Chapters 14
COUNTY POORHOUSE
Pages 707-711

From the book about Wabasha Co. Minnesota
"HISTORY OF WABASHA COUNTY"
Compiled by Dr. L. H. Bunnell
Published Chicago by H. H. Hill, Publishers, 1884
Republished Currently by Higginson Books


Prior to the admission of Minnesota as a state into the Union in 1858, the care of the poor in the several counties devolved upon the county commissioners, who were empowered to appoint an overseer of the poor, and levy such taxes as were necessary for the relief of the indigent within their several county borders. Upon the passage of the township act in August, 1858, providing for the organization of townships throughout the state, and presenting the number and duties of town officers, a radical change was made in the poor-law, by which an overseer of the poor was to be chosen in each township, and the town authorities given the custody and charge of their own poor. By this came legislature (1858) the chairman of the several township boards in the county were made a county board of supervisors, and upon them devolved the management of the county business; but the care of the poor was not included in the list of their prescribed duties, that matter being committed to the townships as such. By act of February 28, 1860, the provision for a board of county supervisors, composed of the chairmen of the various town boards, was abrogated, and the present arrangement, dividing the county into commissioner districts, was adopted. By the new law two or more townships were to be united into one commissioner district, according to population, one commissioner to be elected from each district, and the commissioners thus elected to form the board of county commissioners, whose duties were very largely the same as those formerly devolving upon the "board of supervisors for the county." By this act no change was made in the regulations for the oversight and care of the poor, each township having independent control and taking individual care of its own poor. Four years later, March 4, 1864, a radical change was made in the law for the support and maintenance of the poor, and since then the matter had remained almost at rest, so far as any change of method is concerned. By this act the care and maintenance of the poor was made a county instead of a township charge, and the county commissioners, by virtue of their office, were made superintendents of the poor of their respective counties, and tot hem was committed the management of any poorhouse, farm, workhouse, etc., provided for the comfort, support or employment of the poor, maintained at public expense, and by them the overseer of such poorhouse or farm was to be appointed.

It was in accordance with the provisions of this act that the county commissioners of Wabasha county, after having made temporary provision for the care of the poor within the county for some time, purchased in 1867 the first poor-farm owned by the county. This was a tract of one hundred and sixty acres on Sec. 11, T. 109, R. 13 W., of the P.M., lying in the town of Hyde Park, about one and one-half miles north of the Zumbro river. The purchase price was four thousand two hundred dollars, and the county commissioners put the farm and the management of their poor under the supervision of George Bartholmew (sic), who held that office until the county poorhouse was removed from Hyde Park to Wabasha in 1873. The county commissioners in 1873, recognizing the undesirableness of attempting to care for their poor on a large farm in a secluded part of the county remote from the county buildings, where their meetings were necessarily held, exchanged the property in Hyde Park for that now occupied as the poorhouse grounds. This property comprises a tract of thirty-two acres of land, situated on the east side of the public highway running form Wabasha to Kellogg, the poorhouse standing about one mile form the court-house. The buildings at that time upon the property were quite inadequate to the uses required of them. The main building had been erected originally for a barn, and was afterward converted into a dance-house. This building was rearranged at the expense of the original owner, and taken possession of by the county in 1873. In 1879 a comfortable hospital for the comfort of the county wards was built. This building, 20 x 30, two stories in height, of brick, in which is the dispensatory (dispensary?), stands near the north line of the poorhouse premises, a little retired from the road, but as it interferes with the prospect from the new county-house, now approaching completion, it will very probably be moved to the rear. The old building contained twelve rooms, and in these, to date, August 1, 1883, were seventeen persons, among them three insane, one idiotic and one blind. The county provides clothing and medicines, and the superintendent supplies food and care at a certain contract price per head. No attempt is made to work the land by pauper labor, but inmates are required to help themselves in all proper ways, and do such light work as the wisdom of the overseer considers fitter for them. The present cost of maintaining the indigent ot the county at the county-house is about three thousand dollars per annum. George Bartholmew was succeeded by Samuel Demery, who had charge of the county-house from 1873 to 1876, when Mr. Bartholmew was reappointed, and remained as superintendent until the county-house was placed in charge of the present incumbent, F. J. Collier, who assumed his duties as superintendent February 20, 1878.

The new county building now in process of erection under contract with Messrs. Alexander & Lutz, of Lake City, is really a credit to the county. The building presents a very imposing appearance; architecturally it is well proportioned, and the durability of its construction will not be questioned by those who have watched its erection, or carefully examined the materials of which it is built. The plans were drawn by E. Alexander, of Lake City, the original contractor, who afterward associated with him Mr. Wm. B. Lutz, also of Lake City, and by them it was erected. The extreme length of the front wing, facing westward, is seventy-six feet eight inches; of the side wing, facing north, sixty-four feet four inches; the sides of the inner angle are forty-nine feet and thirty-two feet respectively; the walls rise twenty-seven feet above the water-table, and the roof will be of tin. There are porticoes over the two main entrances on the west and north, and a porch along the entire length of the southern side of the shorter wing. There is a solid stone foundation under all, in building which sixty-eight cords of stone were used, and the walls contain two hundred thousand brick. Ground was broken in the early summer, the first stone was laid in the foundation June 1, and work pushed so rapidly that the walls were completed August 4. The contract requires the completion of the entire structure September 15, and the work goes on with every prospect of accomplishing it within the specified time. The original contract was for seven thousand nine hundred and forty dollars, but some changes have been made in water-tables and other particulars, which will bring the total cost to eight thousand two hundred and fifty dollars. The building is lighted by seventy-two windows ~ those in the lower story having lights of 14 x 40 inches; the upper story 14 x 36 inches, all four-light sash. The walls of the basement are seventeen inches in thickness; of superstructure, twelve inches. The basement contains the furnace and laundry, in addition to the usual cellar room, and there is an excellent cistern with a capacity of two hundred and thirty barrels. The window and door sills are of solid stone, ant d there is a very substantial as well as ornate appearance to the entire structure. J. Cole doughty & Co., of Lake City, supply the furnaces and put on the roof; Jewell & Schmidt, of Wabasha, furnish all other hardware. The superintendent's rooms and the kitchen are in the east wing; the dining-room and quarters for the inmates in the main wing, fronting the public highway. The kitchen is 15 x 17 feet; the dining-room 25 x 18 feet; the rooms for inmates are each 8 x 11 feet. The lower hall is ten feet four inches, upper hall six feet, and there ware three staircases, varying in width from three feet wight inches to three feet. The building contains twenty-nine rooms, all told ~ thirteen downstairs, twenty-six in upper story. The whole arrangement is such as to economize space and labor in caring for the county's wards, without confining them to cramped quarters or vitiated air. There are six inmates, whose ages range from sixty-five to eighty-four years. Gertie Day, a simpleminded girl, is the oldest case of the poor-house, having been an inmate for ten years.

End of Chapter



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