The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio


June 19, 2011

The poorhouse

Infirmary was site of 1858 fire that claimed the lives of six ‘inmates’


As Jesus said in the Gospel of Matthew, “the poor you always have with you.” So it was that in 1842, Ashtabula County opened its poorhouse or infirmary, as a residence for citizens who were “indigent, insane, feeble minded and epileptic.”
“The commissioners this day determine to purchase a farm for a poor house,” states the resolution passed Dec. 9, 1840. “...accordingly an agreement was entered into to purchase the farm of E.G. Luce in Kingsville containing one hundred and eight acres at the price of thirty dollars per acre.”
Interestingly, E.G. Luce was also the county-auditor elect and served as clerk of the commissioners. Horace Luce of Kingsville, his relationship to E.G. unknown, was one of the three directors seated on the infirmary board. Interesting.
Commissioners spent nine months studying various proposals before they determined that Luce’s Kingsville Township farm best fit their original resolution of March 1840 to build the poor house “in (someplace) convenient and suitable as soon as these can be procured at a fair price.” 
The task of building the poor house went to E.G. Benjamin and Howard Allen, who had the “lowest proposition,” $1,670. The board accepted their bid Feb. 2, 1841, and nine months later settled up with the contractors on their final bill.
The first patient admitted was a 25-year-old man, Dexter Bromer, from Rome Township. Dexter was admitted Jan. 17 and ran away the next day. He returned May 1, 1843, and died on March 19, 1845.
Residents in the infirmary’s early years ranged in age from infants to 84. Most of the residents were children and young adults. Unable to care or provide for themselves for whatever reason, they came from every corner of the county and from every tragic circumstance.
Some stayed long enough to get their affairs in order and return to supporting themselves in society. Others were taken in by family and discharged. Some died of smallpox, tuberculosis or old age. One was found dead in the swamp.

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