The Archives: Edition Seven

These pictures come from: backup/Old My Pictures/County Farm

I want to give a small amount of background on these pictures. These pictures were taken at the Boone County Farm after it was abandoned and before it was demolished.

If you know me at all, you know that one of my favorite shows is Ghost Adventures. Some people would describe my love for that show as a guilty pleasure. I would not because I’m not the slightest bit guilty about it.

I love this show and I hate every other single ghost show on television. I don’t even like ghost movies.

I don’t even believe in ghosts. I would my consider myself open to the possibility that ghosts exist, but I don’t believe they exist.

I could be classified as a paranormal agnostic, I want to believe in ghosts (and I don’t eliminate the possibility that they exist), but I just don’t.

The Boone County Farm was reputed to be haunted. Carla and I have always shared an interest in the paranormal. So when the Boone County Farm went on the real estate market, we collected Jay and went to tour the allegedly haunted building.

This is the closest I have been to a Ghost Adventures type trip.

Perhaps because it was the middle of the day, or perhaps because I am skeptical, I did not experience or witness any paranormal activity. However, IF a place was to be haunted by negative residual energy, I do believe that the Boone County Farm would be the type of place that it could happen.

Since most people think the word “poorhouse” isn’t a reference to something that actually existed or know what a County Farm was, I’m providing a little bit of background information on such things.


Poorhouses were tax-supported residential institutions to which people were required to go if they could not support themselves. They were started as a method of providing a less expensive (to the taxpayers) alternative to what we would now days call “welfare” – what was called “outdoor relief” in those days. People requested help from the community Overseer of the Poor ( sometimes also called a Poor Master) – an elected town official. If the need was great or likely to be long-term, they were sent to the poorhouse instead of being given relief while they continued to live independently. Sometimes they were sent there even if they had not requested help from the Overseer of the Poor. That was usually done when they were found guilty of begging in public, etc.

[One misconception should be cleared up here; they were not technically “debtors’ prisons.” Someone could owe a great deal of money, but if they could still provide themselves with the necessities for remaining independent they might avoid the poorhouse.]

During the second quarter of the 19th century, as the industrial revolution had its effect on the United States, the importation of the factory system from England was followed almost immediately by the full scale adoption of what seemed to be an inherent component of that system — the Poorhouse System. These poorhouses were built with great optimism. They promised to be a much more efficient and cheaper way to provide relief to paupers. And there was a fervent popular belief that housing such people in institutions would provide the opportunity to reform them and cure them of the bad habits and character defects that were assumed to be the cause of their poverty.

By mid-century, people were beginning to question the success of the poorhouse movement. Investigations were launched to examine the conditions in poorhouses. They had proven to be much more expensive than had been anticipated. And they had not significantly reduced the numbers of the “unworthy poor” nor eliminated the need for “outdoor relief”. [ This was public assistance given to those living outside the poorhouses. It was given somewhat grudgingly to those considered to be (perhaps!) more “worthy” poor –who might only briefly and temporarily require assistance to procure food or fuel or clothing when they fell on very short-term hard times.]

By 1875, after the regulation of poorhouses in most states became the responsibility of the State Board of Charities, laws were passed prohibiting children from residing in poorhouses and removing mentally ill patients and others with special needs to more appropriate facilities.

The poorhouse population was even more narrowly defined during the twentieth century when social welfare legislation (Workman’s Compensation, Unemployment benefits and Social Security) began to provide a rudimentary “safety net” for people who would previously have been pauperized by such circumstances. Eventually the poorhouses evolved almost exclusively into nursing homes for dependent elderly people. But poorhouses left orphanages, general hospitals and mental hospitals — for which they had provided the prototype — as their heritage.

The Boone County Farm was tormented by not 1, but 2 tragic fires.


January 1894


A Sickening Tragedy

The Disaster at the County Insane Asylum.

The most horrible tragedy that ever occurred in the limits of Boone county took place Tuesday night of last week when the county insane asylum burned down. Of the nine inmates of the place eight were burned to death, roasted alive, meeting a fate that makes one shudder. The horrible death roll, which has been published all over the country and created a cry of indignation wherever read is as follows:

CRAIG, JOSEPH, aged 81
SCOTT, SARAH aged 82
TUCKER, Mercy, aged 48

The county insane asylum was located on the poor farm. The poor farm is on the old Fort Dodge road seven miles directly north of Boone and a mile and a half south of Mineral Ridge. Henry Holcomb is steward of the poor farm and had charge of the insane also. The insane asylum was a two-story frame building put up about 60 feet from the poor house proper It was erected six or eight years ago, when Boone county took charge of its incurable insane, taking care of them at home instead of the state institutions. This was originally done because there was not room in the state institutions and the counties were required to take care of the harmless incurables as best they could. Of late years, since the state facilities have been increased, the county has kept up the local asylum as a matter of economy.

There were nine of these unfortunates in the asylum–the eight that lost their lives and one that escaped, Mrs. Hibbart. Tuesday night, January 23, was one of the worst nights this winter. A furious storm started in the afternoon which gained in fury all night. The thermometer went down to 30 degrees below zero before morning. The insane asylum was heated with a furnace in the cellar which was reported out of order. Regardless of this, the nine unfortunates who were not of sufficiently sound mind to take care of themselves were locked up in this fire trap to perish like so many rats. Possibly the doors were not locked, but the unfortunate creatures, unable to look out for themselves, were left alone without a person of sound mind to look after them. When the house was left we have not learned. Evidently the old furnace was fired up so that the inmates should not freeze to death that bitter cold night and then left to their fate.

Henry Holcomb, the steward, went to bed at his usual time and all the inmates of the poor house proper were asleep at ten o’clock when they were awakened by Mrs. Hibbart coming into the house and telling them the madhouse was on fire. Holcomb rushed to the burning building, which he saw was all aflame inside, and burst in the door. He could not enter and no sound except the crackling of flames was heard. The poor unfortunates were already dead, either suffocated before they awoke, or lacking the intelligence to make their escape.

Four of the poor creatures that were not considered perfectly safe were locked in their cells at night, and could not have escaped if they would. The others could have gotten out if intelligent enough. What little help there was availed nothing against the fire, and all that could be done was to prevent its spreading to the poorhouse and other buildings of the poor farm. The tragedy was over in half an hour and the roof fell in. The victims were seen burned beyond recognition. From the places where some of the remains were found it is inferred that some of the unfortunates had reached the windows and tried to escape from them.

How the fire originated is not and never will be known. One of the insane women was in the habit of tearing her clothes to shreds and stuffing them into the hot air registers. It is possible that this may have been the cause of the fire. The grand jury visited the asylum last week and their report, published in the last issue of THE DEMOCRAT, was far from complimentary to the institution. Before it was read by many of the readers of this paper news of the sickening tragedy was on the streets.

A great moral responsibility attaches to some one for this crime against humanity. We will not stop to discuss how the policy of keeping the insane at home instead of in state institutions. It is sufficient that they were kept on the poor farm. Why were they not cared for? Who is to blame for the shocking barbarity of leaving nine unfortunate human beings unable to take care of themselves alone in a building to perish like so many rats? To burn up at 10 o’clock, the early part of the evening. It is highly probable that the fire had been smoldering for some time before it burst out. A sane person might likely have smelled fire and investigated before retiring. Possibly lives might have been lost even if proper precaution had been taken. This has occurred in other asylum fires. But then there would have been no cause for the universal indignation that is expressed at the utter lack of care in looking out for the unfortunates in Boone county. If economy was the reason the purpose has been accomplished–the insane are burned up and will no longer cost the county anything. This is cheaper than hiring some one to take charge of them but arouses a cry of indignation from every corner of the land. We wish the man or men that are responsible for leaving these unfortunates alone with less care than is given so many cattle (for fires are carefully kept out of the stable) could see the comments that are being made all over the country in the press. It will not mend matters but may cause a little remorse. Locking the stable door after the horse is stolen is of little use.

The criminal carelessness is largely chargeable upon the board of supervisors for the method of taking care of the insane. We do not wish to single out the present board, for they probably did the same as has been done for years, but the whole method is wrong. The management of the poor farm is peddled out to the lowest bidder, the man that will do it the cheapest, regardless of fitness for the place. It is possible that the present steward of the poor farm, who left nine people that the proper tribunal said were not competent to take care of themselves alone to perish did just what his predecessors had done before him. That does not make it less reprehensible. The tragedy is a blot on Boone county that can never be justified and must meet the condemnation of every humane man.

A second tragic fire occurred in March of 1917:

Boone Mar.8 – One aged woman and three men, all inmates of the Boone county poor house, eight miles north of here burned to death in a fire which destroyed the three story brick structure at 10 o’clock last night. Fifty-six other inmates narrowly escaped in their night clothes.

There was no fire protection at the institution and the Boone fire department was not called. Superintendent Heedwell of the poor farm aided by employees succeeded in getting out to safety all except four aged persons on the third floor who lost their lives.

The fire is believed to have started either in the boiler room or from defective wiring between floors.

The dead are Mrs. Oberg, D. Decker, 86, John Allen 86; and Peter Peterson 23. Mrs. Oberg was safely out of the building once but apparently lost her head an rushed back into the structure. She was never seen again until her charred body was found today.

Here are the pictures:


Shortly after we made this trip, the County Farm was torn down and buried on the site where it once stood.

I do have a Ghost Adventures type trip scheduled tentatively for April to the Villisca Axe Murder House. I’m sure I’ll come back with better pictures from that trip.

Next week’s folder is: backup/Old My Pictures/Cruise Vacation – 2004 – December

4 thoughts on “The Archives: Edition Seven”

  1. Pingback: Poor farm | CdExpo
  2. My friend Bob works for the county & was rather obsessed with River Valley before they tore it down. He managed to sneak my ex-husband in there one night before it was torn down. They came back talking about circular “grooves” (from what I can gather it was more likely “wear” on the floor boards & finish) under the rafters on the 3rd floor where the “insane” were supposedly tethered for their “safety”. I’m curious if you noticed the same thing?

    I’m going to show Bob this post, I’m sure you two could have a lively discussion about the paranormal 😉

  3. I saw nothing that was remotely paranormal. I also didn’t see grooves of any kind. At least that I recall. Those pictures are about 6 years old, but I don’t really remember seeing anything interesting but a building in decay. I’m sure that Bob probably spent much more time in there than we did in there because what we were doing wasn’t exactly legal and it was the middle of the day.

    I find it hard to believe that the tether the insane to the walls, but I suppose it is possible.

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