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.
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.