Tennessee Poorhouse
the Poorhouse Story

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... with a big thumbs down!  


"I drove through Sumner County last summer hoping to get information about my family from the poor house records.  But I was told they were sealed and no one could have access without a Judge's order. I drove out to where the poor house use to be and got a neighbor's name. I called later. I thought I would pass on what the neighbor told me about the Sumner County Poor House and Farm.
I spoke by phone with Mr. John Struthers of Cottontown TN, in Aug 2000 regarding the poor house and poor farm located across the road from his farm. He says he is 59 and has lived there all his life; and his grandfather and father lived there before him. The farm has been in their family for well over a 100 years. 

He says the original poor house was a 2 story box framed wood house close to the road from him. The poor farm consisted of the house and 200 areas of good land, farmed by the residents. They raised cows, hogs , sheep and had a large garden consisting of several acres. The ones that were able  worked the farm and the rest were taken care of by the others. They were fed and had good living conditions. He says these were good people, down on their luck, for one reason or another and ended up here. His father and grandfather would go to the poor farm and help at hog killing time. He says the original Poor House was torn down in the 1950;s and replaced by a 2 story red brick buildings, sitting on the hill. All the land was sold by the county, except about 10-15 acres used as a garden.

I hope this information can help other researchers in some way."

     Alan Malone  g.a.malone@erols.com 

Note: This seems like a ludicrous restriction! Mr. Malone wanted information about what happened to his family (whom he knows...from census and other records...were residents there from 1877 to 1885). That's over 100 years ago! Perhaps someone local could initiate a request to reconsider whatever regulation or policy prevents researchers from being able to find information about ancestors who lived in that poorhouse so long ago. Even the federal census is released after 70 years! The feeling that residence in a poorhouse needs to be "protected for privacy reasons" reflects the 19th century and Victorian attitude that it was somehow "shameful" to be that poor -- that "pauperism" was a character defect or a result of "bad habits." Hopefully we now have somewhat more enlightened and compassionate attitudes toward some of the social and economic sources of temporary (or even long-term) poverty.   Or perhaps Mr. Malone simply had the misfortune of talking to the wrong person who inadvertently gave him misinformation. We would welcome clarification of this matter from any appropriate local authorities.   PHL
the Poorhouse Story

History Of The Old (BENTON) County Farm And Its Staff 
(On Eva Road, 1913 - 1975) 

   "In 1889 the BLOUNT County Court (now Blount County Commission) established a  county ``poor house'' which was later known as the ``poor farm'' where it housed people who were county charges. Food raised on the farm was used to feed the residents as far as possible and the county funded the operation of the farm which was operated in the area until July 1995."

 Quoted from an article previously carried in the on-line edition of  The Daily Times

DAVIDSON County, TN, history/evolution of poorhouse

From GILES COUNTY History of Franklin, Giles, Lincoln and Moore Counties, Tennessee, Goodspeed Publishing Company, Nashville, 1886, pp. 749-766, scanned by Mrs. Sarah Smith  

"In 1865, the County Court part based 130 acres of land in the Eleventh District. four miles east of Pulaski. for a county poor farm, and erected log buildings thereon for tile accommodation of paupers. In 1867, frame buildings took the place of the log house, and these were replaced with a good brick building in 1884, which cost about $4,000."

We found an interesting NEWSPAPER CLIPPING  
 "The Pauper Question" from The Lexington Progress--1904
[You may find this is an article entitled "The Women of Henderson County" by Brenda Kirk Fiddler ]

From a reprint of "LINCOLN County - History of Tennessee" by Goodspeed Publishing Co. 1886 

"Among the first acts of the county court was one to provide for the poor, and in 1815 a special tax was assessed for the county poor. About 1826 a poor farm was purchased and a poor house erected, the supervision of which was put under three commissioners, regularly appointed by the court. The poor are still cared for in this manner."

McNAIRY County Poor House (history)

PERRY County Poor Farm

the Poorhouse Story

"Does anyone know of a Poorhouse in the Greene, Jefferson or Hamblen County areas? I'm looking at the years about 1870 to 1900.. Any information will be appreciated."
     Wanda R. Albers  WandaR7@Worldnet.att.net 

"Your Poor House information, brings back old memories. On Hwy. 11-e, in Hamblen County, where the National Guard Armory now stands, was the Poor House. I cannot recall much about it, except it was not a very big house. My father was on the Grand Jury, when I was a small child, and I remember him telling us, he had been to the Poor House, to do an inspection. Maybe this will bring back old memories."
        Frank Corbin   Fracor@aol.com 

"Can anyone tell me if there were any Poorhouses in the Hawkins, Hancock and Claiborne County areas?"      
     Jamie      Email: watsit2u@hotmail.com 

     "I'll watch our census records and try to list the people who were housed in our HAYWOOD Co. Tn. Poorhouse.  We called it the County Farm & Poorhouse and have heard it referred to as the Po'house! 
     It was located about a mile from my home and I remember   visiting there with my parents when I was a child.  My cousins, Guy and Vera Morris Harrell, were in charge at that time.  I always liked to visit the large building where the "poor people" or paupers lived as well as those who had no one to care for them in their old age.
     At that time, it was not too unlike some of our "nursing homes" today.  My cousin Vera took very good care of those living there, even making clothes for them.  She took a personal interest in them.  
     For a number of years, I've tried to locate a list of those buried there but to date have had no luck.  Don't even know where they buried them.  The last ones who were in charge and lived there until about15 years ago did not know either and they had been there since, probably, the 1950's.
     Our county jail is there today, a new modern facility and I believe the "poorhouse" has been torn down." 
                     Submitted by Reese J. Moses-S. reese@pchnet.com

"I know there was a poorhouse in KNOX County, Knoxville, Tennessee. My g-grand father was there from abt 1930-34. It was called  'The George Mahoney Home'  in a place called Mahoneyville, Knoxville, Tennessee.  I went there and a state prison is there now.  I went to the McClungs Library in Knoxville and a helpful Librarian said yes, there was a place BUT no records were kept. I feel like there should have been some kind of records somewhere."  daffadil@alltel.net

Notes about the KNOX County Poorhouse from Lian Thomas

Memories of the KNOX County Poorhouse by:  Chuck Ballard

Historical Comments re: the KNOX Co. Poorhouse(s) by Robert McGinnis

In 1850, the poorhouse in LINCOLN county Tennessee was run by Josiah Norwood. By 1855 or so, Norwood had moved to Arkansas, and in the 1860 census, the poorhouse was being operated by my great great grandfather, Charles N. Thompson. I have the 1860 census page which lists the family of Charles and Mary Ann Thompson, with Charles' occupation listed as "Keeper of the Poor" and an extensive list of the residents of the poorhouse, with some very unflattering descriptions of their various circumstances, such as "idiotic, insane, pauper".  
Les Campbell   mcampbell2@mmcable.com 

"There was at one time a poor house in McMinn County Tennessee. I was never there but I think it was somewhere between Athens and Etowah. I can remember some of the ladies from out Church going there and working cleaning or something. I had small children and had heard so much about the conditions there that I was afraid I would pick up germs and carry them home to my babies. SELFISH? No I don't think so -- just young and trying to be a good mommy. I don't want my name on this article but if it is used maybe someone would have more information." 

"In 1911,at Jasper, Marion Co.TN ,   I was 5 yrs.old. My father, Richard T.Simpson,  took me on a trip to the poorhouse about 1 1/2 miles east of town, to buy some muskmelons and maybe some other vegetables. We went in a one horse buggy. The buildings were on a hillside and across the road was a large beautiful garden. Daddy knew some of the people living there and talked to them. I remember the place was spotlessly clean. The negroes and whites were not segregated."
      John Simpson, M.D.

[Note: We really enjoy getting these tidbits of oral history from people who are able to tell us their personal experience during  the "Old Days." Dr. Simpson is such a gentleman that I did not want to be un-lady-like enough to ask his age; but when we do the arithmetic ... he is about  94 years old. So much for the idea that older people cannot learn to use computers in their family history research! PHL ]

"I would be interested in information about poorhouses in Maury & Davidson counties."
     Joyce A. Luna   Lunad1929@aol.com  

"My husband's grandfather died in a Monroe County poorhouse.  All we know is that  it was located out on hwy 68 towards Tellico.  We found  grave sites, but there are no names on grave markers. We met the owners of the property and they showed us around.  The sad thing is that there were no records kept."  
         Wanda Bivens     nana57@bellsouth.net

" I have recently found out about a poor house that was not known to be in Kingston [ROANE County] ... well, not known by the historical society. It was last operated in the 1950's. My father was telling me that it was there; and when he had worked for the funeral home, he himself had buried people behind it that had died there. A friend and I have not been able to find any record of it any where. Dad said that when the people died, the county paid the funeral home 25.00 to bury them in a wood shipping crate. Also the location is now partially built up with houses; and to my surprise, it has never been classified as a cemetery. Please let me know how we could help document this poorhouse and cemetery."
       Amy Harrison  91911@email.msn.com 

I am interested in finding information about any poorhouse in Sevier or Cocke counties in Tennessee because at one time my grandmother, a widow with children, cooked in Sevier and was living there when she married for the second time. Another maternal grandmother and grandfather and family lived at the poorhouse in Cocke county, I believe; they were living there when grandfather died in 1926, though I have no proof. She later married a man there who was supposed to be the superintendent of the poor house. I have also been told it was actually called the Stokely farms.

     Rose Haun   rosezlla@webtv.net 

the Poorhouse Story

"Now let's turn our attention to the County Court Clerk's or County Clerk's office...(where one can find) ...(in the) County Court minutes...applications for admission to the poor farm"


"Some counties may also have the Poor Farm Commission and Poor Farm records. These can be especially valuable to those whose ancestors for whatever reason, petitioned the court for admission to the poor farm, were accepted and lived and died there. These records would normally be found in the County Court Clerk office if they still exist. In most counties, these records do not survive."

Both of the above come from an excellent article
"Researching in Tennessee Courthouses" by Ed Byler, III at

Poorhouse Residents from the 1850 Census, HARDEMAN Co.
This is the first instance I have ever heard of involving blacks who were slaves being found in a poorhouse census. Really has very significant sociological/legal implications. There is an important historical story here -- and I hope we can learn it and share it!                                                                       PHL

Poorhouse Residents from the 1880 Census, District 8,  MONROE Co.

Poorhouse Residents from the 1850 Census, District 14, MONROE Co.

Poorhouse Residents from the 1850 Census, WHITE Co.

Reader's Letter containing list of Residents from the 1910 Census, WHITE Co.

A truly awesome collection of poorhouse records on the SUMNER County GenWeb site!  
  Sumner County, TN Poor House and Pauper Records and Index, 1839 - 1913

"In Lauderdale County, Tennessee, 
I find in the 1880 census records a place called the "County Poor House" 
In that section the following is listed:   
Davidson-superintended-Tenn, wife-Ann,Tenn,
Acuff-Inmate-old age-Ky.
Note: This Acuff is my ggrandmother."
     Jannie Moore


the Poorhouse Story

DICKSON County Poor Farm Cemetery (aka: Strong Cemetery)

the Poorhouse Story

We are hoping to build this base of information about poorhouses in TENNESSEE 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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