Where do the poor people go?
What is a community to do to help those who cannot help themselves, who are stuck in a rut, down on their luck, with no support system in place?
Throughout the 19th and early 20th century, being poor was largely considered to be a dishonorable state of existence, and most people who fell into that category (including the elderly and disabled) were largely ostracized, yet supported, by society at large. In America, county level governments took charge of instituting and maintaining houses to care for the poor - poorhouses, almshouses, county farms, etc - and they were organized and run by Overseers of the poor. The idea behind agriculture-based poor-relief is that those needing the relief will reside and work on the farm and raise some, if not all, the food they plan to consume.
Clarke County had one poor house that we know of, although it's possible there were earlier versions. Sometime in the mid-nineteenth century a large farm was built 3 miles north of Berryville, in what is now known as Stringtown. Records for the County Farm are scarce (at least during COVID closures), so we don't know much about it. It was in operation "for more than fifty years" according to the land deed documenting the sale of the farm to the Nicodemus family in 1946. County Farms, or Poorhouse farms, generally began to decline after 1935, when the Social Security Act went in to practice, meaning it's fairly likely the complex was built in the second half of the century.
In 1910, a report was written up following a site visit that took place the year before. From it we can learn a little about what went on at the Farm:
To read another report done by the census bureau, click here!
Based on the amenities provided, or not provided, and the overall demographic of the county, it seems as though, at least in the early 20th century, there wasn't much need for permanent County Farms. Most people gaining assistance were living off the property, and only drawing temporary relief.
When things begin to open back up, we'll have to see what else we can track down!
Melanie is the current archivist for the Clarke County Historical Association, in Berryville, Virginia. She is a graduate from Shepherd University, where she earned a degree in History.