Saturday, September 17, 2016

Poorhouse....The story of Columbiana County Part 4

Photo courtesy of the Lisbon Historical Society.

Sometime back in the early 1930's it was decided that the county home needed it's own hospital. Previously the terminal were transported to Salem hospital. With the advent of the WPA during the Great Depression a new hospital was built on the Poorhouse property along with a power plant that generated steam for heat directly across the street. The photo above shows various county officials and the farmhands of the farm breaking ground for the new hospital. It is now known as that grey structure left of the original red bricked institution. It has recently been condemned by the county. 


Out of all the ledgers in Youngstown that were documented they only ran from 1830 through 1911. I hit another dead end up until I talked to the Columbiana County Archive and Research Center. With their expertise and a common bond of the love of the Poorhouse they contacted the Columbiana County Commissioners. As we know records were doubled for the Poorhouse, meaning that two books were kept for the county and those for the poorhouse. As it turns out the County has records up until 1934 in their vault. Hopefully I can photograph these ledgers for the archive center in the early fall. We still have not located anything from 1934 to 1976 when it was closed down. That includes a list of people that were admitted there as well as those that died there. That is an unbelievable amount of people between those dates. Any information or photos of the old institution would be greatly appreciated. They are extremely hard to come by these days. I know that somewhere someone has information and or photos that can help complete this story.

So far this series has far exceeded anything I ever thought it would. Apparently it has had the same impact on you as it has had for me the past several years. I have received so many e-mails from all over the country of people tracking down a name of a lost great grandfather or grand mother. They would send me a name or the year that they thought they were in the institution. In almost every instance I was able to run through hundreds of ledger photographs and find the name. Often times I was able to send the photo of the actual entry to them. That has been the most rewarding thing through this whole story. Being able to help somebody connect with their family history is pretty cool.

Linda McElroy, Shirl Criss, Mary Ann Gray, Debra Weigle, Ken Everett, and Leah Rudy. These people think it's cool to help others with their family history also. They just so happen to volunteer at the Columbiana County Archive and Research Center in Lisbon.

The center is strictly set up by donations and memberships. It is a resource that is so valuable to our county. Everyone there is a volunteer. Most of the people there have already finished their lifetime careers and are now doing what they are passionate about. They share the same excitement about history and genealogy the same as the person coming there for the first time learning about an unknown relative. That is the best way that I can explain it. I have never met people so willing to help, so knowledgeable on where to look for the information you need. They are also very busy. Not only did they help me and point me in right direction, they gathered countless old newspaper clippings that they had saved over the years and copied them for me. They had all of Carol Bell's research saved as well. They spent hundreds of hours indexing every single photograph I took of the ledgers in Youngstown. Now all one has to do is stop in and look through their books to find a name or information on someone that was in the institution. Of course this is a work in progress, and hopefully all of the years will be completed in the near future. It is a great place with an unbelievable amount of information available about our county. I can't encourage you enough to support this place. Memberships are reasonable as well as copy fees. They are open on Tuesday from 9 am to 6 pm and  Wednesday through Friday from 9 am to 3 pm. They can be located a block down from the courthouse at 129 south Market Street in Lisbon. 

This center also put me in touch with the Lisbon Historical Society. They have been exceptional in letting me copy old photographs without any restrictions whatsoever. From what I can tell I am convinced these photos were taken in the early 60's. As you can see the old water pump was probably still working ( yes the same well that was dug in the 1830's) although they had to have had indoor plumbing by the early 60's. This is the view looking towards the Superintendent's house.

Here is a picture that totally blew me away. As we know the threat of nuclear war gripped our nation from World War Two well into the Early 1990's. In the early 60's the Civil Defense promoted the use of fallout shelters for the public's safety. Fallout shelters were everywhere. They had to meet a certain criteria which back then was no where close to being safe. The goal was to save some of the masses not everybody. Dirt, concrete, air, and brick were considered safe barriers from Gamma rays. Many older buildings and old schools were considered safety zones because of their sturdy construction. So many of these old buildings were considered Fallout Shelters back then. Especially those buildings built in the country. I find it ironic that the tag of a Fallout Shelter is stamped on the poorhouse institution that housed the poor and sick. This was now deemed a place of safety, a place of refuge, and place to save ones life.... In the end though when it comes down to it we are all equal when we face death, rich or poor, sick or healthy. 


The Archive center also had these cards that they allowed me to photograph.

These cards came from the common bath area at the poorhouse located in the basement of the three story insane asylum. In the changing area there were homemade wooden cubes to store fresh clothes to the inmates. The inmates had a card tacked to the front of each cube. As you can see items like shirts, pants, long underwear, and work caps were issued out to them and kept track of. My best guess of a date that this system was used was probably in the mid 30's because of the new steam plant creating hot water. Before then most of the water was heated by fire. 

 The changing area with the cubes.

The bath area. The old group tub has been removed.

We take for granted today the luxury of bathing. We have heated and cooled homes. We have running hot water, and most of us have tubs and showers in multiple bathrooms. In the early days of the poorhouse though bathing wasn't that much fun. In fact it was a lot of work and very uncomfortable, especially in the winter. To give you an idea on what the superintendents dealt with and what the mindset of that generation was at that time here are a few stories of an inspector from that time frame. These didn't occur at our poorhouse but I am sure this was common all over Ohio. This was taken from the 1908 Ohio Bulletin of Correction and Charities at a meeting of directors. The speaker was an inspector in Indiana for his whole career. He is speaking of an over zealous superintendent...

I always feel at home in the poorhouse, although I've never lived there longer over night. It used to be my business to visit and inspect  the poorhouses in the state of Indiana, and I remember many interesting things, sometimes very touching and sometimes very comical. One of our county institutions was being badly managed, and was in a dreadful condition. The water tank in the attic and the steam heating condition had been allowed to go to decay, the house was filthy and disorderly. It was so bad the only thing to do was to make a big fuss about it. The result of the fuss was that a new superintendent was appointed. He was a small man weighing about 125 lbs, but full of vigor and energy. He was a splendid fellow. When I visited him he was very anxious for good advice. He said " Now Mr. Johnson , you tell me what I ought to do, and I will do just as you say". I told him the best thing to do was to use good common sense; but I gave him a few suggestions. He ask me particularly about the rules for bathing the inmates. He said "What about bathing these fellows?" Shall I make them take a bath?" I said "Sure". "How Often"he said. "Well, in summer at least once a week; but in winter, if you have trouble, let it go twice a month." He said he would do it. When I called upon him the next year he said, "Mr. Johnson, I did what you said about bathing, but we killed one man." I said, " Hows that? " "Oh " said he, " He was a big fat fellow, looked about as big as you." ( I weighed about 245 lbs at the time.) I said to him " Bill, you have to take a bath." He said " What feet and all"? I said " Yes all over." He said " No I ain't; I ain't had a bath all over since I was a kid and went swimming." But we stripped him, and he had on two coats and a wamus, Three shirts, two pair of pants, two pair of overalls, and in between his shirt he had chaff and old newspapers enough to fill a bushel basket. When we got him stripped he wasn't as big as I am; but my! he was a dirty devil, and, oh how he stank. I took his clothes and burned them. We scrubbed him well, and I was afraid he might take cold, so I gave him a suit of heavy warm underwear that we had bought for a consumptive man, and the heaviest suit of clothes in the house, and I lent him my overcoat; but he shivered and shook until we put him to bed and sent for the doctor and in three days he died of pneumonia." I said to him " Well, I think that the next time you bathe a fellow that has not had a bath since he was a kid, you had better begin with him at his feet and go up about twelve inches at a time, take him in sections, until you get him washed all over." 

Another story from the same inspector..

I heard the story the other day about an old lady who took her first bath at one of the bath houses in Chicago. She said, " Oh dear, I have not had a bath all over since I was a little girl, and think of the pleasure I have missed all of my life! I hope I will live a few years more to enjoy so much pleasure."

As outrageous as this is it is still somewhat funny... We can appreciate the seriousness of these reports but can also understand how down right humorous these reports were. We can never imagine how people lived back then. We just can't relate. We need to be a generation that understands 
history instead of a generation that tries to fix things we do not understand. 

There was also this from the Ohio Patriot newspaper in New Lisbon circa 1875.

An amusing incident took place the other day at our county Infirmary. A gentleman from the rural district having some business to transact at that place,visited the institution with some very erroneous ideas of it's management. It was his first visit to the county farm, and he supposed it to be like a hotel, and all expenses paid by the county. He being one of the sovereign people, on arriving there ordered his horses to be put up and fed. He was shown to the barn with his horse, and there found one of the paupers in charge, who took his horse and gave the animal five ears of corn, our friend wanted more corn for his horse and was refused by the pauper. A quarrel ensued, and Mr. Rural left the barn in search of the landlord, who he thought would make matters right. Just as he found the landlord, the bell rang for the for the paupers dinner. He then dashed off for the dinning room. When Mr. Stephenson the superintendent put his hand on his shoulder and told him to wait they would have another table in a moment, Mr. Rural replied he did not eat at the second table at home, and would not do it there, and ordered out his horse and left saying, it was not much of a hotel anyhow...

This among other stories brought humor to an otherwise unhappy situation. There was even an uprising over slimy "pickle loaf" a staple in the early 70's apparently. It was one of the many complaints brought against superintendent Mattevi and his wife, and became a major lawsuit that eventually closed the county home in 1976. It was leased out for another year to an outside contractor but eventually it fell through sending the inmates to other institutions around the state in 1977. This place has been dormant since then. Abandoned but not very silent. It seems to haunt the minds of us that want to know more about this place...

I can not end this series without  telling you about Mrs. Martha Bishop. Martha is the director of research at the Labor museum in Youngstown. The second floor holds the local records of the Ohio Historical Society for Trumbull, Mahoning, and Columbiana counties. She is pretty much in charge of everything there. She is also a person of great interest. I can tell you that for the past year once a month she graciously let me have full access to all of the county home ledgers. She is just as like minded as the rest of us freaks about history. She must have apparently recognized the passion I had or the complete dumb luck I had finding this place. I am not the only person she rescued. She has helped so many people and organizations find their history over her career. It's unbelievable how many people she has helped. Many were YSU students working on their thesis. Others were looking for their relatives work history in the local mills. I will never forget the memories I had discovering these ledgers that had never been seen in a hundred years and watching weddings take place at St. Columba Cathedral across the street on a warm spring day. We talked about our families and our own history as the snow fell in the dead of winter. The time spent there was time well spent for me. She is an amazing person that has raised an amazing family. Even though we were generations apart we still had a common cord...

These articles made me realize just how important our past is and I hope that it did that for you also. Our county's modern day situation is pretty dark. We have gone through dark times before though. History shows that we came from some pretty amazing people. People of resolve and character. It's our choice to let it live on in us. We all have a common cord. I am fortunate to have been born and raised here.  





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