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A Look Back at poorhouses

Many years ago, before the advent of pensions and various assistance  programs, impoverished men and women who had no relatives who could furnish them with the bare necessities essential for sustaining life – in addition to providing for their own families – resided in poorhouses or at poor farms or almshouses.   

At present, when people spend more than they feel they can afford, they might jokingly say, “I’m bound for the poor house.” Those in the younger generation might not realize these were real places, and Morgan County was not so prosperous that it had no need of one. 

  • Aug. 9, 1870—It is ordered by the Morgan County Court (county commission) that Thomas Higdon be appointed to take charge of the poorhouse of Morgan County.  
  • April 13, 1882—Next door in Lawrence County, the grand jury report stated that, “We have examined into the condition of the poor house and find the inmates as well provided for as could be expected with the present appropriations. 
  • April 16, 1884—The pay of our circuit judges is so poor that the judge of this circuit was driven to our county poorhouse. Very sad. (At present, Alabama’s judicial salary levels are above what one would expect of one of the less affluent of the 50 states.) 
  • May 24, 1894James Nix, an invalid pauper, died at the county poor farm, Sunday night last. He was a grown man but had never taken a step in his life. At rest at last.  
  • Aug. 29, 1895George Roberts will be the lucky proprietor of the county poor farm next year. He is to take care of the paupers at $3.50 per head per month.  
  • Feb. 13, 1906—There is a man in the Muscogee County (Georgia) poor house who had not, until recently, had a bath in 40 years, according to his own admission. 
  • Jan. 3, 1908Dr. H. C. McRee of Hartselle has been elected vice president of the Morgan County Medical Society.  Dr. S. L. Rountree is county health officer.  Dr. T. B. Brindley of Hartselle is the county poor house physician.  Dr. McRee also serves as Hartselle town physician.  (This workload, if assigned only to one individual, would be impossible to discharge adequately.  Many of the poorest county residents had severe medical and mental problems in addition to economic destitution.) 
  • April 30, 1912Fire of unknown origin destroyed one of the buildings at the Morgan County poor farm, causing a loss of about $400.  It is understood the county carries no insurance on the buildings at the farm.  
  • July 22, 1915In a formal statement made today, the Morgan County board of health placed itself on record as opposing the so-called “pellagra cure.” The board informed the Morgan County grand jury of its opposition to the inquisitorial body’s recommendation that several patients at the county poor farm be allowed to take the pellagra treatment, free of charge, in return for which the patients were to furnish testimonials as to the “curative powers” of the treatment to the bottler of the patent medicine. 
  • June 17, 1928—Glenn Andrews, a state inspector of public institutions, has written a letter to county officers, in which he disputes the allegation of the grand jury that no inspection had been made recently of the Morgan County almshouse.  Mr. Andrews called attention to a report of an inspection made on April 23 and April 24 of the poor farm. Inmates of the farm were found to be well cared for, he said. 
  • Oct. 19, 1928The Morgan County poor farm has again been examined, this time by the grand jury. It was found to be in fair condition. Inmates did not complain of their treatment.