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PENNSYLVANIA POORHOUSE HISTORY by county



Postcard of Elk County Home, Saint Mary's, Pa

 

LOCAL NOTES:

THE ELK COUNTY HOME

from HISTORY of ELK COUNTY ,  published by the ELK CO. HISTORICAL SOCIETY,  1982
Note: This book is available through the Elk County Historical Society. For information: see their website for purchase information about this and other publications. PHL

submitted by Pam Patton  poohie@penn.com

Pg. 83

As early as the 1880's, the Elk County Commissioners realized the necessity of a facility to care for the needs of the county's, poor, indigent, and insane. However, for various reasons, nothing in this direction was accomplished by the Commissioners for some years after April 1888. The Borough of Ridgway had its own poor house on the Grant Road, and it is possible that others existed elsewhere in the County. In those days in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania the poor and indigent were taken care of by either the township supervisors, or were placed in a county home.

Finally some time during the 1890's, the Elk County Commissioners presented a petition to the Court to place on the ballot the question of whether or not there should be "a poor house and farm", thus giving the voters a choice in the question. The Court granted the request. There was a big turnout at the polls, and the project passed by a large majority. However, despite this fact, the County Commissioners dropped the matter.

On July 5, 1897, the poor overseers of Ridgway Borough sponsored a meeting at the Elk County Courthouse of all of the poor overseers of the various borough and townships in the County to discuss fully the idea of reviving the poor farm question. Ridgway Borough's poor overseers were especially in favor of the plan, and there seemed to be no opposition from the other boroughs and townships. The Elk County Commissioners circulated a petition among the overseers and it met with much success. The Commissioners once again presented the petition, to the Elk County Court, and their request was granted to place the question on the ballot. The question was passed overwhelmingly by the voters.

Elk County Commissioners J. 0. Ubel, Andrew Hau and W. M. Thomas commenced meetings in the early part of 1898 to construct a County Home. The Commissioners inspected the Clearfield County Home to gather useful information in planning for the Elk County structure. Charles M. Robinson of Altoona, Pennsylvania, and H. C. Park of Ridgway, architects, each sent in preliminary plans, for the proposed home. On February 24, 1898, Commissioners Ubel, Hau, and Thomas unanimously gave the project to Mr. Robinson. In about ten days the plans received approval by the State Board of Public Charities and the Lunacy Commission in Harrisburg. The Commissioners decided on a site in Benzinger Township, owned by Mr. Frey, on which the home and farm would be constructed.

The next step in the total process was the letting of bids. Finally the Commissioners gave the contract for the building and stone work to W. V. Hughes of Altoona, Pennsylvania, with the stone work to be sub-let to Florin and Johnson. Mr. Hughes' bid was $47,482.00, while the Florin and Johnson bid was $8,450.00. The total cost of the project was approximately $50,000.00.

In those days the County insane patients were sent to the State Asylum, where the County had to pay $1.75 per week for the maintenance of each patient. With the construction of the County Home, the area's insane citizens could be cared for in the new home. Under an act of the State Legislature, the County could now reverse the trend and be paid $1.50 per week for each insane patient; thus, there was a great saving financially for the County, for at that time it was estimated to cost only $2.00 a week to feed and clothe each indigent person.

Pg. 83

The Elk County Home was completed in 1898, and was a well-equipped building at the time. The building was arranged in the form of a Maltese Cross, with the Steward's home being in the center and the cooking and eating areas behind it.

From the center building, or Steward's residence, was extended on one side a department for the men, while on the other side were similar facilities for the women. In other words, the living areas were segregated as to the male and female categories. The interior of the structure was plain, but was considered comfortable for its residents. In addition to the dining and living quarters, a chapel, hospital, dispensary, laundry, bakery, storerooms, and other necessities were included in the building, which was intended to accommodate 135 inmates.

It was to cost less per capita than the average, which was $500. On April 21, 1899, the first superintendent, J. W. DeHaas, moved into the County Home, and on May 15, 1899, a notice was released that the County Home was ready for occupancy.

For over seventy years the Elk County Home adequately cared for the needs of its less fortunate citizens. However, as time passed, the structure (later known as the "Elk Haven Nursing Home") became outmoded to meet the expanding needs of today, and additionally it could not meet the rigid requirements set forth in Federal and State Regulations and the Life Safety Code. The Board of Elk County Commissioners, Francis L. Kuntz, Chairman; Thomas G. Gorman; and Dean J. Williams, Sr., initiated a plan to correct the building's inadequacies. An attempt was made in 1972 by the County Government to seek Federal Funds for a complete renovation of the existing structure. However, Federal Funding efforts failed.

In 1975-1976 the former County Home became the "Elk County Human Services Complex" with various Regional and County Agencies having their offices in the structure.

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We are hoping to build this base of information about the poorhouse in ELK county through the helpful participation of readers. All are requested to submit items of interest by sending e-mail to The Poorhouse Lady.

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