The first move to secure a permanent home for the care of the destitute of the county was made in 1864. Prior to that time the care of the poor had been let out by the sheriff to the lowest bidder. Occasionally the court would assume the responsibility and fix the terms for their support. The terms ranged from $25 to $100 a year and paid quarterly.
At the December term of the county court in 1864, two men were appointed commissioners to select the site for an alms house. The commissioners reported the farm that would best fit their need was the 160 acre farm which they purchased for $15 per acre, or $2,400. The terms were: one half in cash, $800 within two months, $400 within six months, with 10% interest upon deferred payments. A tax of one-sixth of one percent on all subjects of taxation was ordered to defray the expense of purchasing the farm and erecting the necessary buildings.
The farm proved to be of little use to the county. No buildings were erected and after a few years, it was sold and another site chosen for the county farm. The new tract consisted of 100 acres and was purchased for $2,000.
Upon examination of the farm in 1914, it was found many miserable conditions existed. This report created a demand for change. A petition was circulated asking for a special election to vote on the proposal of erecting a modern infirmary. The petition was signed by 700 taxpayers. The new proposal stated the old farm was to be sold and a new farm be purchased closer to the county seat. The proposition was rejected by the voters.
Once again, more improvements were made on the farm. Still the conditions were not ideal but in fair condition. Upon opening the new home, not all the poor were cared for at the farm. A number were allowed a certain amount each month, while other needy persons were given occasional help.
The county also had the expense of a number of patients in various state hospitals. At the end of 1920, the county had supported 42 people in the hospitals at a cost of nearly $1,000. Forty-seven patients not in state hospitals were supported at a cost of nearly $5,000.
People didn’t live long in the early part of the 20th century; in fact, a 50-year-old man was considered old. Due to the lack of modern medicines and medical technology, many people died from diseases such as measles, whooping cough, and the flu. In the case of a death, if there wasn’t any family to take care of the deceased, burial was furnished by the county.
For the most part, at a person’s death, the funeral home was notified and a horse drawn hearse delivered the casket, usually black, which was usually made from pine wood and then lined. At other times, the men and the friends of the family built the burial box, padded it with cotton and added a spare pillow. Neither were vaults used nor the bodies embalmed.
Since many of the roads were mud roads, the body would often have to be carried to the hearse. After the body was prepared it was taken to the church where the funeral would be held. Neighbors sat up with the corpse.
Neighbors sang the songs and the minister, who sometimes rode in a circuit, delivered the message. Neighbors dug the graves. When the ground was frozen, they used dynamite to break it. They were skilled in using explosives because they had to use them to clear stumps out of the fields.
— researched by Wilbur Bush, from the History of Daviess and Gentry Counties