Poor Farm Stories

In November 2017, I released the book The Morgan County Poorhouse and Farm [publisher: Morgan County Historical Society]. It was primarily based on analysis of the poorhouse records kept by the institution and its staff. Since then, other information has come to light.

An overall finding of my previous book research was that the poorhouse and farm, specifically in Morgan County, was a positive service organization in the community from about 1848 through to the 1920’s. By the 1930’s, federal involvement in public services, including large growth in philanthropic social service organizations, decreased reliance on a poorhouse and farm, resulting in most of them becoming essentially nursing homes for seniors and the elderly. By the 1930’s, then, disinvestment was occurring, and as is with most institutions, disinvestment leads to problems: less attending staff, deferred maintenance, and cheaper or fewer services, all of which results in lower quality conditions. When I heard the stories of the poorhouse from living persons in Jacksonville, they were rife with “it was a horrible place.” But think about times you were talking to someone and they started with “I heard a story about….” and in the end, you found out it may not have been the whole picture. But it’s anecdotes that create a lore about a place. What is the truth of the conditions of a place? An “image” of a person or place is often what is at the basis of the lore. A purpose of my Morgan County Poorhouse and Farm book was to return the poorhouse and farm to its original context, and provide a richer, accurate story. A revisionist history “revises” what is understood about the past. Because many emphasize the oppressive nature of the poorhouse, it was important to describe the culturally contextual Morgan County poorhouse and farm in my book, since the institution was multifaceted it was important not to characterize it with generalizations. The Morgan County Poorhouse and Farm book provides a characterization of the farm, and the people who used it, and as described in the book, it was primarily a shelter for the infirm and unwanted.


What I do on these Blog pages is fill in some gaps from the book, such as visuals of inside and outside the poorhouse, and also provide stories about "characters" - those people whose stories were interesting enough that a reporter covered it in the local newspapers. I hope you enjoy reading these stories - some are sad, some are violent, but they all reveal a time in the past, and the types of situations poor people had to deal with in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

What did the Morgan County Poorhouse look like?

Click this link for the .pdf of photos and descriptions about what the poorhouse may have looked like.

Poorhouse photos

Infanticide!!

This is the sad story of Lizzie Hardin, who was charged with Infanticide, and ended up in the poorhouse, and eventually died there at the age of 16. Click the link for the story.

Lizzie Hardin story

Death by Chair on the Head

This is the story of two residents of the poorhouse that got into a fight in 1922, and one smashed a chair over the head of the other, resulting in the death of William Robinson, 78 years old, and is buried at the Poor Farm. Click the link for the story. 

Death by Chair

Tailor Torn to Shreds

This is the story of itinerant tailor Mike Shulski, who's body was torn to shreds next to the railroad tracks. He was known to like the bottle. Police did not find any evidence of foul play. He is likely buried at the poorhouse cemetery. Click the link for his story. 

Mike Shulski

Old Irishman Frozen to Death

This is the story of Patrick Louth, who walked to church for Christmas mass in 1902, but in really bad weather conditions. He slipped and fell unconscious on the walk home, and froze to death. Click the link for the story. 

Patrick Louth

Slashed His Own Throat with a Razor

This is the story of Henry Hobbs from Ashland, who slashed his own throat with a razor to end his own life. Click the link for the story. 

Henry Hobbs

Died While Just Passing Through

This is the story of Robert Armstrong, a "tramp"-like character who died of a heart attack in Central Park. He is likely buried at the poorhouse cemetery. Click the link for the story.

Robert Armstrong 

"Old" John Olean

This is the story of "Old" John Olean, who was the night fireman at the courthouse for many years, was popular in town, and eventually died at the poorhouse (he is likely buried there). Click the link for John's story. 

John Olean

Liquor on the Train

This is the story of Frank Precious, who was arrested after he bought liquor in New Berlin and was arrested when he got off the train in Jacksonville. He is buried at the poor farm cemetery. Click on the link for Frank's story. 

Frank Precious

Drunken Blow to the Head

This is the story of George Mines, who is buried at the poor farm cemetery. He was once struck by lightning but only "stunned." Click the link to read more about George. 

George Mines

Tossed into the Town Brook

This is the story of the possible murder of Louis "Tuey" Moore, who was found floating in the Town Brook. Was it murder, or did he slip and fall while drunk and walking home?!? We'll never know! Click the link for the story. 

Louis Moore

Former Poorhouse Superintendent Murdered Over Gold!

This is a short bit on Joseph Heslep, who was a former superintendent of the poorhouse, and was murdered in California during the Gold Rush!

Joseph Heslep

German Shit the Bed When Leaving

A German immigrant to the Poorhouse and Farm, Herdanian Spear, apparently "shit the bed" when he was discharged from the poorhouse and leaving. 

Herdanian Spear

Politics in Superintendent Appointments of the Poor Farm

This is the story about two superintendents - M.H. Carroll, and W.T. Layton, and the politics around their political appointments. Click the link to read the story! 

Carroll and Layton

Death by Chloroform at Asylum

This is the story of Elizabeth Sallee, who had a condition that distorted her limbs. She was transferred from the poorhouse to the Asylum, where the doctor decided to perform surgery to straighten her legs - she died when chloroform was administered. Click the link for her story.

Elizabeth Sallee

Former Slave turned Civil War Cook

This is the story of Louis Price, a former slave turned Civil War cook, long time resident of Waverly and buried at Waverly Cemetery - spent time at poorhouse and farm; died there. Read more by clicking the link.

Louis Price

Waverly Cemetery Listing

This is the list of 3 individuals who were connected with the Morgan County poorhouse and farm, but buried in the Waverly East Cemetery. One may actually be a mistake. 

Waverly Cemetery