Pike County’s ‘Poor House’ was closed in 1936

Published 8:15 pm Tuesday, November 28, 2023

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Before Social Security  and the advent of pensions and other  programs, men and women who were impoverished resided in poor houses, at poor farms or almshouses.  Pike County had a Poor House or almshouse as it was sometimes called.  The Almshouse was closed in 1936.  This article from 1997 gives first-hand information on the Poor Farm.

“When you didn’t have anything and you couldn’t take care of yourself, they brought you out there,” Mrs. Wilkes said.

Mrs. Wilkes father, William James Ammons, was hired by the county to manage the Poor Farm.  “He accepted the job on the condition they left him fix up the place and allocate funds so he could what was supposed to have been done.”

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He set up his wife, Fannie Lou, and his three children, at the farm and started with a little house and kitchen, making renovations along the way.

     Mrs. Wilkes and her family oved to the farm when she was two years old.  They left when she was 15.

“In many cases people came there because their families didn’t want them,” she said.  “When they got there they were cleaned, clothed and fed.  We all ate out of the same pot.  Daddy’s family didn’t eat a bit better than the other people.  If they weren’t able to come to the dining room, plates were fixed and taken to their rooms.”

Mrs. Wilkes said the situation was like a big family (between 15 and 25 other people lived there) in the sense that everyone did what they could to help and take care of each other.

“I remember very clearly when my mother and father got their first radio,” she said.  “We had one of the first radios on Knox Street so on Saturday nights we had a house full of company that came down there and listened to it.  They didn’t have radios for the other houses.  Daddy kept on until they had running water and lights in the houses.  When we went there they just had a well and lamps.  The County had allowed it to deteriorate and nobody had paid too much attention to it.  Daddy was one of those people that couldn’t stand that sort of thing.”

The food, household items and clothes, the people used were bought in bulk at wholesale prices.  Hogs and cattle also were raised to eat.

Even during the Depression, Mrs. Wilkes said the days were good ones.

“The Depression of 1929 didn’t mean that much or have the same effect on us as it did some because everything was homemade,’ she said.  “My father had a job and was paid cash money regularly.”

In addition to the six homes at the farm, there also was a cemetery on a hill near the main house.  The cemetery was for county residents who couldn’t afford to be buried.

A caretaker kept it clean and a fence was put around it to make sure nobody got into it at night.

Mrs. Wilkes can only remember less than a handful of people being buried during the 13 years she lived there.

“Oddly enough, folks wouldn’t look after  them while they were living, but they were ashamed for them to be buried in the Poor House Cemetery so they’d come get them,” Mrs. Wilkes said.

She said the Pike  County Poor House eventually became a model or other homes to be based on.  In some cases the Poor House could be considered a forerunner to today’s nursing homes.

Some at the Poor House were out there because they were sickly, but in other cases, they didn’t have money or anyone to look after them, she said.

“My family wasn’t living on charity, but the others were,” Mrs. Wilkes said.  “We were still as polite to each other as we could be.”

Several years after the Ammons left, near the time Social Security began, the Poor Houses closed.

“I understand the people there were eased out and no more new ones were taken in,” Mrs. Wilkes said.  “I believe it stayed open until the ones who were there had another place to go.”

All of these articles can be found in previous editions of The Troy Messenger.  Stay tuned for more.  Dianne Smith is the President of the Pike County Historical, Genealogical and Preservation Society.