Printer's Devil

Luke Edwards
Posted 8/3/22

Not long ago, a woman from Willard, MO. (Joanne Little) called me: she told me that her family has a painting of the residents and “poor” farm that used to be in our county. The painting …

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Printer's Devil


Not long ago, a woman from Willard, MO. (Joanne Little) called me: she told me that her family has a painting of the residents and “poor” farm that used to be in our county. The painting was made by, if she remembered correctly, the cook at the poor farm. Joanne is in her late 80s and her folks ran the farm. The painting was made on a green, canvas window blind and has since been framed and now hangs in her daughter’s home. Another neat fact about Mrs. Little: her great grandfather was Andrew McQueen. She was tickled that she found an article in The Clinton Daily Democrat about him – and even a photo of he and his wife.
But, the Henry County Farm history is just as fascinating. Here is a little information about it:
The Henry County “Poor Farm” was located a few miles northwest of Clinton; the structure is no longer there, but there was a main residence, and three buildings behind the main residence as well as a brick building which had 24 rooms (which had been added in the late 1880s or early 1890s); that structureis still there today. Two of the out-buildings had two rooms, and one of those also had a cellar. Of the two room structures, one was for those with more severe mental health problems [An 1886 article in The Clinton Eye described it as “the crazy house.”] In 1886 all the grounds and structures, including the main residence, were in excellent shape. In a tour of the facilities, the then editor of the The Clinton Eye described it as having a “beautiful lawn.” We do know that in 1886, the man who ran the farm portion of the County Farm was T.C. Hemphill; the physician and superintendent was Dr. H.P. Gilkeson. At that time there were seven residents: an aged (82-year-old) German man, a 62-year-old man from Kentucky who, although considered harmless, had “caused considerable trouble” at times. There was one young man of 21 who had epilepsy, two blind residents, one of which was African American, a 53-year-old man from Missouri who had only been there a month, and one man from Virginia who had also only been there a short time – he was 78 years old.
In 1886, the farm possessed four work mules and ten head of cattle. They had 35 head of hogs and about 15 tons of hay with 800 bushels of corn. That year they had planned on putting out 20 acres of oats. They also had about 30 acres of wheat planted.
Often the folks who lived at the farm did not meet the criteria for an asylum but had to be placed somewhere. The farm’s grounds were about 160 acres total. There is an article from the 1930s about the residents at the farm being taken to town by bus to see the Christmas lights and decorations about. It was recognized in 2013 that there were several unmarked graves located on the grounds as well.
The idea that Henry County should take care of such citizens was established at the May term in 1837 by the court. The body that oversaw funding for these cases, and eventually the farm, became the Henry County Commission. The first person taken under charge of the county was a man named George Manship who was blind and homeless. In 1846, the court ordered that 13-year-old Elijah Gates be bound to blacksmith Asaph Bates, be taught the blacksmith trade and also taught to read and write. He was to be looked after until the age of 21 at which time he should be given two new suits, $10 in currency, and a Bible. Initially, people put under charge of the county were bound to someone for a period of time until their situation could resolve or otherwise be taken care of. It was not until 1871 that the County Farm itself came into existence. The 160-acre plot was purchased by the county at the April term of the court from Frederic Crissman for $7,200. At that time, Bob Allen was the superintendent put in charge, and Dr. J.W. Stewart was the attending physician. The farm portion was managed by a third person, D.E. Henry.
Not long after its establishment (by about 1880), it became tied to the state asylum - I suppose as a way to either help house or otherwise defer some people who might not quite fit the description for that asylum setting, but who still needed assistance or who were incapable of living on their own. It appears that, at one time, the County Farm did fill the role of taking on some of the more “violent insane” although never in great numbers (in 1883 there were five). The most populous of residents continued to be those who were destitute, disabled, or somehow mentally incapable of self-care. By 1883 there were 40 residents, but the number had been as high as 60.
It was noted that a cemetery was located somewhere on the northwest portion of the farm and in 1883 there were six buried there; that number would grow over the years; none of the graves are marked today but it is recognized they exist and we know that there are over 50.
The farm was meant to be self-sufficient and would be added to. As mentioned above, in the 1880s it also had a brick building added which contained 24 rooms, eight of which were cells. In the early 1880s, Dr. Poague looked after those inmates.
The stories of some of the folks there are quite sad, but interesting, nonetheless. Some of the 1880 census of residents/inmates included: Joseph Biggs who was infirmed and “his own received him not.” A man named Jerry Caldwell who would wear a funnel-shaped paper hat and run around with it on. He, at one time, demanded money from a Windsor Bank cashier. He was considered non-violent. Several were simply listed as “crazy” or demented. In some cases, the women were listed as “a tramp.” In many cases their exact ages were unknown and sometimes descriptions only included their name and, for instance, “little girl, foolish.”
A few residents of the farm had odd enough behavior that the whole town remembered them: Fielding Means, who the town called “the wild man from Borneo” was often seen coming to and from town with a mule and water barrel from Town Creek, at one time ran his mule (and barrel) around the square yelling “the bushwhackers are coming.”
Some were listed as having “consumption” and others as paupers. Paralytics were also found among the lists of residents and sometimes those who were blind. Occasionally the identifier for the person was “outcast” as was the case for Emma Williams and her baby boy; the boy died one morning and was taken away with much grief to the mother. Some of the residents were listed as “idiot.” Ira Foster was one such resident: born in Germany she fell headfirst from a hayloft which affected her considerably. “Now grown to womanhood, [she] goes crooning and staring about the premises of the county farm.”
A contract from June of 1937 is found among the museum archives. The contract appears to allow Mrs. Randolph act as superintendent of the County Farm to fill out the remaining term of her husband’s contract in that capacity (it appears HarveRandolph passed away). She was to complete his original term to February 1938 and be paid $60 per month salary. As the superintendent, she would continue to pay the help, manage the farm, raise the crops, and furnish and feed all who were on the farm which included the indigent poor confined to the home.
It appears the last burial on the property was in 1932; the list of those buried there is incomplete, but in all there were at least 50 known – none of the graves are marked. The brick building that housed 24 is still extant, although not visible from the road.


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