Poor Farm Remembered page 59
"Over the Hill to the Poor Farm." We have often heard the remark and it seems unreal.
But before the days of old age assistance and Social Security checks there were no provisions made for the aged. Many are the times the words have been said, "Oh, may God help me that I won't have to go to the Poor Farm."
In the days when Laclede County had a poor farm, it was known as the worst in the State of Missouri. The farm was located at Phillipsburg and was owned by the county.
In the year of 1850 Rufus Phillips, a graduate of an Eastern college, came to Laclede County from New Hampshire and made his home on land just east of Phillpsburg Christian Church.
He built a store, mill, blacksmith shop, tan yard and other conveniences for the good of the community. He did a good business for several years. When the railroad was completed through the county in 1869 it left the store a short distance on the west.
Changes came bringing work aplenty, with jobs for wage earners. The population increased and a new town was built near the railroad.
Having borrowed money for his venture from the school funds of the county, and for no reason of his own, the business failed and the land became the property of the county.
When need for a home for the homeless presented itself, the poor farm was established and the buildings that were already there were used for the housing of the poor.
The county hired a caretaker, usually a man and his wife, who cared for the dozen or more folk who were inmates of the farm. A spring furnished water for the place for cooking, drinking and such bathing as was done. But conditions were deplorable before the poor farm was closed.
These remarks taken from an article written by a St. Louis reporter tells a sad story of the county poor farm in 1922.
"Three blind women, living in a leaky, unheated attic, four consumptive men in a dirty one-room shack, one woman alone in a one-room log cabin without a fire, a brother and sister in a hut of logs, four old feeble men, two of them blind, ending their days in a filthy shanty, a woman and a foolish girl living in a tiny lean-to built against the wall.
The only toilet was a small surface outhouse. The caretaker told of how he and his wife did their best to feed themselves and the folk on $100 per month. They were paid $38 per month for their labors. Three meals were served each day, but the evening meal was cold corn bread, milk and butter.
On Saturday, the caretaker told how he bought beef. They had soup that day, beef on Sunday, with hash on Monday. They had lightbread only once a week. When meal time came the cook would ring a cow bell and the paupers would line up with their porcelain pie plate and cup to wait their turn at the window, where each one stepped up on the block to hand their plate to be filled. They would go back to their cabin to eat their meal.
In winter's snows and rains or summer heat, they stood to wait their turn to be fed.
Yes, those who were able could walk among the wild flowers, trees, rocks and hills to enjoy the fresh air outdoors. They lived a carefree life.
Some who were able, helped in the garden or milked the cow, cut wood and filled the wood box. But as a whole, most just sat and waited for their time to die. There was nothing to do and nobody to care. A sad story indeed."
So, please folk, when the taxes seem high, think on these things and be grateful for the improvement in the way unfortunates are taken care of compared to those who once spent their last days on The Poor Farm.
by Lois Roper Beard
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