Venango County Poor Farm 

In December 1872, the first residents were admitted to the new facility. It was destroyed by fire on November 10, 1892. Rebuilding started immediately using the same floor plan and sandstone foundation.

Written & Submitted by: Joyce Neidich – stonesearcher@csonline.net

www.stonesearcher.com


Photograph property of the PA Room – Franklin Public Library
[Built: 1872 -- Burned:1892]

Prior to 1870, it was the duty of the individual townships to care for the poor of Venango County. An act was passed by the legislature on April 13, 1870, appointing county commissioners as overseers of the poor. The commissioners were authorized to supervise the building and the administration of a facility to house the indigent, disabled, and insane.

In Sugar Creek Township, 175 acres were purchased from Richard Roberts and an additional 100 acres were later secured from James Hays, N.H. McCormick and Levi Foster. The farmland, along French Creek, bordered the Atlantic and Great Western Railway making the farm easily accessible. 

Architect J.M. Blackburn, drew up the plans for the three-story brick facility. Building contracts were awarded which included the removal of the old Venango County Courthouse, stipulating that these materials be used in the new construction. The structure was completed on November 9, 1872, at an estimated cost of $140,000. Mr. and Mrs. Samuel McAlvey were hired as the first steward and matron; Dr. W.L. Whann as physician; and Samuel Miller for labor and maintenance.

On December 26, 1872, the first patient was admitted with the following information appearing in the register:  Daniel L. Root - age 64, male, white, Committed by Overseers; Place of settlement: Cherrytree; Nativity: Genessee County, N. Y.; Occupation: farmer; can write his name; widowed; moderate drinker; not able bodied; insane; Discharged: April 5, 1875 by Stewart; supported 830 days; cause of pauperism:  insanity and aged; remarks - on visit.

By January 1, 1878, there were a total of 419 admissions. “Four blacks, 154 white females, 261 white males, their age varying from infancy up to 87 years.”

The Poor House was also a workhouse for a number of years. The 1879 Venango County History states: “The Commissioners were required to make provisions and build said poor house suitable, and in such a manner that one-fourth part thereof, may be used and occupied as a work-house. Said part to be called the County Work-House. Material and work to be furnished for persons who may be sentenced there or confined there.” [Legally, a work-house was a penal institution. So this was a practice of combining a type of jail with a poorhouse. PHL ]

Shackles still exist in the basement, evidence of a time when prisoners and perhaps some incorrigible inmates were confined.

The early statistics for those committed to the workhouse by January 1, 1878 numbered 121: “forty-three females, sixty-eight males, and ten blacks. They have been committed for drunkenness and vagrancy, assault and battery, larceny, &c.” The length of sentencing ranged from 15 days to 6 months, with many escapes and few returns.  “Absconded”, is the term used in the Register when an inmate ran away.

The first burial in the institutional cemetery, located on a 2-acre tract bordering the railroad, took place on January 9, 1872. Recorded but without a tombstone: Thomas Archer, age 37, of Cornplanter Township.

On the night of October 1892, fire destroyed a major barn located on the Poor Farm. Superintendant Culp, who discovered the fire, saved six horses but there was a loss of 900 bushels of wheat, 100 bushels of oats and 70 ton of hay, as well has harness equipment.  The fire was “supposed to be the work of tramps.”

The following month, on November 10th, at 2:30 in the afternoon, smoke was discovered coming from the attic of the County Home. By the time the fire department arrived most of the second and third floors had collapsed. A small wing was saved that housed the kitchen, laundry, 6 large bedrooms, and the 2nd floor chapel. About a third of the buildings contents were salvaged “in more or less damaged condition.”

The Democratic Vindicator reported that the day was very cold and the ground snow-covered. “There were 95 aged, crippled and imbecile persons in the house when the alarm was sounded…there was much suffering among the poor wretches before shelter could be found for them among the neighboring farm houses and in Franklin.” Another newspaper, the Citizens Press, gave the account that the sick inmates were sheltered in the undamaged wing, others in the school house at Sugar Creek and 12 were brought to the 3rd floor of the county jail.  Miraculously, there were no deaths; however, there were 15 injuries.

The fire erupted in the attic of the main building and apparently the cause was a defective flue pipe. A newspaper article noted that the residents of the home did not have access to the attic.

Reconstruction started immediately using the same floor plan and existing sandstone foundation. Pictured below is a photograph, dated about 1909, of the rebuilt County Home. It is identical to the first institution, with the exception of the center tower.


.Postcard Postmarked: December 1, 1909  
 Property of Ted Green – Franklin, PA

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