We are blessed in Lawrence County to have a rich and interesting history.
The acreage owned by Commissioner Ronnie Benefield and his wife Cindy (see previous article) includes property once known as the County Farm. Thanks to this article and photos provided by Lawrence County Archives Director Kathy Niedergeses, we’re offering a more in-depth look at it:
The Lawrence County Poor Farm (also known as the “County Farm”) existed for almost 150 years at various locations in the county. It played an important role in providing for the indigent, the handicapped, and the mentally or physically sick before the advent of nursing homes and government assistance.
Before the county purchased property and established the first poor farm in 1820, the court appointed and paid other members of the community, usually the lowest bidder, to take care of these individuals. In other instances, the paupers were given money to cover their expenses and still live at home.
Even after the County Farm was established, it was sometimes thought that a person would be better off living with another family, who would be compensated each quarter. There were also several years between the discontinuance of one county farm and the beginning of a new one, so all the needy were under the care of local families then.
Children were usually not kept at the farm very long, because it was not a good place for them. Instead, orphaned children whose parents did not leave sufficient money for their care or a guardian to take them in were indentured to families who provided them food, clothing and a minimum education in exchange for manual labor. Children not orphaned were either indentured or put up for adoption.
An overseer or superintendent was appointed by the county for the poor farm. “Farm” was the appropriate word, since just about everything the superintendent and paupers ate was grown there. This included vegetables, fruits, cows for eating and milking, pigs, chickens for eating and the eggs they produced, and hay and corn to feed the animals.
Even if a poor farm stayed on the same property for many years, over a period of time, there could be several different superintendents. Most were sympathetic to the indigent and took as good of care of them as funds allowed. But a few were not, and when proven, they were dismissed and replaced. The majority of the time, the county provided the funds for small wood structures with no insulation as living quarters for the poor. At times, the women lived in the home with the superintendent and his family while the men lived in the smaller buildings. A few in charge of the farms built additional facilities or made other improvements using funds of their own.
The next to last county farm was located on County Farm Road between Lawrenceburg and Ethridge, on the property now owned by the Benefield family. It was one of the longest running locations for the farm. Twenty-three residents are listed in the 1920 census, plus the family of Whit C. Smith, wife Valeria, their five children and one grandson.
At the July term of 1924’s County Court, a resolution was presented for the appropriation of $2500 “for the purpose of securing a site, and the erection of a dam across the creek at or near the County Farm in the 10th Civil District of Lawrence County, and the erection and installation of a hydroelectric power plant, complete with all the necessary wiring and installing of electric lights at the County Farm and the erection and equipping of a pumping station to be operated by electricity for the supply of water to the various buildings on the County Farm, and for protection against fire . . .”
The committee purchased the necessary land and right of ways for the erection and operation of this plant. A plaque on the power house shows it was erected in 1924.
A newspaper article that appeared in the Lawrence News April 8, 1925 states, “Tuesday afternoon of last week, a number of citizens made a tour of inspection of the county farm. The power generated from the new dam on the farm is supplying both lights and water. The farm looks like a little city by night. When one thinks of the constant menace coal oil lamps were at such a place, one can but wonder why a dam was not built sooner if only for protection. The water is an equal convenience and the installing of the system places Lawrence County in the ranks of progression.”
“The natural environment of the county farm is most attractive; the simple but well-kept cottages are not unattractive and Lawrence county finds itself now, through these improvements in a position to take care of its unfortunate citizens, who, through mental and physical weakness, are unable to care for themselves, at a minimum of expense. . . .”
The last County Farm was located on Windsor Drive in Lawrenceburg. There was an older wood building for the male residents and a new brick building for the women. With the advent of nursing homes, it closed in 1969/1970 and any remaining residents were transferred to what was then Elm Nursing Home on Kennedy Street.
The brick building on Windsor Drive was then used to house the county’s Mental Health Center, then the Sheriff’s Department Criminal Investigation Division (CID). A new building has been constructed for CID, but the brick building still stands.