The Poorhouse Story  


26th issue)


Well, how shall I begin?  I could use ... "The best laid plans of mice and men ... etc.etc.etc." Or I could use ... "A funny thing happened to me on the way to ..."  Or I could just stop stalling and apologize for not having published a supposed to be "bi-monthly" newsletter since about eight months ago. But the most appropriate (and very true) quote would be ... "Life is what happens while you are making other plans!"

First, I have an important announcement to make. The newsletter is now FREE as soon as it is published.  I want to thank those of you who supported the work of this website by purchasing a subscription.  That support really helped out financially.  But I have not been able to find time to write a newsletter as often as I promised ... and I now want to end the guilt!  I also never felt very comfortable about "withholding" the newsletter from those who might have been very interested in it but who were too shy to write to ask for a free subscription.  Whew! I'm glad that's over with.

Now to those of you who have started sending me those notes that have checklists with things like: Have you broken your arm? Have you moved to Siberia where they have no internet? (or sincerely) Are you sick? ... Thanks for your concern and for your patience.  No, nothing really bad has happened.  But there have been lots of new demands on my time lately and a Poorhouse Story project (see, I haven't abandoned the subject) about which I am really passionate has taken a great deal more time and money than I ever expected it to. It got severely derailed and is currently on hold while I catch up with some other personal responsibilities.  Let me tell you about it.

It has been 3 years since I last traveled outside my own state to present the Poorhouse Story to audiences of people from local historical and genealogical societies. Since then, for financial reasons, I have had to limit myself to accepting such invitations only when I could do a presentation within a few hours drive from home. But requests to speak around the country keep coming in, and it frustrates me to have to turn them down.  About a year ago I began to fantasize about cloning the Poorhouse Lady to do virtual presentations!  When I suddenly got the opportunity to learn video editing  I was struck by the notion that such a virtual presentation might be a reality rather than science fiction.  

The next time someone extended an invitation to speak before their group, I ran the notion up the flagpole. Instead of paying me a very modest speaker's fee, would they like to use that money to purchase a one hour video of my lecture on a DVD along with the option to have me scheduled to participate in a Q & A session by telephone conference on a speaker phone at the conclusion of their meeting? When they realized that they would be also be left with a copy of the presentation on DVD in their permanent library, they jumped at the chance!  Then began the WORK of creating and producing the "virtual presentation" ... which was a real labor of love ... and quite a challenge!

 The annual meeting of the Federation of Genealogical Societies was scheduled to be held in my hometown (Austin TX) September 8th through the 11th.  What a wonderful opportunity!  (I need deadlines to focus my attention on any lengthy project.) I registered as an exhibitor and promptly went to work.  When the DVD was complete except for its final "polishing" I turned it over to a "post-production" specialist. The plan was that I could then begin working on the promotional materials for the booth.

I knew I would need help ... so I, once again, called upon my great friend (and the person who pinned my Poorhouse Lady alias on me!), Loretta Bates from Washington County NY.  She is probably the only thing that kept me sane as we sat in our booth ... and waited ... and waited ... and waited for the DVD's to be delivered.  

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We really enjoyed attending lectures and meeting all the people who came by our booth to say hello or talk about the website and poorhouse history.

Here's the proof that we were there! That totally awful grin pasted on my face (if not the Donald Trump hairdo) is there because I had just ... only 2 hours before the convention was to close! ... received the DVD's.  And the quick glimpse I took on our tiny portable TV had not looked good. But the unofficial leader of our unofficial fan club, Fred Dittmar, from Oklahoma was still unsuspecting.  He had hung around 'til the end hoping to get to take his copy of the virtual presentation home then.

When we finally had the chance to fully review the DVD it became apparent that there were several minor glitches.  The sound level varied from scene to scene and there were places where the sound was a little static-y (is that a word?). So we are going back into a studio to re-record the lecture for better audio.  


Click on this image of the cover ...
to see both sides of the complete brochure. Feel free to make copies.

Would you like to help with "beta testing" this virtual presentation?
Since we need to re-record, we would like your input to perhaps improve it even more. For a small materials, shipping, and handling fee ($12.00) we will send you a copy of this slightly flawed 1st edition along with a short questionnaire. This could definitely be presented to your historical or genealogical society ... you would just need to keep the remote handy to manage quick volume changes.  
[Just e-mail if you would like to participate.]



 We begin a new practice in this newsletter. We will now be having some segments authored by frequent submitters who have shared information about  their local poorhouse history. The following contains the reflections of William Saslow who heads up the Portsmouth Asylum project in Rhode Island. The poorhouse was located on what is now the grounds of the Raytheon Company who have given great support to this research and preservation project. Bill has really been bitten by the research bug!  And he recently shared some of his insights in an e-mail ... copied below.


by William Saslow

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Hi Linda,

I hope this email finds you well.  A lot has transpired since our last discussion.

I was able to find a memoir from a resident at the Portsmouth Asylum and I’ve started public speaking on the subject of the Asylum both at work and in the community.

There seems to be a lot of interest in this era of our history.   At a discussion at the Portsmouth Public library, the attendees were rapt, attentive, asked thoughtful questions and provided some follow-up research.  One of them actually found a photo of the Portsmouth Asylum on a Providence Public Library website.  I’ve attached it [above] for your consideration.  If you use it on your website, please make sure to credit the Rhode Island Collection at the Providence Public Library.  The memoir and the picture add a few more puzzle pieces in the picture of how people lived at the Portsmouth Asylum.

The response I’ve gotten, sharing the story, has buoyed my spirits and I’ve been asked to speak to the Portsmouth Historical Society on November 8th.   I feel more confident than ever that I can portray the scathing criticism of the State Commissioner of the Poor, for the Town of Portsmouth, tactfully and factually.  The crux of the story is the hijacking of compassion by deterrence.  A modern town of the time, fashioning itself as the birthplace of American Democracy, unabashedly took steps in the 1800s to marginalize the rights of the pauper poor and criminalize them in attitude and action.  This was not done in secret by a cruel keeper or corrupt commissioner, but with the approval of the majority of the populace and codified in rules and regulations. 

“Now admitting the extremity of poverty to be a crime – in the name and behalf of the pauper poor of the State, in all seriousness, I respectively ask you as conservators of the rights and privileges of the people of Rhode-Island, to define what the punishment of that crime shall be.  It seems there is one town, at least, in the State, who, in virtue of authority delegated by you to them to provide for the care of their own poor, have decided poverty to be a crime of so deep a dye, that any one found guilty of the offense within its jurisdiction, shall no longer be deemed worthy to partake of the inestimable privileges of an American citizen.”
Thomas R. Hazard, Report on the Poor and Insane in Rhode Island, 1851

[Thomas Hazard] “has presented a most melancholy picture of the treatment of the poor in the Portsmouth Asylum. For the honor of the town, if such be the painful fact disclosed, we would indulge the hope that an amelioration of their condition may at once be effected.”
Rev. Edward Peterson, History of Rhode Island, 1853

Ourselves, our times, our challenges; how much have we changed since?  Can a welfare-to-work system, overstressed by economic pressures, lead to modern workhouses?  Will our biology, given the same mix of compassion and deterrence, lead to the same inevitable excesses?  The more I research, the more real I view the players in the Portsmouth Asylum saga, the more I am pessimistic in our inevitable result.  Our history’s lessons stand before us as a warning of what we are capable of, and how we can delude ourselves into believing that deterrence and compassion can be served on the same plate.

Bill Saslow
Middletown, RI

And here below is a brand new column for the Newsletter.  We will be publishing submissions from fellow advocates for the preservation of poorhouse buildings, history, or cemeteries.  This month's report is from Sandra Everson, whose efforts in Dane County WI have been featured in our News Alerts and mentioned in previous newsletters.
by Sandra Everson


"I just took this a couple weeks ago.....isn't it gorgeous?  It will probably be a matter of time before this is gone too."


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Hi Linda:

It's been a long time--boy how it gets away from me. The demolition is complete, and now, after months, the crew is back at completing the landscaping and finishing off the remaining part of the old section. I still don't know what is going to actually be done with the empty lot.

Some new developments:

1. Some of the old woodwork that was removed from the demolished section (I found out about this after the fact and second-hand) is being used in an art project at Verona High School which involves framing old documents and photos of the facility in that wood! They just received word that they will be receiving a grant for this, and expect to begin after the first of the year.

2. I met with Minda Powers of IlL a couple months ago. We visited the rural Verona residence where the 70+ "missing" gravestones were found from our cemetery. The owners are very cooperative and would like to see the right thing done with the stones--have them returned and restored to their proper place. We took some nice photos and Minda is considering this story for her book she is writing about cemeteries.

I get very little time to work on any progress with old documents. There still is the occasional genealogy researcher. Just this week I was able to provide quite a bit of valuable information to a lady in WA. I still feel so lucky to have all these documents preserved.

Hope you are fine...

Sandy Everson in Verona

   Commentary  # 8 
What are these things doing in "Pauper" Graves ?!  
(Or:  We thought these folks were poor!) 

This is a letter written in response to an e-mail from Bill Hastings which you may read here.

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Table of STATISTICS and NEW ITEMS ADDED to The PHS Website

-- since last newsletter's stats (ended 05/29/2004) --
205,016 (861 per day
-- Total (as of 11/22/2005) since 5/8/2000 --
1,251,082 !!!

Note: We hit a million visits the same week my car turned over 200,000 miles! What a week!  PHL


(based on readers submissions)

Janet Lyman has done a wonderful service
for anyone searching for information about people who may have lived in this poorhouse!  

This is a great example of what information can be found in those old annual reports for towns or counties. 

Too often researchers become discouraged when they cannot find original poorhouse records. This is what can be found ... if someone is willing to go the extra mile!


 Hudson  Poor Farm -- Middlesex County
Inmate Information
(1867 to 1887) 

extracted from Town Reports.

Clicking on the link above will open an Excel spreadsheet list generously prepared and shared with us by Janet Lyman  who writes ...  "After that the names were not listed in the town reports."  NOTE: If you cannot open this on your own computer (because you do not have a spreadsheet program), you should be able to go to your nearest public library which has internet access for the public (which most now have) to open this list ... and even print it out at the library, should you wish to do so.)

(We didn’t create them; 
we just show them!)

photo from the article in The Mountain Laurel


(Click on their logo above to visit this
wonderful publication which will provide
a feast of stories and photos for those of you who love the tiny, personal details of history.)

(Click on the photo at the left to go to The Mountain Laurel's article.) 

The Wythe County Poorhouse Farm   article from The Moutain Laurel

We wrote an extensive article about two years ago when the cemetery for this poorhouse was dedicated and an historical highway marker was placed there by the state of Virginia.  But Sarah and Abner Bruce Graham have done incredible work since then ... further restoring and developing the old poor farm as a Living History Book museum of the institution and the details of the daily lives of people during that era.  This is the only such extensive poorhouse preservation effort we have heard of by private individuals.  You may also want to visit their own website to read about their latest developments. They are truly heroic in their dedication.

Here is another great transcription project!
Click on the title link to the right to see this spreadsheet page.

Source Information
These data were abstracted and transcribed from printed materials in the Wisconsin Historical Society, 816 State Street, Madison, WI 53706, in the WHS government documents section: The Annual Reports of the Board of Trustees, Superintendent and Physicians of the Rock County Insane Asylum & Home for the Poor, for the [fiscal] years ending June 30, 1909, 1910, 1911, 1913, 1919, 1920, 1921, 1923 (all years for which WHS records were available).

Transcriber's Notes
The data in this web page appeared first in the print in a RCGS Newsletter article: Herrick, Linda, Member News, The Newsletter of the Rock County [, WI] Genealogical Society, Volume 27, Issue 1, September, October, November, 2003, pp. 6-9. The original chronologically sorted data from this Newsletter was re-sorted by surname for ease of use in the table below.

Rock County Genealogical Society
Deaths in the Rock County Insane Asylum & Home for the Poor
Rock Co., WI, 1908-1923 (incomplete)

Edited by members of the RCGS
Published by The Rock County (Wisconsin) Genealogical Society
P. O. Box 711
Janesville, Wisconsin 53547



Bill's  website contains the list of all the names on this memorial, etc. Photos of the monument as well as the cemetery in general are available at 

Remember the horrendous problems encountered in HUDSON County when the highway department 
stumbled across thousands of burials from an old multi-use former poorhouse cemetery? No?
(Well,  click on the link to the NEWS ALERTS link above to see the earlier stories and this new one..)  

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Click on these photos to enlarge them.

Now, Bill Hastings has updated us. This beautiful memorial (with individual names inscribed) is being dedicated in a ceremony to mark the re-interment of these remains in a beautiful cemetery.  "The service will be held on October 24, 2004 2:00pm at the Maple Grove Park Cemetery 535 Hudson Street, Hackensack, New Jersey."      

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HONORED STATES previous Illinois/Kansas/Ohio/Pennsylvania/Tennessee/Texas
previous Belgium / Canada / England / France / The Netherlands / Sweden


Picture Postcards/Photos/Illustrations    No new material posted since last newsletter.   
Notes from Readers / Local/Historical Notes No new material posted since last newsletter.    

Historical Documents     

   No new material posted since last newsletter.    
Historical Memorabilia    No new material posted since last newsletter.     
Poorhouse Records
  MA Middlesex
Cemetery Lists (or notes)
  IA Boone (great photos + WPA list (1937) of those buried there)
  NJ Hudson
  WI Rock
Poorhouse Resident lists from CENSUS
new material or off-site links to the web)
No new material posted since last newsletter.    
Recommended  BOOKS   No new poorhouse related books read lately.  
previous Delaware/Illinois/Michigan/Minnesota/Ohio/Oregon
New York/Pennsylvania
Thanks for your continued support.

Linda Crannell 
(aka=The Poorhouse Lady)

Below you can see some of the new
"official" photos of The Poorhouse Lady
in period costume ... which were taken
to accompany the new Poorhouse Story
"virtual presentation" DVD.

Clicking on them will enlarge them.

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