 Mar 1906 (72 yrs)
Lister, Amanda d. 28 Oct 1892 (retired)
Lonce, John d. 4 Feb 1918 died
Long, Stewart (s/o John) d. 23 May 1918 lived
Makepeace, Isabel d. 3 Feb 1904
Malone, Mary d. 8 Jan 1905 (56 yrs)
McCleary, Francis M. d. 18 Jan 1931 (84 yrs)
Messick, Dave d. 6 Feb 1921 (56 yrs 1 mo 4 days
Miller, Jane d. 14 Aug 1886 (54 yrs) died
Miles, William d. 9 Jan 1926
Miles, Tina d. 24 Feb 1896 died
Mink, David d. 3 may 1867 lived
Moore, Robert No dates Revolutionary War
Peterson, William d. 11 Aug 1934 lived
Polly, James d. 23 Mar 1881 (67 yrs)
Ralf, John (Ralph?) d. 27 Jan 1924
Reese, Jno H. d. 9 Mar 1904 (84 yrs)
Rothchild, Charles d. 19 May 1934 lived
Seamon, David (s/o John) d. 21 Aug 1926 (79 yr 26 days)
Sebert, Mrs. No date or age
Shaffner, Mary d. 26 Jan 1926 (74 yrs)
Shepherd, Daniel d. 29 Oct 1878 (54 yrs) died
Shulty, Sarah d. 11 Mar 1879 lived
Sims, John d. 15 Aug 1932 (67 yrs)
Snyder, John Ellsworth d. 20 Oct 1934 died
Stanley, Isabel d. 5 Aug 1884 (56 yrs)
Sinar, John d. 15 Aug 1932
Thompson, James d. 12 Nov 1879 (55-11-11) died
Thornton, Jane d. 19 Aug 1891 lived
Webster, Silas No dates. Mexican War
Whipple, Sarah d. 26 Jun 1885 (83 yrs)
Whisman, Emma d. 7 Jul 14879 (20 yrs)
Whisman, Mercy Ann d. 4 Nov 1904 (84 yrs)
Williams, William d. 9 May 1927 lived
Zimmerman, Ella (single) d. 9 Jun 1903 (19 yrs)

By Michael Boren
Vice President of the Pike County Historical Society and member of the Pike County Board

I have had a few people ask me about the Pike County Poor Farm. Did we have one? What was it, and where was it?

Indeed, we did have a poor farm. Through the years it was also referred to as the "almshouse, county house, county home, and poor house." I think it was established in 1843 and mostly shut down by 1936. It was located a little more than a mile southwest of Pittsfield on the east-west road that was called "Pig Pen Lane," now 225th Avenue in Pittsfield Township, just west of the Martinsburg Road. This land has been owned by the Batz family in recent years, and as far as I know, there is still one structure remaining from the county poor farm.

In the book of Mark, chapter 14, verse 7, Jesus said, "The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them anytime you want." The county poor farm movement was an effort to help the "deserving poor" (as the expression was often used), which began in the early 19th century. People often became destitute (or "paupers") due to old age, infirmity, or physical or mental disabilities of various sorts. When families or churches would not, or could not, provide the needed care, townships began to provide some assistance, usually through the office of the township supervisor.

Soon the townships found such care difficult to provide, and the movement began to establish county poor houses. The state of New York was one of the first states to codify this in an 1824 law. The idea was to provide "outdoor relief in a county farm facility. The plan was that any paupers who were ordered by a justice of the peace or a county judge to live in the county farm would be required to provide as much labor on the farm as possible. It was also thought that housing some people in such an institution would provide the opportunity to reform them and cure them of the bad habits and character defects that were assumed to be the cause of their poverty. By the mid 19th century nearly every county in Illinois had a poor farm.

The problem was that many people who were sent to the poor farm were not capable of doing any work at all. And early on, many people who were ordered to live at the county home had been declared insane by the county court. The February 11, 1886 Pike County Democrat states that "In the Pike county court during the last three years forty-seven persons have been adjudged insane." Some of these inmates were a danger to themselves and to others in the county home. Thus, some were kept in isolation or were actually chained to restrict their movement.

The Pike County board passed a resolution December 13, 1888 "urging the Illinois Legislature to provide suitable accommodations for all the insane of the state." Gradually, states began to establish institutions to care for the blind, the deaf and the mentally ill, who were often residents of the county almshouses.

The Pike County board of supervisors had the responsibility of hiring the superintendent of the county poor farm. Sometimes there were several candidates who would essentially give a bid for how cheaply they could operate the poor house and farm. In APril, 1889, E. F. Binns, the superintendent of the almshouse, gave his annual report. He had reduced the cost of $1.28 per person per week. His report showed:

Inmates 50
Male 21
Female 29
Under 8 years of age 6
Feeble Minded 3
Blind 2
Idiots 3
Insane 23 (5 epileptics)
Sick 3
Helpless 6

Thus it would appear that he only had about four able-bodied workers at the farm. His report concludes with the ominous statements, "The rapid increase of pauper insane is alarming."

Gradually, states began to establish facilities for orphans, the blind, and the mentally ill, so more and more the county farms became primarily housing for the elderly and infirm. The Great Depression and the various federal programs under the Roosevelt administration began to provide old age assistance through the Social Security program, and many poor farms were closed in the 1930s, and most by the 1950s.

The Pike County Republican of December 16, 1936 contained the following paragraph: "After 93 years, Pike County is taking steps to abandon the 'poor farm,' known in later times as the 'county house' or 'county home.' The average number of residents for many years has been about 45. Old age pensions now being provided will put most of the inmates on a new footing. There are now 26 men and women inmates, but for most of these, new homes have been found."

In the county poor farms and in various types of relief and assistance, the tendency in the past century has been to move the problem from the local to the state and then to the federal level. This also increases the size of state and federal government, increases taxes, and brings about more state and federal regulations. For good or ill, the functions of the county poor farms are no longer within local control.