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Henry County, IN County Asylum

Description of the Farm and Buildings
Working Force of the Farm
Cost of Keeping the Poor

Anderson Herald - June 29, 1877

      The Henry County Poor Farm comprises 290 acres, located northwest of New Castle, the buildings being about one mile distance from the Court House. The land consist of first and second bottoms, and a portion is very much broken. Of the whole farm only 103 acres are under cultivation, the remaining (110 acres of which is woodland) being devoted to pasture. A field or two of tillable land bordering the creek, are subject to overflow, and for that reason, although possessing a fertile soil, do not always produce a good crop. The greater part of the tillable land is in fine condition, being either naturally or artificially well drained; the fences, as far as we could see, are in good order, the gates on their hinges, and a general air of neatness and system prevailed everywhere.
      The buildings on the farm consist of a large two story slate roofed, brick dwelling house, smokehouse, woodshed, milk house, and a large barn. The dwelling has twenty-two rooms, four large halls, and a pantry. The family of the Superintendent occupies six rooms for their exclusive use, one room is devoted to storage purposes, and the remainder of the building is taken up with the kitchen, dining room, and bedrooms of the Poor House proper. The bedrooms are all large, about thirteen by fourteen feet, with high ceilings, and with ample facilities for through ventilation. There are accommodations for sixty inmates.

The Present Superintendent
      Mr. Mahlon D. Harvey has had charge of the poor farm since March 10, 1869. He was employed for one year, at a salary of $550. He was bound up in a written contract to give the entire time of himself and wife to the care and management of the farm and inmates, of which he was to have the above salary. The living for his family (consisting of five persons), except the clothing and medical attendance; the county to furnish such additional labor as would be needed on the farm or in the house. At the end of the first year the contract was renewed, and the salary increased to $750. The third year the salary was raised to $800, at which it has remained ever since. Mr. Harvey's management has been so satisfactory to the county board that the contract has been renewed form year to year without opposition.

The Condition of The Farm
      At the time, Mr. Harvey was appointed superintendent, was the worst imaginable. In fact, the county had nothing to boast of in the matter management until the employment of the present superintendent. His immediate predecessor, who was in charge for two years, has shown a remarkable incapacity for the position. Under him, the farm had literally "gone to rack." The fences had been neglected and were falling down; the buildings were sadly in need of repairs, the live stock on the farm was of the common varieties, while inattention to the simplest sanitary regulations had brought the poor apartments into a shocking state of filthiness.
      With advent of Mr. Harvey and his excellent wife the magic words, "Presto, change." Speedily wrought a wonderful reformation. A slate roof was added to the main building, necessary outbuildings were erected, a handsome picket fence was placed around the house yard and garden. Nearly five hundred rods of board fence have been built on the farm, all needed agricultural implements have purchased, the 'scrub' cattle have been replaced by graded and thoroughbred Shorthorns, and handsome Berkshires have crowded out the ungainly and unprofitable "elm-peelers." The buildings were at once thoroughly renovated, and the most exacting cleanliness has at all times been maintained. The cost of these improvements, new stock, machinery, etc., is not far from $7,000.

Number of Inmates
      In March 1869, when Mr. Harvey entered upon his duties as superintendent, there were forty-two inmates in the infirmary. The number has rarely ever gone below that figure, and has on several occasions considerably exceeded it. There are forty-eight inmates at this time. The average for the eight years is about forty-five. This includes only permanent or resident paupers. In December last, the county board forbade the superintendent from boarding and lodging tramps. Previous to that date, these 'knights of the road' had been a heave and constant drain upon the resources of the farm. As an illustration of the extent of this burden, we note that the records of the Poor House show the feeding and lodging of 230 tramps in the months of January, February, and March 1875.

The Regular Working Force
      The work force on the farm consist of the Superintendent, one hired hand, and two teams. The hand is paid $20.00 per month. At the house there is but one servant, a colored woman, who receives $3.00 per week. Mrs. Harvey gives the inmates and their apartments her own personal supervision, requiring such of the females as are able, to perform the chamber work and sweeping. The cooking and washing, for the most part, are also done by them. All of the male inmates, whose physical condition will admit of labor, are required to perform light work in the garden or elsewhere on the farm. The greater number of the inmates of both sexes is incapacitated through disease of deformity from performing any profitable labor.
      The present condition of the poor is certainly to be commended. In passing through several rooms and hallways, scrupulous cleanliness was observable on every hand, the bedding clean, the beds were tidily made and the inmates decently and comfortably attired. Careful attention is given to disinfecting, in all cases when necessary, Mr. Harvey is very firm, yet kind, in his manner toward the inmates, and preserves excellent discipline among them.

Is the Farm Self Sustaining?
      The answer is in the negative. For the year ending May 31, 1877, the deficit was $3,844.58, which was paid from the county treasury. This sum includes several items for improvements, stock and labor. The system of accounts is not sufficiently full and explicit as to give the visitor a clear idea of the gross product of the farm. The County Board requires the Superintendent to account only for the proceeds derived from sales of stock and grain, and not for the produce consumed as food by the occupants. The Commissioners of Madison County have been paying $3 per week per pauper, for the last three years. At the same rate, the cost of keeping the Henry County infirmary would be $7,000 per year. Upon this basis, the farm pays about one-third the running expenses. With the present efficient management continued, we see no reason why the farm may not become self-sustaining within a brief period --- say five years. The heaviest expenditures for the improvements have already been made, so that the drain upon the resources for that purpose, will be comparatively light hereafter.
      In the way of suggestion, we may remark that it seems to us that too large a portion of the farm is kept in woodland. Instead of 103 acres under tillage, there should not be less than 200 acres, which would greatly augment the income derived from the sale of produce. A large flock of sheep might be added to the live stock, for which there are abundant pasturelands. These are suggestions, of course for the County Board to consider. They are discreet and careful businessmen, and if their judgments, upon inquiry, shall confirm these recommendations, they will no doubt act upon them.

2001 UEB

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