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.
CUMBERLAND COUNTY FARM
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
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