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Allegany County Poorhouse

Allegany County Poor House

Angelica, New York

In the 1820s, the committee on the poorhouse suggested that there be no distinction between the county and town poor. Allegany county appointed superintendents to the poor who were instructed to buy a farm and to build buildings to house the poor. Mssrs. Van Nostrand, Huff, Lockhart, Gordon and Merrick were apponited to make the nominations for superintendents. These were elected supervisors of the Poor: S. S. Haight (Angelica), Lorenzo Dana (Friendship), Andrew C. Hull (Birdsall), Stephen Major (Almond) and William P. Wilcox (Nunda). A stone building was erected on an 180 acre farm about two miles east of the county courthouse. In 1860, J.H. French noted that it housed an average of 57, inmates, but that the building did not have any means of ventilation. At that time the farm was yeilding about $1,000/year.

French, J.H., Gazetteer of the State of New York, Syracuse, N.Y.: R. Pearsall Smith, 1860
Minard, J.S., Allegany County and Its People: A Centennial Memorial History of Allegany County, New York, 1898

1857 Investigation of Allegany Poorhouse - on the "Poorhouses in America"

The Poor House on the US and NY State Census

1900 1880 1875 1870 1865 1860 1855 1850

The County Poor House in the News

From a clipping dated 4/73 Angelica N.Y.- County Home Spectator

Alms House Fire Remains Worst

By Ruth Marsh

ANGELICA- Considered the “most horrible event in the history of Allegany County,” the Allegany County Alms House at Angelica burned down 50 years ago with seven aged women and one man trapped in the burning buildings and perishing in the flames.  The nightfireman Fred Scheu, was still unaccounted for three days later.

A little before midnight on March 15, 1923 fire was discovered in the boiler room in the basement of the administration building, above which were the inmates’ dining rooms and kitchen, and the second floor above, the employees’ sleeping quarters.  Connected to this by a 50-foot passageway was the women’s dormitory with seven bedridden patients and 14 other inmates plus two babies, one about one year old, and one, three months old.

In front was the dwelling, of Superintendent William Hall, his wife and two sons, Alfred 8 and Rodney 5.  The men’s concrete dormitory housing 29 inmates, was in back.  Following the discovery of the fire, immediately there was an explosion in the passageway which quickly spread the flames to the women’s dormitory and the superintendent’s house, and all three buildings were quickly wrapped in flames.  Employees started jumping from upstairs windows; one Lynn Weir jumped from his window, grabbed an electric wire and slid to the ground; Olin Colin followed and Hall and his family were roused from their rooms.  They immediately aroused the men and women inmates, and the 29 men with their attendant marched out.

The fourteen women and two babies were removed from the burning building by the concerted efforts of the employees and Mr. and Mrs. Hall, but the seven bedridden patients were not so lucky.  Lost to the fire were Miss Sylvia Gibbs, of Granger, 80, Mrs. Addie Olmstead of Belmont, 73, Mrs. Marietta Foster of Wellsville, 75, Miss Christina Grastorf of Wellsville, 52, and Mrs. Hannah Webster of Belfast, 96.  One heavy woman, Miss Francis Cooke of Wellsville, sister of Mrs. C. Braunschweiger and Mrs. Fred Dornow of Scio, jumped from the upstairs window and was severely injured.  Because she was a large woman, Mrs. Hall was unable to lift her to carry her away from the heat of the burning building and had to roll her over and over.

In a very short time all three buildings were burned to the ground.  The only things saved by any inmate, employee, or Hall and his family were the nightclothes they were wearing.  They all agreed however that, had it not been for Everett Stafford, an employee who was visiting with Miss Ethel Jennings, the inmate’s cook, who discovered the fire in the boiler room, they too, would probably have been burned to death.

Volunteer fire companies came from Angelica, having made the three mile-run from the town with their hose carts and truck, only to find that their services proved of little value.  The pipe through which part of the Alms House water supply came was from a deep well but the pump and heavy pressure air tanks were located in the basement near the boilers and shortly after the firemen arrived, they were out of commission.  Through their efforts however, the fire was kept from the stables and the other buildings.

This excerpt was found in county books located in the Hinkle Library at Alfred State College. Reports of Officers (1923)

Inspection Allegany County Home:


No action taken.  The destruction by fire of three out of four almshouse buildings in March of the present year caused more vital needs.


The destruction of the three buildings made it necessary to disperse the majority of the surviving inmates.  Seventeen men, a woman and an infant are being cared for in a private institution or home in Angelica, several others are at the Steuben County Farm, others are with friends or are boarded, several were in a hospital.

The men’s building, the only dwelling to escape destruction, was immediately equipped for the emergency and has since the fire housed some of the staff and inmates.

Plans for fireproof structures to replace those that were destroyed, were drawn, and were approved by the State Board of Charities.  The work preliminary to the laying of the foundations has been started.  The farm buildings escaped damage, and farm work continued without check.  One barn has been reshingled, and another is to be.   The dairy herd received a final tuberculin test, the survivors being free from infection.

New equipment includes tableware, clothing, washing machine, refrigerator, tables, chairs, gas heaters and lights, and (ordered) a combination range to replace gas plates; there are also a new Register and State Board of Inmates.

An electric line is being extended to the Home from Angelica.

Wards and Rooms

Totals - 12 11

At the time of the fire there were 56 inmates, of whom seven were burned to death.  Two employees were also lost in the fire.  Since the last general inspection there have been 20 admissions, 49 discharges, and 14 deaths, including those burned.  All but two of the eleven inmates are in good health.

The inmates are:

Patterson, recently admitted, is sick in bed, and seems to suffer considerably; he may be taken to a hospital.  William Langdon is lame and feeble.  Two men and one woman are feeble-minded.  There are no epileptics nor blind.  The latest entry in the State Board was No. 1848, September 4, 1923.


The building is more than adequate for the present population, and when the kitchen gas range is installed more men will be admitted.  Two gas plates are now the only cooking facilities for inmates and staff.  Lighting is by natural gas and kerosene, but an electric line is now being extended from Angelica to the Home.  Oil and gas stoves are at present used for heating, but as done in the early spring, a traction boiler will be placed outside to furnish steam.

Lavatory, toilet and bathing facilities are adequate, convenient and modern.  A laundry machine is provided; the men’s things are sent to a laundry.  Working equipment, including temporary kitchen and dining room, is in the basement.  A large refrigerating room has also been built there.


Resident officers and employees:

The attending physician, Dr. B. C. Wakely, of Angelica, comes only on call, and his visits are not recorded at the Home, as they should be.  This criticism has been repeated for several years.  The matron does the cooking for inmates and staff.  The inmates receive the same food as the staff except as to desserts.  Meals for inmates on day of inspection:   Breakfast - Rolled oats, milk, sugar, warmed-up potato, bread, butter, fried bacon, coffee, tea.  One man in bed had fried eggs.

Dinner- Boiled potato, beef gravy, summer squash, cucumbers, bread, butter, tea.

Supper- Creamed potato, bread, butter, tea.

Meat and eggs for breakfast are unusual; this meal is otherwise the same every day except that cookies are added occasionally.  Suppers include potato or soup, and sometimes leftovers.  Butter is provided twice a day.  Dinners include one or two extra vegetables at this season, and fresh meat twice a week.  Berries and applesauce are served frequently.  Friday’s dinner consisted of warmed-over beef, boiled rice, boiled potato, gravy, cucumbers, beet pickles, bread, tea, and milk.

Butter is not made here, the cream being shipped.  Four more cows had been lost following tuberculin tests, making 29 lost in all.  There are now 10 cows, 7 heifers, 2 heifer calves and a bull, all purebred Jerseys.   The State Charities Aid Association made an inspection in July.


New buildings are needed. (Construction started).

The physician’s visits should be recorded.

In connection with the general inspection of the Allegany County Home a visit was made at a house in Angelica wherein nineteen of the inmates of the Home are being cared for.  This is a large two-story brick house standing on High Street in a large lot on high ground on the edge of the village.  In the back yard is a frame two-story outbuilding, which is used as a men’s annex.  During the summer nine or ten men live in this building.   The rooms are not crowded considering the good ventilation. All but two inmates are men.

Front and rear stairways in the main building provide alternate means of egress in case of fire.  The main sitting room will be used by the inmates in winter.  Bathrooms are adequate; there is a separate one for women.  The building has no furnace, but it contains two big stoves, a smaller one, a gas range, three gas heaters and one electric heater.  There is one stove in the annex. Beds are comfortable, and bedding is adequate.

This place is managed by Mrs. MacConnel, a trained nurse, and she employs a practical nurse who had 18 months training, also two other helpers.  The county pays $5 a week per capita.  Among the inmates is one young epileptic, who is to be transferred to Sonyea.  The young mother is 24.  All the other inmates are over 70, and two are 93.  Four are blind, two have weak hearts, and two have kidney trouble.  Those needing special care are in the main building.  There have been four deaths since April; three of these persons were sick when admitted; one was perfectly helpless for ten weeks.  A doctor comes on call.  A man bathes and shaves the men.

Weekly baths and changes are required.  An electric washer is provided.  Clothing is marked and sorted for individual use.  Beds are inspected and sprayed once in two weeks; utensils are disinfected weekly.  Everything was found clean and sanitary.  Meat and dessert are served at least once a day, and the dinners include at least one vegetable.  Breakfast include bacon, pancakes, and maple syrup once a week.  Dinners include eggs once or twice a week. On Sunday, chicken, roast pork, or roast beef is served.  The inmates appear to be comfortably housed and well cared for.

Picture at right is the Caretaker's House.

Credits:  Pictures taken by Kelly Taft Krause.

From the Friendship Chronicle, Vol. 1, No. 25, July 28, 1880
RANDOM RAMBLINGS, by the Editor.
No. 6. Over the Hills to the Poor House. Angelica and Its Angelic Attributes.

We can in a measure appreciate the somewhat uncomfortable feelings of Mazeppa when he “got stuck” on that fiery untamed Tartar steed and was jolted over the desert at 2.12 ½ gait pursued by a pack of boarding house fed wolves in search of a square meal.  We say we can conceive his sensations to a certain degree, for a few days since we found ourselves rambling beyond the precincts of Friendship, Angelica wards.  We drove leisurely towards Belvidere.  Our steed betokened no desire to attain an undue speed; and although we had been previously warned that the animal had a decided repugnance to the exhibition of man's skill and engine-uity in the shape of railroad cars we were lulled into a sense of comparative security.  We had scarcely reached the dreaded Narrows when a heavily laden “freight ”came thundering and grunting, and hissing and puffing behind us.  With a swiftness that rivaled even the horse of Mazeppa our animal darted forward.  It was a “go as you please” affair as far as the horse was concerned and in regard to ourselves it was a decided triumph of equine matter over editorial mind.  We tugged at the reins until we had a strong suspicion that our arms were stretched to several yards in length but all our efforts to arrest the animal's career were utterly futile.  It was certainly not owing to any want of exertion on the part of that horse that we were not very quickly converted into a fit subject for a coroner's inquest.  How the brute stopped, why he stopped or when he stopped is a problem we never expect to solve, that period was certainly a very full-stop; for thereafter on our ramble his gait never exceeded five miles an hour and even that rate of speed was attained with extreme reluctance.

In the course of time we arrived at Angelica.  The only thing worthy of remark during our trip was a somewhat curious incident in natural history.  The telegraph wire which extends from Belvidere to Angelica, for almost half a mile of its length was the resting place for a large flock of small birds – purple martins we believe they were.  They were very close together and must have numbered several thousand.  This festoon of birds stretching along the roadside presented a very singular appearance.

Angelica was wearing its most pleasing summer aspect.  In addition to its admirable location the skillful hand of the gardener has has done much to display its natural advantages.  Its streets have a neat and cleanly appearance and its well kept yards and smoothly mown lawns add to the general good effect.

After accepting the kindly hospitalities of Mr. and Mrs. Frank Smith we passed a few after supper hours in visiting many of Angelica's prominent citizens.  Finally we sought rest under the hospitable shingles of Joseph Gillie's famous house of entertainment, the Charles Hotel.  Our dreams were pleasant ones.  In them we wandered with "Joe" through Bonnie Scotland.  We hurrahed for Hancock among the banks and braes of Bonnie Doon and played crouquet with several of Angelica's old gentlemen in the courtyard of Stirling Castle.

After an ample breakfast– the meal deserves special mention for its choice of viands and the excellence of their cooking– we drove out to the county Poor House, which is situated about a mile, and a half east of the town.  Turning from the main road to the right past a grist mill and over a wooden bridge we drove a short distance along a side road.

Partially hidden behind several clumps of trees we noticed a range of buildings.  A nearer view soon convinced us that we had reached the place to which we desired to give our attention.

The Allegany County Poor House proper is a long and narrow stone building two stories in height and looking very low from a casual view.  There are a number of barns and other outbuildings scattered over the farm which is the property of the county.  A small iron tablet on the front wall bears the following inscription in faded gilt raised letters:

Allegany County
Erected A.D. 1831.
John Lloyd, Contractor.
Samuel S. Haight,
William P. Wilcox,
Andrew C. Hull,
Lorenzo Dana,
Stephen Mayor,


It ws a few minutes after eight A.M. when we hitched our horse to a fence in front of the building and suntered into the yaard through an open gateway.

If there is any sight under God's heavenly canopy, which can stir to the inmost fibres the sorroing sympathies of the human heart it is such a spectacle as we beheld in the Poor House quadrangle.

Man was formed by the Omnipotent a little lower than the angels, but how heart sickening is the htought that it is possible even in His infallible wisdom that man my be reduced a little below the brutes of the field and the fowls of the air in both physical, moral and mental attributes.

And yet so it is, and the yard of the County Poor House we encountered human beings whose mental and physical condition betokened the uttermost desuetude of those powers which mankind is ordinarily endowed.  To those who suffer under trifling afflictions, who groan under what they consider burdens in life of body and mind we would heartily recommend a visit to the Poor House.  We venture to predict at least a temporary cure of their ills.

At the time of our visit there seemed to be a general season of cleaning and sweeping out.  We found afterwards that it was only the usual after-breakfast business, that each monring there was a thorough washing and scribing out of all the rooms in use.  This work is done by the inmates, but chiefly by the women.

A short thickset little fellow, whose face bore a fixed expression of amusement, and who wore a very large straw hat, came chattering up to us.  He shuffled along rapidly and flapped his arms by his side.  Ths we afterwards learned was Chuancey Smith, an old inmate.  A thin tall old man was trotting backwards and forwards in one corner of the yard, indulging in a sort of go-as-you-please with himself.  He had a rope tied about his waist and appeared to be well pleased with his occupation.  This was David Crossman aged about 70, who had passed some 30 years of that time in this place.

After looking around for a few moments we passed into the front of the building and in a pleasant and neatly furnished parlor we found Mrs. Weaver, the wife of the Keeper Mr. William Weaver, who was appointed to the position last January.  Mrs. Weaver, a quiet and at the same time, courteous little matron, very willingly conducted us through the building.

We visited the sleeping rooms upstairs which were as clean as soap, water and elbow grease could make them.  Some of the rooms are small and inconvenient but not a particle of dirt is to be seen.  There are 28 females in the House, several of them being very old and decrepid.  Many of them are terrible but generally silent physical sufferers; one particularly we noticed, Miss Wilcox, aged 92, formerly of Belfast, who is in a very pitiable condition.  Perhaps the most pitiful sight is the totally helpless condition of George McCarthy, of Scio 69 years of age who has been palsied for 9 years.  He lies on his bed without the slightest power and his eyes are the only members having voluntary motion.

Accompanied by Mrs. Charles Yaw, who has been assistant female Keeper for several years, we visited otehr parts of the House.  Across the yard we were shown into the Block House, fitted with strong cells formerly used for refractory inmates but now occupied by some of the most helpless cases.  In one of these cells sat a very old colored woman.  Our guide informed us that her name was Debbie Nelson; she came from Birdsall, was formerly a slave, had been in the House over 30 years, and was certainly nearly if not quit 120 years of age.  She occasionally walks into the yard but is quite blind.

Out in the yard we met “Peggie” or Margaret McTighe, of Andover.  She believes she owns the entire place, farm and all, and is usually very attentive to visitors.  She walks continually, when not at work and is very anxious not to tread with her bare feet on the wooden cross walk.  She has never been married.

Mrs. Yaw called Chuncey Smith towards us.  We have before mentioned this curious individual.  At her request and bribed by the promise of a piece of pie, “Chauncey ”preached us a brief sermon, the only word of which we could at all distinguish was the final “Amen ”which was pronounced with much gusto.  He was afterwards persistent in claiming his reward of pie.

We interviewed several others but have not the space or mention their idiosyacrancies.

The inmates appear to be well supplied with good wholesome food and some indeed are treated to luxuries scarcely to be looked for in their condition.  Indeed Mr. and Mrs. Weaver evidently do the very best they can, with what the County affords, to render the condition of the “unfortunates ”as endurable as possible.

We were shown around the barnes, wash house and other outbuildings by an old inmate one Jacob Fleger, who seemed to be quite happy and certainly quite proud of the live stock.  In the hog pen were 55 fine fat and extremely contented porkers.  Indeed we could not refrain from mentally contrasting their perfectly healthful (hoggish) condition with that of the human “inmates”.  On the farm there are 16 cows and about 100 sheep.  There are 180 acres of land under cultivation and about 200 acres of woodland, all the property, of the county.

Returning to the quadrangle we saw a healthy looking boy walking about.  He was a terrible epileptic sufferer.  There are seven other inmates afflicted in the same way.

Waddling about the yard in a helpless manner, very like that of some of his human associates, was a large dog, evidently quite aged.  “Jack ”is said to be 18 years of age, he certainly looks it.

We left the Poor House not unreluctantly, for even the grotesque oddities of some of the inmates could not drive away the remembrance of their lowly condition or the utterly hopelessness of life to the majority.  We wondered whether Ingersoll or his fellow atheists could claim for those unfortunates that the hereafter was to be a blank.  If it were so, surely it would be a mercy, to some of them at least, to terminate speedily their blankness on earth.

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