The idea of “poor farms” indicated paupers, old people who could not take care of themselves or orphans. (Orphans were often placed in this type of home by bid later on foster homes.) Often, children with disabilities were placed in these homes.
Poor farms were started in England, and the idea came over with these British immigrants. The first poor farm was is Philadelphia in 1773. This idea came on west as settlers came to this area.
Alexander Longley of Cincinnati, Ohio, came to this area in 1871 looking for a location for a commune. About 160 acres of land were bought. A monthly paper was begun telling about the organization. It was called the Friendship Community, organized on March 15, 1872. It was four miles west of Buffalo. This was public land called Public Domain. The deed was signed by President James Buchanan. Today it would be south of Mo. 32 and Hazel Road. Remember the area was different than it is today. There were trails from Buffalo to Bolivar and probably an open range with prairie grass. In the 1940s, the road was graveled.
They built a hotel-type building called the Ohio House. Soon they realized they could not isolate themselves from others. In 1877, the group dissolved and went their way.
However, another group came in 1873 called the Bennett Cooperative Colony, and they settled north of Long Lane. It lasted about 6 years. Another group began Home Employment cooperative. Again it lasted about six years.
Dallas County officials began to think what we can do with these poorer people. The county began a bidding process with families who wanted to keep these older people plus the disabled. A bidding process was begun.
One story is told that wives sold their husbands because they were lazy. One wife got a bid of a nickel but bought him back for a dime.
In 1892, Jacob Keller, candidate for County Court Justice from the Windyville area, made the following statement: “If I am nominated and elected, I will support many propositions. One is to establish a poor farm for the poor and needy, where they will be treated like human beings and not sold to the highest bidder every three months.”
He was elected, and the other judges agreed to use the former Friendship Community for a poor farm. A large eight-room building had been constructed, and it was used for this purpose. The main building was two stories. They used the upper floor as bedrooms for men and women separated by a curtain. A house was built for the overseer and his family. The area consisted on 160 acres.
Fees had to be paid to keep these people. Standard pay was $10 a month. It is thought that 10 to 15 people was the average population of “inmates,” which was what they were called.
Most of the food was grown and taken care of by the inmates; the meat was butchered by the care-keeper. Any extra money bought sugar, flour, etc.
The county bought material for the ladies’ clothes, and the dresses were made by the care-keeper’s wife. The county bought overalls and shirts for the men. The county furnished the doctor and medicine, also. The care-keeper’s wife had plenty to do.
During the winter, the county bought an acre of timber from a neighboring farm. It was the responsibility of the care-keeper to cut and split the wood and haul it to the buildings. The county paid the landowner $30. The story is told that after the landowner collected his money, he would dance a little “jig” in the count house because he had extra money.
The men would work in the garden. The county wanted the farm to be self-sufficient. Probably the usual vegetables were grown — beans, corn, potatoes, etc. However, new plants were introduced — tobacco.
Taking care of these inmates was hard work. Food had to be prepared three times a day. Dishes and pots and pans had to be washed, dried and put away. Clothes had to be washed and ironed. Dirty clothes had to be scrubbed on the washboard. Water had to be drawn from the well, heated, and clothes had to be hung out to dry, or if bad weather, hung in the house. Ironing had to be done by hand using flat irons. For some reason, the court stopped the grain crops except a small area for corn and oats to be used by the livestock. No doubt the women inmates helped with these chores.
The care-keeper would bring the inmates into town by wagon/buggy pulled by horses. Later the Model T Ford supplied the transportation.
As time progressed, most of the inmates were normal people, except one who was confined to a ball and chain. It is thought that the ball and chain was given to the county jail. It is on display in the Historical Society museum.
In the early 1930s, old-age pensions were paid to people over 70 years old with limited resources. Also in 1935, Social Security began, so the Dallas County Poor Farm closed its doors in 1948.
The DCHS library had lists of the care-keepers from 1900 to 1948. They included the following: P. Smith, 1900; William F. Line, 1910; Henry F. Scott, 1920; Jeff Atwater, 1930; Walter Gamel, early ’40s; and George and Susie Gamel, until it closed. The DCHS library also has lists of the inmates from 1920 and 1930.
When the land was sold in the early 1950s, a Mr. Beck bought the land and later sold it to Larry King’s grandfather and his father, Aaron. Larry King later inherited the land.
A sad part to this area was that the inmates who died were buried in the Reynolds Cemetery, three miles west of Buffalo. There is a section of land in the southwest corner where these people were buried. Bill Sharp, a member of the Reynolds Cemetery board, said that no one knows their names. It seems as if all the records have been destroyed. There is a plaque at the cemetery indicating that it was a pauper plots. A story is told that if you go to the west end of this section of the cemetery, you can see where the graves are. There are two field rocks in the area that have some sufficiency.
Another story tells of a lady who fostered more than 20 children, possibly 10 at a time, but could keep them no more. The county took the last little girl and housed her with the family at the poor farm. The care-keeper’s family took her with them as a foster child when they left the farm. She lived with the foster family until the mother died. The name of the little girl is not mentioned. This child was Inez Leslie. She lived with George and Sue Gamel the rest of her life.
This article was written from references from the Buffalo Reflex and the Bolivar Free Press; and from interviews with Dorthea Hill, Carroll Lindsey, Lucille Jackson and Ruth Powell.