A Short History of Patrick County, Virginia Poorhouses

published by the Patrick County Historical Society, Post Office Box 1045, Stuart, Virginia 24171
submitted by Darlene Spencer  bluemoon@pressroom.com

In colonial Virginia, the care of the needy was done through the local parishes of the Established Church.  The counties took over welfare functions from the church vestry about 1785, and elected "overseers of the poor" to take care of the poor, the aged and the orphans.  Patrick County came into existence in 1791, and continued this system until the federal welfare system was established in the 1930s.

Until 1933, the Overseers of the Poor were the only local government officials who were elected by popular vote in Patrick County, and they were the only welfare officers for the county.  The overseers often bound out orphans to citizens and occasionally paid others to care for small children and the aged.  Poorhouses were bought by the county, and operated by the Overseers of the Poor.  These were sometimes closed due to complaints, but were replaced by others as the need for a place to care for the needy continued.  Shortly after the Civil War, the court appointed a commission to investigate complaints that there were people in the poorhouse that did not need to be there, but it was decided that the complaints were unfounded.

Where these poorhouses in Patrick County were located is not definitely known--the court minutes did not specify the locations.  It is known that one was on Poor House Creek, another was near Big A School, and one was probably in the Patrick Springs area.  Patrick, Henry and Pittsylvania Counties joined together in the 1920s to establish a regional poorhouse near Chatham in Pittsylvania County. 

After the Great Depression, under the administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the state and federal government established the welfare system and poorhouses were abolished.  Up until that time, if anyone was unable to care for himself, and had no relatives to help, the County Poorhouses were the only alternative.

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