MADISON COUNTY'S "POOR FARM"
by Joy Russell
In England, as early as 1601, there were provisions made for the care of the poor and destitute. In early America there were "almshouses or county farms" to care for the needy. Often the elderly lived with other family members who cared for them. However, not everyone had family to look after them. Each state provided a place where the aged, blind, sick, or those who were unable to support themselves could live and receive support from the County. These "poor farms" were tax supported and people residing there were referred to as "inmates". While they were essential for some people, the inmates who resided there were usually referred to in unpleasant terms.
While we can find no official records concerning Madison County's poor farm, we have been able to uncover some facts about it. Madison County's Poor Farm contained 180 acres and was purchased from Joe M. Seitz Lane by the county on December 25, 1890 when Ben Drake was County Judge. It was located about 2 miles west of Hindsville on Highway 45, in Section 17, Township 17, Range 27. This farm served its intended function from 1890 until the 1930's. The Social Security Act of 1935 was enacted and established the first permanent public assistance programs for dependent children, the blind, and the elderly, and along with the state welfare systems eliminated the need for the Poor Farm. The farm was tax supported, however, I have been unable to find out in any records whether the farm was supported totally by county taxes, or if it also received help from federal taxes, state taxes, or a combination of all of these.
These "County Poor Farms" had an overseer or superintendent, who was paid a certain sum for each inmate per month. I found an article about a Missouri County Poor Farm in 1912 which stated that the superintendent received $8.95 per month for each inmate for their care. I do not know how this compares to Madison County's payments, since we have been unable to find any records here. This monthly allowance supported the inmates and they were fed, clothed and their medical bills were paid out of this allowance. It is easy for me to imagine a superintendent who was mean and cruel and who didn't want to spend the monthly allowance to adequately take care of the inmates, but who might "pocket" the money for his own use. I don't believe this went on here in Madison County, but it seems possible. The superintendent and his family also lived on the farm.
I do not know what process was taken in order to be able to live at the Poor Farm. Some people seem to think that it was such a disgrace to live there, that only the people who absolutely had to go there would consider it. Usual reasons for becoming an inmate were: lack of income or support, misfortune, old age, lack of relatives to care for them, or feeble-mindedness. I have also been told that some of the people were unable to care for themselves because of insanity or medical reasons. Others were able-bodied and helped out by doing whatever was necessary in the normal day to day operation at the farm, such as helping with the cooking, gardening, cleaning or laundry. In fact, it is believed that the able-bodied were required to do chores to help pay for their board.
In some cases, the inmates might have been younger persons, perhaps with young children, who were unable to support themselves, either temporarily or permanently. It is remembered that most of the inmates were good people who cause no trouble. In the 1900 Madison County census, on page 508-09, household #80, you can find the listing of the farm, which had 7 inmates at that time.
In an old Ledger from Lane and Hamilton's Store, which was located in Hindsville, the following entries are found for the County Farm, in 1899 and 1900:
June 21, 1899 1 Pad Lock 0.35
July 6 2 Chamber Pots @ 90 cents ea. 1.80
July 6 20 yds. domestic @ 7 cts. 1.40
July 2 Paid by script ** 3.55
July 27 Nails and Staples 0.10
Oct. 11 By Cash Coin 0.10
Nov. 27 W. Glass (1.00) Nails (15 c), Fulkerson 1.15
Jan 25, 1900 C. Check & domestic 1.75
May 17 9 yds. B. Ticking & 1 Spool cotton 2.75
May 23 Nails, by Fulkerson 0.40
July 30 28 yds. C. Checks @ 8 1/3c 2.30
Jan. 14 By Cash in full 8.35
(**Script...a document or certificate from the government which could be used as legal tender. According to retired County Judge Charles Whorton, Jr., at one time Madison County did issue script, or payment vouchers)
In the Madison County Record, May 16, 1946 issue, the following article was found:
"COUNTY FARM TO SELL TO HIGHEST BIDDER": There not having been an inmate at the county home in Madison County for a number of years, the probate court at the last annual session recommended that the farm be sold, and County Judge Robert Farmer, in compliance with an act of the 1945 state legislature, has issued an order for the sale, which will be made to the highest bidder on June 8, 1946. The law provides that sealed bids must be made and that the farm cannot be sold for less than three-fourths of its appraised value. County Assessor Merle Coger, whose duty is to appoint appraisers of county property to be sold, named Andrew Nelson, James L. Vaughan, and Clarence Watson as members of the appraising board and they visited the farm Monday and fixed the appraisement at $12,000.
The farm is located near Hindsville and was purchased by the county in 1890 when Ben Drake was county judge. There are 180 acres in the tract, all of which is in cultivation except about 30 acres, and the land averages in quality with other good farms in the
Hindsville Valley. And another feature which adds to its attraction as a good investment is that the farm will be located on the hard surface state highway from Fayetteville to Huntsville if the present survey is followed."
In Deed Book 87 on page 30, there is a Warranty Deed from Robert Farmer, County Judge of Madison County, to Lee Stansell and Artie Stansell, which is dated December 30, 1946. According to this deed the Stansells purchased the 180 acre farm for the sum of $8526.00. The farm has remained in the Stansell family and is currently owned by Creed Stansell.
The farm had its own cemetery, commonly known as the "Pauper Cemetery", where some of the inmates were buried. Because most of the inmates did not have immediate family members to claim the body, also because of the necessity of a speedy burial, and due to the fact that there was no finances for a fancy burial, they were buried on the farm. The headstones were probably fieldstones and most had no names placed on them. After the county sold it, the owners farmed and improved the farm. Today it is sad that there is nothing remaining to show where this cemetery was located. It is believed that it was bulldozed or plowed under at some point, and any fieldstones that might have marked the graves of the inmates, have long since disappeared. We have been unable to find any trace of records here in Madison County which would give us a list of inmates living or dying at the farm.
The following list of names have been compiled by Ray and Anne Fowler, mostly from talking with Fred Fulkerson, whose father was superintendent for many years, and reflect the only list we have of inmates who are believed to have resided there:
1. John Walker (he was buried on the farm )
2. Phillip Climer
3. Hubert Vaughan ("touched in the head, but a good worker")
4-5. Alvin & Rhoda B. Dowell (married couple who both died at the farm. Alvin was buried on farm and Rhoda was buried in Phillips Cemetery.)
6. Mr. Brooks ("blind man who sang beautifully")
7. Professor Jessie Byrd (at one time he owned Byrd College in Huntsville. See article in Winter 1989 issue of the Musings. He is buried in Huntsville Cemetery and has tombstone. His obituary found in the Madison County Record on 26 December 1923, states in part, ..."during the past year he spent several weeks in Huntsville, coming here the last time on October 30 and was cared for at the City Hotel until the 19th inst. when his physical condition grew so serious that it became necessary that he be taken to the county home where he could have constant attention which could not be provided for him at a hotel or private boarding house.")
8-9. Bill and Rush Johnson (married couple, she may be buried at Phillips Cemetery)
10. Crippled girl who always walked at a run
11. Little boy who ran off all the time and always thought someone was after him, then always came back by dark.
12. James Quick
13. Ed Watkins
14. Pat O'Neal
15. Matilda Smith
16. Frankie Chappell
17. Charlie N. Watkins
18. Elmer Laird (buried on farm according to Rhea Laird)
When mentioning the County Poor Farm to people here in Madison County,
several believe that there was a Poor Farm located on Highway 23 North
of Huntsville, near where the Ben and Dotson Collins farms are presently
located. This farm was not owned by Madison County, but was instead a "Company
Farm". The official name was "The Oklahoma, Arkansas, Ozark Industrial
Association, Inc." I have a copy of the Articles of Incorporation, filed
on 4th day of November 1931, which states "that the nature of the business
of the corporation and the objects or purpose proposed to be transacted,
promoted or carried on by it, are as follows: (a) to band together men,
women, children, and to purchase, in common a certain tract of land in
the State of Arkansas, to be sub-divided into 5, 10, and 20 acre tracts
for the purpose of developing a community farm enterprises. (b) to install
an ice plant, an electric power plant, a water system by building a dam,
to operate a furniture factory, an overall factory, a grist mill, a sorghum
mill, and such other manufacturing plants as will be found necessary in
the operation of general business, or as will care for the needs of a buying
public as would be allowed in any city or township, as will be found justifiable
through its Board of Directors; to build school houses and community churches;
to be used for community school and church purposes, and such other buildings
as will be found necessary. (c) to build a hotel for the accommodations
of travelers, such as tourists, to own and operate a garage, a filling
station, a tourist camp, and to operate all other businesses as would care
for the needs of the general public, to own and operate a general repair
shop in connection with the garage. (d) to build a thoroughbred herd of
cattle, swine, chickens, horses, mules, and such other husbandry as are
necessary for the operation of this corporation. (e) to establish a creamery
for the manufacture of dairy products, build and construct corrals, loading
pens, packing houses, and all other buildings necessary for the handling
of the business in a proper way. (f) in general to do any and all things
necessary, incident or convenient for the conducting of its business and
carrying out and into effect, the purposes for which this corporation is
organized." The corporation's resident agent is listed as Mr. McClain,
who's address if c/o Phillips Estate, Huntsville, Arkansas. The authorized
capital stock is three hundred shares, having a par value of $1.00 each,
and the incorporators and their shares of stock are:
Dr. Hubert L. Clough, President...Tulsa, Oklahoma 33 1/3 shares
George Perrine, Vice-President...Tulsa, Oklahoma 33 1/3 shares
John McBride, Secretary...Tulsa, Oklahoma 33 1/3 shares
Charles E. Gillespie, Treasurer...Tulsa, Oklahoma 33 1/3 shares
Board of Trustees
Rollin M. Moffett...Tulsa, Oklahoma 33 1/3 shares
James M. Holbrook...Tulsa, Oklahoma 33 1/3 shares
Percy Button....Tulsa, Oklahoma 33 1/3 shares
George Carlon...Tulsa, Oklahoma 33 1/3 shares
F. A. Toller...Tulsa, Oklahoma 33 1/3 shares
The reason that some people may remember this company farm as being called a "poor farm" is that poor people, mostly from Oklahoma, were basically promised a "pie in the sky" lifestyle, when in fact most of the people who moved to this farm almost starved to death. Lucille Simpson told me that she remembered hearing that the people lived in terrible "shanties" which were not fit for humans to live in. I believe that because it was a company farm, that the farm was supposed to be self-supporting and that people were required to purchase everything they needed at the farm...probably at excessive prices. I could find no deeds recorded in the name of the Oklahoma, Arkansas, Ozark Industrial Association, Inc. showing that they ever owned land here. Perhaps the individuals purchased the land in their names As far as I know, the hotel, garage, service station, etc. that are mentioned above in the Articles of Incorporation, were never built. The farm did not survive mainly because of the dissatisfaction of the people living there, and its survival and success was dependent upon their labor. It was widely known here in Madison County that the people living on this farm were very, very poor, and this is probably the reason that it is remembered as a poor farm.
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WE'D LIKE TO KNOW MORE INFORMATION ON THESE FARMS ! !
If you know any information about Madison County's Poor Farm or the Oklahoma, Arkansas, Ozark Industrial Association, Inc., we would very much like to hear from you. Even if you think you know too little to be of help to us, we would like to hear any "little tidbits". I'm certain that at one time, records of the Poor Farm did exist, however we have been unable to locate any mention of it in the Courthouse. We feel that this is a part of Madison County's history and would like to print everything that we can about it. So if you know anything, or have ever heard anything, please let us know. We will publish in future issues of the Musings, any further information that we receive. We would especially like to know exactly where the Pauper Cemetery was located at on the Poor Farm. If you know anything about this cemetery, please contact me. You may call write me c/o Madison COunty Genealogical and Historical Society, P. O. Box 427, Huntsville, Arkansas 72740.
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