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Poor Home to County Home
1842-1962

Poor Farm or County Home

1842
The State of Iowa approved a law whereby it was to be the duty of each county to care for the poor.

1857, January, Des Moines Valley Whig
The Lee County poor house was situated along the Plank Road, six miles north of Keokuk. There was a  row of log huts, totaling only six rooms and a small frame one room house. Four rooms were used to house the paupers, numbering thirty people. All of these people were either feeble in mind or body or diseased.

The people in charge of the institution appeared to be doing all they could do for the inmates, but their means of accomplishing this were limited. Packing thirty people, 24 men and 6 women, three of these were children, into four small rooms - where they must eat, sleep and wash, did not afford much change of recovery from their ills. Another problem was the want of wearing apparel.

The Superintendent received from the county $1.50 per head a week for boarding, feeding, furnishing wearing apparel, lights and fuel.  The county furnished necessary bedding.

The Superintendent also had use of the farm, consisting of 100 acres of not very productive land.     

In order to remedy these conditions, County Judge Samuel Boyles in 1857, directed the building of a new poor house, or county home.

The building  was  100 feet long and 36 feet wide with a wing 36 by 50 feet at each end. The cost was $35,000.  (The Whig 1857)

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Writings about the Poor Farm from Different Sources

1866 January 19
Notice is given by the Board of Supervisors that sealed proposals shall be received, in regard to letting the poor farm, together with all the appurtenances and all other property there-to belonging.  It is proposed that the person who rents the farm shall take charge of all the poor in the poor house

1866, February 10
The county poor house and farm was rented to Butler and Smith. They pay $2.50 a year per acre for the tillable land and board paupers for $2.25 per week.  They take all of the stock and farming utensils belonging to the poor farm,  and pay for it at the appraised value.  A committee of the Board of Supervisors is to visit the poor house once a week to see that the lessees comply with the terms of the contract.

1868 September
Board of Supervisors report of the committee:  The home is situated five miles from Keokuk, on the Lee County Farm, a tract of 120 acres, 80 of which are tillable.  The house built at a cost of $23,000, is four stories high, including the basement.  Half of the basement is used as a men’s ward, the other half is kitchen and wash rooms.  Half of the first floor is occupied by the keeper, and half by female paupers.  The basement is entirely unfit for the purpose of a ward or dormitory.  The furniture is rude and insufficient.  The bedrooms are furnished with a bedstead and chair.  The beds are of loose, coarse straw, thin, long used and far from clean.  There are no bathrooms in the house. 12 men, 11 women and 3 children are inmates,  receive three meals a day,  and rye coffee.  The money expended in 1867 for the poor house amounted to $4,931.57.

1868 October 3
George Stanwood, appointed by the Board to take general supervision of the poor house and all applications for relief must be made to him.

1869 August 26
There is a decent walk leading to the house, bordered by flowers.  A year ago the house looked like old night, there was but one rough and shaggy coat of plastering.  Paint, whitewash and water have worked a wonderful transformation.  The improvements have cost little more than $500

1878 July 29
A Supervisor and representatives from daily papers toured the poor house. Met by Mr. Davis, Superintendent.

The building is long, rambling, three stories high, with lots of gables, covered with a tin roof and sits near the road almost in the center of the 260 acre farm.  63  inmates, 23 of them from the Mt Pleasant Asylum.  It was necessary to enclose a portion of the yard in the rear with a high, tight board fence. There are three cells in the basement.  When an inmate becomes obstreperous, he is locked up in a cell and kept there until he quiets down.  This is the only punishment used.  The second floor is being remodeled, and a dining room for the women placed there, to which the food will be transported by a dumb waiter, now being constructed and running from the basement.  In the second floor is a room for a chapel.

1883 February 2
A reporter visited:  Accommodations for insane persons were not contemplated in the plan of the building, so now inadequate both for poor and insane.  Insane males kept in the basement, entirely underground.

1883 February 21
Grand Jury report: The greatest complaint they heard among the unfortunate people was want of medical attention, and it was the sense of the GJ that this morbid craving should be satisfied, if only by “expectants.”  The  inmates number 82, 52 of whom are lunatics and imbeciles.  The heating apparatus, the ventilation, and the drainage of the building should receive the earliest possible attention. Other rooms should be built, as the present basement rooms should be abandoned for living.  Jumble of unfortunate poor, with the lunatics, is a disgrace.

1888 March 15
34 poor and 43 insane.  The county home appeared in good condition, everything is surprisingly good order.  One girl born at the house, bright, runs playfully with the children of the Superintendent.  She may be adopted.

1893 December 9
The previous November election was in favor of building a $7500 addition, to cost no more than $7500.

1896 December 23
Fred Korschgen,  Superintendent for more then eleven years

The city is only faintly visible from the upper stories of the building.  You may see the buildings and smoke from Dupont Hazardous Powder Works, about a mile away.  The home built of red brick, four stories high, presents an imposing appearance.  At the rear is a large brick building, which contains the boilers.  There is a slaughter house, and a smoke house, a large ice house and barns and stables.  The building itself contains 125 rooms.  An addition is being planned.  Four years ago a wing was built on the south end, which was quite a large and important addition.  The county home house stands on a farm of 160 acres.

Mr. Korschgen was keeper of the Fort Madison jail for two years, before he was chosen for the poor house.  He was also a constable and a deputy sheriff. He is advised by Dr. Coulter.  There are 83 inmates.

1900 January
It cost $12.22 a month for each person, paying privately.  They were also to buy their own clothes.

There are 91 residents, 4 male staff, 2 women staff, besides the Superintendent and his wife.  Superintendent was paid $500 a year, his wife, $200 a year.  Attendants were earning $20 per month.  Dr. Coulter was the county physician and was paid $175 a year, out of which he was to provide medicine.  He came out three times a week, unless he was needed more.

There is a fenced in yard, 60 by 80 feet.  Bathtubs were of iron, so were the beds.  Mattresses were of straw ticking.  White sheets, double width, woolen blankets, comforts and feather pillows were used.  Bed changes weekly or oftener.  One patient bed,  five  patients had quarters in the basement, in spite of reports as early as 1866 that this was not a proper place to live.

1913 Gate City
In November, 1891, the Board of Supervisors submitted to the people the proposition to build an addition to cost not more than $7500. This was done the following year.

A new foundation was built under the old building and a wing 68 feet long, in the same style of architecture was added. A sewer was run to the creek, 649 foot distance. Water was furnished from five wells and four cisterns.  The water tower, extending high in the air is in existence at this time. There is an abundance of water to the building.  The building throughout is furnished with water pipes through which water is sent for household purposes, drinking, cooking and cleanliness, both for personal and building.  The inmates have a convenient bath house.  They also have a steam heating plant which was installed when the addition was built.

There are 110 rooms which are remarkably clean and homelike, despite such a mixture of inmates, both sane and insane and considering the limited force that do all of the work.

There are male inmates in the basement of the main building. Here are also located the kitchen, dining room and storage rooms.  Two-thirds of the first floor is devoted to apartments for sane female inmates and the remainder of that floor is given over to the Superintendent and his family.

On the second floor the insane females are accommodated and one-third of the space on this floor is occupied by the Superintendent and his assistants.  On the third floor is the quarters of the insane males.

The home is most admirably located and arranged for the care of the inmates and is maintained at a minimum cost.  Ample barns, smoke house where a sufficient supply of meat of their own killing is kept.  Near the barn is a hog house which has a cement floor, adjoining it is the feeding pen.  There are other smaller buildings dotted over the grounds, including a wash house.

It is partially self supporting through the operation of its three farms, consisting of 108 acres where the home stands, the Leighton farm of 80 aces in Jackson Township and the Taylor farm of 60 acres in Montrose Township.

1951 April 5
A delegation of visitors were enthused over improvements made at the institution.  Each resident was given the opportunity to choose the color of paint to be used in his or her room.  The paint up campaign has worked wonders.  Neatness everywhere was apparent.  There were 125 residents. An addition of a laundry, no longer were there lines filled with clothes in the basement. A big supply of canned goods,   the canning having been done there.  Raised almost enough potatoes, to feed the county home population.  Some of the residents painted their own rooms.  Inventory totals over $165,000.  The average cost of each resident was cut from $282.17 per year to $161.46 per year.  The average cost per month was $13.45, as against the 1949 cost of $23.51.

1961 October 3
Workmen on the new Lee Co. Home are working at a rapid pace to prepare the home for occupancy next October.

1962 October 19
The new Lee Co. Memorial home will be dedicated October 21.  $950,000 in bonds, made possible by residents of the county.  The present home, built in 1847, is over crowded with its present 118.  The new home is capable of housing 160 residents and 18 staff. 


Compiled by Sally Youngquist


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