County Poor Farm
various sources and written by Margaret Cline Harmon
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.”
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.
– 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.
– There was the feeble minded, who hadn’t sound mind enough or relatives or
friends interested enough in them to car for them.
– 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.
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.
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
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.