"Scott County Poor Farm Abstracted"
Scott Co MO
John Spalding "Supt."

Scott Co MO-AHGP & MOGenWeb Site

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Scott County Poor Farm

Abstracted from various sources and written by Margaret Cline Harmon



The Scott County Poor Farm was located about three miles east of Benton. The homes were built on the cottage plan. The farm was situated just east and south of a long line of hills which protected the buildings from the north and west winds and gave them the benefit of the east and south exposure of the sun most of the day. No exact date of establishment has been determined but an inspection record by Miss Elizabeth Moore dated November 18, 1914 stated that the interior paint had not been changed for approximately five years. Based on this, we can estimate that the County Poor Farm was developed approximately in1909.

John Spalding or some members of his family supervised the County Poor Farm from the early 1920s through the late 1940s. According to Superintendent Spalding, the Farm consisted of owned 352 acres of land owned by Scott County, of which 220 acres were cultivated. There was an orchard, and some hilly land, more or less wooded. The superintendent paid a rental of $725 per year for the use of the farm. The county furnished fuel, clothes, bedding, and equipment and paid the superintendent $2.50 per patient per week for board and care. This unusually low rate was to be compensated for by the low rate of rental charged for the farm land.

The County Poor Farm was located on a side road which was impassable in wet weather. The site was selected in an out-of-way and somewhat inaccessible location which had the result, according to reports received, of putting the institution out of the mind of the general public and thereby depriving the inmates (as they were referenced) of many friendly services commonly rendered by charitable people in places where the County Poor Farm would have been more accessible. Additionally, the location in 1914 was three miles from the nearest electric power line. The grounds upon which the buildings were located were high and dry. They had excellent drainage and the yards are covered with a good growth of blue grass. The yards were amply large to accommodate many more people than were registered at any one time.

Aside from the usual farm buildings, there were three houses on the Scott County Poor Farm, one for the superintendent and on each side of this were separate inmate’s buildings, one for the men and one for the women. The buildings were situated on a southern slope. The two wooden framed inmate buildings were exactly alike. They were raised from the ground on brick pillars. At some point sheeting was placed around under the buildings so as to prevent the floors from cold winds.

Each inmate building consisted of a central hallway with five small rooms on each side. Each room had one or two windows that were well lighted and provided an opportunity for ventilation in the summer. There were no shades at windows but shades were on hand to be put up at times of visits. In each building, one room was used for a dining room, the others were bedrooms. The furniture constituted of single iron beds and usually one straight chair per room. Bedding consisted of straw cotton-type mattress, pillow with cotton slip, unbleached sheets or cotton blankets and cotton quilts. The hall served as the inmates’ sitting room and was lighted by a half glass door at each end. The illumination was poor when the room doors were closed. Later on a stove with plenty of fuel for fires was placed at each end of the hall. Each room also was issued two good double blankets, two comforts, sheets, pillows, drinking cups and other utensils. In the halls there were cane bottom and several other rocking chairs, a mirror and a long dining table where the meals were served. Meals were served three times a day, winter and summer, and consisted of good, substantial, wholesome food; flour bread served twice a day, hominy, meat, sorghum molasses, peas, beans and potatoes and in the summer seasons garden vegetables. There was only one brand of coffee brought on the county farm and that was made and drunk by inmates and the superintendent’s family alike, serving it twice a day to the inmates with sugar and cream.

In the men’s building, three kerosene lamps were fastened to the walls of the hall. Inmates who were considered capable were said to be allowed lamps in their rooms, but few were ever seen. In the men’s building, there was one small bath tub with drainage through the floor under the building. The tub was provided with an arrangement of buckets hung on the wall, tube and nozzle, which produced a “shower bath.” Tobacco was furnished to those who wished it and as much as they desire.

In the women’s building, because most inmates were “mentally defective”, no lamps and no artificial lighting were allowed. There was no running water on the premises; subsequently, the only toilet facilities were outdoor privies. There was no mention of a tub for bathing in the women’s building. The inmates were all furnished with good heavy underwear in the winter seasons, woolen socks for those who desired them, comfortable clothing for men and women alike.

In Miss Moore’s inspection report of 1914, she stated that the buildings appeared to be structurally in good repair, inside and out. The interior paint, which had not been removed within five years, was considerably fly-specked and otherwise soiled and worn. The floors were reasonably clean, both in rooms and halls. There were two inmates who had no control over their bodily functions. One was a paralytic insane man and the other was an idiotic girl. The man’s bed, both mattress and covers, were filthy; which is probably unavoidable without hospital care. The girl’s bedding all soiled was spread outdoors to dry. The girl herself gave rise to a foul odor, which was the only feature of that kind. With these exceptions, the beds on the whole seem reasonably clean. One mattress examined, showed signs of bed bugs, the others did not. One bed-ridden man, who had previously complained of bed bugs, was recently furnished with a new felt mattress.

The inmates’ dishes and tableware were washed in the dining rooms by the inmates, using water heated in a kettle on the heating stove. The result varied with the competence of the inmates assigned to the job. The stack of dishes, supposedly washed, in the men’s dining room was far from clean. Those on the table, for current use, were in better condition. A box containing the reserve supply of knives, forks, and spoons also contained pieces of chewing tobacco. Both the men’s and women’s buildings were infested with flies, in spite of its being the last half of November.

At the time of the 1914 inspection, there were 9 inmates at the time of the inspection and two bed-ridden invalids had recently died. There were six men and three women. Of the men, five were white and one colored. The colored man was given his meals at a small table in his own room; otherwise all associated together. Two of the white men were bed-ridden. One was paralytic and the other one was insane, a third was so badly diseased with syphilis he was confined to a wheel chair. None of the other three men were able to more than “get about.” The women inmates number three. Two women are white and one is colored. All three are mentally defective to a marked degree. All three women seem to have lived most of their lives at the farm. The idiot girl, who is about 20 years old, can neither walk, talk, nor see and she is badly deformed. The other white woman, about 45 years old, is not physically helpless but she is said to have given birth to five or six children, all fathered by inmates during her institutional career. (It is said that only one of these disasters occurred during the term of the present superintendent.) Four of these children are supposed to be living. The colored woman was old and feeble.

The patients and/or inmates who were not helpless were supposed to wait upon those who were, including bringing the food from the superintendent’s kitchen, serving the meals, washing dishes, assisting with washing the clothes and bedding. With the 1914 population it was almost impossible for the superintendent and his wife to secure much assistance in the required way. The County Court authorized the employment of an attendant, but none was secured.”

Over time, more was learned about the County Poor Farm from undated newspaper sources. There were several classes of people who usually went to the County Farm. The law stated in order to have the privileges of the County Farm one must have been living in the county one year before application was made.

First – There was the class who had, by unfortunate circumstances, been unable to accumulate enough ahead in way of finances to support themselves in their old age and went there for a home. These people as a rule were very appreciative and never complained.

Second – There was the feeble minded, who hadn’t sound mind enough or relatives or friends interested enough in them to car for them.

Third – A class who became diseased from tuberculosis, cancer, dropsy and many other incurable diseases who come to the County Farm to die because no one else was willing to take care of them or give them a home. Of these, many of them died in a few weeks, or months at most, and some in just a few days.

Then there is the professional home seeker. Quite a number had been in many of the different homes of the different counties, never content long in any place, traveling about from county to county trying to find something to suit. This class was never satisfied, always grumbling, always complaining. These were the real trouble makers, and in the course of ten or twelve years you would be surprised at the number of this class of visitors.

There was still another class, many more than one would think, who were given the privileges of the county farm when according to the law they were not entitled to it. This class of cases were usually non-resident people, including hoboes, who were seriously injured and without funds, friends or money. They were in every instance sent to the County Farm to be taken care of until they either died or recovered. These would come there injured in railway accidents, burned or crippled or picked up on the highway sick, some filthy, dirty and lousy. Always these people were deloused, bathed and fitted up in new clothes, and shoes. As soon as they were able, they went on their way.

Based on interviews with Spalding relatives it is estimated that the Scott County Poor Farm was closed around 1950. The land is now in private ownership.

Contributor Margaret Cline Harmon Poster-#-118-

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