You’ve been granted free access to this subscribers only article.
Wilson County Poor Farm, 1886-1940s
Historic MomentsJuly 24, 2013 | 2,711 views | Post a comment
Prior to the development of the federal relief program and public welfare initiatives during the Great Depression, citizens who had little or no financial support were destined to live in abject poverty. During this period, a system was developed to aid these people through means that had evolved from seventeenth century, English Poor Laws. Basically, these efforts resulted in the development of a county institution known as a “poor farm” -- usually found in agricultural areas. These “poor farms” typically provided minimal relief with limited government assistance.
The poor farm provided a means of caring for the impoverished citizens in a removed, agrarian institution. The county poor farm was developed according to the 1869 Texas constitution: article XII, section 26. These farms also provided a place for individuals who had committed petty offences to work off their sentences by providing manual labor.
In 1886, Wilson County purchased 124 acres of land east of Floresville along the old Floresville-Stockdale Road (C.R. 104) for a proposed poor farm site. The Commissioners Court then proceeded to construct the needed facilities to support the farm operations and house the residents. A large home was also constructed for the farm superintendent; it included an expansive meeting room and fireplace. This space was used as the dining area to feed the residents their daily meals. It also served as an assembly place for group events.
The house included three bedrooms for the superintendent’s family living quarters and was built high above ground level with a spacious front porch. With the home situated to take advantage of prevailing, cooling breezes, the porch (adorned with large rawhide chairs) was an area to relax, converse, and visit with other residents, friends, and neighbors.
Additionally, there were four separate cottages built near the large house to serve as living quarters for the farm residents. Two of the cottages were simply, large single rooms, the other two were divided into separate living areas. Additional outdoor structures included barns for the farming equipment and animals.
Water for the site was provided by a hand-dug, rock-lined well located near the superintendent’s house, under two large oak trees. The top of the well was covered with a wooden deck and provided a hoisting mechanism. This mechanism was used to withdraw water by bucket using a rope and pulley system.
The Commissioners Court selected the superintendent for the farm for a term of two years. However, this time could be extended as the situation warranted. The superintendent was paid a base salary with extra money for farm expenses and providing the residents with clothing, food and medical care. He was also responsible for managing the entire farm operation. In addition, the superintendent would hire individuals as needed to assist with the farm work. Another duty of the superintendent was to organize the planting of crops and overall maintenance of the site. He also was responsible for keeping written records of all poor farm activities and meeting with the commissioners on occasion.
The wife of the superintendent also had a vital role in the farm’s operation. Her duties included cooking meals for all residents, washing their clothes, sewing, and repairing their garments. This was all done regularly and often without compensation from the county.
The full-time residents at the farm seldom exceeded eight residents -- the majority of these were usually single gentlemen. The farm did however provide temporary quarters for jail inmates, giving them opportunities to pay off their fines for minor sentences by doing small tasks on the farm. Occasionally, the orphans or abandoned children were taken in for short periods of time until a more suitable permanent residence could be found for them.
Sickness and disabilities were common among the elderly farm inhabitants. Many times, Dr. Archer and his nurse Lena Ullmans would be asked to come from Floresville to treat the ill individuals.
The farm population, being elderly and typically without any known families, had a high death rate. To provide a suitable burial site for these individuals, a cemetery was created near a grove of oak trees. A wrought iron fence enclosed the site to keep the cattle out of the area. No markers were provided for the individual grave except for the nameplate supplied by the funeral undertakers. The county paid for the burial arrangements if no one claimed the body.
Most people in the county knew very little of the farm and its operation, but many of the neighbors developed a close friendship with the residents. They related how at times some of the inhabitants would be seen walking along the Floresville-Stockdale Road. At times, they would be guests in a neighboring home doing odd farm jobs in return for food and lodging. On other occasions, the more able individuals might be transported to Floresville to do tasks for which they were compensated.
The Wilson County Poor Farm existed until the early 1940’s when federal assistance became available to provide the needed help to the homeless and needy. The poor farm was created as a means of economic expediency by the county to care for these people. It was the funding provided by the federal aid at this time that enabled the county to discontinue the farm operation. The poor farm in Wilson County operated quietly with little or no public interaction. It had been established to deal with the problem of the governmental requirement to care for the poor and destitute of the county. When new options became available for their care, the farm became unnecessary. Today, the physical evidence of the structures and cemetery are gone and all that remains are records of the property deed and Commissioners Court minutes in the permanent record files of the county.
The Wilson County Historical Society meets every third Tuesday of the month at 7 p.m. in the American Legion Hall in Floresville, 1412 Fourth St. Dues are $20 for individuals, or $30 for couples. Call La Juana Newnam-Leus at 830-393-2166 or visit wilsoncountyhistory.org, also available under Links from http://wilsoncountynews.com. Click on Communities.
Your Opinions and Comments
Be the first to comment on this story!
You must be logged in to post a comment.
South Texas Living Archives
Behind the lens: Cover photo (August 26, 2015)
Cody Johnson to rock Nixon Feather Fest (August 26, 2015)
Dance in Geronimo (August 26, 2015)
Enjoy Fall Feast in Garfield (August 26, 2015)
Franklin Mint (August 26, 2015)
Got prayer? ‘War Room’ does (August 26, 2015)
He’s lived a sweet, gentle life (August 26, 2015)
Kerrville Fall Music Fest Sept. 4-6 (August 26, 2015)
LV prepares for Hammerfest (August 26, 2015)
Memories soar during Honor Flight (August 26, 2015)
St. Hedwig Legion plans Warrior Cry fund-raiser (August 26, 2015)
Whit’s Initiative donates to children’s home (August 26, 2015)
A window to their world (August 19, 2015)
Behind the lens: Cover photo (August 19, 2015)
Gillespie County Fair, horse racing meet (August 19, 2015)
LBJ autograph (August 19, 2015)
Lutheran youth plan donation fund-raiser (August 19, 2015)
Purchase tickets for veteran fund-raiser (August 19, 2015)
Receive blessing, sundaes (August 19, 2015)
Remembering Coach Henry Tomerlin (August 19, 2015)
The importance of vaccinating your pets (August 19, 2015)
Tickets on sale for Wild Game Dinner (August 19, 2015)
AgapeFest is Aug. 22 (August 12, 2015)
Age Well, Live Well event (August 12, 2015)
Back-to-school carnival (August 12, 2015)
Barbecue benefit for Logan Saenz Aug. 16 (August 12, 2015)
Behind the lens: Cover photo (August 12, 2015)
Bible study in Verdi (August 12, 2015)
Falls City alumni celebrate Beaver Roundup (August 12, 2015)
Free family recycling event (August 12, 2015)
H-E-B invites Texans to shed pounds, gain dollars (August 12, 2015)
Hear country tunes in New Braunfels (August 12, 2015)
Labor Day campout (August 12, 2015)
Play bunco in La Vernia (August 12, 2015)
Prescription-free healing pleasures of summer (August 12, 2015)
Remembering the Farmer’s Daughter Dance Hall (August 12, 2015)
Sunday Country Dance set for Aug. 16 (August 12, 2015)
Tabletop radio (August 12, 2015)
Three Oaks Ice Cream Social (August 12, 2015)
Behind the lens: Cover photo (August 5, 2015)
Classic cookbook (August 5, 2015)
Farmers Market in Loire (August 5, 2015)
Floresville Leo Club Back to School event (August 5, 2015)
Get set to get wet at Splash-O-Lympics (August 5, 2015)
Hear Chris Rybak at Czech Gala (August 5, 2015)
Pilgrim Opry is Aug. 8 (August 5, 2015)
Prom date grows into enduring love — 15 years later (August 5, 2015)
Rey Feo group to award scholarships (August 5, 2015)
Savor: Lemon Pesto Mason Jar Pasta Salad (August 5, 2015)
St. Gerard Rummage Sale Aug. 8 (August 5, 2015)
Stockdale Leo Club fund-raisers (August 5, 2015)
The Floresville, Wilson County story from days gone by (August 5, 2015)
‘The’ rock wall: Searching for answers (August 5, 2015)