The story that follows was gleaned from a biogragical portrait of Bad Axe and the Huron County Poor Farm published about 1900. While edited for content, it contains the language common of that point in time.Bad Axe, Michigan, the Thumb’s Best Town
The subject of “Poor Houses” is a tough but fascinating bit of Michigan history. In 1830 Michigan enacted a law directing each county to build a poor house. The typical county acquired land and hired a local person with a farming background. The couple would live at the Poor House and provide for the residents who were referred to as “inmates,” in the official reports.
Many of the Poor farms or houses were established in Michigan in the mid to late 1800s. In comparison to Englands poor houses famously portrayed in Charles Dicken’s play Oliver Twist they were modern and comfortable. However, most of the residents who lived in poor houses were not able to work, or if they could, they were minimally productive. Income from crops raised at many of the institutions helped defray costs, but it seldom covered all expenses.
The Poor House served an extremely diverse group: the insane, alcoholic, feeble, indolent, senile, developmentally disabled, handicapped, injured, sick, and transient. Their common label was that they were poor and likely elderly and alone. Some stayed only for a short time, but others remained until they died and were buried in an unmarked pulpers grave.
The Huron County Farm
In 1875 the Board of Supervisors purchased 200 acres of land about one mile west of the village to be used as a county farm for the support of the aged decrepit poor. In 1877 a fine two-story house was built, having 25 rooms and costing about $4,000. In 1884 William Story was appointed Superintendent holding the office for seven years. He was succeeded by John M. Cary, who remained four years. The present Superintendent, Samuel Geiger, was appointed in February 1896. He is native of Hay, Huron Co., Ontario, and has made a most efficient and excellent Superintendent. The last 20 acres of the farm was cleared last year, and the whole 200 acres are now under cultivation. During Mr. Geiger’s tenure, an ice house and windmill supplying water to the house and barn has been added, and about two miles of Paige wire fence has been built.
The Poor Farm’s Operations
The number of inmates runs from 14 to 25 a year, and the cost for maintenance is $1.85 per person per week, but as most of the food consumed is raised upon the farm the direct cost is very trifling. The only things purchased are groceries, fuel, and clothing, and most of this is paid for by produce sold from the farm. With the exception of one man and a boy in summer, all the labor is performed by the inmates. The institution is controlled by the County Hoard of Superintendents of the Poor, consisting at present of Francis Thompson, Michael Hanselmann, and Septimus Irwin.
The successful conduct of an institution of this kind is a task of no small magnitude, and Mr. Geiger is to be congratulated upon bringing the County Farm to so high a state of cultivation. Whatever of farm products he may have to sell each year always bring; the highest market price, and the dairy ranks with the best in a county noted for its good cattle and high-grade butter.
Just east of the farm building is a large orchard which usually produces a flue grade of fruit, and the County Farm apples are a notable commodity among Bad Axe merchants.
Unfortunate as is the lot of those compelled to spend the evening of life at a home of this kind, Huron County provides for its poor in a comfortable fashion.”
The End of the Poor Farms and Houses
The end of most for the Poor Farm operations occurred when Social Security was enacted in 1935. Many of the operations became housing for acute health issues such as tuberculosis or mental illness. The Huron County Poor Farm was used for 60 years. In 1937 it was replaced by the first unit of the Huron Medical Care Facility.
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