Genealogy Trails

CUMBERLAND COUNTY, ILLINOIS

County Farm

CUMBERLAND COUNTY FARM

The colloquial term "county farm" is the name which most people remember this farm. According to Mary Holt, "Cumberland County Old Folks Home" was written above the doorway. This land and what remains is located about four miles northeast of Toledo. This home was to keep the poor people of Cumberland County who could not survive on their own.
Before the county farm came into existence the poor were cared for by a family in the neighborhood at the cost of the county com­missioners. In 1862, the board of supervisors bought 160 acres from George Moreland at the cost of 81900, situated in the nor­theast part of Sumpter Township, four miles from Toledo. On the land were a log barn and a house of part log and part frame which was used to house the tenants and paupers. In 1873, the log part of the house was abandoned and in 1873, a new seven-room building was erected at $1500 for the tenant and his family. In March of 1874, a frame building, two stories high, 40 by 18 feet with a wing 16 by 20 feet, was erected for the paupers. A frame structure replaced the log stable in 1875. In 1882 a house for the tenant was erected and the inmates lived in the old house of the tenant.
The last poor house was erected in 1910 for both the paupers and tenants. It was a two-story red brick house about 30 by 60 feet. The buildings at this time were a large frame barn, granary, hog barn, and storage building. A small building had been built to house a lady with tuberculosis. This farm consisted of 120 acres including tillable land, an apple orchard, and buildings.
A tenant and his family lived on the poor farm caring for the paupers. The tenant furnished food for the paupers and the fuel for heating and cooking. The county furnished bedding, brooms, light fuel and washing powder. Before 1937 the tenant was paid by the month and farmed the ground with equipment furnished and the profit went to the county farm. After this time the tenant rented the land at $3.00 per acre, used his own equipment and kept the profit. In 1940 the tenant received $20 per month per pauper paid by the township which sent them.
Each township sent its paupers, which were so declared in court, to this farm. The people might be physically handicapped, aged, left with no family, or unable to work. At this home they did small farm and household tasks according to their abilities. Living
in this poor farm was looked down upon by other people so one would try to live by his own aid.
This poor farm was of good usage until old age assistance and other aids came into existence. Now people were able to stay at home with the county's aid and the poor farm slowly lost its cause. On December 14, 1943, Clarence Oakley bought the 120 acres of the poor farm for $8400. The following year the house was destroyed because of the inability to rent, high taxes, and of no usage for the time. Now one can see some of the buildings left of the county farm but yet not see all the miseries which were felt by those who lived there.
The above theme was written by Gail Carrell, February 5, 1971, for an English class. The county farm held special interest as her grandfather, Clarence Oakley, was the current owner. After his death, February 18, 1973, the county farm was left to his only child, Marjorie Louise Oakley Carrell, and her husband, Leo Edgar Carrell. The information in the theme was compiled from the Counties of Cumberland, Jasper, and Richland, Illinois, Historical and Biographical, II 1884 (see page 139) and personal interviews in 1971 by Gail Carrell with Estal Burton, Earl Gentry, Amy Gray, Mary Holt, Eva Lacy, Nora Clark, Chester Oakley, and Clarence Oakley.
In 1992, Gail, now Gail Carrell Green, reviewed her 1971 inter­view notes and has additional information on the county farm history. Tenants of the farm were Joseph Cloud, 1893-1903; George and Mary Bennett Hurst; Sam and Luticia Snyder, 1912-1918; Otis Carrell, 1920; Clemet Hill for one year; Jess H. Oakley, 1924 for about 12 years; Estal Burton, 1935-1940; Mortie and Amy Gray, 1940-1942; and Earl Gentry, 1943, the last tenant.
Amy Gray, a tenant in 1940, recalled a lot about the life on the farm. There was no electricity but they had running water available by filling a large tank in the attic from the basement. The large house had 20 rooms, nine upstairs, nine downstairs, with one room off each porch, and a full basement. The basement had a kitchen, furnace room, coal room, pauper dining room, wash room, and storage for fruit, potatoes, and other food. The women slept on the main floor and the men upstairs. Each pauper had a separate room containing a bed, dresser, chair, rocking chair, and a window. The tenants' living room and bedrooms were separate from the inmates on the first floor. Doctor Rhodes cared for the sick inmates. A large garden, grape harbor, berry patch, fruit trees, and livestock were cared for by the tenants to provide food for the inmates. The 1940 contract for the Gray's was for 120 acres for 8360.00 rent. They were to take and board and care for all inmates for 820.00 per month per pauper. They cared for seven people at the most.
Mrs. Eva Lacy recalled a brick mason from a Mattoon contrac­tor built the home in 1910. The dining hall had handmade log benches. The living room had a pot-belly stove, carpet on the floor, and few chairs.
Earl Gentry recalled four inmates were left when they closed the home and they moved out the beginning of January. Forty tons of coal were used per year at 85.00 per ton to heat the home.
Clarence and Chester Oakley recalled the house was torn down by hand to salvage materials which were in limited supply due to the war. DeKalb Seed Corn House bought the lumber and brick. The roof was slate.
The cemetery is marked by a Potter's Field monument erected in 1965. There were approximately 40 buried there but no in­dividual stones or markers were placed as it was a disgrace to be buried as a pauper. A 1992 interview with Helen Gray, who lived as a neighbor to the farm, and Adelyn Oakley Titus, whose father, Jess Oakley, was a caretaker, recall Bill Jeffery, Jim Concanon, Basil Carrico, and "peg leg," a man with a wooden leg, were buried in the cemetery.
A 1992 interview with Ruth Steed revealed more information. Her grandparent Joseph Cloud was caretaker in 1893-1903 and also her step-grandfather George Hurst was a caretaker. Ruth's mother used to tell stories of some fascinating people who resided there. One man was severely epileptic but had been a talented violinist, designer, and artist for a wall paper company in Ohio. There was a former school teacher who had mental problems but would help the children,  both resident and pauper, with homework. Some were ill, had mental problems, or severe disabilities, and had to have constant care. Other residents, who were able, helped look after those people. The women who could sew would knit stockings, mittens, and caps. Men, who were able, helped with farm chores, gardening, and with the livestock and chickens. It seemed to be quite a well managed facility.
Mary Adelyn Oakley Titus was born at the poor farm while her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Jesse Oakley, were caretakers. The follow­ing is from a copy of a newspaper, The Toledo Democrat, that Adelyn Titus had. "Page one, column four, critical, June 21, 1928, Jesse Oakley, county farm overseer, was injured by inmate of home. Jesse Oakley, overseer of county farm, is in critical condi­tion as the result of knife wounds inflicted by enraged inmate, Mr. Northway, Wednesday morning. Mrs. Oakley, wife of the overseer, went upstairs Wednesday morning to look after the bathroom which had been flooded for several days from the recent rains, due to a faulty roof. One of Mr. Northway's duties was to keep the bathroom scrubbed. Mrs. Oakley asked Northway if he had scrubbed it that morning and he replied that he had. She remark­ed it did not have the appearance of being scrubbed, whereupon he slapped her with such force that she fell over. Upon hearing his wife scream, Mr. Oakley rushed upstairs and he was seized by Northway when he entered the room. Taking Mr. Oakley by sur­prise, Northway stabbed him three times, once under the right arm, reaching the lung, in the thick shoulder muscle, and on the upper arm. Northway then returned to his room. Deputy Sheriff R. B. Oakley appeared upon the scene, took Northway into custody, and lodged him in the county jail. Mr. Oakley's condition is serious and for some time it seemed doubtful whether he would recover. At present he is suffering greatly from the wounds, but is doing as well as could be expected."
For more information about the cemetery, see page 201 in the 1968 book and another photo on page 256 of the 1968 book.
Submitted by Gail Carrell Green
REMEMBERING THE OLD COUNTY FARM THROUGH THE EYES OF A FOURTEEN YEAR OLD BOY
My Uncle Mortie and Aunt Amy Gray, parents of my cousins and playmates, Marion and Raymond Gray, were one of the caretakers of the old county farm. My folks lived about one-half mile from there so it wasn't far for me to walk after school and my chores were done. I always enjoyed staying all night on Saturday, and in the summer, Uncle Mortie would always have a freezer of homemade ice cream along with Aunt Amy's blackberry cobbler. That in itself was enough to make a growing boy want to stick around, but it was a fun place to be for a youngster.
Whatever Aunt Amy cooked for her family, everybody ate, in­cluding the ice cream and cobbler. One old fellow they called
Frank, spoke with a German accent, and was usually happy but didn't talk much. At mealtime he would go to the basement where all the cooking and eating took place, and set the table for the meal with dishes kept in a cupboard near the dining area. Then he would go to the kitchen and carry all the big dishes of food to the table. After they all ate, he would clear the table, carry the ser­ving dishes to Aunt Amy, then fix a pan of dish water, wash, dry, and put the dishes back in the cupboard, then sweep up the area. His pleasure was keeping the yard mowed every week. He had an old reel-type push mower and kept the enormous yard looking like a golf course. He also kept the big horse watering tank pumped full every day for the farm animals. He always seemed to keep busy but usually had time to spend with us boys.
The third floor of the house was where the big old wooden water-holding tank was kept. It was connected to a gas operated pump, like they use on oil wells, to pump the water up to the holding tank from a deep well. They had a wooden measuring stick to keep track of the water level, and there was an old man by the name of Mr. Thornton, a resident there, who appointed himself the official water-tender! He was crippled with infantile paralysis on his left side, so his left hand was numb. When he would go to the basement to start the gas motor to start the pump, he would grab the spark plug with his left hand and we could see the sparks just fly. He would tease us boys by pretending to reach out to shock us, just to watch our reaction. When he wasn't tending to the water, his main interest was his collection of pocket wat­ches. He had two trunks in his room that held everything he own­ed, which wasn't much, except his watches. Right after lunch, which was around 11:30, he would hurry up to the second floor balcony and set there until he could hear the noon whistle blow in Toledo. He would check the time with the watch he always car­ried, then wait until the one o'clock whistle would blow in Greenup, then compare to see which one was fast or slow. Then he would go to his room and check the time on all his watches, wind them, and make any adjustments necessary. He enjoyed tinkering with his watches and was a good watch repair man too. He kept them in excellent running order.
Uncle Mortie always had a big garden in the spring and took a lot of pride in it. One of the residents was a little old lady, I can't remember her name, but she asked Uncle Mortie if she could plant flowers around the garden. He said yes, and she spent a lot of time planting and caring for her flowers. When they were in bloom, they were just beautiful with all the different kinds and colors. She outlined that whole big garden and took a lot of pride in them too. She would go out every morning wearing a floppy old straw hat and work with her beautiful flowers.
Every Saturday was shopping day and Uncle Mortie would go around to all the folks and take their order if they needed anything special from town. All the men would order tobacco in one form or another, chewing, smoking, or dipping, and enough to last all week. My uncle would go to Toledo to Smith and Con-nell grocery and buy enough of whatever was needed. Old Mr. Thornton, the water-tender man, always chewed tobacco, but every once in awhile he would order a sack of "North State" smoking tobacco. Uncle Mortie would question that, but Mr. Thornton would say he just liked to roll a smoke sometimes. We boys knew he was ordering it for us so we could sneak up there and have a smoke once in awhile. Just as soon as the tobacco was delivered, we would high-tail it upstairs to Mr. Thornton's room.
Another thing I remember was that the men took care of their own rooms, so the ones that chewed usually put newspapers down under their spitoons to keep from making a mess on the floor. But there was one old fellow who was really odd. Even in the hottest weather, he would wear overshoes, coat, and cap with the earflaps down. He was not the cleanest man, and never bothered to do much to his room. He chewed tobacco but never put papers under his spitoon, and as he rocked in his chair, if he rocked in the right direction, he'd aim and spit. If he hit it, alright, and if he didn't, that was alright too. One day he was out in the yard with Uncle Mortie and said, "When is your wife going to come up and clean my room?" Uncle Mortie looked at him and said, "My wife ain't going to come up and clean your room, but when you decide to do it yourself, there's a scoop shovel and pitch fork out in the barn."
From the first floor of the house to the second floor, there was a big winding stairway and when you got to the second floor it was like a junction, with a hall going to a wing on the east, one on the west, and one on the south. There was a big bathroom on each floor at one end of the hallway. From the big water holding tank in the attic, it was a free-flowing system to the lower floors. There was a hot water heater in each of the bathrooms that had to have a fire built in it to heat the water as it was needed. They used egg-size coal, wood, or cobs.
On days the weather was bad, we boys would go visit from room to room with the guys. I think at the time there were four men up on the second floor. If the weather was good, we would go play around the barn or go fishing. There was a nice little creek running through the bottom ground. In the summertime two or three of the old men would go down there and catch some pretty nice bullheads. They would take them to the house and Aunt Amy would fry them up for supper. We just did things that boys did back then, we could get into plenty of trouble too. I remember this one old guy was smoking "Golden State" tobacco, or something like that so I asked for a smoke. I took a big puff of that stuff and nearly died! Man, that was wicked. I decided right then, I wasn't quite man enough for that brand! The old man got a big kick out of seeing me suffer.
Uncle Mortie gave the haircuts around there. He even cut mine. Those old clippers sure would pull. He was self taught and did a good job.
As a 14-year-old boy, I saw it as a comfortable way of life, with the freedom to do what they wanted in their old age. They had running water, a comfortable hot water heating system, and plen­ty of good food to eat. It seemed their living conditions were as good as anyone. I guess we will never know about that way of liv­ing again, but I sure enjoyed going there and visiting those peo­ple.
Submitted by Charles M. Gray

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