Their Descendants...Their Stories...Their Achievements

Lifting the Mists of History on Their Way of Life

By: Ethelene Dyer Jones

Monday, April 26, 2010

Union County Poor House or Almshouse

Once an entity of Union County government, the County Farm or Almshouse, also called the Pauper’s House or the Poor House, operated for approximately 30 years from the 1920s to the early1950s.

I have the following to thank for information on the County Farm. Mr. Leon Davenport submitted an article to The Heritage of Union County, 1832-1994 entitled “The County Home,” (p. 40-41) and in Sketches of Union County History, Volume 2 by Jan H. Devereaux and Bryan Webb (pages 150-152), the 1934 report of W. L. Benson from the Georgia Department of Agriculture and R. B. England was given on “The County Poor Farm.”

A certain stigma was attached to those who had no recourse but to take up residence at the county poor farm. They either had no relatives who would take them in and care for them, or else they were rejected by family and consigned to work on the Poor Farm because they had to be supervised. Some evidently were lacking in mental or physical capacities and could not manage on their own as adults.

Union County acquired land for the Poor Farm from the estate of Captain John W. Meeks. In the Benson-England report of January 1934, the deeds of the property were not up-to-date, and a strip of pastureland and bottomland had been exchanged for a section of woodland so that firewood could be provided for the living quarters. Therefore, the adjoining landowners had to give permission before a survey of the County Farm properties could be made. Coosa Creek ran through the property, and a road edged the eastern section of the land, evidently not intended in 1934 as a public road, but used by the public, nonetheless.

The “inmates” as they were called by the Benson-England report had no apparent afflictions, chronic diseases, or communicable diseases. The worst infirmity was “age,” with three being over seventy in 1934. In the report published in the county history book, a schedule of expenditures from the years 1929-1936 stated that there were eight to ten residents at any one time, and that expenditures were for salaries of the superintendents, pauper burials, clothing, provisions, medical or dental attention, transportation for the Civilian Conservation Corps “boys” who evidently were assigned to work on the farm and/or buildings (in 1935), allowance to paupers, medical aide, lunacy transportation and board, and one small item of $7.96 in 1934 for “miscellaneous.”

Known superintendents serving at the County Farm were Cicero Wilson, Henley Potts and Vic King. During the term of each superintendent, living on the farm and managing the buildings, care and work was a requirement. Their annual salaries, given for only three years in the statistical table, were $259.25 (1934), $496.00 (1935), and $971.50 (1936). Bear in mind that these were years of the Great Depression, and even though the superintendents’ salaries seem low by modern standards, the County Farm provided them rent and board as part of their annual “package.”

Noting “Paupers’ Burials,” the lowest was in 1932 for $1.00. The highest year in those covered was 1934 when burial expenses were $118.21, and the second highest in 1933 of $107.53. The average for the eight years of statistics for burials was $62.89. No particulars were given, but the burial expenses probably covered a home-made casket, the clothes for the corpse to be buried in, transportation to a designated cemetery, and perhaps a small stipend for the minister or eulogist who presided at the funeral.

The Benson-England report posed a series of questions about the County Poor Farm to call attention to challenges that needed attention. First was to survey the land and establish authentic land lines. Neither electricity nor telephone lines were available to the farm in 1934. The main agricultural product raised on the farm was corn, used as a “money crop.” A vegetable garden near the residence gave food for the table and some to sell as truck crops. Some rye and winter wheat were grown on portions of the farm.

The land received no improvement to fertility. The examiners recommended rotation of crops and fertilization to make the land more productive. Fencing the farm was highly recommended. Raising cattle and hogs for the residents’ meat supply would be to a good use of farm facilities and labor. A small industry (not named) was recommended.

The buildings were old and in very poor repair except for a corn crib built in 1932, which was not sufficient in size to take care of the corn crop, because half of the building was used for the wagon shed.

The dwelling house was in a T-shape, with four rooms, one the kitchen. It was in poor condition, needing new shingles and a new floor, and a means of heating the individual rooms. The proposal was made for the addition of six rooms “in the near future,” with the CWA (Civil Works Administration?) assisting with the building.

The water supply was from a bold spring that had a flow of 1/2 gallon per minute. The spring house was used for refrigeration of milk and other perishables.

However, a grave threat to the spring was nearby. An outside privy was the only sewage disposal unit, only fifty feet away from the spring. The report stated: “This constitutes a health menace since the volume of water and the fall is not sufficient to preclude the possibility of flow-back to the spring that is used for drinking (water).” (Sketches of Union County History, p. 152 )

An interesting item in the Schedule from the Probate Judge’s office for the years 1929 through 1936 showed expenditures for “Lunacy Transport(ation) and Board.” The average annual expenditure over the eight-year period for this item was $79.80, with the largest amount spent in 1930 ($156.60).

The County Poor Farm existed and met a need for poor and indigent citizens before the day of federal programs such as Medicaid and the resources of the Department of Family and Children’s Services. I noted that the amount listed for clothing for the residents was only $31.00 for an eight-year period. Probably the people housed at The Almshouse wore hand-me-down clothing gathered from citizens.

We can imagine the plight of these less-fortunate citizens, while at the same time we must applaud county government for making efforts to provide for them. I am an avid “quotations” person. Many quotations I found were appropriate to the Union County Poor House and its mission. Jesus had this to say about the poor: “You always have the poor with you” (Matthew 26:11). Moses said: “The poor will never cease out of the land” (Deuteronomy 15:11). The American writer, Will Carleton (1845-1912) wrote: “Over the hill to the poorhouse I’m trudgin’ my weary way.” In his annual message to Congress on January 8, 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson stated: “This administration today, here and now, declares unconditional war on poverty.” And that war, declared by our 36th U. S. president, continues today and into the future. For, surely, the poor are still with us.

c2006 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Jan. 12, 2006 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

No comments:

Post a Comment