The Grundy County Poor Farms

The County Poor Farm contains 160 acres. It is located in the township of Norman. The buildings are ample for the accommodation of the county paupers. Mrs. Helms is the Matron and John Reilly, Superintendent. Everything is orderly and well conducted, and the county, and also the inmates of the county house, are fortunate in securing the services of Mrs. Helms and Mr. Reilly as managers.

The First Poor Farm

The records of Grundy County show that the first pauper bill allowed was ordered paid March 7, 1842. It was for the sum of $10 for medicine and attendance to one “Joseph Brown, pauper.” Unfortunately with the development of any community comes poverty, and the tax payers are always forced to make provision for those whom the chances of life leave destitute. Grundy County has not been exempt, and its people have nobly risen to the occasion, and now have one of the best equipped poor farms in the State. The first farm of 160 acres was in Norman Township. The county paid $2,400 for it but found it was too large and portions of it were sold to outsiders.

The Second Poor Farm

On October 27, 1879, eighty acres of land was bought for $45 per acre, in Wauponsee Township. An old brick building standing upon the property was torn down and a large frame building was built. This was used for about twenty years, and when it was decided to build new quarters, it was partially wrecked, and the rubbish was sold to a party who removed it. In the December meeting of the county board, in 1903, the committee to which was referred the county almshouse on the county farm, filed the following report:

State of Illinois
Grundy County

Board of Supervisors, December term

December 10, 1903

Mr. Chairman and Gentlemen of the Board of Supervisors,

A majority of your committee to whom was referred the matter of rebuilding the almshouse according to plans drawn by E.E. Roberts of Oak Park, Ill., would beg leave to submit the following report on the matter before them: that on the 12th day of March, 1902, we let the contract to E.E. Roberts of Oak Park, Ill., for the sum of $14,202 for labor and materials known as carpenter work, plastering, lath, heating, plumbing, painting and glazing, and your committee was to furnish all the material used in the construction of said building, known as brick, stone and necessary hardware. And your committee has herewith attached our itemized account not only of all labor, material, etc., for the rebuilding of almshouse, but also all other improvements made at the Poor Farm since March 12, 1902.

And your committee believes that Grundy County has a substantial, modern and up-to-date building that they can well be proud of.

All of which is respectfully submitted.

Israel Dudgeon, Chairman

D.W. Corneys

Here followed a long list of items entering into the construction, aggregating a total of $21,242, of which $2,036.83 was used for other improvements, making the net cost of the house proper $19,205.17.

After the reading of the report, Supervisor Ryan (the oldest member of the board) introduced the following resolution, which was unanimously adopted by an aye and nay vote of the board, the members of the committee being excused from voting. The resolution reads as follows:

“Whereas, by the report of the committee on Poor Farm, the new almshouse and other improvements there ordered by this board, have been completed at a cost of $19,205.17, and whereas this board did on the 9th day of December, 1903, go out to the almshouse and in a body inspect the work done and at a cost of several thousand dollars less than the most sanguine members hoped for,

“Therefore, be it resolved: that the thanks of this board be tendered to the building committee for the efficient and economical manner in which said committee has performed its duties in the premises.”

This is the official record, but to appreciate the quarters which Grundy County now furnishes its unfortunates, one should see the fine brick building with its broad porches, set on a beautiful lawn dotted with fine forest trees, flanked by gardens, and beyond them the broad acres of the farm which are in a fine state of cultivation.

Care of the Poor in Illinois

The following information was compiled and submitted by Rodney Gould.

Public care of the poor in Illinois began in 1819. In that year, the General Assembly passed a law mandating public care and maintenance of those unable to support themselves and without family support. County overseers of the poor farmed out care of the destitute to private citizens.

[Laws of Illinois 1819, p. 127]

In 1839, this system was reauthorized. County commissioners’ courts were also authorized to establish county poorhouses, at their own discretion, to replace the farm-out system; to hire keepers of the poor, and to levy a property tax for poorhouse support.

[Laws of Illinois 1839, p. 138]

This poorhouse authorization was renewed in 1845 and 1861.

[Illinois Revised Statutes 1845, p. 402; Laws of Illinois 1861, p. 181]

An 1874 law required all keepers (superintendents) of county poorhouses to keep books of account.

[Illinois Revised Statutes 1874, p. 754]

The superintendent was required to keep a record showing the name of each person admitted to the county poorhouse; the time of his admission and discharge; the place of his birth; whether his dependence resulted from idiocy, lunacy, intemperance, or other causes, stating the cause; and is required, at the same time each year, to file with the county clerk of his county a copy of the same, together with a statement showing the average number of persons kept in the poorhouse each month during the year.

[Illinois Revised Statutes 1874, p. 758]

In 1917, counties were authorized to establish joint poorhouses and poor farms with other counties; and in 1919, the county poorhouses’ names were changed to county homes.

[Laws of Illinois 1917, p. 638; Laws of Illinois 1919, p. 698]

The county home law was renewed in 1935 and 1945.

[Laws of Illinois 1935, p. 1055; Laws of Illinois 1945, p. 1139]

In 1949, the Public Assistance Code was passed, making relief of the indigent a function of the new county departments of welfare. County homes were reauthorized only for care of infirm or chronically ill persons; counties were specifically forbidden from placing destitute but physically healthy persons in the county homes.

[Laws of Illinois 1949, p. 404]

In 1967, the Public Aid code repealed the county home laws and deauthorized the county homes remaining in Illinois.

[Laws of Illinois 1967, p. 118]


For additional information pertaining to poor houses in Illinois:


Sources: History of Grundy County, Munsell Publishing Company, 1914. Lawrence & Thompson Grundy County Directory, 1877-1878. Illinois Regional Archives Depository System, Illinois State University.

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