Overview

Stairs at the Wood County Infirmary Photos by author.

Efforts to create a home for the poor in Wood County, Ohio started in 1827, however these efforts were not realized until 1865. In April of 1865, it was voted to purchase a farm and build buildings for the infirmary on the property. March 3, 1868 the hunt for contractors to build the infirmary began. It was in June, the building contract of $4,900 was awarded. The infirmary directors were elected by vote rather than being appointed. In 1869, the doors opened for the first residents to arrive. The infirmary would remain open until 1971. 5

Ohio had laws that governed the running of infirmaries. The Board of Charities and Corrections oversaw these institutions. The Ohio Board of Charities and Corrections had similar laws and regulations as the Indiana Board of Charities and Corrections and other states as well. These laws explained that the purpose of the poor farm was to care for “the poor who have become permanent dependents or of those who have become temporarily more or less helpless.” 4

The people described above included the poor, mentally ill, elderly, physically disabled, and infirm. Those that needed relief and a place to live had to send in an application for relief to the directors of the infirmary in their county. This application for relief had to be sent in through their township trustee. In order to be allowed to live at the infirmary, a person had to have legal settlement in the county for which they were applying. However, exceptions could be made to this for special cases. Legal settlement was obtained by living in a township for a full year without receiving assistance. While living at the infirmary, a person had to contribute their labor in order to help make the farm as self sufficient as possible.The infirmary was a revolving door. Many residents came and went. Those that were not court ordered there often left at will. This project looks at those people, who they were, where they came from, and why they ended up at the infirmary. In addition to that, it also looks at the expansion of the infirmary as the population rose with time.4

The infirmary had diverse residents that came from all walks of life and lived in an ever changing institution.

Historiography

Left: Colors of a room in the Wood County Infirmary overtime. Right: The room those colors appeared in. Photos by author.

The study of infirmaries (poor farms, poor houses, ect) from the 19th century began while they were still in operation. Individuals from Dorthothea Dix to Harry Evans studied the institutions while they were still operating, trying to improve conditions.25 Today, infirmaries are studied for a variety of reasons. Infirmaries have been studied regionally to better understand the public welfare system in specific states.13, 17,18,19 Infirmaries have also been studied archaeologically. There are many infirmaries whose only record left is the archaeological remains it and the people that lived there left behind.15, 24 As an institution that dealt with those marginalized from society, infirmaries are often forgotten by the present and the buildings that once sheltered those in a county that sought help are left to crumble or be torn down to make way for other newer buildings. 25 However, there has been an increase in interest in these institutions and their histories are being brought to the light slowly.