By Lisa K. Gendron & Sondra Butler
The buildings consisted of a comfortable frame house for the dwelling of the superintendent and his family, and a large two-story hand hewed log asylum, chinked with mud and grass, for the paupers. There were few windows and there was no floor, although later, wood floors were installed. There were also several outbuildings on the property, including a barn, springhouse, chicken house, pigsties, and a shed. A separate house for indigent women was built later so that the men and women could have more privacy. In the winter, a wood stove provided heat, but the houses were drafty and cold.
Hygiene had a very low priority. Water was carried from a nearby spring, and there was no indoor plumbing. The residents and the superintendent’s family used privies. There were no facilities for taking a full bath, unless the superintendent provided a washtub or tin bathtub filled with water heated on the stove. If and when residents washed, they used a metal pan filled with water, and lye soap made by the superintendent’s wife after the hogs were slaughtered. There was no type of entertainment or diversion. The residents sat outdoors on the porch when the weather was fair, on the steps or occasionally in the yard on a stump. The blind, feeble, and insane were housed with healthy but indigent residents.
County doctors checked the
inmates every week or so, and administered whatever treatment was deemed
necessary. When an inmate died, a plain wooden coffin was made, and the inmate
was laid to rest in the
The bills incurred by the
farm, such as the doctors fees, bills submitted by those who did sewing for the
paupers, constructed coffins, or persons transporting inmates to the farm, etc.
were paid by the County Court when it met each month to conduct business.
Records of these bills were published in the county newspapers, mainly The
Jefferson Democrat. Not everyone was always happy with the way things were
handled though. In a letter to the editor of the Jefferson Democrat, dated
Candidates for the position of Superintendent were required to submit bids for the position. A contract was awarded to the man who presented the lowest bid. He was responsible for taking care of the residents in a reasonably comfortable manner, keeping the farm buildings in good operating order, clearing some land, planting crops, and taking care of the animals. The residents were to assist in raising crops and animals that would provide food, thus helping to make the farm self-sustainable.
The superintendent’s wife prepared or directed the preparation of all the meals, using vegetables raised in the garden, fruit from the trees in the orchard, eggs collected from the chickens, and meat from the animals which were slaughtered on the farm. She also made butter, buttermilk, and cheese, which were stored in the springhouse. Sometimes the superintendent supplemented their diet with wild game.
The farm had a capacity for the care of thirty paupers or mentally ill patients, although the average was usually about twenty. The first Superintendent of the Jefferson County Poor Farm was Louis Partney.
In the 1860
Geo M. Fry, Superintendent 57 SC
Theodocia Fry 52 KY
Geo. W Fry 17 MO
Caroline John 30 MO
Frances John 7 F MO
Major Omar 21 MO
William Omar 8/12 MO
Minerva Livingston 65 Insane Pauper NK
Weasey 65 Insane Pauper
Toy 20 Idiotic
A. Sullivan 21
M. Sullivan 6/12 F
By 1870, Louis Partney was once again superintendent, and the following inmates were listed in the census:
Louis Partney 45 MO
Taressa Partney 26 MO
John Partney 14 MO
Augustus Partney 14 MO
Kate Partney 5 MO
Naaman Partney 3 MO
Eugene Partney 1 MO
And’w Renshaw Blind KY
Sophia Tonelle FRA
Nancy Estepp 73 IL
Minerva Livingston 72 VA
Jane Billings 76 KY
Maria Porter 45 KY
Ann Toy 30 Insane MO
Ellen Godt 50 Blind MO
John Godt 14 Blind MO
Mary Cunningham 34 Insane MO
Mary Smith 7 MO
Lucinda 3 MO
John 7/12 MO Born Oct.
Mary Mallory 20 MO
Edgar Mallory 1/12 born April MO
Arch’d Johnson 32 Insane MO
Moses Martin 52 (Black) Insane KY
Betty Hale 50 Blind TN
“January Term - Mr. Thos. Howe was appointed the Superintendent of the County Farm for one year Mr. Partney's time expires in March.”
In February, 1872, the
County Court Proceedings reported that upon examination of the bids for renting
Jefferson Democrat, Friday, June 7, 1872 – PROCEEDINGS OF COUNTY COURT May Term, 1872 - Peter Felster, a pauper, inmate of the County Farm, presented a bill against the county for $17.00, for waiting on another pauper, but his bill was rejected and he ordered to be discharged from the County Farm.
In the same issue, appeared this item:
A man had been taken to the
Estep, 80 years of age, is a native of
Toy aged 30, a native of
Gott, aged 55 years, a native of
Hale, (colored) formerly from
Gott aged 16 is a native of
Minerva Livingston, aged 60 is decrepid and crazy, and has been an inmate for several years.
Harrison Smith aged 5 was born at the poor house. His mother died there. He is a bright looking little boy, and ought to be adopted by some one.
John Rushkopf, a German aged 67 years has lately been admitted. He is crippled and infirm.
Frank Blun, a German aged 49 has been but a few weeks in this county. He came here sick and helpless and was taken to the poor house, where he will probably spend the remainder of his days.
Caroline Cramer aged 40 years is insane and has not been long at the county farm.
As fast as the inmates become able to make a living for themselves they are discharged, three being discharged last quarter. The county pays Mr. Partney, the Superintendent, for feeding the paupers at the rate of $40.00 per annum for each pauper kept. He also gets the use of the farm and dwelling house. The clothing for the papers is paid for by the county, as is also their medical bills.
Jefferson Democrat April 9, 1875
On last Friday there was a lively row among the paupers at the county farm. Among the inmates are an invalid named Clark, a crazy woman called Catharine and the man Riley who was found last winter in the woods living on acorns. Clark likes for his associates to keep clean and neat and insists on them washing and combing regularly. Catharine had neglected her hair for over a week, and Clark, after repeated warnings, undertook to comb it for her. Riley saw the tussle, and went for Clark with an ax. His movements were observed by Mr. Couch and John Partney, two attendants, who started for the scene of action, but before they arrived Riley had struck Clark two blows with the back of the ax, first on the back which knocked him down, and then on the head. Couch finding that he could not get to him in time to prevent another blow, threw a rock which struck Riley on the head and felled him. He jumped up and made at Couch with his ax, but by that time Partney had arrived and Riley was secured and confined. Clark is badly hurt; Dr. Pipkin thinks two of his ribs are broken. Our informant did not state whether Catharine got her hair combed, or not.
1880 Federal Census,
Williams 61 Farmer and Superintendent of
Harriet Williams 48 wife
Iva Cook 16 step-daughter
Edward Cook 19 step-son
Rudolph Cook 13 step-son
Eugene Williams 6 son
Aggie Couch White Female Blind 50 MO
Rebecca O’Brien W F 84 Blind IRE IRE IRE
Betsy Hale W F 55 Blind MO
Ellen Gant W F 50 Blind MO
Fannie Rousen W F 47 MO
Caroline Cramer W F 40 MO
Ellen Cramer W F 48 Blind MO
Fritz Miller W M 35 Idiotic MO
Alexander McKenzie W F 50 Insane MO
Vail W M 30 Insane NY
Caroline Gasche W F 41 Insane MO
Hugh Craigen W M 30 Insane MO
Shannon Toy W M 18 Idiotic MO
Jack Waters W M 55 Insane MO
Emanuel Fage W M 60 Insane MO
Silas Nulls W M 36 MO
Nicholas Felton W M 44 MO
Many types of people found homes at the county farm; blind, feeble, insane, and people just down on their luck. The above Caroline Gasche was placed at the county farm following her trial for the murder of her husband, where she was found insane. In 1882, a young man named Richard Feeney, aged about 20 years, died at the county farm from consumption. He was an orphan, and had been brought to the county by Frank Boughton, In 1887, a Mrs. Bairett and her four children were brought to the county farm from DeSoto. Her husband had deserted her, and she was destitute of means and supposed to be insane. Also in 1887, Philip Zipp, an old gentleman from near House's Spring, died at the county farm. He had been an inmate of the poor farm for only two or three months. He was a member of the Baptist church for many years; but evidently could no longer take care of himself. In 1888, the newspaper reported that “Mr. Hicks, an old man who used to teach school in this county, came back here this week to be taken care of at our county poor farm. He is a total wreck.”
For the next few years, the job of superintendent seemed to bound back and forth between J.O. Williams and Alexander Huskey. In 1882, Williams was in charge and was allowed $179.52 by the county court during that session. In August of the following year, Alex Huskey placed a bid which was accepted by the county to keep the paupers for the sum of $39 per year each, and the insane patients at $49, and also to repair the fences and fix up the farm. The editor of the paper made the following statement about the appointment. “This is less than 11 cents per day for ordinary paupers, and less than 14 cents per day for the insane. If there is a taxpayer in the county who wants it done cheaper, we don't want to know him.” J.O. Williams was back as superintendent in February 1884, and was allowed $165.85 by the court for expenses. By 1888, Alexander Huskey had the job again. The following article appeared in the January 11 issue of the Jefferson Democrat.
“Our attention has been called to an error in our report of the County court proceedings at the last term. It was stated that Alexander Huskey, superintendent of the poor farm, had been paid $31 for sewing for paupers. The bill for sewing was only $15, the other $16 being for burial expenses of two paupers who had died. Mr. Huskey has been very conscientious in the discharge of his duties as superintendent, and it seems he has been subjected to unfavorable criticism based upon the misstatement above referred to, hence we make this correction of what may seem to some a trifling matter.”
Alexander Huskey was the son
of John Huskey and Nancy Williams, pioneer settlers of
He married Sarah Partney, daughter of Louis Partney, who was the first superintendent of the county farm.
He was also the GGG Uncle of Lisa K. Gendron, one of the authors of this article.
Statement of County Warrants Issued by the County, Court of Jefferson County, Missouri, and of Jury and Witness Scrip, Issued by the Circuit Clerk for the year ending February 1, 1889
Joseph Pfeil pauper
Peter Meng pauper
Jacob Tyrey pauper
S. J. Burgess pauper
T. Taylor and wife paupers
Mary Wright pauper
Mary Wideman pauper
William Boly pauper
Alfred Graham pauper
Louis Deguis pauper
Elizabeth Behr pauper
Don McCulloch pauper
Kitty A. McMullin pauper
Meredith Rogers pauper
Elizabeth Logan pauper
The following articles sparked a debate between some citizens and the courts. Because of the lack of census data, it is not known who was in charge of the poor farm during this time.
Grand Jury Report: We the undersigned committee of grand jurymen beg leave to report: That we visited the County Poor Farm and Insane Asylum, and we found that the inmates of the insane department were not provided with fire to heat the rooms sufficient to enable the inmates to live in any manner comfortable, or keep themselves from suffering from the cold. We found the bed clothing insufficient and filthy. We found that the insane were not sufficiently clothed. We found the building in need of repairs; the walls of the insane department were open in many places, thereby causing much distress to the unfortunate insane. We found the stoves in the several houses were much worn, and we suggest that the stoves be replaced and more precaution taken against fire. And we call special attention to the stove pipes that they are in reach of the unfortunate insane paupers, and should be made more secure. We found that the fence around the insane building is in dilapidated condition, and we suggest that it be repaired. We had no means of ascertaining the quality or quantity of the food provided for the inmates. The paupers did not complain very seriously when questioned on the subject.
John W. Ritcher
The grand juries report as published last week, is an unusually severe arraignment of the County court, whether as intended or not. If the clothing and building for the insane pauper is insufficient, the stoves old and worn out, the stove pipes where they are likely to injure the patients, the building full of holes, etc., it is the duty of the County court to see that such things are remedied and provide against their being in such bad condition again. We know that in such matters as this different people have different opinions. What would seem a palace to some people, would not be considered fit for a stable for horses by others. The clothing which some people constantly wear and think good enough, would hardly be touched by others with a ten foot pole. It all depends on the circumstances, conditions, etc., of the particular individual who expresses the opinion. But the court is not expected to be governed by the whines or opinions of any extreme class. What the general public expects in regard to the unfortunate who inmates of any department of the poor house, is that they should be comfortably provided for; that they should not be made to suffer from either hunger or cold. This much the court should see to at once, and the judges should oftener visit and inspect the poor house and learn what is needed, and not wait for suggestions from grand jury, committee, or anybody else.
Jefferson Democrat, March 3, 1892
Thomas CAGE took charge of the county poor farm on the 1st last. He will keep things in good shape.
Whether or not the conditions were improved upon after this set of letters was published is not known. But a similar letter was published in the Jefferson Democrat newspaper a few years later.
A CRYING SHAME: An Open
Letter to the People of
On Friday, Nov. 6th,  a delegation from the Woman's Christian Union, and a few other citizens of DeSoto interested in the cause of practical Christianity, paid a visit to the Jefferson County Poor Farm. The day was beautiful overhead. The roads, however, were not in very good condition. Nevertheless the ten mile drive was made in about two hours and every one was in good spirits. As we drew up to the farm the building presented a bright cheerful appearance. One of the inmates ran down from the wood pile and politely opened the gate. The ladies then spread the lunch for the party in the orchard. To partake of a luncheon was necessary for two reasons. First, in order to sustain us for the awful sights and smells which awaited us, and, secondly, because no one would have had either appetite or heart to eat after passing through such scenes of shame and misery. Little did we think that such pictures of want and inhumanity was within a stone's throw of our hastily temporized table. After satisfying our hunger we proceeded to visit the inmates, distributing apples, bananas and cake and literature.
We said that the buildings looked bright and cheerful, but was from the outside. There is no plastering in any of the buildings; hence to keep warm during the winter must be an effort for the unfortunate poor. Yet the inmates spoke well of the treatment which they received and they seemed to be content. They said that the board was good, and plenty of it, and the ladies of the party who dropped into the dining room at dinner time reported that the food was plain but substantial and that there seemed to be a goodly supply. One thing noticeable about the inmates was their appreciation of our visit and their unfeigned unselfishness, no one despairing to get more than another everyone being highly satisfied with what he received.
Taking our leave of this part of the farm we went to another building entirely separated from the others, and which is used for the mentally deranged. Of all the sights which we have ever witnessed, this is the saddest and most inhuman. It would be hard to find a more ghastly proof of the poet's saying that "Man's inhumanity to man makes countless thousands mourn." In one room is an idiot girl about 19 years old behind bars. Her bed is scant indeed, no pillow, not even a bedstead, but a dirty conglomeration of something spread on the floor in the corner. In the same room is an old lady of about seventy years who within the past six months is showing signs of losing her mind. We do not wonder at this. This room has no stove and yet the idiot and this old lady have had to occupy it during these cold nights. Friends, this is cruelty, is it not? Just across the hall in a room by herself, is a woman about twenty-five years old suffering from a most loathsome disease and the babe on her knee bore in a frightful manner the marks of the same curse. The atmosphere in this room was simply awful, some of the ladies having to go out immediately, and the poverty of the room was enough to bring tears to the hardest heart. Dirt abounds in every building. But we are not through yet. More awful revelations of shameless cruelty and
unpardonable neglect were yet to be visited in other apartments where these poor demented men, black and white, do not receive as much care or consideration as the cattle of the fields.
If the accommodations and order in the rooms were a disgrace to
humanity, the condition of affairs here I prefer to leave to your imagination.
We must drop the word "odor," for here it was an abominable stench.
That place today is a veritable "chamber of horrors," a blot upon
creation and a stigma of shame upon the whole State of
We have faith in the people and believe that all is necessary is
information to cause them to wipe out this disgrace upon our county. If more
funds are needed a very small tax would cover it, perhaps only the fraction of
a cent on the dollar. To have, remained silent would have been cowardly. The
subject was presented last Sunday morning in the Presbyterian pulpit of this
city, and measures have been taken to relieve the immediate wants of the
inmates of the farm, because it is not a time to discuss where the fault lies,
while the people are suffering. If permitted to do so the churches no doubt
would be glad to furnish a number of these rooms. A very small outlay would do
this and make it comfortable for the unfortunate, and the ministers will take
turns in preaching there. We appeal to the
Very Sincerely yours,
Pastor Presbyterian Church,
According to the 1900
census, John W. Partney was now the manager of the farm. He was the son of
Louis Partney, the first county poor farm superintendent. Louis died on
John W. Partney Supt W M Born Jan 1845 Age 55 Mar 21 years MO MO MO
Tom D. Akins W M Dec 1832 67
Hayden Rendeford W M Jan 1845 55 WD MO KY TN
Wm. Page W M Aug 1833 66 MD 1 Eng Eng Eng
Andrew Reusch W M Widowed GER GER GER
Jacob Diflemane W M Unk
Mollie Wise W F Mar 1880 20
Etta Graves W F 1868 32
Ann Washburn W F
Lucy Livingston B F 1830 70 Wid. MO
Rudolph Stewart W M
Anton Smithenseek W M May
Henry Nulty W M
Alex Leutzinger W M MO SWZ SWZ
Christ Bush W M
Jake Water B M
Henry Boice B M Jun 1861 38
Unknown B M
Tucker Batte W M Apr 1826 74 MO VA VA
(For other census data, click this link poorfarmitems.htm)
(For 1900 Poor Farm County Ward Book, click this link WardBook1900CountyFarm.htm)
The county farm continued to
be managed by members of the Partney family. Cora Virginia Partney, along with
her husband Francis Marion Pierce, kept the farm for several years, as did her
sister Mary Lizzie Partney and her husband, Edgar Marsden. Both women were the
daughters of John William Partney.
Edgar and Mary
There is a mysterious happening associated with the farm. Almost everyone in the area knew and accepted as fact the appearance of strange lights that appeared around the farm. They had been seen by family members as well as neighbors in the area. Some of the superintendents and their families as well as residents of the farm in previous years had also reported seeing the lights. Some people believed there was something supernatural about them.
Edgar Marsden Sept. 1. 1923 on his 50th birthday, standing in front
of the Superintendent’s House at the
Lizzie Marsden, a sensible,
practical woman who eschewed foolishness told of having seen them. As a
dedicated Baptist of strong Christian faith, she would not even consider
embellishing the truth, much less tell a lie. She said that she had seen the
lights several times and described them as being the size of a grapefruit. On
the nights when the lights appeared, they would seem to rise over the trees
near the cemetery on a hill across
June Rose Hensley at the Poor Farm in 1928
House at Poor Farm 2001
Chicken House at Poor Farm 2001
Barn at Poor Farm 2001
are now usually buried in the Neely Cemetery,
All photographs in this article are courtesy of Sondra Butler
Copyright Lisa K. Gendron & Sondra Butler