Defiance County Genealogical Society

Wood County Museum Curator Holly Kirkendall

DEFIANCE — The Defiance County Genealogical Society met Nov. 28, 2019, when Wood County Museum Curator Holly Kirkendall presented the history of public charity in Ohio prior to Social Security and Workers’ Compensation.

For the past few years, Kirkendall and local photographer Jeffrey Hall, have traveled from Wood County to each of the other 87 Ohio counties searching for historical records and photographing former poor farm sites. Thus, the poor-farm-story and the museum’s award-winning exhibit, “For Comfort & Convenience: Public Charity in Ohio by way of the Poor Farm” were created.

In 1816, just 13 years after Ohio became a state, the Ohio General Assembly authorized boards of county commissioners to construct poor houses to care for those unable to provide the basic necessities of life for themselves: food, clothing and shelter. Permanent housing for individuals was called, “Indoor Relief,” and temporary help was called “Outdoor Relief.”

In spite of a few complaints sent to local newspapers because of the added tax, the state became wholly responsible for the provision and regulation of these homes in 1867. The State Board of Charities was formed in 1900 to focus on proper management in the care of residents.

Believing that each person needed to earn their keep with an honest day’s work, able inmates were assigned various jobs on the farm to pay for their lodging and food. However, some inmates were too old or too crippled to work the farm, so outside employees were also hired to maintain the facility. Usually, a superintendent managed the farm and his wife managed the people.

In 1853, the name “Poor House” was dropped, and the name “Infirmary” became the official title. Inmates were separated by gender and classification. Besides adults, orphans and unwanted or abused children also lived in the infirmaries.

For those in the “Insane” classification, a Mental Health Warrant to Convey first had to be approved by a judge. Ohio made great efforts to give good care to the legally insane.

Aged inmates received the promise they would be provided with warm housing, food, sleeping facilities, clothing, medical care and a Christian grave. Many were content to live and work there. There is currently a monument on the Wood County Home Cemetery listing names of inmates buried there.

As bids for construction for a new and improved Wood County facility were presented in 1869, builders were required to construct a few apartments, single rooms for no more than four people, fewer sets of stairs, a dormitory, a chapel, a basement and dining room, a laundry room, hospital wings and administration offices. Since structure fires were a very big concern in those days, fire prevention was considered in the new construction plans.

The two-story building had to be within walking distance of the county seat. The “Insane Building” was separate from the main building. Children were also in a separate building.

The need for the county poor farms declined about the time Social Security started. Some Ohio county homes were eventually torn down, while some became county office buildings or nursing homes.

The Wood County Historical Society’s museum in now housed in the former Wood County Infirmary building at the intersection of Interstate Route 75 and U.S. Route 6 south of Bowling Green. They are eager to share their interesting exhibits with the public.

Since the Defiance County Genealogy society will not meet in December, the next meeting will be Monday, Jan. 27.

Meetings are held at St. John United Church of Christ, 950 Webster St., Defiance. The church is located on the northeastern corner of the Defiance College campus. Entry is on the north side from the church parking lot adjacent to the college gymnasium. Visitors are welcome.

(Information courtesy of the Defiance County Genealogical Society.)

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