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Posted on May 29, 2015 at 3:58 PM by Elise Kelly
As the population of Ohio grew in its early statehood, the number of those that could not afford to support themselves also grew. Eventually the Ohio General Assembly recognized this problem, and authorized the counties to establish poor houses if there was a need for one. Soon after this bill was passed, the county commissioners in Greene County set to work, purchasing land on which to build their infirmary. Shortly after the building was completed a board of directors was gathered, and they subsequently hired a superintendent to run the infirmary in 1829.
After opening its doors in 1829, the infirmary quickly outgrew their building, which resulted in the construction of a new building in 1840, replacing the smaller one that had previously been there. In the new building, the number of inmates continued to increase. In June of 1858, there was only one person admitted. By the following June, the admissions had increased to about 5 or 6 people a month. A third building was constructed in 1869, and a children's home was added in 1880. Future space concerns were solved by building additional wings to the building, rather than constructing an entirely new one.
Initially called the "Poor House," the original intention of the institution was to provide destitute Greene County residents with a place to live, and potentially a way to find work. This mission later expanded and they took in anyone who could not support themselves, be it caused by disability, sickness, or insanity. The name of the institution changed to reflect that, being called the "Greene County Home" and eventually the "Greene County Infirmary."
Those that stayed at the infirmary had to abide by a strict set of rules. Any violation of these rules resulted in their discharge from the institution. These rules included the fact that every patient had to do their daily chores. They weren’t allowed to swear, or to spit tobacco in the bedrooms. Visiting hours were open, but prohibited on the Sabbath. There was no smoking or drinking allowed. They also had to wash up before every meal. These are not unreasonable rules, especially for the time, and yet people were dismissed from the Infirmary for breaking them quite often.
Since it was a county institution, the Greene County Records Center and Archives has several records and record types available for research. Most notable are the admissions and discharge ledgers. There is also a daybook, which has both accounting records and the earliest admissions to the home. Reading through these admission records, you can find some hidden gems in the notes taken on those admitted, like the one poor girl who was listed as a "French tramp" in her discharge.
This is a page out of the daybook, showing four people who were discharged on August 1st, 1889. The third person on the list was described as a "French tramp" rather than listing her name.
We also have records of indenture and outside relief. Some inmates were able to work, and were contracted to work outside of the building, and some children were taken into local homes to be raised as a part of the family. All of these records are fun to sift through and read, so come on down and check 'em out!
Source: Broadstone, M.A. History of Greene County Ohio: Its People, Industries and Institutions, Vol I. B.F. Bowen & Company: Indianapolis, IN, 1918.
Copies of this book are located here at the Archives.
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