Tompkins County Poorhouse
the Poorhouse Story


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the Poorhouse Story

The notes below have been abstracted from the following reports.
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the Poorhouse Story
ANNUAL REPORT of the STATE BOARD of CHARITIES                                        p 1049-1050
A TABLE showing the number of Paupers supported at the public expense in the county of TOMPKINS, during the twelve months preceding April 21, 1823, with other particulars, derived from public documents and reports furnished the Secretary of State.
TOWNS Total number of paupers
supported during the
whole of the last year.
Total number relieved
during a part of the last year.
Total expenses of supporting and relieving paupers (including fees and expenses of officers, removals and appeals) for the last year.

Dolls.   Cts.

Expenses and cost of officers and appeals during same period.

Dolls.  Cts.

Number of paupers removed during the last year.
Caroline ***                
Danby ***                
Dryden  3 1 1 3 0 $ 324.52 $  48.00  
Enfield ***                
Groton 2 0 0 2 0 $ 227.00 $ 148.00 3
Hector ***                
Ithaca ***                
Lansing ***                
Newfield ***                
Ulysses 1 16 7 10 11 $ 190.00 $  20.00 3
*** Indicates "No Return"    PHL 
   Sums of money raised by tax, in the county of Tompkins, for the support of the poor, in the years
1817, 1818, 1819, 1820, 1821, 1822.

      In the year 1817,                               $     201.50
                       1818,                                      878.22
                       1819,                                  1, 596.57
                       1820,                                  1, 197.74
                       1821,                                  1, 063.60
                       1822,                                  1, 131.63

                            Total,                            $ 6, 069.26

I am led to believe that there has been paid to justices and constables, for the above services, a sum not less than $200, since the county was erected. [Letter from the supervisor's clerk.]


   There is no poor-house nor house of industry in this town, and I know of none in the county of Tompkins.  I am of opinion that the state of the poor in our county, will not at present, warrant the expense of such an establishment.  I think that, generally speaking, they may in a country place be hired and otherwise billetted out to better advantage for the town or county, than to be at the expense of building and superintending a public place for them. [Letter from Mr. N. Halsey, the supervisor of Ulysses.]

the Poorhouse Story
1824 LAW (required establishment of poorhouse vs. exempted): Exempted
the Poorhouse Story

This house, located six miles from Ithaca, is constructed of wood and is 76 by 30 feet, with a wing 22 by 40 feet, two stories high.  It contains fifteen rooms, without any provision for ventilation or bathing and is warmed by stoves and fireplaces.  Connected with the house is a farm of one hundred acres, yielding an annual revenue of $1,500.  The basement of the building is occupied as setting and lodging rooms for the paupers.  The number of inmates was thirty-seven, sixteen males and twenty-one females, of these four were foreign and thirty-three native born, and nine under sixteen years of age.  Under the care of one keeper and his wife, who provide and care for the family and work the farm with the assistance of the paupers, so far as they are able to work.  In this house the sexes are kept separated day and night, and are placed from two to ten in a room, except the lunatics who are each placed in a single cell.  The supplies are purchased by the keeper and the diet regulated by him.  The food is plain substantial fare, provided twice a day.  The children are not admitted into the district school and receive no instruction in the house.  Whenever suitable places can be procured they are bound out by the superintendent.  No provision is made for religious instruction and the house is but partially supplied with Bibles.  Medical aid is provided, which service is paid for by the visit. 

The average number of inmates is fifty-three, two thirds of whom are reduced to want by reason of habits of inebriation.  There have been fifteen deaths and two births, both of which were illegitimate, during the year. 

The board of supervisors visit this house regularly once a year.  Of the inmates seven are lunatics, two males and five females, all are paupers.  One has been admitted during the year.  None have been cured or improved.  They are confined in cells, without any special attendants or medical attention.  One is placed in shackles to prevent his injuring his associates.  The house does not admit of a classification of the insane.  The right to discharge them is exercised by the keeper.  Two of the paupers are idiots, one male and female. 

This house was visited in the absence of the keeper; and was found in bad repair, the walls crumbling and falling in most of the apartments, but seemed to be kept in as good order as could reasonably be expected in so dilapidated a structure. 

the Poorhouse Story

"The poorhouse is situated upon a farm of 100 acres in Ulysses, 6 mi. N.W. of Ithaca. The average number of inmates is 53, and the revenue derived from the farm is about $1,500. No school is provided for the children, and they are not admitted to the public schools. The house is in bad repair, destitute of ventilation, and entirely unfit for the residence of so many human beings."
    from Gazetteer of the State of New York by J.H. French 1860

"Reinhold WOLF ... worked hard for this enterprise and, though fought by a majority, succeeded in getting a very good county house."
     from the on-line edition of  Landmarks of Tompkins County, New York 
                                             (FAMILY SKETCHES WIN thru Y)


from Landmarks of  Tompkins County, New York. Including  a History of Cornell University by  W.T. Hewitt. Syracuse: D. Mason &  Co, Publishers, 1894. Selkreg, John H. (ed). pp. 50-51
scanned and submitted by: Carl Hommel 
It was ten years after the organization of this county before action was taken by the Board of Supervisors towards the establishment of a county poor-house. The first record in regard thereto appears in the proceedings of the board on the 22d of November, 1827, when a resolution was passed declaring the advisability of establishing a poor-house and appropriating the sum of $4,000 for that purpose. Of the sum appropriated, $1,500 were to be levied at that session, $1,250 in 1828, and the remaining $1,250 in 1829. 

A committee of one from each town was named to superintend the work of building, consisting of the following named persons: Solomon Sharp, Dryden; John Guthrie, Groton; Sullivan D. Hubbell, Hector; Elbert Curtis, Danby; Nicoll Halsey, Ulysses; Gilbert J. Ogden, Enfield; John White, Newfield; Nicholas Townley, Lansing; Ira Tillotson, Ithaca; Charles Mulks, Caroline.

The site chosen is in the town of Ulysses about six miles northwest from Ithaca The original building was of wood, erected under the resolution of 1827 and added to from time to time as became necessary. Quite extensive out-buildings were also constructed upon the farm of 100 acres, the soil of which is first-class, perhaps as good as can be found within the limits of the county.

Through age and long use the original building and its additions finally reached a condition necessitating very extensive repairs, practically rebuilding, or else the erection of an entirely new structure. Public sentiment throughout the county favored new, more commodious and comfortable buildings, and on the 20th of November, a committee was appointed to take into consideration the entire subject, embracing repairing of the old house or the erection of a new one, and also change of location. In February, 1892, the board refused to change the location, authorized a new building, and at a special session in June, 1892, appropriated $20,000 for the purpose. The new structure is of brick, ample in size, and constructed with special reference to the comfort of inmates and economy in details of management

The Board of State Charities, in their annual report for 1892, notes that the new building was in process of construction; that there were, on the 1st of November, thirty-six men and ten women inmates; there were no insane: and that three children had been born in the house during the year then ending. The county superintendent of the poor is, by resolution, made keeper of the house. The average cost of support of inmates per year was $62.71.

The report of the Board of Supervisors for the year ending November 15, 1893, shows that the whole number of days' support for the year was 14,298; for which the cost of board and clothing was $2,440.13. The average cost per week was $1.19 and a fraction. On November 15, 1892, there were thirty-six persons in the house; November 15, 1893, forty-eight persons.

the Poorhouse Story


Tompkins County Poor House Records -- 1829-1947 

---Records of inmates from 1844 to the 1930's
              (giving varying information on age, health, and residence) 
---annual reports of superintendent of the poor, 1837-41 
---records of births and deaths
---ledgers and accounts for the same period 
---guest books, 1894-1947
---menus, 1939-40
---inventories of the poor house and farm, 1840, 1872
---indentures of apprenticeships; poor farm accounts; and a few bills and letters.
              DeWitt Historical Society of Tompkins County
              Clinton House
              116 North Cayuga Street
              Ithaca, New York 14850

1850 census, Town of Ulysses, Tompkins Co., NY Page 472, Dwelling #599.
LDS film #444321 and 2. About 35 in residence, most or all are paupers.
This can be found on-line at the NYGenWeb site. Click here to go to the page; then scroll near the bottom.
Note: Thank you Karen Dickson for donating and transcribing this census!

Microfilm Series A1978  Roll Number(s) 206  more information
the Poorhouse Story

the Poorhouse Story

We are hoping to build this base of information about the poorhouse in TOMPKINS 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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